cranberry chai cupcakes

My family doesn’t do a lot of the holidays together — really just Easter Saturday and Christmas Eve. For the latter this year, my stepmother, Becky, put me in charge of dessert. I came across’s recipe from cranberry chai cupcakes, and I just happened to have a bag of fresh cranberries in my fridge (and I just happen to love chai). The smell and colors of the cupcakes were too festive to not make for Christmas, but as I slid them into the oven, I suddenly remembered: My family hates trying new things.

I started to panic: How am I even going to get them to try these? The pun-like intentions of a “Chai me!” sign would either go over their heads or turn them off from the dessert altogether (‘Chai? Like… tea? Gag.’) Each cake is topped with a cranberry (‘No sprinkles!?’), and there’s not an ounce of chocolate involved. It was too late to call it off and whip up a more guaranteed crowd-pleaser, e.g. boring brownies or chocolate chip cookies, so I pressed on and hoped calling them “cinnamon spice cupcakes” might slightly soften their aversions. It’s not totally a lie, right…? (Adding cute Target toothpicks and sugar crystals could be a nice distraction, too.)

I was still a little on edge as dinner came to a close. The pressure of serving something everyone might hate as the sole dessert was a lot more nerve-racking than I anticipated. As we reconvened at the table and I started slowly setting out my cranberry chai cupcakes, salvation emerged from the other room in the form of an illuminated birthday cake. Amidst my dessert planning, I forgot we would have cake for Becky’s birthday — something she obviously didn’t mention when asking me to make dessert because it was a surprise. A Cold Stone ice cream cake — now that’s a crowd-pleaser. My weirdo spice cupcakes quickly faded into the background, and I was pretty okay with that.

Don’t feel too bad for the little weirdos, though: They found a happy ending. I had enough left over to bring to a gathering at my friend Jackie’s house, where I’ve been going after my family’s Christmas Eve dinner for the last 12 years now. (Wow, just realizing how long it’s actually been. We’re old.) I set them out at the dessert table and got some good reviews.

slightly adapted from 
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
pinch of black pepper

Combine in small bowl.

1/2 c. butter, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
2 c. flour
1 tbs. chai spices
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 c. buttermilk
1 c. chopped cranberries

In a medium bowl, combine flour, chai spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat butter and sugar in stand mixer on high until fluffy. Beat in vanilla, then eggs one a time, mixing after each. Add 1/3 flour mix, then half buttermilk, then 1/3 flour, rest of buttermilk and rest of dry mix — beating on low after each addition. Do not overmix! Stir in chopped cranberries. Spoon batter into lined cupcake tin, and bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes or until toothpick entered into cake comes out clean. Makes about two dozen.

♦Use my chai buttercream frosting
Sugared Cranberries (optional) 

Let cupcakes stand for five minutes before allowing to cool completely on wire rack. Make one serving of chai frosting, and top cupcakes. Add sugar crystals or other decor. Sugared cranberries make for a nice aesthetic, but I did not like the way they tasted. If you are interested, freeze 25 cranberries, then roll in granulated sugar.

Total time? 20 minutes prep, 18-20 minutes bake
Cost? $2 cranberries, $1.99 buttermilk and added costs for any chai spices you don’t already own. (I had to refill on cardamom — so expensive!)
Overall success relative to expectations? 7 out 10. The biggest change in my adaptation of this recipe is the addition of more chopped cranberries. The first batch wasn’t tart enough, and this also helps make the cakes a bit more moist. The chai flavor is fantastic, and the frosting is just the right amount of sweetness. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of not cooking to my audience, so these cupcakes didn’t exactly get the praise they deserved; but the sweet/spicy/tart combination make them a perfect little wintertime treat.


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