Better-than-Hostess Cupcakes

They taunt me from the check-out line at the grocery store. “Buy me.” “Eat me.” “You know you want to.”

You’ve heard them, too, no doubt. They’re persistent little things.

But I have willpower. I walk triumphantly past them and pay the cashier for my basket of fruits and veggies. Victory.

…and then I go home and make them myself.

Because, who doesn’t love a Hostess cupcake, after all?

But these are better. Way better. Half-price-Jimmy-Choos better. And not pre-packaged. So you can tell yourself that they’re better for you. (Even though they’re probably not.)

Go ahead. Make them. And share them. You know you want to. Don’t they look good?

Better-than-Hostess Cupcakes

Active time: 1 hour (not including time for chilling)
Makes 36

For the cupcakes
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar
3/4 cups unsweetened applesauce
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line muffin pan with cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing mixer, combine oil and sugar; mix well. Stir in the apple sauce and vanilla. Slowly add half of the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Slowly pour in the water, mixing on low until water no longer sits on the surface of the mixture. Beat in the remaining flour mixture until just combined. Slowly add the milk and beat on low until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula and mix for another 15-20 seconds.

Fill each cupcake liner with 3 tablespoons of batter (2/3 full). Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let set in pan for 10 minutes; remove cupcakes to a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before filling or frosting.

For the filling
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch salt (approx. 1/8 teaspoon)
1 1/4 cups marshmallow creme

In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar together. Add the vanilla and salt; mix until combined. Mix in the marshmallow spread and whisk until light and fluffy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for 15-20 minutes.

For the frosting
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Fill a frying pan or skillet with an inch or two of water and heat to lightly simmering. In a small bowl set over the simmering water, melt the butter, chips, and corn syrup until smooth and glossy. Remove from heat. (Alternatively, in a medium, microwave-safe bowl, heat at 30-second intervals, stirring between each, until completely melted and glossy.) Stir in the vanilla. Cover and chill for 20-30 minutes until thickened slightly.

Assembly
When you’re ready to fill the cupcakes, fill a disposable decorator bag, fitted with a filling tip (I use a Wilton #7), with the chilled filling. Insert the tip into the center of the cupcake, then squeeze to fill. The cupcake is full when the filling starts to push back against the tip. Alternatively, you could cut the center out of the cupcake, fill, and then replace the top portion of the removed piece of cupcake. Use a small offset spatula to smooth any extra filling from the top of the cupcakes.

To frost the filled cupcakes, spoon frosting onto the tops of the cupcakes, smoothing the frosting to cover the entire surface. Once all of the cupcakes are frosted, chill for 15-20 minutes before decorating.

To decorate, use the remaining filling to pipe white swirls onto the tops of the cupcakes (might as well look like Hostess cupcakes if they taste like them, right?) I use a Wilton #4 tip. Start on one edge of the cupcake, and repeat the swirl design across the center to the other edge. Return cupcakes to the refrigerator for approximately 45 minutes. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days (or freeze for up to 2 weeks).

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