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Forks in the Road: Cup-Winning Cupcakes by Trophy Cupcakes

Published on: December 06, 2013

Forks in the Road: Cup-Winning Cupcakes by Trophy Cupcakes

By Carolyn Ossorio

Trophy Cupcakes founder Jennifer Shea offers this sweetly simple mantra, applicable as readily to life as to her decadently delicious cupcakes:  “If you’re going to indulge, it should be on the very best.”

I *love* cupcakes.  They make my knees weak and, unfortunately, my butt big, so I don’t eat them very often.  But when I do splurge, it has to be on something special.  

I tried a Trophy Cupcakes cupcake for the first time in the summer of 2010, at my friend’s 6-year-old daughter’s birthday party.  I could tell by the beautiful turquoise blue and white traveling to-go box filled with a dozen perfectly frosted and decorated cupcakes that I was about to enjoy something exceptional.  I plucked out a double-chocolate cupcake.

That first bite made my eyes pop out like one of those bug-eyed goldfish. My taste buds rejoiced and swooned. It was a dance party in my mouth: Moist cake that was light and rich, adorned with smooth and luscious chocolate butter cream studded with chocolaty sprinkles.  It should be noted that normally I avoid sprinkles at all costs — because they taste like wax — but these Trophy chocolate sprinkles melted delicately as snow on the tip of my tongue.  

I found myself transported to a place I hadn’t been in a while — to those days when moms brought Tupperware containers filled with brightly colored and festooned cupcakes into Mrs. Lamberti’s third grade class to celebrate birthdays and holidays. For most, cupcakes are deeply embedded in cherished, feel-good childhood memories.  

I remember how desks were frantically cleared away as my classmates and I giddily sat on the edge of our seats, hands folded neatly as we waited for the mom and kid duo to make their way to each desk with a folded party napkin and the one delightfully beautiful home-baked treat.  

A craft was usually paired with the cupcake party that revolved around whatever we were celebrating — Valentine’s Day card-making, pumpkin cutout coloring for Halloween, glitter-bedazzling of construction-paper Christmas trees.  

Trophy: Cupcakes & PartiesFor me, a Trophy cupcake is the gourmet version of all those special cupcake days, and Shea’s new book, Trophy: Cupcakes & Parties,  is a treasure trove of decorating, party and craft inspirations, as well as a reminder of the importance of celebrations.  

“My hope for this book is that it will inspire others to celebrate more often and see magic in everyday moments.  Our fast-paced culture has fewer and fewer rituals.  Inviting friends and family over for dinner to mark the passing of another year or a great accomplishment are our new rituals, and this book will help you find deeper, more creative ways to honor and celebrate a beloved friend, family member or coworker — or the best person of all: Yourself.”

Whether you’re a party pro like Martha Stewart — who learned a tip or two from Shea when she traveled to New York to demonstrate how to make her delicious s’more cupcake recipe — or like I am, slightly intimidated by organizing parties, you’ll love the surprisingly simple tips for party-making and ironically, life, found in Shea’s artful volume:

  1. Ask for help — or delegate, delegate, delegate.
  2. Be prepared.
  3. Have fun — or what’s the point?

Give them cupcakes!

Try your hand at making Jennifer Shea’s delectable Caramel Apple Cupcakes — her recipes follow. For more creative ways to incorporate apples in your seasonal baking, check out 15 Delicious Apple Recipes for Kids and Families.

Trophy Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Makes two dozen cupcakes

To assemble Caramel Apple Cupcakes, you will need:
Caramel Sauce recipe (see below)*
Apple Cupcakes recipe (see below)
Caramel Buttercream recipe (see below)
1½ cups toasted pecan halves or pieces, finely chopped
2 dozen pretzel sticks 
2 dozen green wafer paper leaves

*Tip: The Caramel Sauce can be made and stored in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator. Just bring to room temp before using.

1. Make the Caramel Sauce (see recipe below).

2. Measure out 2/3 cup of the caramel for the buttercream and refrigerate it in a wide, shallow dish so that it cools quickly.

3. Make the Apple Cupcakes recipe (see below).

4. While the cupcakes cool, make the Caramel Buttercream recipe (see below).

5. To make your cupcakes look just like apples, scoop 1½ ounces of buttercream onto each cupcake and frost into a smooth dome.

6. Edge each cupcake in pecans: Grab a handful of chopped pecans. Pick up the cupcake by its liner with your other hand and carefully dip the edges of the buttercream into the pecans, lifting and turning as necessary.

7. To finish, drizzle a zigzag of the remaining caramel across the top of each cupcake (either put it in a squeeze bottle or use a small spoon).

8. Place a pretzel stick in the center of each cupcake sticking straight up (the apple’s “stem”) and a green wafer leaf next to it.

Apple Cupcakes


3 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and quartered
2¼ cups sugar, divided
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from one medium lemon)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
3½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
¼ cup plus
3 tablespoons canola oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed orange juice (from one medium orange)
½ cup (one stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with cupcake liners and set aside.

2. Place an apple quarter flat side down on a cutting board. Slice it lengthwise into four or five slices, then slice it across about five times. Put the diced apple in a medium bowl and repeat with the remaining apple quarters. Add ¼ cup of the sugar, the lemon juice, and 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon to the apples and mix well. Set aside.

3. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, salt and remaining one teaspoon cinnamon. Set aside.

4. Combine the oil and orange juice in a large measuring cup with a spout. Set aside.

5. Combine the butter and remaining two cups sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat them at low speed until the mixture is smooth and creamy, about one minute if the butter is soft. If the butter is cool, it will take longer. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well and scraping the bowl after each addition, and waiting until all traces of each egg have disappeared before adding the next one. Add the vanilla and mix to incorporate.

6. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the wet ingredients in two parts. Keep the mixer at the lowest speed, and mix each time just until the ingredients are combined. When everything has been added, scrape the bowl and paddle one more time, and stir the batter just until it’s smooth. Add the diced apple and any accumulated juices; stir to incorporate.

7. Fill the cupcake liners three-quarters full and bake until the tops of the cupcakes are firm and a cake tester inserted in the center of a middle cupcake comes out with just a few crumbs, about 20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool for five minutes in the pans before removing to a rack to cool completely.

Caramel Buttercream

Makes about seven cups


3 cups (six sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup caramel sauce (see recipe below)
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt


1. In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter. Start with the mixer at the lowest speed, then gradually increase the speed, using a rubber spatula to scrape the bowl as needed, until the butter is light in color, perfectly smooth, and makes a slapping sound as it hits the sides of the bowl. If the butter is soft,vthis should only take 30 seconds, but if the butter is cool, it can take a couple of minutes.

2. Add the sugar, 1 cup at a time, and mix at the lowest speed until it’s fully incorporated before adding the next cup. When all the sugar has been added, scrape the paddle and the bottom and sides of the bowl. Add the caramel sauce, vanilla, and salt, and beat them at low speed for 15 seconds. Increase the speed to as high as you can without making a mess and whip the buttercream until the mixture is perfectly smooth, creamy, and light, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape the bowl and paddle, then continue beating. At first the buttercream will appear to soften, then it will sti!en and increase in volume.

3. Use right away, or store in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to use it, let the buttercream come to room temperature, then put it back in the stand mixer and use the paddle attachment to beat it until it’s creamy and stiff again.

Caramel Sauce

Makes about 1½ cups


1 1/3 cups sugar
¼ cup cold water
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
1 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt


1. Put the sugar, water, corn syrup, and lemon juice in a medium saucepan. Stir gently with a wooden spoon just to moisten the sugar. Set the pan over medium-high heat. Watch carefully, but do not stir. The sugar will dissolvevand come to a boil; the mixture will gradually turn golden and color to a dark amber (at 320 degrees F, if youvhave a candy thermometer).

2. While the sugar is cooking, put the butter and heavy cream next to the stove, along with the vanilla and salt. Also have ready a large whisk and an oven mitt.

Once the sugar starts changing color, it darkens quickly, so don’t walk away. If the caramel is turning darker around the edges, gently swirl the pan, but don’t stir.

As soon as the caramel is dark amber, remove the pan from the heat and immediately add the butter. Hold the whisk with the oven mitt (to protect your hand and arm from the steam) and stir the butter as it melts. Right away, add the heavy cream in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Be very careful, because the caramel will bubble up and create a lot of steam.

Add the vanilla and salt, and pour the sauce into a heatproof container to cool to room temperature. You can store caramel sauce in an airtight container for up to a week in the refrigerator.

Carolyn OssorioCarolyn Ossorio writes about life in the city with her five children in her column for the Renton Reporter as well as regularly blogs for the Huffington Post about her love of cookin’ and trippin’ around the Pacific Northwest with her family.

Forks in the Road is her family’s latest adventure — part cooking show, part field trip and 100% inspiring and relatable. Find Carolyn at or on Facebook.

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