You know what the Fourth of July needs? More exploding food. We have lots of grilled meat. Plenty of fresh fruit. Loads of lemonade. And heaven knows we don’t need any more ridiculously tall desserts in our lives. But…exploding food? Yeah, I could do with more of that.
I’m here to solve all of your not-having-enough-exploding-food-dilemmas. (File that one under Problems You Didn’t Know Were Problems Until Just Now.) See, I made you some cupcakes, see? But they’re not just regular cupcakes, see? They’re actually filled with Pop Rocks, which are the explodingest food known to man, see? But the Pop Rocks are hidden, so your friends and family will think they’re just typical mild-mannered holiday cupcakes until they take a bite, see? One big chomp and…BAM! An explosion big enough to cause us all to steal Emeril’s catch phrase!
THAT is how the Fourth of July should be done.
To the person who invented Pop Rocks: I salute you. You, good Sir or Madam, saw a need that no one else saw, and provided the children of this world with an extremely entertaining, only slightly terrifying candy. Is popping candy necessary? Well, I suppose not. Is it fun? Yes, unless you’re my son, in which case it kind of freaks you out. Does it belong inside of cupcakes? Heck yes!
The problem with Pop Rocks is that they’re extremely hygroscopic, meaning they absorb moisture from the air. Shortly after opening the package and exposing them to air, the little nuggets of popping magic start clumping together and losing their pop. Adding them to frosting or the inside of cupcakes “in the raw” is a sure recipe for soggy, pop-free cupcakes.
To prevent this, and to give their pop more staying power, I coated them in a light layer of coconut oil. The oil is solid at cool room temperature, so it provides a bit of a barrier between the candy and the moisture surrounding them. (I think cocoa butter would also work well for this purpose, if you’re in an experimenting mood.) The coconut oil isn’t a miracle worker, so you still have only about 8 hours after assembly before the candy loses its pop, but it still really helps to extend the life of the cupcakes! It also adds a nice subtle coconut flavor, that goes well with the vanilla cupcakes and fruity Pop Rocks.
I also had fun with the frosting—I used a little leftover red and blue frosting from the American Flag layer cake to paint frosting stripes up the inside of a piping bag, then added white frosting. When the frosting mixed together in the bag it created a great airbrushed look. You could also top these with actual airbrushed color, your favorite sprinkles, or disgustingly Pinteresty cupcake toppers…
Happy Fourth, friends! Watch out for exploding food!
For the Cupcakes:
- 10 2/3 oz all-purpose flour 2 1/2 cups
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 8 oz unsalted butter at room temperature
- 14 oz granulated sugar 2 cups
- 4 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 8 oz plain greek yogurt 1 cup full-fat (low-fat can be substituted, do not use non-fat)
- 14 packets Pop Rocks candy .33 oz each
- 1/4-1/3 cups coconut oil
For the Buttercream:
- 9 egg whites
- 14 oz granulated sugar 2 cups
- 1 lb butter soft but still cool
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Red and blue gel food coloring optional
To Make the Cupcakes:
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line cupcake pans with 24 liners.
- Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside for now.
- Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then add the vanilla extract. With the mixer running on low, add third of the flour mixture, then when the flour streaks have disappeared, add half of the yogurt. Add half of the remaining flour, the rest of the yogurt, then finish with the last of the flour. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to fully mix the batter.
- Fill the cupcake tins until they're half to two-thirds full, then bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes, until they just start to turn golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cupcakes completely before filling and frosting.
To Make the Buttercream:
- Combine the egg whites and the granulated sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer, and whisk them together. Choose a small saucepan that lets you fit the base of the stand mixer snugly into the top of the saucepan—this is your makeshift hot water bath. (Alternately, you can use a different bowl or an actual bain marie and then transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl once it’s heated.) Add an inch of water to the bottom of the saucepan, and bring the water to a simmer.
- Place the mixing bowl on top of the saucepan, making sure that the bottom isn’t in contact with the water, and heat the egg white mixture. Whisk frequently so that the egg whites don’t cook. Continue to heat the whites until they are hot to the touch, and when you rub a bit between your fingers, you don’t feel any grittiness from the sugar. Once the whites are hot, transfer the mixing bowl to your mixer and fit it with a whisk attachment.
- Beat the whites on medium-high speed until they are no longer warm to the touch—feel the outside of the bowl, and make sure that it is around room temperature. Depending on your mixer and the temperature of your environment, this may take 15-20 minutes, or more. Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the softened but cool butter in small chunks, a tablespoon at a time, making sure to wait in between additions. It may separate or look a little gloopy at this point—fear not. Once all of the butter is added, increase the speed again and whip until it comes together and is light and fluffy. If, after 5 minutes, it hasn’t come together, refrigerate the mixing bowl for 5-7 minutes, to cool the mixture down, and whip it again. Add the vanilla extract and salt.
- The buttercream can be made in advance and kept at room temperature if you’re going to use it the same day, or refrigerated. If it has been chilled, let it sit at room temperature until completely soft, then re-whip it to get the smooth texture back before you use it.
- Combine the Pop Rocks and 1/4 cup melted coconut oil in a bowl, and stir until the candy is evenly coated with a thin layer of oil. If it seems like the candy is a little dry, add a bit more oil, a little at a time, until well-covered. Scrape the Pop Rocks onto a baking sheet covered with waxed paper, and spread it out into a single layer. Refrigerate to solidify the oil, about 10 minutes.
- Use a sharp paring knife to cut a cone-shaped hole out of the top of the cupcakes. Scoop the Pop Rocks off of the baking sheet, separating any large clumps with your fingers. Scoop a spoonful of Pop Rocks into the center of each cupcake, coming almost all the way to the top. Cut the bottom off of the cupcake cone, and replace the top of the cupcake on top of the candy.
- If you want to make multi-colored swirls like the ones picture, scoop a cup of frosting into two different bowls. Add a teaspoon of red gel coloring to one bowl, and a teaspoon of blue gel coloring to the other bowl, and mix well.
- Fit a piping bag with a large star tip. Scoop the red and blue frosting into two separate plastic bags, and snip off a corner of each bag. Holding the piping bag in one hand, pipe two red stripes of frosting up the inside of the bag, then pipe two blue stripes up the inside of the bag. Fill the bag with white frosting—when you squeeze it, the colors will blend together and you'll get nice multi-colored stripes! Pipe a generous swirl of frosting on top of each cupcake.
- Exploding Cupcakes are best enjoyed soon after they are assembled, but I have found that the Pop Rocks stay "poppy" for about 8 hours after assembly.