July 1, 2012

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream


Cupcakes make any day better.  Back in elementary school, remember the excitement when someone's mom brought in a foil-lined tray full of cupcakes for a birthday?  Something so small and simple made a boring school day very happy.  

Even now, despite the economy, cupcake businesses are doing phenomenally well.  Most towns have cupcake bakeries, and people will wait in long lines to enjoy these guiltless indulgences, which are a walk down memory lane of childhood.  In tough economic times, people will cut back on spending, but they will buy little items that make them feel good.  Sweet, delicious, and inexpensive cupcakes provide that gratification and "luxury."  It reminds me of Starbucks: even when money is tight, people still get their Starbucks drinks, and this movie clip provides a humorous explanation.

So, it turns out that cupcakes have actually been taking the cake for over 200 years.  The very first mention of a cupcake goes back to a 1796 recipe with a notation of "a cake to be baked in small cups" in American Cookery.  In 1828, Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats used the term "cupcake."  

Who doesn't love cupcakes?  They come in one size, so you've got portion control; none of this nonsense of "give me that tiny sliver of cake….wait, that's too big!"  They are portable, and I recommend a cupcake triple-decker tour bus or cupcake saucer for transport.  Most importantly, cupcakes are open to infinite decorating strategies.   They are decadent because you can get cake, frosting, and even a filling all at the same time.  

Vanilla is always the classic, simple flavor for anything.  It never hurts to have a classic vanilla cupcake and fabulous vanilla frosting in your recipe repertoire.  This recipe comes from the Magnolia Bakery in New York.  The bakery was featured in Sex and the City, and at one point, they had a "Carrie" cupcake, a vanilla cupcake with pink vanilla frosting and a daisy.  Out of all the bakeries in New York, if Magnolia made the cut for the Sex and the City ladies, you know it must be good!

Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream
(Yields 24 cupcakes)

Ingredients:
Cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk (skim milk is fine)
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6-8 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Food coloring, if desired

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350ºF.  Line two 12-cup cupcake pans with cupcake liners.  In a small bowl, combine and sift the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth with an electric mixer. Add the sugar gradually and beat until the mixture becomes fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then, add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating between the milk and vanilla. Beat the ingredients until they are incorporated, but do not overbeat.

Carefully spoon the batter (use an ice cream scoop or a 1/4 cup measuring cup) into the cupcake liners. The cupcake liners should be about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted into the cupcakes come out clean.

Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

To make the vanilla buttercream frosting, place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the powdered sugar, followed by the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of the mixer, beat until smooth and creamy (about 3 to 5 minutes). Gradually add the remaining sugar (1 cup at a time), beating well until the icing is thick enough to be of a good spreading consistency. If desired, add some food coloring and mix throughly. Frost cupcakes, add sprinkles, and enjoy this reminder of how sweet life truly is!

Note:  For the vanilla buttercream, use the icing at room temperature because it will set if chilled. It can be stored in an airtight container for about three days.

Source: Cupcake history from Food Timeline; Adapted from Allysa Torrey and Jennifer Appel's Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook

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