8 best cupcake recipes for an extra-special, extra-fun dessert

From super-simple to over-the-top, we've got your to-bake list covered

Published June 16, 2021 7:59AM (EDT)

 (Bobbi Lin / Food52)
(Bobbi Lin / Food52)

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Cupcakes are a constant for me, not a baking trend. As someone who bakes a lot, I never tire of making them. They're easy to make, and I always get excited about eating them. They are also a lot of fun to dress up, get creative with, and make extra special. I find that I'm not alone in my love for cupcakes, too — I have elicited my fair share of gasps and smiles walking into a room carrying a colorful box of cupcakes. (Seriously, move over bouquet of flowers — give me a box o' cupcakes.) And if cupcakes are meant to be baked, gifted, and/or eaten by the dozen, I'm coming in hot with a bunch of recipes to keep you in tiny cakes for all occasions. My newest episode of Bake it Up a Notch dives deep into all things cupcakes — from super simple to over-the-top, I've got your cupcake to-bake list covered.

1. Basic Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes

These are my go-to cupcakes: an easy base recipe that can be made in vanilla or chocolate. These rise a "just-right" amount, to get a beautiful little cakey dome with a super moist crumb that's a perfect match for any frosting or other finishes you can dream up! Be sure to check out this article I wrote back in 2015 about cupcakes, too — it has lots of ideas and techniques for making your best, plus creative ideas for making them look super beautiful, too. What's that? Super in-depth coverage on cupcakes from me over five years ago on this same site? Just a perfect example of the cupcake constant.

2. Rainbow Cupcakes

Rainbow cupcakes are an easy alteration to my classic vanilla cupcake recipe that is so much fun to make. After mixing the batter, divide it into six small bowls, and use food coloring to dye each one a different color: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple! Scoop the colorful batters into the prepared cupcake pan one at a time, dividing each color evenly between the cavities as you scoop. As the cupcakes bake, they will set in a gorgeous multi-colored effect. I like pairing these cupcakes with a white frosting, like buttercream or meringue, plus plenty of rainbow sprinkles. Aside from rainbow, you can also do this with any batter colors you like! Try swirling the batter gently with a toothpick or skewer to create a marbled look post-bake.

3. Cookies and Cream Cupcakes

These are a sweet twist on a vanilla cupcake, featuring a whole sandwich cookie in the base of each cupcake, plus plenty of cookie crumbs folded throughout the batter. Using marshmallow fluff in the frosting mimics the kind of creaminess of the classic cookie's filling — I like to finish them off with a miniature sandwich cookie, too (or more cookie crumbs). Have another favorite cookie? This would work with chocolate chip cookies, too — or even your favorite Girl Scout cookie.

4. Banana Cupcakes with Caramel Filling and Frosting

This is an easy-to-make cupcake (think: banana bread-easy) that's leveled up with a truly killer flavor pairing: caramel. The center is filled after baking with dulce de leche, and it's topped with a super yummy (and super simple!) caramel frosting. These cupcakes are dense, super moist, and rich — they might even be my favorite on this list, both to bake and to eat!

5. Strawberry-Rhubarb Meringue Cupcakes

You know I've got to throw a little pie-inspired cupcake in the mix! This lovely pound cake-style batter bakes up dense — a perfect pairing for light and fluffy meringue (toasting is optional but strongly encouraged by this number-one kitchen torch fan). After baking, it's easy to remove a portion of the center of the cake and fill it with a homemade strawberry rhubarb jam. No rhubarb? No problem — make the jam filling with just strawberries! Or use this a jumping-off point to bake up your own fruity, jammy, or pie-inspired cupcake combo!

6. White Cake Cupcakes with Mascarpone Whipped Cream and Berries

This cupcake was inspired by my mom's favorite kind of cake, which she calls "wedding cake." It's a classic white cake with a hint of almond extract, which makes it extra luscious. I like to keep it simple by finishing these cakes with a dollop of my mascarpone whipped cream. It's simultaneously super creamy and beautifully light. Finish it with the fresh fruit of your choice: berries, sliced peaches and plums, or chopped mango are a few of my favorites.

7. Peppermint Hi-Hat Cupcakes

This is a cupcake that's dressed to impress. I first heard of the dreamy hi-hat cupcakes via Martha Stewart and — swoon — immediately fell in love with the combination of moist cupcake and fluffy seven-minute frosting. As if that weren't enough, what really sets these cupcakes apart is that they are dunked in chocolate cold-snap topping. The cupcakes then are chilled after frosting, which allows the topping to set firm and thin-crisp on the outside.

This cold and creamy situation is perfect with one of my favorite flavor combos of all time: peppermint and chocolate. The devil's food cake is moist and delicious with any kind of cocoa — but is especially decadent with black cocoa powder, which gives the cake a rich chocolate taste and a gorgeous, intense color contrast with the light, fluffy frosting. That frosting is flavored with peppermint extract (plus a little pink food coloring, if you like) before the dip into milk chocolate cold snap. But these stunning cupcakes can be flavored a lot of different ways: You could swap the actual cake for one of the other batters on this list, then pair it with a frosting and topping to match. The dark chocolate, strawberry, and matcha cold snap toppings already here on Food52 are great inspo for flavor ideas!

8. Strawberry Lemonade Cupcakes

This is the perfect summer cupcake! It starts with a base inspired by pink strawberry cake mix — but my version spikes it with lemon and uses fresh strawberries that are cooked down to a thick puree. The sweet cake is naturally pink and boasts a lovely strawberry flavor. It's finished with my lemon curd buttercream, which is made extra special by swirling it with the remaining strawberry puree. Be sure to check out the cupcake episode of "Bake it Up a Notch" linked above that shows a super-cool pro tip for swirling frostings, which is also a great technique for swirling different coloring of frosting together for cupcakes in general!

By Erin Jeanne McDowell

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