I was saving this dessert post for a special occasion, and it feels appropriate share now that the circumstances are aligned with the circumstances under which it was first attempted.
Less circuitously, I made these root beer float cupcakes when my best friend came home from Europe on winter break earlier this year, and she’s just returned to the States for the foreseeable future. I figured I’d give her a little ‘welcome home’ nod, especially because when she left, she said, “Don’t make anything awesome while I’m away,” and — as I’m told — I didn’t listen.
I had Laura and her friends from school, Jessie and Marie, over that winter night. They supplied dinner in the form of meats and cheeses from Marie’s German homeland, and I agreed to make dessert — an ambitious one, as it turned out.
When I started, I struggled with which root beer avenue to take. I had bought a bottle of RB extract from a local candy store for $3, but I also had half a bottle of A&W that was going to go to waste anyway sitting on the counter, so I opted to simmer that down into syrup instead.
Then, I took a good look at the recipe and realized that measly bottle (only 1 teaspoon!) wasn’t even close to what I needed, so I went back to the bottle. I took out a pair of scissors and started haphazardly gnawing at the cap and bottle with them. That didn’t work.
Refusing to be defeated by a bottle of root beer, I drew a large knife and started slashing at the bottle until I finally punctured it enough to get to that elusive liquid. Unfortunately, making soda into syrup takes a long time (like, an hour+), and when I tasted it, it was a little more vanilla and sugar than root beer, so I ended up using the RB extract, too.
The biggest challenge of these cupcakes is getting the root beer flavor to power through. I used Baking Bites’ recipe as a guide and strayed a bit, but I’d recommend following what she has here. It might also be a good idea to use the Sonoma Syrup Co’s Root Beer Syrup she suggests — not that I’ve tried it, but it has to be at least as good or better than whatever concoction I came up with. I’d also highly recommend reserving ample amounts of root beer syrup for glazing; it really takes the root beer flavor to the next level.
♦1-1/3 c. flour
♦1 tsp. baking powder
♦1/4 tsp. salt
♦6 tbs. butter
♦3/4 c. brown sugar
♦1 tsp. vanilla extract
♦1/3 c. root beer syrup
♦1/3 c. milk
♦Vanilla ice cream
Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar, then beat in egg and vanilla extract. Add 1/3 of flour mixture, then root beer syrup, another third of flour, then milk and the rest of the mix. Bake at 350 degrees for 16-18 minutes. (I cut out small cones from the middle of each cake, and poured a little bit of reserved syrup into them; the cake soaks up the liquid and gives it even more RB flavor.) When completely cool and ready to serve, top each cupcake with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
♦1/2 c. powdered sugar
♦1 tbs. root beer syrup
♦1 tbs. water
Whisk together ingredients until smooth. Add more water if glaze is too thick. Drizzle over ice cream-topped cupcakes.
Total time? 2 hours if you can’t open a bottle of root beer and need to make syrup; 30-ish minutes otherwise.
Cost? Root beer extract $3 (not enough for entire recipe) and/or $1.50 bottle of root beer, $2.50 vanilla ice cream.
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out 10. With all the trouble I went through to get that root beer flavor in there, I was a little disappointed it wasn’t that strong in the actual cake. On other hand, the root beer glaze was fantastic, and topping the cupcakes with vanilla ice cream brought home the root beer float feel. Unfortunately, Marie wasn’t open to root beer floats (they don’t have those in Germany??), so I didn’t win over her vote, but they were hit among the others.