apple cider cupcakes with creamy cinnamon frosting

spicy, sweet, creamy, and perfect for fall. i have a from-scratch recipe for this but i couldn't find it today so i opted for a cheater, modified-box mix version. also...a friend asked last night how to make box cake mix taste less "boxy"...well Lucy, here ya go!

to begin...put on some good music - this is essential. my selection for the day: Jenny Owen Youngs' An Unwavering Band of Light. Then grab 3 apples of your favorite variety (i prefer gala because they are sweet and crisp). peel those bad boys and chop them into smallish pieces. this recipe also works well in a normal, non-cup cake so if you are doing that, i'd make the apple chunks a little bigger. cupcakes = mini cakes so keep these chopped apples small. toss them with 1 tsp of cinnamon and set aside. *note: if you don't like the idea of apple chunks, you can always substitute the apples for 1-2 cups of cinnamon applesauce*

gather your batter supplies and modifications. although it says "spice cake", i never really feel like there is enough spice in it. as such, to the powder mix, i add 1/2 tsp each of ginger, nutmeg, and ground cloves. i also add ~2 tbsp of ground cinnamon...depending on how much you prefer. then add your eggs, water, and oil according to the box. *note: i usually take the oil and water down a notch to help keep the cakes more dense.* i also add 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract and 1 tbsp caramel extract (this gives it a nice, warm flavor). mix batter on low with an electric mixer until it is combined and smoothish, but not necessarily as long as the box may say. fold in apple chunks.

preheat to 350 and line your cupcake tin with papers (because if we're all honest with ourselves, muffin tins are the absolute worst dish to wash by hand). i use a 1/4 cup measure to fill each muffin well 2/3 full. bake for about 15-18 minutes and do not overbake. place muffins on your super awesome stackable cooling racks (wal-mart...holla!) and find something fun to do between each batch, like folding laundry or putting on a great movie (ex: Away We Go).

Once all your batter is baked (I ended up with 28 27 cupcakes total because i absolutely didn't eat one for quality control), combine 1/2 cup softened unsalted butter and 1 (8oz) package of softened cream cheese. mix these with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. add 1 tbsp vanilla extract, 3-4 tbsp cinnamon, and 4 cups of 10x sugar. beat on low until creamy and smooth.

Last but not least, decorate! I fitted a standard size piping bag with Wilton's #12 piping tip to make poofy icing dollops which mildly resemble whipped cream on cider. Then share with friends! I hope you enjoy them and forgive me for not so hot photo quality.  :)   happy autumn baking!

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