Dispatches from the Front Line (of the Cupcake Wars)

The Food Network program “Cupcake Wars” is generic, a little boring and repetitive (and I say this as a FN junkie). On the other hand, staging your own Cupcake War over the long Fourth of July weekend, complete with time limits, tight budgets and a distinguished panel of judges is  at least seventeen different kinds of awesome. The results below are pretty incredible, especially for six amateurs.

The Teams:

Team How 'Bout Cupcakes?: Megan and yours truly (not pictured)

TEAM USA: Ryan and Kelly

Team Melmart: Dad and Mom

The Judges

Friends of the Family: Rich, Barbara and two of their kids, Jewel and Jonah (from right to left, in case you weren't able to figure that out)

The Challenge

Beginning at 2 p.m., each team has $20 (plus the use of Mom’s pantry ingredients) to make a quick run to the grocery store to buy ingredients to make two different but incredible batches of cupcakes. The first judging was at four; the second judging at 5:30. The cupcakes were judged on tasteappearance/presentation and creativity. We had a couple of days to strategize, but we couldn’t do any pre-war cooking or buy ingredients ahead of time. Mom’s kitchen has two ovens, so one team had to share.

The Cupcakes – Round One

Mom and Dad featured impressive icing work in their first offering, which was a remarkably “real” looking Hamburger Cupcake. The plastic baskets really set these cupcakes apart in the judges eyes. I was impressed with how a plain vanilla cupcake, when split on the top, really did resemble a burger bun. If you’re just glancing, you’d never say this wasn’t an actual burger.

Ryan and Kelly went for bold, bright summery flavors with their Strawberry Pink Lemonade Cupcake. They used a vanilla cake mixed with frozen pink lemonade concentrate. For their buttercream icing, they mixed in frozen strawberries just a touch of lemon zest. The judges loved the look and taste of the cupcakes, specifically the added touch of the straw (though you could not drink the cupcake. Much was made about the nice touch of the lemon zest.

Megan and I, having watched too much Iron Chef, Chopped and any other number of cooking contest shows, entered the fray with a rather well-defined Grand Unified Theory of Cupcakery. We sought to prove that cupcakes were not simply cloyingly sweet, individually wrapped desserts. No, cupcakes have true culinary potential and we wanted to put that on display. Our first offering was intended to show that cupcakes would work for breakfast. Behold, the Pancake Cupcake:

We used a modified pancake batter to give this cupcake a heartier flavor and texture, then topped with it Megan’s soon-to-be-famous maple syrup-infused buttercream frosting (with fresh bacon crumbles throughout). The salty and smoky goodness of the bacon really worked to cut the richness of the buttercream.We served it with what I’m calling “Sip-and-Dips,” which in this case were orange juice and extra syrup.

It got a good reaction from the judges, although our score took a knock because I forgot to spray the insides of the cups with non-stick spray, and our final product didn’t pull away easily from the wrapper.

The Cupcakes – Round Two

Kelly and Ryan didn’t let up with their second cupcake. This time, they made Hot Dogs Cupcakes. I think it’s pretty funny that they made something related to mom and dad’s cupcakes without any pre-planning. It was a dark chocolate fudge cake, covered with chocolate ganache then topped with a “cake ball” frankfurter w/ chocolate ganache grill marks, buttercream “mustard,” coconut “relish” and crumbled shortbread cookie “bun.” I think they won the award for most ingredients and best display of cooking technique. I love the grill marks.

Mom and Dad went with their comfort zone and made a Dr Pepper Cupcake, again making clever use of bendy straws. It was a German chocolate cake Dr Pepper instead of oil, and a Dr Pepper infused frosting topped with a cherry. The CO2 in the cake made it very light. This cupcake  was a big hit, especially with the younger judges. Oh, and they used pudding in their recipe, so it was somehow both super light and super moist.

In keeping with our “Cupcakes are Not Just for Dessert” Theme, we made an entree with our Taco Cupcake. The cake is a corn bread mix, with seasoned ground turkey (hey, it’s heart healthy!) and shredded cheese mixed through out. After we spooned it into the cups, we added a little more cheese to bake on top. Once cooled and out of the oven, we topped it with a canele of sour cream, a little of the seasoned ground turkey, cheese and a tortilla chip.

We kept the “Sips and Dips” motif and served our “tacos” with a side of salsa and “Family Friendly Non-Alcoholic Mexican Themed Beverage” (cherry limeade). I’m not gonna lie, I’m really proud of our presentation. Although the adult judges loved this one, the younger judges weren’t so sure about a savory offering. The youngest one, however, really liked the limeade and took the rest of it home with him.

The Winners

In the end, the judges decided Team Melmart brought the best cupcakes to the table. Team USA came in second, and Team How ‘Bout Cupcakes? won third.

Even though we didn’t win, it was very close and it was so much fun it should be illegal. We all got to taste each other’s cupcakes and it was all really really fun. I can’t recommend having a cupcake war enough. Do it do it do it! (The only downside is the rather large mess when you’re done.)


3 responses to “Dispatches from the Front Line (of the Cupcake Wars)

  1. Kristi Hazelrigg

    Sounds like a lot of fun, something my kids would like!

  2. It was so much fun, it’s hard to describe! i can’t recommend it enough!

  3. I LOVE it! (And I really wish we could have helped judge from the OTHER side of Melmart…ah well)! Looks like it was a lot of fun! : ) VERY COOL!

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