Hey There, Cupcake!: 35 Yummy Fun Cupcake Recipes For All Occasions by Clare Crespo (Melcher Media, 2004)

Gothamist's fondness for cupcakes is well known and well documented. And while one might imagine that there couldn't possibly be anything new on the cupcake front, Gothamist is happy to report that there are amazingly delicious frontiers to conquer. Because while anyone with a couple bucks in their pocket can drop by at Magnolia or Sugar Sweet Sunshine to pick up some delicious cupcakes, it will take a true cupcake devotee (who's also handy in the kitchen) to make their own artful cupcake creations that resemble everything from crabs and mushrooms to igloos and bears.

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Ever since reading Rachel Kramer Bussel's Gothamist Interview with Clare Crespo, author of Hey There, Cupcake!, we've been dying to try our hand at making some of Crespo's imaginative food art. Would it be possible to re-create the beautiful cupcakes in a way that could approximate the gorgeous "food porn" of the photos of her book?

It took a birthday party for new Gothamist interviewer, Nichelle Newsletter, to inspire us to make the try, and we're happy to report success. Not only did the panda, koala, and brown bear "cubcakes" taste and look amazing, but they really helped set the birthday mood for those of us who may be a long way from childhood chronologically speaking, but still like to act like kids on occasion.

Click here to see photos of the cupcakes in action at the birthday party.

CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES (makes 14 to 18 cupcakes)
Ingredients
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sour cream
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup hot water

Method
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place cupcaker liners in the tins.
2. In a double boiler (or a microwave oven), melt the chocolate.
3. Sift the flour, baking soda, salt, and sugar together into a large mixing bowl.
4. To the flour mixture, add the butter and sour cream and beat well.
5. Stir in the melted chocolate.
6. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well after each addition.
7. Add the vanilla and hot water, and beat until the batter is smooth.
8. Pour the batter into the cupcake tins (two-thirds full). Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched.
9. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes, then turn the cupcakes out of the tins and onto a rack to finish cooling completely.

VANILLA BUTTER CREAM FROSTING (makes frosting for 14 to 18 cupcakes)
Ingredients
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 cup whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Method
1. In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth.
2. Add the powdered sugar, salt, milk, and vanilla and mix until smooth and creamy.

After prepping the cupcakes and frosting, you'll be ready to assemble the following three types of "cubcakes": Panda Face, Koala Face, and Brown Bear Face. Read through to the end of this article to be sure you have assembled all the candies you need to make the different faces, and also to consider the Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting option for the Brown Bear Face.

"PANDA FACE" CUBCAKES
Ingredients
Chocolate nonpareils for ears
Chocolate disc-shaped candies (such as Junior Mints) for circles around eyes
Small round chocolate candies (e.g., chocolate-covered peanuts) for noses
White chocolate chips and black decorating gel or black food coloring for eyes, or sugar eyes (found at cake and candy decorating stores)

Method
1. Frost the cupcakes.
2. Place two chocolate disk candies on the top of the cupcake for ears. Place two more in the center for the dark circles around pandas' eyes. Place sugar "eyes" on these chocolate disks using a little frosting as glue. If you are using white chocolate chips, cut off the points and stick them onto the disks with a little frosting. Draw pupils on with a toothpick and a little black food coloring, or use a dot of black gel frosting. Stick a small round chocolate candy in the middle of the panda's face for the nose.

"KOALA FACE" CUBCAKES
Ingredients
Brown food coloring
Walnut halves for ears
White chocolate chips and black decorating gel or black food coloring for eyes, or sugar eyes (found at cake and candy decorating stores)
Chocolate-covered Brazil nuts or almonds for noses

Method
1. Tint the Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting with a little brown food coloring to make a tan color. Frost the cupcakes.
2. Place two walnut halves in the top of the cupcake for ears. Place two sugar eyes into the center of the cupcake. If you are using white chocolate chips, cut off the points and place them into the center of the cupcake. Draw pupils on with a toothpick and a little black food coloring, or use a dot of black gel frosting. Stick a chocolate-covered nut in the middle of the koala's face for the nose.

"BROWN BEAR FACE" CUBCAKES
Ingredients
Brown food coloring
Chocolate disc-shaped candy (like Junior Mints)
White chocolate chips and black decorating gel or black food coloring for eyes, or sugar eyes (found at cake and candy decorating stores)
Pink or red jelly beans

Method
1. Tint the Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting with brown food coloring, or use Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting (see OPTION below).
2. Frost the cupcakes.
3. Place two chocolate disc-shaped candies into top of cupcake for the ears. If the discs are large, cut off one third of the circle with a small knife and stick the remainder into the frosting. Place two sugar eyes into the center of the cupcake. If you are using white chocolate chips, cut off the points and place them into the center of the cupcake. Draw pupils on with a toothpick and a little black food coloring, or use a dot of black gel frosting. Place a jelly bean in the center of the cupcake for the brown bear's nose.

***CHOCOLATE BUTTER CREAM FROSTING OPTION***
Instead of using food coloring to tint the frosting for the Brown Bear Faces, you can instead make Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting. If you are also making the Pandas and/or the Koalas, then be sure to make a half-recipe of the Vanilla Butter Cream Frosting (see above, and reduce recipe by half) and a half-recipe of the Chocolate Butter Cream Frosting, which I provide below.

Half-Recipe of CHOCOLATE BUTTER CREAM FROSTING
Ingredients
2 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 tsp. salt
1/6 cup whole milk, or more if necessary
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Method
1. Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder together into a bowl.
2. In another large bowl, cream the butter until smooth.
3. Add the powdered sugar and cocoa powder, salt, milk, and vanilla and mix until smooth and creamy. Add 2 or 3 tsp. milk if the consistency is too thick.

Also note that if you have made half-recipes of the Vanilla and Chocolate Frostings, that you can use a little bit of the Chocolate frosting added to the Vanilla to tint the Vanilla to a tan shade for the Koala Faces. (It's an easy way to avoid having to purchase brown food coloring if you don't already have some handy.) The frosting will still taste like Vanilla Frosting.