There are no Christmas trees in the house this year. It’s a Chinese tradition not to celebrate things with too much fervor during the first year after a loved one passes away, but since we still did have a brief Christmas party this year I’m just glad that my Dad did not opt to remove every form of celebration like other more traditional Chinese families we know. I get the feeling my grandmother wouldn’t want us to anyway, although I do feel strange spending my first Christmas without her.
Actually now that I think about it, it feels like an alternate universe kind of weird.
My grandma was always the first to complement the Christmas decorations as she made her way around the house. In recent years my mother put me in charge of decorating the tree and usually my grandmother would be watching close by as I dressed up the tree to the top. She would point out the crooked pieces of decor, the colours that don’t go well together, and tell me to rearrange them. I would joke that we should hang some of my freshly-baked Christmas cookies on the tree and she’d be like ‘Crazy girl, you eat the cookies, not hang them!’ in Chinese. (Gosh I miss her!!!)
Anyway, I decided to channel all my usual Christmas tree decorating energies into putting it on a cupcake, and I guess I gravitated to the tree because it reminds me a bit of my grandma. Then again, there are very little things around the house that does not remind me of her.
All I can say is: making these Christmas Tree Cupcakes is harder and takes longer than putting up an actual tree! But I can assure you it’s no less fun and the effect is no less impressive! 🙂
First I want to talk about the cake portion of this pretty thang. Have you ever encountered one of those moments wherein the exterior of the cake is about a hundred times better than the interior? I’ve had this happen to me countless times with wedding cakes– the ones that look incredible on the outside with the fondant decor but taste dry and just terrible inside. So it was crucial for me to make sure the choice of cake base for my Christmas Tree Cupcakes recipe would taste as great as it looks.
I picked out a special cupcake for this year—something classic and nostalgic at the same time; something I think everyone will enjoy. I wanted it to have chocolate, but I’ve been making chocolate cupcakes every year, so I thought I would switch it up this year. And then I came across this brownie-bottom cupcake with a banana bread body. Banana bread to me always evokes the feeling of home, and the fact that the bottom is a brownie means I still get some chocolate in there. Win-win!
Instead of something decadent, I wanted to go the more emotional/homey route this year with my cupcakes. I reckon every mom has some form of banana bread and brownie recipe they always make at home, and some families even have recipes they pass down through generations, which is really cool. For those who do have such recipes in their archives, you can use those recipes if you want, but since I don’t have that luxury I’m using this recipe. It produces a moist, very banana-tasting cupcake which I really like.
The bottom brownie part isn’t the real decadent brownie since it’s more like an accent flavour (or a crust?) than anything else, but it gives a nice chocolate contrast to the banana cake that is neither overpowering or too sweet. My brownie rose at the middle and looks kind of like a hill inside. It’s all good because it’s all yummy!
The frosting is just a simple butter-based frosting I mixed to a consistency that would hold even stuck to the sides of the ice cream cone like that. Since it is made of butter it’s best when chilled so that the frosting doesn’t separate when kept at room temperature for too long.
I was really excited about making the Christmas tree. It’s such a brilliant idea! I think it started on Martha Stewart.com? What I like most about this is that it’s super customizable—just like when you’re decorating your actual tree!
You can add metallic candy balls or chopped up gummy candies and pretend they are shiny ornaments! You can have just the utmost fun with it! I wanted to go a little more classic with mine so I just added some silver balls on there.
It’s a bit of work piping all those “leaves” on there, but the result is well worth it, as you can see!
Indeed you will need quite a bit of frosting– more than double the recipe below if you want to top all the cupcakes! I opted to keep the other cupcakes simple with just regular white frosting. You can tint the frosting much greener than I did.
I didn’t end up topping all my cupcakes with the trees, though those that I did I gave away. I did also make some miniature Christmas Tree Cupcakes using mini cupcakes. I simply piped on some tall green frosting using my Wilton 1M tip to give an illusion of a tree, then sprinkled a bit of the silver candy balls on top. This is good for those who opt for bite-sized cupcakes.
Can you imagine people’s expressions lighting up when they receive such a novel thing like this? I really wanted to share these cupcakes to others and pass on the holiday high they gave me as I was making them!
I hope that even if this is only digitally, these cupcakes manage to put a smile on your face too. 🙂
Christmas Tree Cupcakes
Makes about 15 to 20 cupcakes (but the Christmas Tree toppers depends on how much frosting you make)
For the brownie layer
- ¼ cup 1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
- 1½ heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder
- Pinch of salt
- ⅓ cup mini chocolate chips, lightly tossed in flour
For the banana bread layer
- 1⅓ cups all-purpose flour
- 1¼ teaspoons baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1 large egg
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup sour cream
- ½ cup 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
- 3 large overripe bananas, mashed
For the frosting
- 1 cup 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups confectioner's sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1½ Tablespoons heavy cream
- Green food colouring
To make the cupcakes
- 1. Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line cupcake pan with paper liners.
- 2. For the brownie layer: In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, mixing until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times to make sure it is well-mixed.
- 3. With the mixer on medium speed, add in flour, salt, and cocoa powder, and give it a stir. Finally, add the chocolate chips, mixing until just combined.
- 4. Spoon about 1/2 Tablespoon of brownie batter into each cup. Press down with the back of a spoon coated in non-stick spray to flatten.
- 5. For the banana bread layer: In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
- 6. In another medium bowl, whisk egg and add brown sugar, mixing until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract, sour cream, and melted butter. Mix well.
- 7. Stir in dry ingredients, then add mashed bananas and mix just until batter comes together. The batter will be thicker than normal.
- 8. Scoop batter into liners over top of brownie batter until all the way full. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, then let cool completely before frosting.
To make the frosting
- 9. In a bowl using a whisk, beat together frosting ingredients until mixture is smooth and at a pipe-able consistency. If not, add more sugar.
- 10. Frost all the cupcakes once fully cooled. If making Christmas Tree Cupcakes, frost with top of the cupcakes with just a small amount of frosting. This will both act as the paste that will make your tree adhere to the cupcake, and as the snowy ground for the tree. Set a sugar cone at the center of the frosted cupcake.
- 11. Stir the food colouring into the remaining frosting, adding more as necessary to achieve your desired green colour.
- 12. Apply a thin layer of green frosting on the sugar cones. This will help the rest of the frosting adhere to the cone. Transfer the remaining frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a star-shaped pastry tip.
- 13. Pipe leaves onto the cone by lightly pressing a small amount of frosting out of the tip and lifting up to create a pointed end. Garnish with the edible silver ball sprinkles or as desired, and/or dust with powdered sugar.
Oh and I wanted to share this adorable gift Reese’s Philippines sent me last week. So many Reese’s in my house right now! I’m so grateful for surprises like these because it makes me feel that the season of giving is truly here!
HAVE A VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS, everyone! Lots of love from me to you! <3