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Crazy about cupcakes

By Staff | Feb 8, 2013

KOURTNEY DETERMAN, a senior at Iowa State University, mixed in a can of soda pop with a boxed cake mix to add an extra layer of flavor to her distinctive cupcakes, which she fills with everything from caramel to candy.




AMES – When melting snow and ice began flooding Kappa Alpha Theta’s sorority house at Iowa State University one warm February day in 2010, Kourtney Determan headed to the kitchen.

“I wanted to thank the fraternity guys who helped shovel snow and ice away from our house, so I baked them some of my family’s famous chocolate cookies,” said Determan, 23, of Early, who will graduate this May with a degree in ag communications. “The guys were so thankful, and it’s the first time it clicked with me that homemade food is a big deal.”

WITH CINNAMON and crushed cereal crumbs, these Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes showcase one of Kourtney Determan’s favorite childhood breakfast cereals.

Determan’s homemade cookies and cupcakes have become legendary among her college friends and 4-H acquaintances.

For Determan, it’s a natural outgrowth of her many years in 4-H, which she has been involved with since she was 8. “When I was growing up, my mom, Barb, made sure my brothers and I did a cooking project and a communications project,” said Determan, who now helps lead the Early Achievers 4-H Club in Sac County.

Her homemade cupcakes and cookies never fail to impress, whether she shares some with her classmates or prepares a batch for ISU’s Relay for Life cancer research fundraiser.

Ahead of the craze

When the cupcake craze began a few years ago, Determan was ahead of the curve. “I’ve always liked baking cupcakes, and I want my food to look as good as it tastes,” said Determan, whose friends have compared her to the top competitors on the Food Network’s “Cupcake Wars.”

A BITE OF caramel is hidden inside each one of these Stephen’s surprise cupcakes. Also shown here are inexpensive plastic corers that make it easy to add fillings to cupcakes.

Determan finds cupcake inspiration on the Pinterest social media site and recently shared many of her favorite cupcake baking tips during a presentation at the annual Women in Denim conference in Storm Lake. “For me, making cupcakes is all about experimenting and having fun.”

Determan offers the following tips to take cupcakes from plain to eye-popping:

  • Embrace the box. To save time, Determan often relies on boxed cake mixes, which come in a wide variety of flavors.
  • Try soda pop in cupcakes. Mixing in a can of soda pop with one box of cake mix makes delicious cupcakes that are slightly more dense and moist than regular cupcakes.
  • Anything goes in the middle. Determan uses everything from marshmallows to cookie dough to caramel to add a little something special in the center of her cupcakes.
  • Fill two-thirds full. Never fill cupcake liners more than 2/3 full of batter. Adding more batter will not create a giant, rounded cupcake; it will often create a big, flat puddle that connects all the surrounding cupcakes together.
  • Stretch frosting with corn syrup. When Determan uses canned frosting, she stretches her supply by adding 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of light corn syrup to approximately half a can of frosting. She starts with 1 tablespoon and heats up the mixture for 10 seconds at a time in the microwave, stirring well, until the frosting reaches the desired consistency. This changes the texture of the frosting so cupcakes can be easily dipped and glazed with frosting, said Determan, who can frost approximately 44 cupcakes with one can of frosting when she adds corn syrup.
  • Take cupcakes from plain to eye-popping. Add extra pizzazz by topping cupcakes with eye-catching mini cookies, candies and other treats.

S’mores cupcakes

1 box yellow cake mix

1 cup crushed graham cracker crumbs

THESE CHOCOLATE CHIP cookie dough cupcakes offer a bite of cookie dough inside each cupcake and a mini cookie to top everything off.

Large marshmallows

1 package of six Hershey’s chocolate bars (snap four of the bars into small pieces, or use an equivalent amount of mini chocolate chips); reserve two bars.

Prepare cake mix as directed on the box. Add graham cracker crumbs and chocolate pieces into the mix. Bake cupcakes according to box directions. Remove cupcakes from oven about 5 minutes before they are done baking. Top each cupcake with a large marshmallow. Bake another five minutes. Allow cupcakes to cool a few minutes, and place a piece of chocolate on top of each marshmallow.

Stephen’s surprise


(A bit of caramel is hidden inside each one of these cupcakes, said Determan, whose friend’s fiance loves these treats.)

1 box white, vanilla or yellow cake mix

1 12-ounce bag chocolate chips

Caramel squares or caramel bits

Prepare cake mix as directed on the box. Add chocolate chips. Fill each cupcake liner two-thirds full with batter. Bake cupcakes as directed on box for 5 minutes. Then add caramel pieces to each cupcake. (This will help suspend the candy in the middle of the cupcake so the caramel doesn’t sink to the bottom). Return cupcakes to oven and bake until done. Cool and frost as desired.

Cinnamon Toast Crunch cupcakes

For the cinnamon cake:

3 eggs

1/3 cup oil

3/4 cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3/4 cup sour cream

Vanilla cake mix (not white cake mix)

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Cinnamon Toast Crunch buttercream frosting:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup butter, softened

2/3 cup Cinnamon Toast Crunch powder (crush the cereal in a bag and then sift out 2/3 cup)

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 cups powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cupcake baking pans with 20 to 22 cupcake liners.

In a large bowl, gently combine eggs, oil, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix in sour cream.

Add cake mix and cinnamon and mix until smooth.

Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full and bake for 15 to 18 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

For buttercream:

Beat cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add Cinnamon Toast Crunch powder. Add vanilla and powdered sugar.

Use milk to adjust the consistency, if the frosting is too thick. Pipe frosting onto cooled cupcakes and top with cinnamon sugar and Cinnamon Toast Crunch squares.

Chocolate chip cookie dough cupcakes

1 box yellow cake mix

1 tube prepared chocolate chip cookie dough (or mix your own batch)

Cookie Crisp cereal or mini chocolate chip cookies

Prepare cake mix as directed on the box. Fill cupcake liners 2/3 full.

Bake cupcakes as directed on box for 5 minutes. Then add a small ball of cookie dough to each cupcake.

Return cupcakes to oven and bake until done.

Cool and frost. Top each cupcake with a Cookie Crisp cereal piece or a mini chocolate chip


Famous Determan

double chocolate chip cookies

(This sought-after cookie recipe comes straight from the Early Public Library’s cookbook,” Determan said.)

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup brown sugar

2 cups margarine, softened

1 small package instant chocolate pudding

1 small package instant vanilla pudding

4 1/2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

2 cups chocolate chips

Mix the first seven ingredients well. Add flour and baking soda. Mix in chocolate chips.

Drop on cookie sheet and bake for 8 to 10 minute at 375 degrees.

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