Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cranberry Orange Cream Cheese Cupcakes with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting

Happy Thanksgiving, guys : ) Wow. What a year it's been--and boy, do I have LOADS of gratitude for where I am in life right now. Among other things, I am so thankful for you--my readers! This blog has been such a fun, interesting, challenging addition to my life--and I get so excited about each new recipe I share with you guys, and love when you provide feedback. You're the best!
I am also incredibly thankful for my HEALTH. Man. Good health is one of those things that people so easily taken for granted until it's jeopardized or gone--at least, that was true in my case. I love feeling good, and I am so, so thankful that I have the resources to be able to commit to wise life choices in order to maintain my health.
Other things for which I'm thankful include: my incredible family, my wonderful job, my amazing friends. And as unusual and unexpected as it has been, I have grown enough this year to become genuinely thankful for things that stretched me--things that made me sad, mad, uncomfortable--plans that didn't go my way, disappointments and heartbreak--because all of those things forced me out of my comfort zone and into a new frontier of openness, flexibility, and true contentment. It has been anything but easy--but wow...has it ever been worth it.
But...what kind of list would this be if I didn't mention how thankful I am for FOOD?! Cupcakes, in particular--and THESE cupcakes, to be very specific! : ) I purchased fresh cranberries for the first time last week, having never tasted a fresh cranberry. As for that experience...uhhh...fresh cranberries taste like...poison, death...well, let's just say this wasn't my favorite fresh fruit experience (it's a shockingly mouth-puckering, bitter, sour little fruit).
That brings me to the next item for which I am thankful: sugar!! Dear LORD. Without it, these cupcakes would have been disastrous. To take the edge off the cranberries, I roughly chopped them and macerated them in some sugar and orange juice. (Cooking vocabulary word: Macerate: [mass-uh-reyt]--it means to "soften or separate by steeping in a liquid") Basically, I threw the chopped cranberries in a bowl and poured sugar over them, to allow them to soak up the sugar and release their juices. After a few minutes, I added a splash of orange juice.
To a white cake mix, I added the cranberries, some orange zest and about a tablespoon of orange juice--but the real key to the fluffy, cloud-like texture of these cupcakes was in the cream cheese. MAN. Who knew?! Recipe adapted from here.
Cupcake Ingredients:
  • 2 cups fresh cranberries, roughly chopped
  • 1 box white cake mix
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 8-ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Frosting Ingredients:
  • 1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened (I used 1 1/2 packages because I had more cupcakes than I expected. Everything else stayed the same)
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 to 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons orange zest
  • Juice of 1 small orange or half of a regular orange (I was using Cuties, the little clementine oranges)
  • 1 teaspoon of the cranberry/orange juice liquid
To sweeten the cranberries:
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice 
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons flour

Preheat oven to 385, and line cupcake tins with 24-30 liners. Set aside.

Start with the cranberries: roughly chop them and put them in a bowl. Cover with sugar and orange juice, stirring occasionally. Allow them to steep for 15-30 minutes, or until cranberries have released some juice and create a semi-thick syrup in the bottom of the bowl. Strain the cranberries and reserve the syrup. Toss the cranberries in the flour so they are lightly coated (this is so they won't sink to the bottom of the cupcake batter!)

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and cream cheese until smooth and creamy. Add cake mix, water, vanilla, and eggs until just combined. Fold in cranberries and the orange juice and zest. Fill cups two-thirds of the way. Bake cupcakes at 385 for five minutes then immediately reduce to 350 for remaining cook time--15 to 18 more minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near centers comes out clean. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

For the frosting: Beat cream cheese, butter, juice, zest, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Pipe onto cooled cupcakes.


  1. Hi Esther, I love the recipe for the cranberry orange cream cheese cupcakes. They look so nice when they were in the oven but as soon as I took them out they deflated. I don't know what happen. Do you think I might have over mixed the batter? Please help!

    1. Hi, Daisy! I'm so sorry to hear that your cupcakes deflated. There are few things more disappointing in the kitchen than a dessert that flops. I had a very similar experience with some banana cupcakes I made once--the batter was smooth, silky, and gorgeous--but my cupcakes came out dense, rock-hard, and awful!

      As such, yes, my very first guess is that you may have overmixed the batter. Lumps and bubbles in the batter mean that there is plenty of air in the batter, allowing your cakes and cupcakes to rise correctly.

      Additionally, if you took them out too soon (before they were baked all the way through), that can also result in deflation. Your finished, unfrosted cupcakes should feel soft and spring back a little when touched.

      I decided to do a little research for you and found this little article from the Cupcake Project--have a look at it and let me know what you think!

      I hope attempt #2 is more successful :) Thank you so much for stopping by!