Cola Float Cupcakes

I grew up from age 6 - 12 in the tiny town of Lindenhurst, Illinois. Lindenhurst is located in the northeast corner of Illinois almost equally between Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Chicago, Illinois. I have memories of going to the Milwaukee Museum, the Milwaukee Zoo and also to the Hayden Planetarium and the Museum of Science and Industry. But besides the library, the place we frequented the most was the mall, and more specifically, the Lakehurst Mall in Waukegan, Illinois. 

The Lakehurst Mall (R.I.P.) was a large mall with a few anchor stores and about 100 other stores. There was also an arcade in the corner of the second floor and when I was older I definitely spent some time and lost quite a few quarters playing video games like Ms. Pac Man.Before malls had food courts, anchor stores also had their own cafeterias to feed both customers and workers. There was something magical and almost like an amusement ride getting into the queue and seeing food that my mother never made or probably even knew about. There were daily specials, tuna salad in a tomato and all kinds of savory offerings.  But it was the desserts that always caught my attention!  Brightly colored and quivering Jello with pretty whipped cream rosettes, slices of cake and pie sitting on their sides, fruit cocktail in dainty glass goblets and assorted cookies and brownies all wrapped up in plastic on their own little plate. 

We did not eat out very much at all so when we were fortunate enough to eat out, it was very modest and usually for lunch. Having a snack was even more rare. This is probably why I have this distinct memory of my father bringing me to the cafeteria in one of these department stores and making me a coke float.  To earn extra money my mother did alterations on clothing for her friends that owned a dry cleaning store located right outside the Lakehurst Mall. I can still smell the starch and feel the steam that hit you when you walked into the store. They were always busy and working hard. I'm sure my father was trying to distract me while my mother was doing something for the dry cleaning people. 

A cola float was not something on the menu and to this day I have no idea why my father even thought of this combination but I'm sure he had a root beer float in mind. He must have asked if they had root beer and since the fountain soda choices were probably limited, I'm sure he selected cola above any others because it is close in color to root beer. This selection method seemed to work well for my father but I'll have to tell you another story about how my mother tried the "selection by color" method and painfully failed. (A story for another time) 

For some reason, cola is not a big flavor here in the US for candy and confections. When I recently went to London I was reminded that thankfully the Europeans embrace cola as a flavor and have gummy cola candies, fizzy cola candies and hard cola candies. The only cola flavored candy I remember as a kid was Bottle Caps which were a bottle cap shaped disc of sugar that had no fizz and a texture similar to a Smartie - a little chalky, a little sour and sweet. But the problem is that the roll would come with orange, grape, cherry and root beer. I didn't really enjoy grape flavored candies and could tolerate the other flavors but in my dream world I wanted an entire roll of cola!

And ice cream! Ahhhh - the food of the gods! We almost never had ice cream in the house and this was a true treat. So somehow he got the ice cream, probably in a glass that was too small, pressed the lever and poured the cola into the glass and it fizzed and overflowed onto the coffee saucer which we was able to put under the glass in the knick of time. 

Sipping the ice cold cola and then scooping up vanilla ice cream that had an icy shell of cola around it was SO DELICIOUS! I had never had anything like it. Every so often when the stars align, having a cola float brings me back to being young and growing up in the midwest.

Nowadays we can buy almost anything online and download music and books at the blink of an eye.

But it's nice to know that sometimes the simple things like cola and vanilla ice cream can create a magical memory that you can relive without too much hassle.  

COLA FLOAT CUPCAKES

I wanted to try and capture the taste of the cola float in a cupcake. When I went to do some research and saw MANY cola cupcakes that used cola and chocolate. Hmm.. not what I wanted. So I used a basic cupcake recipe and replaced the liquid and sugar with cola syrup. I'm sure you could use regular carbonated cola but I really wanted to concentrate the flavor and plus, I had a few cans of cola (ok Pepsi!) that were about to expire so I thought, what the heck, I'll boil them down and see what happens.  

The flavor of this cupcake is rather subtle, kind of like a mild spice cake with vanilla and cinnamon. I like the lemon flavor but it is entirely optional in the cupcake and the frosting. I also added the citric acid to the frosting to mimic the tangy flavor of the European cola candies but this is also entirely optional. You can use a vanilla frosting instead a cola flavored one but I wanted to really have something that tasted like cola and making just the cupcake wasn't enough cola flavor for me. 

To get that extra memory bank point, I like to eat these straight from the freezer. Freezing cupcakes also keeps them much fresher and moist.
 
Yield: about 24 cupcakes

CUPCAKE INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 3/4 cup cola syrup (see recipe below)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure lemon oil
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups of sifted all purpose flour (*If you are too lazy to sift it, just stir the flour very well to aerate it and then gently spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level off. In other words, don't pack in the flour. Your cupcakes will be too dense)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt  (do not omit the salt)

    CUPCAKE INSTRUCTIONS: (not lined up - fix)
  1. Preheat the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Line the wells of a standard muffin/cupcake with paper liners. Set aside. 
  3. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Put aside. 
  4. Put the oil and cola syrup into the mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the eggs one at a time.  Scrape down the bowl as needed. Add the vanilla and lemon oil (optional). Add the flour and milk and mix until blended. 
  5. Scoop the batter equally into the paper lined tins about 2/3 way full. 
  6. Place the cupcake tins in the oven and bake for about 15-20 minutes. Start checking the cupcakes at 15 minutes with a toothpick. When the toothpick comes out clean, take them out of the oven and put them on a rack to cool.
    Note: Cupcakes can be made ahead and frozen 

FROSTING INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and at room temperature
  • 4 cups sifted confectioner's (powdered) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon lemon oil (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon citric acid (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon meringue powder
  • 5 tablespoons cola syrup (see recipe below)
  • 2 pinches fine sea salt

COLA FROSTING INSTRUCTIONS:

  1. Put butter into a mixer with a whip attachment. Beat the butter until softened and smooth.
  2. Add the cola syrup with the salt, citric acid, vanilla and lemon oil.
  3. Add the powdered sugar and meringue powder and beat at medium-high speed until completely incorporated and whipped. 
    Frosting can be made ahead of time and stored in the fridge or freezer until ready to use. Make sure the frosting is at room temperature before using. 
     

COLA SYRUP INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 cans or 72 ounces of cola

COLA SYRUP INSTRUCTIONS:

1) Empty all six cans of cola into a medium sized saucepan. Bring to a boil and keep boiling it at a gentle simmer with no cover until the cola starts to get thick and coat the back of a spoon. This will take some time so be patient. But once you get a thick consistency (think somewhere between maple syrup and honey), pour it into a heatproof container and let it cool. The syrup can be made a few days ahead and kept in the fridge. Bring it to room temperature before you use it for this recipe. Yield: About one cup (8 ounces).

Pouring the cola into the pan.

Pouring the cola into the pan.

At first the cola will look like water boiling. Be patient!

At first the cola will look like water boiling. Be patient!

As the water evaporates the bubbles will get larger.

As the water evaporates the bubbles will get larger.

Pour the cola syrup into a heatproof glass container. 

Pour the cola syrup into a heatproof glass container. 

COLA FLOAT CUPCAKES ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS

VARIATION A

  1.  Take the cola frosting and put into a piping bag. Pipe the cola over the cupcake. 
  2. Take a paper straw and cut to fit. Press into the side of the cupcake as shown. 

VARIATION B

  1. Cut a cupcake horizontally into "slices". Don't worry if they aren't perfect or fal apart.
  2. Place a layer of cupcake on the bottom of a glass. Push down with a long handled spoon.
  3. Pipe some cola frosting evenly over the cupcake. Repeat the layers ending with icing on the top. 
  4. Garnish with a cherry and a straw.