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Kitchen Experiment: Root Beer “Float” Cupcakes

One of my all-time favorite desserts/special treat is the classic root beer float.

I don’t know if it’s because of the creamy texture of the ice cream mixed with the slight bite of the root beer soda, but very rarely will I turn down the offer for a float. Whenever I plan to stay in and veg out with movies, I always make sure that I have the makings of this tasty treat on hand (along with a bowl of freshly popped popcorn).

The only gripe I’ve ever had about root beer floats is that they aren’t very portable, and it’s hard to make that moment where the perfect balance of flavors/textures have met last for more than a few minutes.

With the goal of finding a practical way to enjoy and share this treat, or at least a variation of it, I searched online and found that several recipes for a root beer cupcake existed. After finding one that didn’t look too complicated, I put this baking project on my to-do list, and finally made a batch this week.

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For the most part, the recipe was straightforward, but a few ingredients presented a bit of a challenge. I discovered that an item called “root beer extract,” was needed for the batter, and it does exist, but only at specialty stores. My regular grocery store has a plethora of other extracts available, so I assumed it would be a simple purchase.

No such luck.

When I realized that I should have ordered the extract online, I debated on putting the project off until another day, but knew that until the root beer craving was satisfied I wouldn’t be happy. The solution I came up with was using a substitution for that ingredient (which a quick search online helped with), and hoped that they would still turn out okay. The fact that actual root beer soda was part of the batter helped mask the fact that I was missing the speciality extract.

The only other roadblock I encountered in this project happened to be finding the candy root beer barrels available to decorate the top of the cupcake.

In the picture for the recipe, a cute little straw and root beer barrel were placed upon a mound of icing (shaped to look like a scoop of vanilla ice cream), and I wanted to make my version just as adorable (and delicious).

By now I should know better than to assume that every ingredient will be available at my local grocery store whenever I have the whim to bake something, but I hoped that since a co-worker regularly brings in little bags of the barrels for his “old man candy dish,” I wouldn’t have a problem buying something so simple as a certain variety of hard candy. A trip to not only the grocery store, but Target and World Market left me root beer barrel-less and I was forced to search out other avenues to find said candy.

I ended up finding them at a Walgreens (conveniently located across the street from my grocery store, naturally) that carried the candy. I resisted the urge to buy the jumbo bag, even though it was on sale, and headed for home to finish icing and decorating my creation.

In the end, I was happy with the finished result, and the responses from round 1 of taste testers seemed to be that they enjoyed them, too.

I’ve learned a couple of lessons with this baking endeavor, with the most important one being to make sure ALL ingredients are either already in your possession or easy to procure prior to starting the baking process. Luckily I was able to find substitutions and had the time to drive around to multiple stores searching, but if I had known about the limited availability of certain items I might have held off on making these cupcakes until a later date.

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