Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes

I may be a weekend baker, but during the week I do have a real job. “Design Strategist by day, crazy baker by night.” This year, the company I work for is celebrating their 20th anniversary and to celebrate the entire Chicago office flew over for a big party and some trans-Atlantic office team building. I wanted to add my own touch to the celebrations by baking some welcome cupcakes for the Chicago team – really it was just to give them a sugar boost as we had festivities planned for the evening and they had no time for jet lag!

I went to my trusty vanilla vanilla cupcakes recipe, I’ve had it for a few years now. I love this recipe because these cakes are full on flavour and because they’re vanilla and vanilla they’re very versatile! I’ve often dyed these cakes and frostings different colors, or add in sprinkles to the batter. Basically, this is a great recipe to play with.

This time, I went a bit overboard with the playfulness. Because our company uses white + different colors in our branding, I decided to incorporate a few of them by swirling together four different colors.

To do this, I used a bit of difficult, but still manageable tricks. For future attempts, I’d suggest only doing three.  I have two different sizes of piping bags as well as tips – the standard and then jumbo “cupcake” piping tips which are huge. I made a double batch of frosting, divided it  into four separate batches and dyed each batch a different color (white, blue, purple, and yellow). Then, I filled a standard piping bag with each color (so four bags total) and cut the tip of each bag. Then I used one of the jumbo cupcake piping tips and placed it in a large pastry piping bag (a big blue one). Once that one was set up, I gathered my four colored bags and dropped them into the jumbo pastry bag. (Ben was gracious enough to hold the bag open for me so I could drop them in.)

In hindsight, I probably should have taken pictures of this part. Anyways, to pipe, just hold the bag straight up and down and swirl, the colors should them swirl themselves!  The most difficult part at this point is just trying to hold the giant bag full of frosting!  If any of you are crazy enough to try this, make sure to send me pics of your results!

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (230 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into cubes
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the frosting:
  • 1 cup (230 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups icing sugar, sifted
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup milk or heavy cream

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 325° F (approx 165°C). Place cupcake liners into the pan.

2. In the bowl of your mixer, sift together the flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Turn on the mixer to low speed, then slowly add in cubed butter. Mix until the butter is just coated with flour and you have a crumbly consistency.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. Turn the mixer up to medium speed then add in the wet mixture in three parts, scraping down the sides of the bowl in between each addition. Mix until the ingredients are just incorporated; be careful not to over mix.

4. Fill each of the cupcake tins with a couple spoonfuls of the batter until they are filled just about 2/3 full.

5. Bake the cakes for 17-20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Rotate the pans halfway through the baking time. Once they are ready, let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

6. To make the frosting, beat the butter in your mixer until it starts to become creamy. Then turn the mixer to low speed and gradually add in the sifted icing sugar.

7. When all of the sugar is mixed in, add in the vanilla, salt, and cream. Let mix on medium speed for five minutes or until it reaches the desired consistency.

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Baby Cakes

This week I decided to take a slight detour from the Bake Off challenges due to a very special occasion. My boss, Gemma, is taking a few months off for maternity leave as a first-time mother! Seeing as it was a momentous occasion, I couldn’t let Gemma have any ordinary send off cake.

I originally found the idea for these a few months ago on Pinterest, and I had to give it a shot. I’d never worked with fondant before, so I was really setting myself up for a challenge. Add in the fact that I was doing this on a weeknight, it also made for a very late night. But the smile on Gemma’s face (and everyone else’s for that matter) was totally worth it!

The first thing to do when working with fondant is make sure that your cakes are completely cool. Then put a nice layer of buttercream on the top that will allow the fondant to adhere. Then, color your fondant using gel food coloring. If you add too much color, the consistency of the fondant will start to get gummy. If that happens, just work in a tiny bit of icing sugar to get it back to the right consistency. If it gets too dry, wet your finger tips and work the dough. Just try not to do either too much as it eventually will just wear out.

Then start to layer up the different pieces of your design. As you add pieces, you can get them to adhere by brushing with a small amount of water.

Just for laughs, I added in a few grumpy babies. I think they were some of my favorites. I also mixed it up by adding hair to a few of the girls, hats, or even pacifiers.

Gemma was leaving the baby’s gender as a surprise, so I made half of them boys and half of them girls. Interestingly, all the boy cakes got eaten first! Wonder what that means??

Congratulations Gemma and Chris!

Mint Chocolate Cupcakes

I know it isn’t anywhere near Girl Scout cookie season (not that I can order them from across the Atlantic anyway), but for some reason I got to thinking about thin mints this week. No idea why; perhaps it was because it was ridiculously hot outside and I was opening the freezer a lot and seeing a box stored away in the bottom drawer. One single box that one of my most amazing friends sent all the way from Texas (thanks Frank!) a few months ago.

However, a scorching Sunday afternoon did not seem special enough to eat the last sleeve of thin mints, but I was still craving that flavor and I still needed to get my weekend baking done. What resulted was these mint chocolate cupcakes – an adaptation of an earlier recipe I’d had but found the mint to be way overpowering.

It was a bit of a race against time to get these done, as the heat was making the butter in the frosting go very soft very quickly, so I was unable to do my usual fancy piping. Despite their more humble appearance, they were delicious; chocolate-y minty cupcakes with minty buttercream frosting topped with a chocolate mint.  You can’t beat it!

Each batch makes between 12 and 14 cupcakes, depending on how much you fill your pan.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

  • 1 cup + 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 cup + 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 7 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
For the frosting:
  • 2 cups icing sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons (57 grams) butter, room temperature
  • 3 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • green food coloring
  • Chocolate mints, such as Andes or After Eights for decorating

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350° F (approx 175°C). Place cupcake liners into the pan.

2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; then set aside. In a smaller bowl, mix together the egg, milk, oil, peppermint, and vanilla. With your electric mixer on medium, slowly pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and beat for about 30 seconds.

3. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then continue to mix for another minute or so, then add in the boiling water and stir to combine the last bits of ingredients.

4. Fill each of your cupcake liners about 3/4 full, then place in the oven to bake for 18-20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for about 10 minutes before removing them to cool completely on your cooling racks before frosting.

5. To make the frosting, beat the icing sugar and butter in your mixer until combined. Then add in the cream, vanilla, peppermint, and salt. Whisk on a medium-high speed for about 3 minutes, until the frosting becomes light and fluffy. (Which is best achieved when it’s not a million degrees outside, or if you have air conditioning.) Finally, mix in the green food coloring until you achieve the color that you want.

6. Transfer your frosting to a piping back and pipe onto the cupcakes as you’d like. Top each cupcake with half of a chocolate mint to add a finishing touch!

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Last week Ben and I went to the Channel Islands for his cousin’s wedding, which was the second of three weddings we’re attending this spring, and the reason why I didn’t post last week. What I’ve come to learn is that the traditional British wedding cake is fruit cake. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and I agree.

So this week I was at the pub with some colleagues from work, following a trip to the Bauhaus exhibition at the Barbican. I asked them if there were any requests for something they wanted me to make, and one of them asked about American traditional cakes. Instantly I thought of Red Velvet Cake with Cream Cheese frosting. There is nothing more Southern and more delicious than Red Velvet.

When you look at the list of ingredients, it seems like a strange concoction – buttermilk, cocoa powder, vinegar – but trust me, it all comes together to make a wonderful chocolate-y cake.

This recipe works well for cupcakes, but if you’d like to make a layer cake instead, double the amount of butter and leave out the water. Also, this batter rises a lot so you don’t really need to fill the cupcake tins more than halfway.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 one-ounce bottle of red food coloring
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar
  • 1 1/2 baking soda
For the frosting:
  • 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, just barely softened
  • 1 1/4 cups icing sugar
  • 1/3 cup milk

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350° F (approx 175°C). Place cupcake liners into the pan.

2. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt, then set aside.

3. In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add in the eggs, red food coloring, and vanilla.

4. Add the flour mixture into the butter and sugar mixture, alternating it with the buttermilk. Add about 1/3 of each part at a time, waiting until each part is fully incorporated before adding the other. After everything is combined, add the water.

5. In a small bowl or ramekin, mix together the vinegar and baking soda. Once the reaction begins, quickly fold it into the batter. Fill each of the cupcake tins with a couple spoonfuls of the batter until they are filled just over halfway – leaving plenty of room for them to rise!

6. Bake the cakes for approximately 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese until it is light and smooth. Gradually mix in the icing sugar and milk until it reaches the desired consistency. Spread onto your cupcakes with a spatula. If you’d like to pipe the frosting onto your cupcakes, adjust the icing sugar to milk ratio so that you add less liquid and get a stiffer frosting. It also helps if the cream cheese is still pretty chilled.

For this batch of cupcakes, I made a runnier icing and let it completely cover the top and run over the sides but these look amazing when they’re piped!

Oreo Cheesecakes

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been craving making something with Oreos. They’re one of those cookies that once I get them on my mind, I have to eat one. They’re pretty much like crack.

These mini Oreo cheesecakes are simple and delicious! They’re from one of Martha Stewart’s recipes. Her version says that it makes 30, but I got quite a few more than that. Make sure you store these in the fridge until you’re ready to serve to avoid having them get mushy.

Ingredients

  • Oreo cookies, at least 30 (plus some extra in case you’re like me and manage to get a few more from the recipe)
  • 12 coarsely chopped Oreo cookies
  • 4 packages of cream cheese (about 900 grams)
  • 1 cup (225 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 4 eggs, room temperature and lightly beaten
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • pinch of salt

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 275° F (135° C).  Line a cupcake pan with paper liners.  Place 1 whole Oreo cookie in the bottom of each lined cup.

2. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth, scraping down sides of the bowl as needed.  Gradually add the sugar, and beat until combined.  Mix in the vanilla.

3. Drizzle in the eggs, a little at a time, beating to combine and scraping down sides of bowl. Add in sour cream and salt, beat until combined.  Using a large spatula, fold in the chopped Oreo cookies. Do not use a mixer to mix in the Oreos, as they’re chop them up too much!

4. Fill each cookie-filled cup with a few spoonfuls of batter until each one is nearly filled to the top.  Bake, rotating muffin tins halfway through, until the filling is set, about 22 to 28 minutes.

5.  Transfer the cupcake pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, refrigerate them at least 4 hours (or overnight).  To help the cakes keep their shape better, leave them in the cupcake pan in the fridge.