You Need to Try These Insanely Creative Cupcake Recipes

It’s very possible that an episode of Sex and the City is responsible for the cupcake craze that still has people seeking out the adorable desserts. Some talented bakers have even managed to build a former hobby into multimillion-dollar empires thanks to the treat’s popularity. While many of these bakeries have gained success by doing great versions of classics, the same old chocolate with vanilla buttercream is starting to seem a little pedestrian.

When you find yourself in the mood for a sweet treat that’s a little more interesting, try out one of these unique creations. Some surprising ingredients — like gin, pistachios, red wine, and even peas — give this beloved dessert a new look. And you thought you had cupcakes all figured out.

1. Gin and Tonic Cupcakes

gin and tonic cupcakes

Gin and tonic cupcakes | iStock.com

Combine snack time and cocktail time with these gin and tonic cupcakes from The Girl in The Little Red Kitchen. Start by mixing together the dry ingredients while butter and sugar cream in a mixer. Add eggs, lime juice, and gin, then mix in the dry ingredients alternately with tonic water. A zesty lime frosting adds even more pucker-inducing power and a bit more gin.

This dessert is perfect for a party when you want to impress your friends and family. Just make sure to have some more traditional, and less boozy, cupcakes around for any kids who might show up.

Ingredients:

Cupcakes

  • 2¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • Zest from 1 lime
  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1¼ cups granulated white sugar
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup gin
  • 1 cup tonic water

Frosting

  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • Zest from 1 lime
  • Juice from ½ lime
  • 2 tablespoons tonic water
  • 2 tablespoons gin

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line 2 12-cup cupcake pans with liners. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and lime zest.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and airy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time, until combined. Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl, then mix in the lime juice and gin. Mix in half of the flour mixture, then the tonic water, then the remaining flour, until thoroughly combined.

Fill the cupcake liners two-thirds of the way full with batter and bake for 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely.

In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter and confectioners’ sugar on low speed. Add the lime zest, juice, tonic water, and gin. Slowly increase the speed until the frosting comes together and is nice and smooth. Bring the speed up to medium-high and mix for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is light and fluffy.

Pipe the frosting or spread it on the cupcakes using an offset spatula.

2. Lemon Meringue Cupcakes

lemon meringue cupcakes

Lemon meringue cupcakes | iStock.com

For all the flavor of a classic pie that’s a lot less work, Cooking Classy’s lemon meringue cupcakes, which adapts Martha Stewart’s meringue recipe, are a real treat. A standard cake batter gets a hint of lemon zest for brightness and a few additional egg yolks for richness. Once these baked goods come out of the oven, they get a double dose of frosting with a layer of lemon curd and a final crown of meringue. If you have a kitchen torch, this is the perfect opportunity to use it.

Though this recipe includes a method for making lemon curd, using something from the store is just fine. Even homemade desserts can include a few shortcuts.

Ingredients:

Cupcakes

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1½ tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ cup vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • ½ teaspoon lemon extract
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon curd, homemade or store-bought

Lemon curd

  • 6 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice

Meringue

  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature

Directions: In a mixing bowl, using an electric hand mixer set on medium-high speed, whip together butter, sugar, and lemon zest until slightly pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Blend in egg and yolks 1 at a time, mixing just until combined after each addition. Stir in lemon juice.

Pour mixture into a 3-quart, non-reactive saucepan and heat mixture over medium-low heat. Cook mixture, stirring constantly, until it reaches 172 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat and press mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl to remove lemon zest. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing directly against the surface of curd and chill at least 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt for 30 seconds. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip together sugar, butter, and lemon zest on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Blend in vegetable oil. Add in egg and mix until combined, then add in egg yolks, lemon extract, and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Measure out milk in a liquid measuring cup and stir in lemon juice. Add flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the milk in 2 batches. Mix until just combined after each addition.

Divide mixture among 12 paper-lined muffin cups, filling each cup two-thirds full. Bake in preheated oven for 19 to 21 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of cupcake comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool in muffin tin several minutes before transferring to a wire rack. Cool completely, then spread 1 tablespoon lemon curd over top of each cupcake.

In a small saucepan, whisk together ¾ cup of the granulated sugar, the water, and corn syrup. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves, then continue to boil without stirring and heat to 230 degrees Fahrenheit, using a candy thermometer. Meanwhile, whip egg whites in a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, then add remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and whisk until combined.

Once sugar syrup is 230 degrees Fahrenheit, remove from heat and, with mixer running on low speed, slowly pour syrup down side of bowl in a slow, steady stream. Once all of the syrup has been mixed in, increase mixer speed to medium-high and whisk until stiff, but not dry, peaks form, about 7 to 10 minutes.

Pipe meringue frosting over cupcakes and carefully toast edges with a kitchen torch. For best results, serve within 1 hour.

3. Sweet Pea Cupcakes with Sour Cream Frosting

mashed peas

Mashed peas | iStock.com

Looking for something else to do with an abundance of peas? Introduce the veggie to dessert by baking up Vanilla Garlic’s sweet pea cupcakes with sour cream frosting. They’re unexpectedly delicious and delightfully green, making them perfect for impressing your foodie friends.

Whisk eggs and sugar until they’re combined, then add vanilla extract, olive oil, lemon juice, and pureed peas. After adding the dry ingredients, the cakes are ready to bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Whip up an easy frosting that gets a tart edge from sour cream while the cupcakes are in the oven and smear a healthy spoonful on top of each once they’re cooled. This sweet treat might not be what you expected, but it might be exactly what you need.

Ingredients:

Cupcakes

  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1½ cups granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups pureed peas
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Frosting

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ⅓ cup sour cream
  • 2½ cups powdered sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until bright and well emulsified. Add the oil, extract, lemon juice, and pea puree. Mix until well combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Scoop into paper-lined muffin tin and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Set aside to cool.

Using a handheld or stand mixer, beat together all frosting ingredients until light and fluffy. Frost cupcakes and serve.

4. White Chocolate Cupcakes with Pistachio Buttercream

pistachios

Pistachios | iStock.com

It’s not terribly difficult to find recipes for cakes with pistachios in the batter, but putting that green nut into the frosting is something entirely different. Try it out at home by making these white chocolate cupcakes with pistachio buttercream from Sugary and Buttery. The cupcakes have a rich but light flavor that lets the buttercream shine.

The cake comes together by creaming butter and sugar. Add the eggs, then the white chocolate, and finish with the dry ingredients. The buttercream is a meringue that gets plenty of its namesake ingredient and ground pistachios. Green food coloring is optional, but why not?

Ingredients:

 Cupcakes

  • 5 ounces white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • ⅔ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

Buttercream

  • 16 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 egg whites, room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ⅓ cup pistachios, very finely ground
  • 2 drops green food coloring

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a muffin pan with paper liners. Slowly melt the white chocolate over a double boiler. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another bowl, stir together the milk and vanilla.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter on high speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the chocolate. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 additions, and mix until smooth.

Scoop the batter into prepared cups. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes.

Beat the egg whites until foamy, then add the cream of tartar. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, then add the granulated sugar. On high speed, beat the egg whites until stiff and glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes.

With the paddle attachment and mixer on medium speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the powdered sugar and turn the mixer to high speed. Beat the buttercream until light and fluffy, then add the pistachios and food coloring and beat for another 1 to 2 minutes.

Frost cupcakes and serve.

5. Chocolate Red Wine Cupcakes

red wine

Red wine | iStock.com

Chocolate and red wine have long been paired together for elegant desserts. Get all of that luxurious flavor in one adorable package with Tide & Thyme’s chocolate red wine cupcakes, adapted from a recipe on Smitten Kitchen. Filled with cocoa, cinnamon, and dark brown sugar, the cake has a rich flavor that stands up perfectly to the alcohol. The booze goes in the cake as well as the fluffy topping, so this is definitely a treat for wine lovers.

This recipe calls for Cabernet Sauvignon, but any fruity red wine will work well here. Go with something affordable, but still delicious. You don’t need to break the bank for cupcakes, after all.

Ingredients:

 Cupcakes

  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk, room temperature
  • ¾ cup Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Frosting

  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners and set aside. In a large bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and sugars for 2 minutes, until light and fluffy. Then add in the egg and egg yolk, as well as the vanilla; beat well, until combined. Add half of the dry ingredients, followed by the wine, then the remainder of the dry ingredients. Mix until well combined, scraping the bottom of the bowl with a spatula, if necessary.

Divide batter evenly into lined muffin pan. Bake for 18 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before transferring cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

In the meantime, to make the frosting, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Slowly incorporate confectioners’ sugar as well as the wine and vanilla. Beat until no lumps remain. Frost cupcakes and serve.

6. Sweet Corn Cupcakes with Brown Butter Frosting

sweet corn cupcakes

Sweet corn cupcakes | iStock.com

These sweet corn cupcakes with brown butter frosting from Serious Eats highlight corn’s versatility. They’re basically buttered corn on the cob morphed into dessert. Making brown butter might sound complicated, but it’s really easy. Cook butter over medium-high heat until it’s completely melted. Continue to cook, and stir constantly with a heatproof spatula. As soon as the butter smells nutty and turns golden brown, remove the pan from the heat and strain the butter into a dish.

Ingredients:

Frosting

  • 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar

Cupcakes

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Reserved butter solids, leftover from browning the butter for frosting
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1¼ cups corn kernels, divided
  • 1¼ cups cake flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder

Directions: Place the 10 tablespoons of butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and heat over medium-high flame. Swirl the pan occasionally to melt butter completely. Place a fine mesh strainer inside a heatproof bowl; keep within easy reach of the stovetop. Continuing to heat, butter will foam and begin to brown around the edges. Be careful to avoid hot butter splatters. Scrape around the sides and bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula to prevent scorching and ensure even browning.

When butter solids have turned a uniform mahogany brown, remove pan from heat and immediately pour butter through nearby strainer, separating all but the finest bits of solid from the butter. Set strainer lined with butter solids aside. Place butter in refrigerator to set while preparing cake.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 12 standard cupcake tins with paper liners. In a mixing bowl, combine the 4 tablespoons of butter with the reserved brown butter solids and both sugars. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add egg and beat until light and homogeneous.

In a blender or food processor, puree yogurt with ¾ cup corn kernels until smooth.

Combine flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder; whisk to blend. Add about one-third of the flour to the butter and egg mixture, and mix to incorporate. Mix in half of the corn puree. Add half of the remaining flour and mix just to incorporate. Add remaining corn puree. Mix in remainder of flour to incorporate. Fold in ½ cup corn kernels.

Spoon batter evenly among cupcake papers. Bake cupcakes until set, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan to cooling rack while preparing frosting.

Combine cooled brown butter with confectioners’ sugar and salt. Beat with mixer until light and fluffy, scraping down occasionally. Add molasses and vanilla and mix to thoroughly incorporate. Frost cupcakes and store in an airtight container.