You don’t have to be an expert with a pastry bag to make cupcakes with a decadent sweet, salty and nutty filling surrounded by moist cake. An easy trick that requires no extra equipment makes the process simple. Chocolate is a classic peanut butter accompaniment, but vanilla-, banana- or coffee-flavored cupcakes work well, too.
The trick for making cupcakes with a filling that doesn’t melt or collapse in the oven, leaving a hole in the center of the cupcake, is to freeze the filling ahead of time. As the cupcake bakes, the filling thaws. Combine creamy peanut butter and confectioner’s sugar, roll the mixture into half-inch balls, place them on a sheet pan covered with waxed paper and cover them with another sheet of waxed paper. Put them in the freezer up to 24 hours in advance. To make it easier to handle the peanut butter balls, spray your hands with cooking spray. If you make extra, store the balls in resealable plastic bags in the freezer.
Preheat the oven and prepare cupcake batter from scratch, or use a commercial mix. Line a muffin tin with muffin cups and fill each one about two-thirds full. Gently press one frozen peanut butter ball into each cupcake, taking care not to push it all the way to the bottom. If necessary, smooth the batter over the peanut butter ball so the top is completely covered. Bake the cupcakes for the recommended time, take them out of the oven and let them cool for a few minutes. After they’ve cooled, remove them from the muffin tins and place them on a wire rack.
Make or buy chocolate or vanilla icing and, once the cupcakes have cooled, spread a generous amount of frosting on each cupcake. If you have extra peanut butter filling, thaw it until it’s pliable, roll it out, and use a cookie cutter or a sharp knife to make shapes. Lay the peanut butter shapes on the frosting. Load leftover filling into a pastry bag and pipe it onto the frosting. Instead of vanilla or chocolate, keep the theme going and ice the cupcakes with peanut butter frosting.
Add flavor to the peanut butter filling with a drop of vanilla, cinnamon, banana or coconut extract. Create peanut butter and jelly cupcakes by rolling out a small circle of the peanut butter filling, placing a little bit of jelly or jam in the center, and crimping the peanut butter around the jelly before freezing. Experiment with other nut butters, but avoid extra-oily butters like walnut or pecan butter. For an elegant butter, grind pistachios or hazelnuts until they’re mealy, then mix them with cream cheese, form into balls and freeze.