Top five winners of the first Herald-Mail cupcake contest

April 26, 2011|By Chris Copley |
  • Angela Danko of Chambersburg, Pa., won the first Herald-Mail cupcake contest with her Orange Dreamsicle Cupcakes. Danko is pictured with the cupcakes and her 6-month-old daughter, Helen.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff photographer

The Herald-Mail’s first-ever cupcake contest is on the books, and the response was great. Thirty entries. A wide variety of flavors, colors and decorative touches. Applause from all 10 judges. 

And high praise for the winning cupcake, Angela Danko’s Orange Dreamsicle Cupcakes. “Fantastic,” said Katie Wade, a barista with Skyline Cafe in Hagerstown. “Very moist. Very Light. Very good presentation,” said MJ Sommerville, a dessert lover from Hagers-town. “Fun kid cupcake,” said Valerie Minteer, a pastry chef from Hagerstown.

Danko’s cupcake rose to the top in a close contest among a variety of flavors. The top five recipes included a lime cupcake, an orange cupcake, a s’mores-flavored cupcake, a cinnamon roll cupcake and a peanut butter cup cupcake. 

The rest included a pineapple upside-down recipe, another s’mores recipe, a banana-flavored cupcake and a cupcake decorated to look exactly like a hamburger and fries in a 1950s-style rectangular paper tray.

An easy recipe, easily adapted


Danko, 31, of Chambersburg, Pa., said this was the first time she’s made this cake recipe as a cupcake.

“It has probably been eight to 10 years since I found that recipe,” she said. “I first made it for some type of a picnic. And then for my younger brother when he was 8 and he loved it. (My husband) Mark really likes the orange cake.”

A native of Hagerstown, Danko said she learned to bake when she was a child.

“Growing up, I had to be the baker. My mom was a good cook, but she hated baking,” Danko said. “So I was always baking birthday cakes, cookies, pies.”

She admitted pies are her weak spot in the kitchen. She struggles to get crusts to cooperate. Other than that, she loves to bake.

But now that Danko is a mother, her time in the kitchen is limited. So she uses cake mixes and other time-saving tricks. The Orange Dreamsicle recipe, for example, uses cake mix, instant Jell-O and instant pudding mixed with orange extract. 

This also allows the recipe’s flavor theme to be adjusted easily, Danko said.

“I’ve made many variations, like strawberry,” she said. “Just use strawberry cake mix, strawberry Jell-O, strawberry extract.”

Danko said she’s already introducing her 6-month-old daughter, Helen, to the kitchen.

“Actually, she was a month and a half old and I had her sitting in the bouncy chair holding a spoon,” Danko said. “She’s always in the bouncy chair or the walker when I’m in the kitchen.” 

The judging process

Tasting cupcakes without bias was a challenge for judges. One group’s first round lineup included a lime cupcake, a lemon cupcake, a pumpkin-ginger cupcake, a chocolate-beer recipe, a chocolate-and-Irish cream recipe and a peanut-butter cup cupcake.

Judges were divided into three groups. Each group sampled 10 contest entries and assessed them on appearance, taste, originality and overall quality. 

In addition to Wade, Sommerville and Minteer, judges included cook and restaurant owner Michael Guessford of Always Ron’s restaurant in Hagerstown; dessert lover Karen Milani of Hagerstown; cooks and restaurant owners Dave and Teri Leiter of Leiter’s Fine Catering in Williamsport; pastry chef and Hagerstown City Councilwoman Ashley Haywood of Skyline Cafe in Hagerstown; caterer and baker Karen Suranno of Mercersburg, Pa.; and stand-up comic and dessert lover Chad Beadle of Hagerstown.

In the first round, each judge gave numerical values for each category for each cupcake. The numbers were added up and three cupcakes from each group advanced to the second round.

All 10 judges sampled the nine finalists. As in the first round, the numbers were added. One winner was declared. 

Orange Dreamsicle Cupcakes

18.25-ounce box orange cake mix
3-ounce box instant orange Jell-O
1 cup boiling water
1 cup milk
3.4-ounce box instant pudding
1 teaspoon orange extract
5.5-ounce tub whipped topping
1 1/2 tablespoons orange zest,for garnish

Prepare cake mix according to package directions. Line 24 muffin cups with liners and fill each cup 2/3 full.
While baking cupcakes, dissolve orange gelatin in boiling water.
When cupcakes are done, remove from oven. Poke holes in cupcakes with toothpick. Drizzle gelatin over cupcakes. Cool.
Combine milk, instant pudding, orange extract and whipped topping until smooth. Pipe onto cupcakes and refrigerate. garnish with orange zest before serving.
Makes 24 cupcakes.
— Angela Danko of Chambersburg, Pa.

Cinnamon Roll Cupcakes

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup pecans
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2/3 cup butter
1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup milk

Cream-cheese icing
2 sticks butter
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar

Allow butter and eggs to stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, line 26 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with paper bake cups.
In a medium bowl stir together flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a small bowl stir together brown sugar, pecans and cinnamon. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter with an electric mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually add granulated sugar, about 1/4 cup at a time, beating on medium speed until combined, scraping sides of bowl occasionally. Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes more or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
Alternately add flour mixture and milk to butter mixture, beating on low speed after each addition just until combined (batter may look curdled).
Spoon about 1 tablespoon batter into each prepared muffin cup. Sprinkle about 1 teaspoon of the brown sugar mixture over batter in cups. Spoon remaining batter evenly over brown sugar mixture in cups. Sprinkle remaining brown sugar mixture over batter in cups.
Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool cupcakes in muffin cups on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from muffin cups. Cool completely on wire racks.
To make icing, beat butter and cream cheese on high until fluffy. Add vanilla extract and powdered sugar until frosting is light and fluffy. Spread or pipe on cupcakes.
Makes 26 cupcakes.
— Cake recipe courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens; icing recipe created by Jenna Kimmel of Greencastle, Pa.

S’mores Cupcakes
2 1/4 cup sugar
1 3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup half and half
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup hot water
1/3 cup unsalted butter
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
2 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, chopped
Chocolate bars, broken up for garnish, if desired

4 egg whites
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Line 24 muffin cups with paper cupcake liners. Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Mix 2 cups sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in bowl of electric mixer. When blended, add eggs, milk, half and half, vegetable oil and vanilla extract. Mix for 2 minutes. Stir in hot water. Set aside.
Melt butter in mixing bowl. Add graham cracker crumbs and 1/4 cup granulated sugar. Stir. Spread in muffin cups. Sprinkle with chopped chocolate.
Fill each muffin cup with 3/4 cup batter. Sprinkle graham cracker crumbs on top.
Bake for 20 minutes.
Mix egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in a heat-safe bowl. Mix with a whisk over a pan of simmering water. Whisk for 4 minutes.
With electric mixer on low, add vanilla extract. Gradually increase speed to high and mix 7 minutes until firm, like marshmallow spread.
Pipe onto cupcakes. Toast the top with a kitchen torch, if desired, and garnish with chocolate piece.
Makes 24 cupcakes.
— Courtesy of Val Buskirk of Big Pool

Lime cupcakes with lime curd filling
Lime curd
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup bottled lime juice
15 large egg yolks
6 tablespoons butter

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup margarita mix
3 large eggs
8 ounces sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
24 lime slices

Lime butter-cream frosting
1 cup butter
3 to 4 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 tablespoons milk

To make the lime curd, combine sugar, lime juice and egg yolks in saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about 7 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and add butter. Stir until melted. Set aside to cool.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add oil, margarita mix and eggs. Beat until smooth. Mix in sour cream and vanilla.
Spoon into prepared muffin cups. Bake for 15 minutes. remove from pans and cool on wire racks.
To make frosting, beat butter. Add powdered sugar and mix. Add vanilla and milk and beat until smooth.
With an apple-corer, cut a hole a half-inch wide and 1 inch deep in top of each cupcake and fill with lime curd. Spread lime butter-cream frosting on cupcakes.
Makes 24 cupcakes.
— Original recipe by Tena Shew of Waynesboro, Pa.

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