Thursday, August 4, 2016

Grace's Root Beer Float Cupcakes

My long search for the key ingredient is over!

Can you believe it's August already? I feel like the last two months have gone by way too fast. I'm neck deep into packing for my big move, and am trying my very best to keep up with blog stuff until I'm out the door and on the road.

People keep insisting that I shouldn't kill myself trying to make sure blog posts go out on time, and they're right! But the fact is, I want to do as much as I can before I start my next adventure. I intend to continue posting here and learning more about food history, but since none of us know what the future holds, might as well make the best of things while we can, right?

One thing I knew I wanted to do before I left was feature this unusual but extremely tasty cupcake recipe. Much like the flourless chocolate cake I made earlier this summer, this is a recipe I've been wanting to feature for a really, really long time, but there was one thing keeping me from committing to it: root beer extract.

Specialty cupcakes aren't exactly the hot item they were a couple years ago, but there's no question that the successful bakeries are still hanging on and going strong. I know I'm going to really miss one of our local shops. They make a delicious cookie dough cupcake. Maybe I should try to convince someone to split an order of these with me before I leave!

Said cupcake shop is the first place I'd ever seen a root beer flavored cupcake on the menu, and since I love root beer, I was immediately extremely intrigued. This just got worse when I found out that multiple people had uploaded their own versions of this recipe on blogs, online food journals, and pretty much everywhere else. Of course, this got me thinking about making them myself, because how hard could it be, right?

Well, as it turns out, it was slightly more difficult than I'd hoped.

Almost every recipe in existence says the key ingredient isn't root beer itself, but root beer extract or concentrate. The internet assured me that root beer extract would be easy to find in my grocery store, or at a specialty food store, but I've looked in almost every single grocery, baking, and specialty food store in the state and haven't been able to find it. My mom's looked too, and no luck, which meant this recipe got delayed and delayed and delayed.

(Yes, we probably could have just ordered some on Amazon and saved us all the hassle, but hey. At least it gave us lots of time to try out other recipes, right?)

Finally, my mom happened to be in a Michael's, stopped by the baking section and lo and behold, there it was! So it was time to give it a whirl.

Picking a recipe was tricky process. Everyone seems to make these cakes a tiny bit differently, but I finally decided on Life Love Liz's version because she uses the extract and actual root beer in both the cake and the frosting. I figured this would be the best way to make sure the cake really did taste like root beer, since I have definitely heard some mixed feedback about other recipes and offerings at bakeries. Apparently, it can be pretty tricky to get the cake genuinely tasting like root beer, even if you do get the frosting right.

To start, you cream together 3/4 of a cup of soften butter with 1 1/2 cups of sugar in one bowl, and 2 1/2 cup of flour, 2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in another.

Here comes the secret ingredient! The brand my mom got came in two very tiny bottles in one package. Fortunately, the bottles just managed to give me all the extract I needed for both the cake and the frosting. If you're making a big batch, you're going to need more than one.

Three eggs, a tablespoon of root beer extract and 1/2 of a teaspoon of vanilla get added to the butter/sugar mixture. Your dry ingredients are added alternately with a cup of root beer until you've got a nice batter going.

I feel like I used to make cupcakes relatively often, but since starting this blog, I'm definitely more of a regular cake person. It was kind of fun to sort through our cupcake liners and try to find something appropriate for this recipe.

The recipe said to fill the cake liners about 2/3s of the way full, and bake them for 15 to 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Mine were solid and ready to go after 15 minutes, which was a pleasant surprise.

To make the root beer buttercream, you combine one cup of softened butter, three cups of powdered sugar, three tablespoons of root beer, one teaspoon of root beer extract and one teaspoon of vanilla. For the first time ever, my butter cream started to separate on me when I mixed it with my mixer, and I'm not sure if this was me making a mistake I've somehow never made before while making frosting, or if there's something about the recipe that means you're going to wind up with a slightly grainy frosting. If you've got an idea, let me know!

When your cupcakes are cool, top them with the frosting and a cherry! Technically I guess this should be a maraschino cherry, but we didn't have any in the house.

It makes a pretty cute cupcake, right?

So, right off the bat I'm going to say these were not as good as the cupcakes I got from the bakery, but that's like saying my high school AP US History paper wasn't as good as The Longest Day. I will say though that both my cake and the frosting did taste like root beer individually, and I think the cupcake I got at the bakery really just had the root beer flavor in the frosting. Maybe it was an off day, I don't know, but I definitely didn't think the cake tasted like root beer by itself. The flavor was more subtle in my cake, but it was definitely still there.

The texture of the cake was good, and the flavor was on point, so aside from the grainy texture of the frosting, I really only had one real complaint about this recipe: the frosting and cake are almost exactly the same color. Now, not everything I've ever made looks super visually appealing, and that's fine, but cupcakes are usually such cute, pretty little things, and this just looks... beige, even with the cherry on top. I'm not sure how you can fix this because the extract and root beer are obviously going to stain the frosting because, you know, they're brown, but it still bummed me out a tiny bit. Ah well.

Anyway, it was a success with my taste testers too, I think. I'm not sure it was anyone's new favorite recipe I've ever made, but it was fun to finally get a chance to make this and wind up with a tasty, moist cake that does really taste like root beer. If anything, it's inspired me to try out the cola cakes Maryellen would have been familiar with that I've heard so many things about. Apparently, the soda helps make the cake moist... and probably a lot more sugary. Fun future project, right?

Special thanks to my mom for helping me look for this for three years! Hope you enjoyed the fruit of our search as much as I did!

Pretty sure this was well worth the wait!


  1. Whoa! Those look amazingly tasty. I may have to try making them. Thanks for sharing the recipe. I think they may have root beer extract at this giant baking store in Chelsea- I'll have to check!

    1. Good luck! Let me know if you do wind up making them, I love getting other people's opinions on recipes. :D

  2. Glad I was able to help!

    1. Thanks again! These were super yummy.