Sweet rewards: Pa. food blogger's creation named top cupcake

April 24, 2012|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • Carla Cardello of McConnellsburg, Pa., was the winner of The Herald-Mail's 2012 Cupcake Contest. Cardello's chocolate coconut cupcake was selected from a field of 32 entries.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

People love cupcakes, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that this year's Herald-Mail Cupcake Contest exceeded the contest's splashy debut last year.

But with 32 entries and a rainbow of decorations, colors and flavors, judges spent a challenging two hours tasting and debating before selecting a winner — the chocolate coconut cupcake submitted by Carla Cardello of McConnellsburg, Pa.

Cardello, 24, moved to McConnellsburg a year-and-a-half ago from the Pittsburgh area. By day, she works as a videographer for JLG Industries Inc. in McConnellsburg. But after hours, Cardello puts on her baker's apron and whips up dishes in the kitchen.

Cardello is a food blogger.

"I have a food blog I bake for called Chocolate Moosey — it's at," she said. "I try to post at least once a week, sometimes twice. Once in a while, I'll have savory foods, but it's 95-percent baking."

Cardello cooks mostly from scratch and has plenty of baking experience to draw from, but she had never entered a cooking contest until now.

"This is my first competition ever. I was definitely surprised to hear I'd won, especially with 32 entries," she said.

Her chocolate coconut cupcake was visually impressive, with coconut-flavored icing sprinkled with toasted coconut topping a chocolate cupcake. The judges liked the taste and texture; they recorded comments on their judging forms.

"The filling was delightful and reminded me of a German chocolate cake," wrote MaryStewart Seifarth, a home cook and dessert aficionado living in Hagerstown.

"Very moist. The filling is the best part," wrote Sarah Ardinger, owner of The Plum cafe in downtown Hagerstown.

Nine judges —professional bakers and chefs, home cooks and dessert lovers — worked together to select a winner in the contest. Judges were divided into three groups and each group tasted about one-third of the cupcake entries. Entries were awarded points on appearance, taste, originality and quality. Points were tallied, and each group of judges advanced three entries to the final round. All judges tasted all top finalists, awarded points, and a winner was selected with five runners-up.

Cardello said her cupcake is an adaptation of a friend's recipe she tasted recently.

"Around Easter time, one of my friends had a recipe for carrot cake with coconut milk icing," Cardello said. "I wanted to make the icing with coconut milk. I thought, ‘What goes with coconut?' I thought of chocolate and almond."

The flavor profile reminded her of an Almond Joy chocolate bar, with the add crunch of toasted coconut. She experimented by using coconut milk in the frosting and in the filling.

Cardello said she is mostly self-taught in the kitchen.

"I cooked a little bit when I was young, but I didn't learn much from my family," she said. "When I went off to college, I had to learn to cook by myself."

Cardello knows what she'll do with her $50 contest prize winnings.

"Believe it or not, as much as I love to bake, I don't have a stand mixer. So this will help pay for that," she said.

Judging a confectionery contest is not as easy as you might think...                                                  

Try this for a job description: Sample tasty entries in a cooking contest for two hours and pick the most delicious to be the winner.

Sounds like a dream job? Well, it's a tough assignment, requiring a discerning palate, an open mind, a strong stomach and the ability to work well with others. It sounds like fun, but tasting 15 to 20 cupcakes takes dedication.

Having an open mind is important. Contest entries pushed the envelope in creativity. Cupcake flavors included margarita, key lime, cherry-almond, biscotti, chocolate and mayonnaise, chocolate and bacon, pancake and bacon, root beer float, mocha salted caramel and apple pie. Decorations included fresh berries, edible glitter, candied orange peel, toasted meringue, chopped bacon and a flower made from white modeling chocolate.

Nine judges helped The Herald-Mail select a winner and five runners-up in the second annual Cupcake Contest. The nine encompassed professional bakers and chefs, home cooks and dessert aficionados.

They were:

  •  Elissa Schwartzbach Cleaveland, personal chef and caterer in West Virginia
  •  Sarah Ardinger, owner of The Plum restaurant in downtown Hagerstown
  •  Alisha Hanlin, pastry chef at LJs and the Kat Lounge in Hagerstown
  •  Kitty Shamos, Long & Foster Realtor and baker for Hempen Hill BBQ Bar and Grill, north of Hagerstown
  •  Matt Seifarth, director of Young Life Washington County and a dessert aficionado
  •  MaryStewart Seifarth, home cook and dessert aficionado living in Hagerstown
  •  David Layton, co-owner of DatAchieve, a home cook and dessert aficionado living in Hagerstown
  •  Suzanne Beckwith, Maryland Access Point  intake at Washington County Commission on Aging and a home cook in Hagerstown
  •  Vincent Sarageno, Herald-Mail videographer and culinary school student

Chocolate coconut cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

1 ounce dark chocolate

1/2 cup cocoa powder

2/3 cup hot coffee

1/3 cup milk

1 1/3 cup flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

3 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the coconut-almond filling:

2 1/2 cups shredded coconut

3/4 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 cup chopped almonds

1 teaspoon vanilla

For the coconut milk frosting:

3/4 cup coconut milk

1 tablespoon flour

3/4 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup superfine sugar

1/4 teaspoon coconut extract

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. For the filling, place shredded coconut onto a baking sheet. Toast for 5 minutes; check coconut and toast in 5 minute increments until brown. Set aside. Reserve 1/2 cup for garnish.

Meanwhile, for the cupcakes, line two, 9-cup cupcake pans with paper liners. In a medium, heat-proof bowl, combine the chocolate and cocoa. Pour in hot coffee and whisk until smooth. Whisk in milk, and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat butter and both sugars until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture to butter mixture in three parts, alternating with chocolate.

Divide batter into liners and bake 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool completely.

For the filling, in a medium saucepan, whisk

together the coconut milk, sugar and flour until blended. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat. Stir in remaining 2 cups toasted coconut, almonds and vanilla. Allow to cool to room temperature.

For the frosting, in a small saucepan, whisk together the coconut milk and flour. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for about 5 minutes or until thickened and bubbly. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

In a large bowl, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add cooled milk and coconut extract. Beat at high speed until it is the texture of whipped cream.

To assemble, dig a hole into each cupcake middle, being careful not to cut all the way through. Fill hole with the coconut-almond mixture and cover back up with the cut-out cake tops. Frost to cover the hole and garnish with reserved toasted coconut.

Makes 18 cupcakes.

— Adapted by Carla Cardello

Black raspberry cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

1 box vanilla cake mix

1-ounce box white chocolate instant pudding mix

1 tablespoon meringue powder

1/3 cup cake flour

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (vanilla extract may be used as a substitute)

1/2 teaspoon raspberry extract

1 cup whole milk

1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled

12 ounces Smucker's black raspberry spreadable fruit, heated over low heat until it is melted

For vanilla buttercream frosting:

3 1/2 cups granulated sugar

3/4 cup water

13 egg whites

12 sticks unsalted butter, softened

4 tablespoons clear vanilla extract (see cook's note)

2 tablespoons vanilla bean paste (see cook's note)

Edible glitter, optional

White modeling chocolate, optional

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Combine cake mix, instant pudding mix, meringue powder and cake flour together in mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs. Add vanilla bean paste and raspberry extract to eggs and mix well.

Add egg mixture, milk and butter to dry ingredients and mix on low until moistened. Increase mixer speed to medium and mix about one minute. While mixer is on medium, slowly add melted black raspberry fruit in a steady stream, continue to mix on medium for one minute. Do not overmix.

Fill cupcake liners about 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake 13 to 16 minutes or until done. Cool cupcakes completely before frosting.

Makes 28 to 32 cupcakes.

To make frosting, combine sugar and water in saucepan and heat over medium until it reaches 240 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Meanwhile, with whisk attachment, whip egg whites on medium speed until they reach soft peaks, about 3 to 5 minutes. Turn mixer on high speed, slowly add sugar mixture to egg whites in a thin steady stream. The bowl will be very hot.

Continue on high speed for at least 20 to 35 minutes. Mixture will resemble a meringue.

Reduce mixer to slow speed and slowly add 1/2 sticks of butter one at a time until all the butter in incorporated. The mixture may look like cottage cheese, but that is OK. Continue to mix on medium speed for 10 to 15 minutes.

Add vanilla extract slowly and mix about 5 minutes more or until frosting is fluffy and smooth. Makes about 12 cups.

Frost cupcakes, then garnish, if desired, with edible glitter and flowers made from white modeling chocolate.

Cook's note: If there is no vanilla paste, use 6 tablespoons clear vanilla extract.

— Cupcake is an original recipe by Jessica McKenzie of Hagerstown; the frosting is an adapted by Jessica McKenzie of Hagerstown

Limoncello cupcake with raspberry meringue

For the cupcakes:

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

2 eggs — 1 whole plus 1 yolk, room temperature

1 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup Greek lemon yogurt

1/4 cup lemon juice, fresh

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 tablespoon limoncello (see cook's note)

For Limoncello curd:

4 egg yolks

1/2 cup lemon juice, fresh

Zest from one lemon

1/2 cup sugar

5 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces

2 tablespoons limoncello

For raspberry meringue:

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon raspberry extract

1/3 cup granulated sugar

To make cupcakes, heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat butter on high until fluffy. Add sugar and beat 3 minutes. Add egg and yolk, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, whisk flour, baking powder and salt.

Add 1/3 of dry mixture to butter/sugar mixture. Combine.

Add yogurt and combine.

Add 1/3 of dry mixture. Combine.

Add lemon juice, lemon zest and limoncello. Combine.

Add the remaining dry mixture and combine.

Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full.

Bake for 20 minutes or until inserted toothpick comes out clean.

To make curd, whisk egg yolks and put in a saucepan. Set aside.

Put lemon juice, lemon zest and sugar in a saucepan. Heat until sugar dissolves. Add butter and stir to melt and mix thoroughly.

Whisk hot mixture into saucepan with egg yolks. Return to stovetop and heat to 160 degrees or until mixture coats the back of a spoon and will hold a drawn line down the middle. Stir in limoncello.

Let mixture cool and thicken.

For meringue, place cream of tartar and egg whites in bowl of stand mixer and beat on high for 45 seconds.

Add raspberry extract and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Continue to beat on high, adding 1 tablespoon of sugar until stiff peaks form.

To assemble, cut a hole in the center of the cooled cupcakes. Fill with curd. Place a piece of cupcake over the filled hole. Pipe meringue onto cupcakes and place on a sheet pan. Place pan in the oven and bake 5 to 7 minutes at 350 degrees or until the meringue turns light brown.

Remove from oven and cool. Store in an airtight container.

Cook's note: Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur mainly produced in Southern Italy. It is available at local liquor stores.

Yields 12-plus cupcakes.

—  Jessica Leiter of Greencastle, Pa.

Cupcake recipe adapted from Chockylit; curd recipe adapted from Bakers Royale and meringue is adapted from Anne Byrn's recipe on ABC News website

Chocolate hazelnut cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

1 cup cocoa

2 cups boiling water

2 1/2 cups sugar

2 sticks unsalted butter

4 large farm eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (not imitation)

2 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

For filling:

1 pint medium heavy whipping cream, 1 tablespoon reserved

1/4 cup sugar

Vanilla bean

For icing:

8-ounce package cream cheese

1/2 stick butter

3 cups confectioners sugar

1/2 of 26-ounce jar Nutella

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 36 cupcake cups with paper liners.

Combine cocoa and boiling water, and set aside to cool.

In a mixing bowl, add sugar and butter. Mix until it crumbles. Add one egg at a time and then vanilla, and mix thoroughly.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Sift 3 times. Once the cocoa mixture is cool, alternately mix in the butter mixture and cocoa mixture to flour mixture.

Scrap down sides of bowl. Continue mixing for 2 minutes on medium speed.

Bake for 20 minutes.

To make filling, in mixing bowl, add whipping cream (reserving 1 tablespoon) and 1/4 cup sugar. With a sharp knife, slit open vanilla bean and scrape inside of bean to produce 1/4 teaspoon seeds and pith. Discard the pod. Add vanilla bean to cream and sugar, and whip on high until peaks form. Core the cooled cupcakes and add filling.

To make icing, add cream cheese, butter and 1 tablespoon of reserved whipping cream. Cream the mixture and add confectioner sugar 1 cup at a time. Lastly, add the Nutella and combine all together. Ice the cupcakes.

Makes about 3 dozen cupcakes.

— Original recipe by Sarah Burcker of Chambersburg, Pa.

Raspberry lemon cupcakes with lemon cream cheese frosting

For the cupcakes:

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks butter, room temperature

2 cups sugar

3 eggs, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

2 cups sour cream

1 cup seedless raspberry jam

For the frosting:

3 sticks butter

12 ounces cream cheese

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

Juice of 2 lemons

10 to 12 cups powdered sugar

6 lemon jelly fruit slices

36 fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake tins with 36 paper liners.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.

Add the butter and sugar to a mixing bowl and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly. Add the vanilla and lemon zest and mix to combine.

Add the dry mixture in 3 parts to butter-sugar mixture, alternating with the sour cream, ending with dry mixture.

Fill prepared tins 2/3 full and bake 15 to 18 minutes.

Using an apple corer, extract the middle of the cupcake and fill with raspberry jam.

For the frosting, cream the butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add the vanilla, lemon zest and juice and blend until combined.

Add the powdered sugar gradually until combined. Frost cupcakes.

Cut each lemon jelly fruit slice into 6 wedges. Insert 1 lemon wedge into each raspberry and place on top of frosted cupcakes.

— Emily Socks of Hagerstown

Dulce de leche Italian creme cupcakes

For the cupcakes:

8-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon table salt

2 cups sugar

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened

6 eggs, separated

2 tablespoons hazelnut syrup

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup buttermilk

2 cups sweetened coconut, toasted

For the cream cheese icing:

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons dulce de leche

3 tablespoons hazelnut syrup

3 tablespoons heavy cream

1 pound powdered sugar, sifted

To make dulce de leche, immerse unopened can of condensed milk on its side in a pot of boiling water. Simmer over low heat for 3 hours, topping off with water as needed. Use extreme caution. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners, and coat with nonstick spray.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Cream sugar and butter in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment on medium speed until white and fluffy; about 5 minutes. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition; mix in syrup and vanilla until incorporated.

Mix 1/2 the dry ingredients into butter mixture followed by the buttermilk, then remaining dry ingredients; blend until just incorporated.

Beat egg whites to stiff peaks in a bowl with a mixer on high speed; fold into batter with coconut. Fill liners 3/4 full and bake 20 to 25 minutes. Cool completely.

Core the center of the cupcake and fill with dulce de leche.

For icing, whip cream cheese and butter together in a large bowl with a mixer at medium speed until combined. Add dulce de leche, syrup and cream, then beat in powdered sugar until creamy.

Generously frost each cupcake.

Drizzle with remaining dulce de leche for decoration.

— Jen Brooks of Greencastle, Pa.

(Adapted from

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