My girls turned 7 last weekend. They had a great surprise visit from my niece and her husband who came to spend the weekend and a fun dinner with cousins at their favorite Mexican restaurant, complete with sombreros and fried ice cream. The next day, in a successful attempt to move away from the big, loud, twenty-plus kid party we’ve had the last couple years, I allowed them to invite a couple friends each to join them at the local pottery painting place. They ate flower shaped sandwiches for lunch and I made a large cupcake-shaped chocolate cake along with these vanilla cupcakes. The gal who worked there said it was the quietest party they’d ever had and I only needed one bag to haul their presents home.
That was always the most uncomfortable thing for me with the big party – all those gifts! I used to think it would be as simple as stating “no gifts please” on the invitation but it really isn’t. For one thing, all the other parties the girls went to they saw the kids get a ton of gifts and, being small children, they wanted the same for themselves. When I suggested we ask for no gifts they gave me such anguished looks that I felt like Cruella Deville. I quickly caved and assured them we would do nothing of the sort, deciding to put off this particular life lesson a couple years since they were not yet 5 years old at the time. The other problem is, no matter what you say, people will bring gifts anyway making it awkward for the people who don’t. I found myself in that position once when, in honoring the host’s request for no gifts (feeling both admiration and inadequacy), we arrived empty-handed. We were the only ones. Luckily, I was able to discreetly sneak away and bring back something for the girls each to give so they wouldn’t be horrified at being the only ones without gifts for the birthday girl. We won’t be falling for that one again without backup gifts in the car. I know this is a struggle for lots of parents and call me weak if you want but it doesn’t appear to be my destiny to lead the charge in birthday party reform. Before I had kids I swore I would never have the big parties we ended up giving them but I’m glad we were able to. They are great memories. And now I’m really happy we can be done with them.
It’s no secret I’m a big fan of all things chocolate. That said, as I’ve matured (I use the term loosely), I’ve come to favor the perfect simplicity of the vanilla cupcake. My nieces feel the same way and that is why, truth be told, I made them for the birthday weekend. My girls both requested the chocolate cake and we certainly didn’t need them but it was nice to have a bunch left over to enjoy during the Superbowl later that afternoon. Plus, I needed something to blog. I’ve modified this recipe several times and this version is what I like. The cake has a nice, light crumb, and is moist but not dense. The buttercream is rich but not too sweet with a bit of salt for complexity. Also, I don’t skimp on the vanilla.
Vanilla Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream
(makes 2 dozen cupcakes)
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 canola or vegetable oil
1 TB pure vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup milk + 1 tablespoon vinegar)
VANILLA BUTTERCREAM FROSTING
5 cups powdered sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
approx 1/3 cup milk
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Prepare 2 cupcake pans with paper liners.
If you don’t have buttermilk, before you begin the batter, combine milk with the vinegar and allow it to sit at room temperature until ready to use. I use apple cider vinegar, you may also use white vinegar or even lemon juice. To speed up the process, microwave it to room temp (about 30 – 45 seconds on high). If you are using buttermilk, go ahead and take it out of the fridge at this point to take the chill off.
It should look cultured and chunky like this.
Combine cake flour, AP flour, baking powder, and salt in a sifter and sift into a large bowl. Set aside.
Place sugar in a large mixing bowl. If you are using less refined sugar, such as organic cane sugar, you may find it helpful to sift it to get any large granules out, otherwise, you can skip this step.
Add butter and oil, mix on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. You can use a stand mixer or handheld beaters to mix the batter.
Add eggs, one at a time, until well combined.
Mix in vanilla extract, the higher the quality, the better the cupcake. I also like Costco’s vanilla extract but my brother got this for me for Christmas and it’s really good stuff.
Slowly, mix in one-third of the flour mixture until fully combined.
Slowly, mix in half the buttermilk until fully combined. Continue with another third of the flour mixture, followed by remaining buttermilk, ending with remaining flour mixture.
Fill cupcake liners about two thirds full. Bake in preheated, 325-degree oven for 18 – 20 minutes or until light golden brown. The cupcake should spring back when pressed with your finger.
Remove from oven and allow to cool a bit, then remove cupcakes from pan and place on a rack to cool completely before frosting.
Begin making the frosting by placing softened butter in mixing bowl and beat with wire attachment or electric beaters until light and fluffy. Scrape sides with a rubber spatula occasionally to ensure all the butter is whipped evenly.
Add 2 cups powdered sugar and, slowly at first, beat until well combined, using a rubber spatula to scrape sides occasionally.
Mix in salt and vanilla.
Add 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, beat until well combined, then add milk, beat until well combined, then add remaining powdered sugar. Beat on high speed until frosting is really light and fluffy, using a rubber spatula to scrape sides occasionally
Frost cooled cupcakes with a piping bag (shown below frosting carrot cupcakes from a previous post) or simply use a butter knife or small offset spatula.
“Life’s meant to be sweet! Grab a cupcake and enjoy the ride!”