it is my belief that birthday cupcakes should be two things: 1) delicious and 2) colorful. these babies cover both those requirements, what with being extremely delicious and ahem, HOT PINK. of course, such cupcakes should also be covered in sparkles whenever appropriate (aka, always). i made these to celebrate my friend maddie’s 24th year of life, and the hot pink color couldn’t have been more appropriate, nor could the sparkles. maddie is the epitome of one of those people who literally lights up a room when she walks in. she’s a ray of sunshine, with a huge smile and a warm, friendly aura towards which people naturally gravitate. as such, she deserved the best of birthday cupcakes, and so hot pink it was.
as it happened, i had a big thing of buttermilk in my fridge. and since buttercream frosting is, well, butter and “cream” (milk) and sugar, i figured why not use buttermilk instead of regular milk and make the frosting just a bit more rich? i mean, if you’ve just hit a ball to the outfield, why not head for a home run, right? these babies were already so calorie-laden, i figured it couldn’t hurt to go ALL.THE.WAY. so i did, swapping milk for buttermilk, and mama mia, am i glad i did. this frosting was light, creamy, and SOO GOOD. melt in your mouth good. perfectly sugary and vanilla-y and oh so amazing.
for the cupcakes themselves, i used smitten kitchen’s “best birthday cake” recipe. everyone needs a go-to yellow cake recipe, and sk’s is mine. the woman knows her cakes, what can i say? speaking of smitten, i’ve long been positively smitten with her blog. if you haven’t read it yet, you are MISSING OUT. she’s got a cookbook coming out in october that i can’t wait to snag, and her recipes are BANGIN. plus her pictures are pretty, with a beautiful contrast thanks to a dark background and bright, colorful dishes. in short, she’s a food genius, a blogarific idol, and seems pretty all around wonderful if you ask me. maybe she even likes cats(!!) – that would just put me over the edge.
so, here’s the dealio. you’ll want to whip up a batch of smitten kitchen’s cake, and then add some hot pink food coloring. i get mine at NY Cake, which, if you live in NYC, is a baker’s paradise (for those who don’t live in NYC, you can order online). seriously, if you’ve never been, GO NOW. it’s on 22nd between 5th and 6th, and is a floor to ceiling supply shop stocked with everything you never knew you needed. for instance, before i went there for the first time, i did not know that i needed fuschia-colored gel food coloring. but then i saw it on the shelf, and it was like we were meant to be. instant lust. i also didn’t know i needed ten different tips of cupcake liners, but you know what? i do. i also needed edible gold and silver stars in place of traditional sprinkles, and dusting sugar in every color under the sun. like i said, this place is paradise. get yo’ ass over there, stat.
once your batter is made, divy it up into cake pans, or split it into cupcakes, like i did. this recipe should make 2 cake layers (for one cake), or about 24 cupcakes (i had enough for 24 cupcakes AND about 6 minis, and i ate a bunch of the batter).
OKAY LET’S DO THIS.
The Recipe: Best Birthday Cupcakes (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)
4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (for new bakers, cake flour is the shiznat. it makes a huge difference…TRUST. i buy swan’s down at my local grocery store)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken
to make, preheat your oven to 350 and line your cupcake pans. i spritz my liners with a little bit of pam just in case. if you’re making cake, just spritz two 9″ cake pans with some pam instead.
start by mixing the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium sized bowl. set aside. in a large mixing bowl (a stand mixer is preferable here – i have and love my kitchenaid), cream together the butter and sugar. room temperature butter works best here; softening in the microwave means you run the risk of over-melting. i like to take my butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes before i’m ready to bake. by the time i’m ready to use it, it’s soft enough to beat, but not so melted that it’s watery and overheated. stir at medium speed with an electric mixer until the butter and sugar are soft and fluffy, then add in your vanilla.
now, add the eggs in one at a time. make sure you’re scraping down the sides of your bowl to evenly incorporate all the ingredients as you go. once your eggs are added, turn the mixer down to low and add your buttermilk. if the mixture looks curdled, don’t be alarmed. this is normal. mix in your flour in a few batches, and beat until just combined.
now comes the fun part. grab your food coloring (remember, i used fuschia), and squirt about a quarter sized amount into your batter (note: if you’re using regular food coloring, you’ll need a LOT of it to get such a saturated color. this is why gel food coloring is best – you use less and get more color). mix until evenly incorporated. if the batter isn’t bright enough, add a few more squirts of the gel. i’d estimate i used about 2 or 3 teaspoons worth of food coloring total.
now you should have hot pink batter that tastes exactly like that duncan hines yellow cake mix you used to eat as a kid. go on, dip your finger (or two) in and have a lick. DELICIOUS, right? hats off to miss smitten kitchen.
spoon your batter into your prepared muffin tins – fill about 3/4 of the way. bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, checking for doneness with a toothpick. when it comes out clean, the cupcakes are done.
cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove and stick the cupcakes on a drying rack to cool completely. i made my cupcakes the night before, then my frosting the afternoon of the party – this enabled me to frost the cupcakes when they were completely cooled and hence, i was able to avoid any melted frosting issues.
now, let’s frost these babies.
Buttermilk Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
2 sticks of butter, softened
6 cups confectioner’s sugar
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 – 1/2 cup buttermilk
buttercream frosting is just about the easiest thing to make on the planet – mostly because you can customize it to your taste. i like the measurements above, but if you wanted it thicker, you’d add more sugar, thinner, less. if you wanted more vanilla taste, add more extract. maybe you want some more creaminess in there – add more buttermilk. essentially, all you need to do is whip your softened butter until smooth, then add the buttermilk, extract, and about 2 cups of the sugar. beat until all are combined. now, add a cup at a time of sugar until the frosting has reached your desired consistency. for me, that consistency is pretty thick. i like the kind of frosting you can simply swirl on with a spatula.
i covered my cupcakes with some rainbow colored dusting sugar for a bit of extra pizzazz – but you could leave them be. they’d be pretty spectacular either way, thanks to the fuschia food coloring.