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Wedding cupcake tower advice

I am making 60 cupcakes plus a small (8") cake for my brother-in-law's wedding. I am looking for help deciding on a frosting flavour. The bride specified that the cake must be chocolate, which is fine by me because I have an excellent dark chocolate cupcake recipe from America's Test Kitchen.

The problem is frosting. I figured that chocolate frosting would be the best choice. However, the bride said she'd like a "snazzy" flavour, such as "pumpkin spice, cinnamon, orange or rum." I not sure that any of those flavours goes terribly well with chocolate (except maybe orange).

The cupcakes are going to be on a cupcake tower with the cake on the top, so the icing colour should add to the display. Orange frosting, unless dyed orange, would just look off-white, I think, and I'm not sure how it would look with the brown cupcakes (too halloween-y?). I am planning to use brown cupcake liners, as well. The wedding colours are brown and "a toasted orange/copper/amber colour." (It is a fall wedding in a rural setting).

The bride and groom are very flexible, so I know they won't mind whatever the frosting is, but I want to make sure it's something that tastes good and meets their "snazzy" requirement, but isn't too complicated to make and transport.

Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks.

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  1. A vanilla bean with rum would be a good frosting, and it would go well on chocolate.

    You can make it like a red velvet cake and have red frosting.

    Will the cupcakes be all choco or also white. You could have different types of frosting or choc and mocha and to keep the color scheme.

    1. personally i'm not a huge fan of orange with chocolate unless the balance is perfect...and it rarely is. pumpkin and chocolate, however, is actually a kick-ass combo.

      other thoughts:
      - salted caramel
      - espresso
      - raspberry
      - dulce de leche
      - apricot-ginger
      - chestnut
      - peanut butter (though this may be risky with a large group because of potential allergies)

      21 Replies
      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        when I read pumpkin spice, I was immediately gross out. I feel the same way when I go in Starbucks in the fall and see pumpkin latte. ick.

        I LOVE your salted caramel and apricot-ginger suggestions.

        Rose LB has an icing flavor called burnt orange ...i haven't tried it, but she swears by it.
        I would tint the frosting orange, just not halloween orange.

        please post back after the wedding, i'd love to see a pic.

        1. re: danna

          I will post a picture after wedding. It's not till October, though, so don't hold your breath!

            1. re: HFXNS

              Beautiful! Very dramatic.

              Were you happy with the tastes? Any tips?

              1. re: karykat

                Yes, I was super happy with the flavours that were approved by the bride and groom. The white frosting was peppermint, and the cake and chocolate ones were chocolate-orange. The cupcakes themselves were very chocolatey--I used a Cook's Illustrated recipe with both cocoa and dark chocolate. I was so happy with everything.

              2. re: HFXNS

                That's beautiful--very elegant. I'm normally not a big fan of cupcake towers because they tend to look cutesy but that's anything but.

                1. re: chowser

                  Thanks. I was pleased with the results. ( :

                2. re: HFXNS

                  That's just gorgeous! I hope the happy couple _ and everyone _ enjoyed it.

                  1. re: NYCkaren

                    Thank you. I believe they did.

                  2. re: HFXNS

                    I love your final product, thanks for coming back and sharing the picture.

                    Just for the record, I am one of those people who detests the combination of chocolate and orange.
                    Raspberry, Almond, Vanilla, yes but no orange.

                    1. re: laliz

                      Well, the bride and groom LOVE the combination, so I did what I was told. Actually, it was a very nice pairing--I used Penzey's orange extract for the orange flavour.

                      I considered coconut cupcakes, but the groom said he hates coconut. I told him he should give it a try sometime; he may reconsider how he feels about it. It just depends on the quality of the products involved, I think.

                    2. re: HFXNS

                      wow! looks great! did you make the platform, or is that something available for purchase? I agree w/ the poster below, i expected a bit of cuteseyness (NTTAWWT) but your "cake" is elegant.

                      And the accountant in me immediately wondered if a cupcake tree might save a bride the "plating" fee that some venues charge if you bring in your own cake.

                      1. re: danna

                        The stand is from <www.cupcaketree.com>. It's a "mini," which holds up to 100 cupcakes. There are about 45 (plus the cake) in the picture. It is made out of white corrugated cardboard, but I painted it brown. (I don't sell them--I'm just really happy with how it worked out! Because of where I live, I had to buy most of my stuff on the Internet, which felt like a gamble!


                        I bet it would eliminate the plating fee. In this case, there was a catering company supplying the food, so the guests just helped themselves to cupcakes after the cake was cut.

                  3. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    "personally i'm not a huge fan of orange with chocolate unless the balance is perfect"

                    I'm the same way, which is why I am hesitant to to orange frosting on a chocolate cake. I know it is supposed to be a good combo, but to me it's not as obvious or crowd-pleasing as chocolate on chocolate.

                    I thought about caramel frosting, but I find caramel quite challenging, and this is a situation where I need things to be simple. (I will be doing a test run a few weeks in advance, of course).

                    The bride did suggest raspberry, but I haven't found a good raspberry frosting recipe. I worry that the raspberry puree would make the frosting too runny--the cupcakes may be sitting unrefrigerated for a while, so I need the frosting to stay firm at room temperature.

                    1. re: HFXNS

                      you can overcome the temperature obstacle by using shortening and more confectioner's sugar...or by adding a couple of teaspoons of meringue powder to stabilize it.

                      1. re: HFXNS

                        How about a butterscotch or penuche frosting. I've seen some that just use brown sugar so you wouldn't have to make caramel.

                        Or something with maple syrup? (Although I'm not sure how that would be with the chocolate.)

                        Or coffee flavored.

                        If you went with the butterscotch or penuche, you could put little bits of praline on top. Saw that used as a garnish with one of my favorite cake recipes, and that can be made ahead so you're not fussing with it at the last minute.

                        1. re: karykat

                          I was waiting to see if penuche would be mentioned...you could actually do a two tone alternating layer thing with penuche (a rich carmelly brown) and then apricot-ginger in a more subtle shade. Flavours would work well together and the look is in the bride's colour scheme.
                          Personally, I would nix the raspberry as being totally out of sync with the flavours of the season (well, here at least, maybe you are in California?)

                        2. re: HFXNS

                          There is a good raspberry frosting in the Cake Bible. I love raspberry and orange with chocolate. For something special I'd do Grand Marnier rather than plain orange.

                        3. re: goodhealthgourmet

                          OMG - I LOVE the salted carmel idea! It would make a light brown frosting to go with the liners, and then you could tie an amber / burnt orange bow around each one. A lot of work, but I bet some b-maids would help!

                          1. re: jenhen2

                            The mere mention of salted caramel starts me drooling, but the OP is afraid of caramel and so am I. I'll make it only in a situation that's not "do or die". That said...I suppose you could make the caramel well, well in advance of the actual frosting. Nothing more trendy than salted caramel, and hopefully trendy = snazzy! Maldon is beautiful on top of a sweet.

                            1. re: danna

                              I think penuche is going to give you something in the same flavor family with less angst.

                        4. A chocolate frosting with cinnamon is very nice. I love to garnish cakes and cupcakes with edible flowers. Nastersiums would be nice and fit in with the color scheme of the wedding.

                          1. I like chocolate paired best with -- vanilla. If the vanilla is true and strong (everybody knows and loves that smell) I'd certainly call it "snazzy".

                            But also, you could use more than one flavor-- perfect with the chosen colors--

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: blue room

                              I love chocolate cake with vanilla frosting, too. Oh, if everyone were so easy to please! ( :

                            2. I wonder whether the answer is to do two types of cupcakes:
                              pumpkin spice with cream cheese frosting and dark chocolate with dark chocolate frosting.
                              Although, that might be a huge pain in the ass, esp. if it turns out that everyone LOVES pumpkin or HATES it. (This is why market research exists, I guess).

                              Now I just have to figure out how to drive 60 miles in the car with them . . . .

                              1. Chocolate is a very versatile flavor IMO:

                                I love all sorts of flavors with chocolate: chili or anise or cardamom or anise or pear or dried fig or roasted nuts, or caramel or chestnut or cocoa nib or brown butter or peppercorn or molasses or dark honey. Anyway, look at some high end chocolatier and see the flavors they blend with chocolate - there are lots of options

                                The key is dark chocolate....

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jsaimd

                                  oh and one of my favorite with dark chocolate is passion fruit. Just served at a party and folks really liked it (

                                2. Recently made 100 cupcakes for a wedding. They didn't end up being displayed in a tower, but instead on cake stands at different heights and it was really pretty. Here's what I made: 50 orange cupcakes with orange cream cheese icing and 50 almond cupcakes with white chocolate ganache frosting. The orange cupcakes were made using The Cake Bible's All-Occasion Downy Yellow Butter Cake, with Boyajian's Orange Oil swapped in for the vanilla. The icing was a standard cream cheese one, with orange oil and orange rind added. It was lovely - and I can definitely see it being used on a chocolate cake. The almond cupcakes were the Cake Bible's Golden Almond Cake and I iced it with a standard white chocolate ganache (spreadable) and decorated with a single raspberry on each.

                                  So I made all the cupcakes, iced them and froze them - first just individually until firm, then arranged in single layers in pizza boxes with a sheet of waxed paper on top and then slipped into bags. To thaw, I removed the boxes from the freezer and left them in the boxes (and bags) until completely thawed before arranging them on stands. What you want to avoid is exposing the still-frozen cupcakes to the air which would cause condensation to form on the icing. Keeping them boxed until room temp. will help with that problem.

                                  You could easily transport the cupcakes while still frozen and they would thaw enroute. A 60 mile drive might take you, what? 1-1/2 hours at most? By the time you reach the wedding venue, they'll be ready to put on tower or stands or whatever. Peel the waxed paper off very carefully to avoid any damage to the icing. I placed the fresh raspberries on as I plated them. There were also some tiny fondant flowers involved in the decoration - which were also added after thawing.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Nyleve

                                    Wow. Thanks for all the advice.

                                    I've collected several photocopy paper boxes that should hold the cupcakes well. I wish I had some of those dividers that are used for Christmas decorations, so each cupcake would have its own little compartment. I think I'll be able to stack the box tops. But how to manage with them in the car? I guess they'll have to go on the floor in the backseat.

                                    I've frozen cupcakes before, and they've worked out all right. The butter in the frosting stays quite firm for a while, which is helpful. However, I'm wondering whether I need to use a more soft or fluffy recipe than I normally do, because I'm planning to pipe the frosting with a 1M swirl tip (like this: <http://www.marthastewartweddings.com/...) or with a round tip, à la Georgetown Cupcake: http://www.georgetowncupcake.com/home...

                                    1. re: HFXNS

                                      The advantage to pizza boxes is that you can pack quite a few into each box and they're strong enough to stack without crushing the contents. I would definitely NOT pack the cupcakes in more than a single layer, no matter what. And as I said, you don't pack them until they're solidly frozen (I just arranged them on a large baking tray and put the tray into my chest freezer). Once frozen, they're sturdy and won't damage. If you remove the boxes from the freezer just before leaving the house, the icing will probably still be firm enough on arrival to tolerate any handling (peeling off the waxed paper etc.). I used just a normal icing - no stiffer than usual - and it held up just fine. You don't want anything too heavy on a cupcake anyway.

                                      A couple of additional words of advice: you CAN get unused pizza boxes from pizza places for not very much money. It's well worth the few dollars they may charge you. And second, Check the box height before picking them up. My cupcakes were small ones, so if yours are large and thickly frosted, they may not fit without squashing.

                                      Good luck.

                                      1. re: Nyleve

                                        The photocopy paper box tops I have are 3" deep. The boxes that my pizzas come in wouldn't be deep enough.

                                  2. How about a white peppermint frosting? Chocolate mint is a known combination.

                                    1. I think rum and chocolate would be a great combo (think rum balls, mmm). Cinnamon & chocolate is good, but tricky, because cinnamon extract can easily get too strong and medicinal tasting. What about almond? Almond & chocolate is a great combo.

                                      Here's a photo of a cupcake tower with 3 different cupcakes (chocolate, vanilla, and pumpkin, I imagine), with white frosting on all of them, and fall-colored flowers for the fall theme. I think it's a prettier effect than the ones that go for multi-colored frostings. I think the effect would be even more dramatic if the cupcakes were all chocolate.


                                      4 Replies
                                      1. re: Karen_Schaffer

                                        I agree about cinnamon being an iffy choice, and I don't think rum would be great, either, as there will be kids at the wedding, and I'll don't think they'll like the rum flavour. (Sort of reminds me of being a kid and seeing a plate of brownies and getting really excited, till I found out there were walnuts in them. *Why* do people do that?)

                                        1. re: HFXNS

                                          Really? I adored rum flavoring as a child. But I've been assuming one would use what I think of as standard, butter rum flavoring (artificial, but tasty), not real rum, which would have too much alcohol and not enough flavor.

                                          But then I love walnuts in brownies too, heh.

                                          1. re: HFXNS

                                            I don't think cinnamon is an iffy choice at all. Cinnamon and chocolate is a fabulous combo (cf. Mexican chocolate). Now, cinnamon extract might be iffy, but you can use powdered cinnamon or cinnamon sticks and infuse a small amount of milk or cream that you use in your frosting.

                                            I love both raspberry and choc. and orange and choc., so I think those would be good choices.

                                            From both a visual and palate standpoint, I think a frosting in a contrasting color/flavor would be a better choice than a chocolate frosting on choc. cupcakes.

                                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                              Maybe chocolate cupcakes with raspberry frosting and chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting would be a good idea. Still, though, chocolate-on-chocolate is a pretty popular flavour combination. I know that Mexican chocolate has cinnamon in it, but that's not a popular (or even heard-of) combination in these parts.

                                        2. how about a white chocolate-crytallized ginger-rum frosting? The white chocolate will give you a lot of body to work with in the frosting itself. There are even flavored rums (I've had a raspberry rum that, added to chocolate syrup, made a tasty quick fancy topping for ice cream in pinch).

                                          1. Two flavors not yet mentioned (?) that are great with chocolate:
                                            Most people love malted milk balls--it's easy to stir malt powder into frosting.
                                            A delicious delicious dessert is warm chocolate pudding spooned over fresh pineapple.

                                            1. Can't believe peanut or hazelnut, both excellent with chocolate, haven't been mentioned. Maybe everyone is worried about nut allergies? Could be offered in addition to a non-nut flavor.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: cookie44

                                                i did mention peanut butter but also pointed out that it could be tricky with the allergy potential.