Spice Cupcakes with Chai Frosting / by Chelsea Zwieg

Remember when cupcakes shops were sweeping the nation? And all anyone could ever talk about was cupcakes? And every single show on Food Network was some variation of a cupcake competition? I know America has moved on since then to newer, cooler dessert fads but can I just ask: WHY? There is nothing cuter than cupcakes and the day a 24 hour cupcake ATM opened at the Sprinkles 2 blocks away from my apartment in Chicago was among the greatest moments of my life. At this time of cupcake craziness, two of the cupcake shops in Chicago started doing free cupcake giveaways and since nothing is more appealing to poor, broke college students than free cupcakes, my roommates and I took full advantage of these promotions. We would stalk the Sprinkles facebook page like crazy people waiting until they posted the 'secret word' and then literally run over to Sprinkles and get our free cupcakes. At one point we decided to keep the boxes that they came in and we built a pyramid in front of our window that reached the ceiling. No big deal. So I think it's safe to say that cupcakes will never get old to me. I hope you all feel the same way. 

But we're not just talking about any cupcakes today. We're talking about super moist (sorry. worst word.) brown sugar cake filled with every spice that will make you feel all warm and cozy. Baked until your house smells better than any fall scented candle. And then topped with a chai spiced cream cheese buttercream that is like a great Starbucks drink in super fluffy frosting form. 

Cream cheese buttercream is not only super catchy to say, it's also one of the best frostings, in my opinion. Regular cream cheese frosting is one of my favorites but when it's not on carrot or red velvet cake, it can seem like a little bit much. A lot of cream cheese frostings are made with equal parts cream cheese and butter or a higher proportion of cream cheese, which means it is a seriously thick frosting. Absolutely wonderful, but just not great with everything, you know? Plain buttercream is just....plain buttercream. It's typically so sweet you might lose a few teeth eating it and anything you try to flavor it with is overpowered by some good old smack-you-in-the-face sugar sweats. And so, the perfect balance seems to be a buttercream with just a little bit of cream cheese. 1 cup of butter to 1/2 cup of cream cheese is my favorite, but you can scale it however your tastebuds tell you. The cream cheese is just enough to cut the sweetness but the frosting can still be whipped to fluffy, swirly peaks that aren't too heavy, which is the best thing about any frosting. And the chai flavors (or any other flavor) can do their thing in peace. 

So let's make some chai spiced cupcakes and be thankful that some trends will never fully die (at least I sure hope not). 

Spice Cupcakes with Chai Frosting

Makes 12 cupcakes

Note: If you don't have cake flour on hand, just measure out the flour for this recipe, remove 3 tbsp. and add 3 tbsp. cornstarch. DIY cake flour!

Cake recipe adapted from Bon Appetit

  • 1 1/2 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk

For the frosting: 

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, room temp
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 1/2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ginger
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • pinch of salt

| Instructions

Preheat oven to 350. Line a 12 cup muffin pan with paper liners and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg and beat until combined. With the mixer on low, pour in the milk, mixing until combined. If the milk is very cold, the mixture might start to look curdled. Don't worry, it will get fixed. 

Add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. If your butter got curdled from the cold milk, crank the mixer up to a high speed and beat the batter until smooth, no more than 15-20 seconds. This will get the lumps out but be sure not to keep mixing after it's smooth, which will make the cupcakes too dense. 

Portion the batter into the prepared muffin tins. Bake 20-22 minutes until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove cupcakes from the pan and cool on a wire rack. 

To make the frosting, beat the butter and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer until smooth. Add the vanilla and beat to combine. Add the powdered sugar in 3 parts (otherwise it might puff up out of the mixer and all over you) and beat until the frosting is smooth, light and fluffy. Add the spices and a pinch of salt and beat until combined. Taste and add more spices if desired. 

Frost the cupcakes and sprinkle with additional cinnamon or cloves.