vanilla-vanilla cupcakes

I’m sneaking in one last goodie since it’s still birthday month. And because I get the feeling that you really need a cupcake right now. Everyone needs a vanilla cupcake in their repertoire. This is mine.

I’ve actually made these cupcakes twice this month. I made them a few weeks ago for my littlest homegirl’s big first birthday bash. And because I had so much fun with all of the colors and hand-tinted sprinkles, I had to make them again for myself.

I’ve made a whole lot of traditional buttercream in my time, but this is my new favorite. It’s light and creamy and sweet without being too sugary. It’s the closest thing to a European buttercream without including eggs. Nowadays, I almost exclusively use a pastry bag to pipe my buttercreams. But there’s something very fun and nostalgic about hand frosting cupcakes. I’m digging it.

The same goes for the cupcake. There are an endless number of vanilla cupcake recipes out there, but this is the one that has yet to fail me. It’s a white cake, meaning that there are no yolks in the batter. This can sometimes lead to a dry cake, but this cake manages to be moist and has a lovely crumb. It’s the kind of thing you crave when you just want a good ol’ cupcake. Plain and simple.

vanilla-vanilla cupcakes

makes 12 standard cupcakes

for the cupcakes:

adapted from Bon Appetit Desserts: The Cookbook for All Things Sweet and Wonderful by Barbara Fairchild

1-1/3 cups cake flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup whole milk

3 large eggs whites, room temperature

2 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners. Set aside.

Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk milk, egg whites, sour cream, and vanilla in another medium bowl until sour cream is completely incorporated.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter and sugar until very light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 2 additions, alternating with the milk mixture in 2 additions, beating on low speed. Beat until combined, being careful not to overmix.

Divide the batter equally among paper liners (about 1/3 cup each). Bake cupcakes until  a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 18-20 minutes. Cool in pans on rack for 5 minutes. Transfer cupcakes to a rack to cool completely.

for the vanilla buttercream:

from Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones by Kris Hoogerhyde and Anne Walker

makes 4 cups (enough for 24 cupcakes)

1/2 vanilla bean

1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

4-1/2 cups powdered sugar, measured then sifted

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt 

gel food coloring (optional)

Split the vanilla bean lengthwise and use the knife to carefully scrape the seeds from the pod. Add the vanilla seeds and pod to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the remaining ingredients to the mixing bowl and fit the mixer with the paddle attachment.

Beat first on low speed, and then increase to medium-high speed and continue to beat until the frosting is light, fluffy, and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and mix briefly again.

Remove the vanilla bean. If you’d like to tint the buttercream, add a drop or two of food coloring and mix well. Add more to reach the desired color. Use the frosting immediately or cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks. If made ahead, let the frosting come to room temperature before using and remix briefly using the stand mixer until it regains its light and fluffy consistency.

for the hand-tinted sprinkles:

white sprinkles

petal dust, luster dust, or powdered food coloring

Pour sprinkles into a clean, dry jar with a lid. Add a pinch of food coloring to the sprinkles. Screw on the lid and shake until the sprinkles are tinted. Add more powder to reach the desired shade.

to frost the cupcakes:

Using a spatula, spread the tops of the cupcakes with a generous dollop of buttercream, creating a swirl. Top with sprinkles if desired.

miette’s tomboy cake

Hi. I’ve missed you. It’s been a while since I last checked in, which makes me feel a little nutty. I’m telling you, there’s just something about September. I’ve been very bad.

Since I was here last, I’ve had a birthday and a few revelations. Turning thirty-one was a breeze; there were no meltdowns, no disasters. Unlike some of the birthdays of years past, this one was very mellow, and exactly what I wanted – a good dinner, a few strong cocktails, and my nearest and dearests. It was a perfect birthday from start to finish. I have the greatest people in my life and I feel extremely lucky.

Because September is my favorite and it’s birthday month, we’re having cake. All day, every day. Or something like that. Haaaaay!

This is Miette’s signature cake, the Tomboy. It can be filed under favorite chocolate cakes, prettiest layer cakes, and even famous San Francisco cakes. Miette has the cutest bake shops in the Bay Area. Sweet and picture perfect, that’s Miette in a nutshell. Their Hayes Valley shop is like a candy-coated dream, like the prettier, girlier, modern version of the candy shop in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. If you have an appreciation for beautiful, sweet things, such as macarons, cupcakes, and imported candies, you must pay them a visit.

I actually made a few variations of this chocolate cake over the summer (there were quite a few birthdays in July and August). The double chocolate cake is the base for three cakes in the Miette cookbook, and I gave each of them a spin. I’ll probably share the others with you at some point, but I had to start with the Tomboy. It’s hard to say no to silky Italian buttercream and rich layers of moist, chocolatey cake. Plus, I think it’s such an understated beauty. I love those exposed layers of ruffled buttercream. It’s a cake worthy of any celebration.

miette’s tomboy cake

from Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop by Meg Ray

makes 1 6-inch layer cake

*Rose Levy Beranbaum included a recipe for Miette’s Tomboy in Rose’s Heavenly Cakes. I tried the recipe from both books and ultimately preferred Rose’s technique, which was a bit less labor intensive a still produced a dense, moist cake. The buttercream and assembly technique are from Miette.

double chocolate cake

from Rose’s Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum

1/2 cup boiling water

1 ounce dark chocolate, 70% cacao, chopped 

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup sugar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup plus 1-1/2 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder

1-1/4 teaspoons baking powder 

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg, at room temperature

1/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup buttermilk

1 icing rose (optional), available here

Twenty minutes before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

Thoroughly butter one 6 by 3-inch round cake pan. Place a parchment round in the bottom of the buttered pan, then butter the parchment. Dust with cocoa powder. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, pour the boiling water over the chocolate. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Cover with plastic wrap to prevent evaporation and cool until it is no longer warm to the touch but is still fluid. Stir in the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, sift together the sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the whisk attachment, beat the egg on high speed until thickened and light in color, about 3 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and slowly add the oil to emulsify the egg. Beat in the buttermilk and melted chocolate mixture until well combined.

Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed for a few seconds until the dry ingredients are moistened. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl. Raise the speed to medium-high and beat for 2 minutes. The batter will be thick and shiny. Using a silicone spatula, Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the surfaces with a small offset spatula.

Bake the cake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the cake and the pan, and invert the cake onto a wire rack. Remove the parchment and immediately reinvert the cake so that the top side is up. Cover the top with a piece of plastic wrap to keep the upper crust soft. Cool completely.

vanilla buttercream

from Miette: Recipes from San Francisco’s Most Charming Pastry Shop by Meg Ray

makes about 6 cups, enough to frost two 6-inch cakes

2 cups sugar

1/3 cup water

5 large egg whites

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

3 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Cook the mixture until it reaches 248°F, 5 to 10 minutes, keeping a constant eye on it.

Meanwhile, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When the sugar syrup reaches 240°F, turn the mixer on and whisk the egg whites on medium-low speed until soft peaks form.

When the sugar syrup reaches 248°F, reduce the mixer speed to low and very carefully drizzle the hot syrup into the mixer bowl, away from the whisk so that it doesn’t spatter. Be very careful when working with the hot syrup. When you have added all of the syrup, raise the speed to high and beat until the mixture is cool to the touch, 5-10 minutes.

When the meringue is cool, reduce the speed to medium. With the mixer running, drop in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until each piece is incorporated before adding another. The mixture may deflate and look curdled. Raise the speed to high and continue to add tablespoon-size pieces of butter. When all of the butter has been added, the frosting should be smooth and thick. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

to assemble:

Using a serrated knife, cut the cake into three equal layers. Using your hands, tap off and brush away excess crumbs. Place the bottom layer of cake in the center of a cake board.

Fit a pastry bag with a medium (1/2 or 5/8-inch) star tip and fill about halfway with buttercream. Holding the bag at a 90-degree angle, pipe a ring of frosting around the outer edge of the cake, keeping a 1/8-inch border at the very edge. Starting at the inner edge of the border, spiral inward filling in the center of the ring to make an even layer of buttercream. Using an offset spatula, smooth the inside of the ring, leaving the piped edges untouched.

Place the second cake layer on top of the buttercream layer. Using your fingertips, gently center the cake on top. Repeat with another layer of buttercream just like you did on the first layer.

Place the third cake layer on top of the buttercream. Using your fingertips, gently press down in the center of the cake. Pipe a ring of buttercream around the edge, leaving a 1/8-inch margin. Fill in the center with slightly more frosting than the inner layers. Using a small offset spatula, smooth the center, pushing the frosting out very slightly.

If desired, scoop out a little hole in the frosting in the center of the cake to make  a setting for the rose. Nestle the rose in the hole and arrange the leaf next to it at a 45-degree angle.

Serve the cake at room temperature. Serve at once or hold at room temp for up to 4 hours. The cake will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days.