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Sweet & easy cupcakes

PAM ANDERSON | 5/5/2010, 5:18 a.m.

USA WEEKEND Food

Here's everything you need to make scores of cupcakes that taste as scrumptious as they look. It starts with from-scratch batter that's almost as easy as a box mix - but so much better.There are two simple frostings: from-scratch cream cheese and store-bought chocolate that's made to taste like homemade with two simple additions.If you're like me, you might not want to pull out the pastry decorating kit to create pretty cupcakes. So I offer seven different flavors that double as a lovely garnish. Certainly make my cupcake variations, but it won't be long before you come up with your own!4 Tbs. softened butter

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

3/4 to 1 cup confectioners' sugarBeat butter and cream cheese until smooth and fluffy. Beat in 3/4 cup confectioners' sugar; add more (up to 1 cup) if desired. Flavor as instructed in the individual recipes.

Enough for 1 dozen cupcakes1 1/2 sticks (12 Tbs.) softened butter

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour*

1 Tb. warm water

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake papers. Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Starting and ending with an egg, alternate adding eggs and flour, beating until each is thoroughly incorporated. Beat in water and vanilla until just incorporated.

Evenly divide batter among prepared cups. Bake until fully cooked and golden, 15 to 17 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cupcakes stand a couple of minutes, then turn onto a wire rack to cool.

*Or whisk 1 1/2 tsps. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt into 1 1/2 cups bleached all-purpose flour

Makes 1 dozen1 container (1 pound) store-bought chocolate frosting

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. instant coffee

Stir vanilla, coffee into frosting until smooth.

Enough for 1 dozen cupcakesMake 1 recipe Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes, adding 1/4 tsp. coconut extract along with the vanilla.

Make 1 recipe All-Purpose Cream Cheese Frosting, stirring in 14 tsp. coconut extract.

Frost cupcakes, then dip tops in 1 1/4 cups sweetened flaked coconut.Make 1 recipe Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes, then spoon half the batter into muffin cups.

Drop 1 1/2 tsps. strawberry jam (don't stir to loosen it) into each. Fill cups with remaining batter, spreading to ensure jam is covered.

Make Cheater's Chocolate Frosting. Frost cupcakes, garnishing each with a fresh strawberry half (or quarter, if large).Lemon-Raspberry Cupcakes

Make 1 recipe Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes, scooping half the batter into each muffin cup. Spoon in 1 1/2 teaspoons raspberry jam (do not stir to loosen it); fill cups with remaining batter, spreading around to insure jam is covered.

Make All-Purpose Cream Cheese Frosting, stirring in 1/2 cup prepared lemon curd/

Frost cupcakes, garnishing each with a raspberry.

Snicker Doodle Cupcakes

Make 1 recipe Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes, stirring 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon into the dry ingredients.

Make All-Purpose Cream Cheese Frosting, stirring in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Frost cupcakes and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (a mix of 1/4 cup sugar and 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon).

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

Make 1 recipe Perfect Vanilla Cupcake, spooning half the batter in each muffin cup. Spoon in 1 1/2 teaspoons strawberry jam (do not stir to loosen it); fill cups with remaining batter, spreading it around to insure jam is covered.

Make 1 recipe All-Purpose Cream Cheese Frosting, stirring in 1/4 cu peanut butter.

Frost cupcakes, garnishing each with a cluster of roasted peanuts.

S'more Cupcakes

Make 1 recipe Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes.

Make Cheater's Chocolate Frosting.

Garnish with mini marshmallows and a graham cracker quarter.

Maple Walnut Cupcakes

Make 1 recipe Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes, substituting 1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring for the vanilla.

Make 1 recipe All-Purpose Cream Cheese Frosting, stirring in 1/4 teaspoon maple flavoring.

Frost cupcakes, and then roll tops in 1 1/2 cups toasted chopped walnuts.