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Cake

magnoliaredvelvetcupcakesif you asked me to pick a dessert i couldn’t live without, it would be cookies. cakes i could throw by the wayside, i love ice cream but could 100% live without it, and brownies, well – love them, but overall, they rate MEH in my book. but cookies, i can’t live without. that is, until i think of cupcakes. see, cupcakes are the best of both worlds: batter AND frosting. there’s something about a perfect cupcake, the combination of fluffy cake and light, airy icing, that just makes for magic inside the mouth.

such is certainly the case with these red velvet cupcakes. they’re from allysa torey’s more from magnolia book, which i “borrowed” from my friend katie two years ago and never returned. torey’s red velvet recipe is my favorite, and though she generally serves hers with vanilla buttercream, i opted to go more traditional, and topped my cupcakes with cream cheese frosting, because, well, cream cheese and red velvet go together like peanut butter and jelly.

for the cupcakes, here’s what you’ll need:

  • 3 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising, that’s different! i buy swan’s down, it comes in a happy red box)
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons red food coloring (or, if you opt for gel, simply squirt ’til the dough is bright red – that’s how i roll)
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

here’s what you’ll do: 

first things first. preheat your oven to 350, and prep your muffin tins. i like to use foil wrappers, but you could use pretty paper ones if your heart desires.

in a small bowl, sift your cake flour and set aside. {sidenote: i never sift anything. i don’t even own a sifter. but you should do this, because it’s what allysa torey does} next, combine the butter and sugar in a large stand mixer (or large bowl, if you don’t have a kitchenaid) until light and fluffy. that should be approximately 3-5 minutes on medium. add your eggs, one at a time, and beat in.

in an even smaller bowl than your small bowl, whisk (literally, use a whisk) together your red food coloring, cocoa powder, and vanilla. {sidenote: if you’re using gel food coloring, like i do, this won’t mix as nicely as you’d like since there’s less liquid in gel than there is in, well, liquid. feel free to add a tiny bit of water to move things along}

add your red chocolate mixture to the batter, and beat well. at this time, you can add more food coloring to your batter if it’s not red enough. gel’s a bit hard to measure, so you basically just need to keep adding color until you’ve got the shade of your dreams.

pour your buttermilk into a measuring cup, and stir the salt into it. add your buttermilk in three parts, alternating with the flour. every time you add something, beat until incorporated, but don’t over-beat!

now, for the fun, science-experiment part of the day. in yet another small bowl, stir together your cider vinegar and baking soda. watch as it fizzes up, just like those “volcanoes” you made in 6th grade. WHEEE! what fun, right?

using a rubber spatula, scrape down your batter into the bowl, and ensure that all ingredients have been evenly mixed in. you’ll often find a bit of stubborn, unmixed butter at the bottom of the bowl, so be sure to check for that.

fill your muffin cups 2/3s of the way full. bake for approximately 20-30 minutes (it really depends on your oven, but keep an eye on your ‘cakes after 20), until a toothpick inserted in the middle of a cupcake comes out clean.

when they’re done, let the cupcakes cool in their tins for about 5 or so minutes, then remove and place on a cooling rack and let ’em chill. go watch an episode of SVU, or house hunters.

then come back and make your frosting.

what you’ll need:

  • 2 8oz packages of cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 stick of butter at room temperature
  • 1.5 cups of powdered sugar

what you’ll do:

basically, you’re just mixing all that goodness up in your kitchenaid. start with the cream cheese and the butter, add the vanilla, and then the sugar. beat until smooth. i usually beat mine at least 5 minutes, so that’s saying something. also, feel free to add more confectioner’s sugar if the frosting seems too watery. powdered sugar basically evaporates into the universe when you mix it into anything, so you really can never have too much of the stuff. i’ve added an entire box at times (SUGAR HIGH). just keep your eyes peeled, essentially, and don’t be afraid to taste test for consistency’s sake.

once your cupcakes are cooled, spread your frosting onto those babies, swirl your spoon around the top to make that little “magnolia dent” the bakery is so famous for, and eat! or dole out to coworkers, as i do. or, if you’re a person with a big heart and a big sweet tooth, do both (okay, that’s what i do).

 

 

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Imageyesterday was my birthday. i turned 27, an age i used to think i’d never reach. i remember when i entered high school, a shy, chubby, unstylish freshman who thought the seniors were absolutely, unequivocally the coolest people to ever walk the earth. i thought seventeen was the age when dreams came true. when you magically matured into a confident, beautiful, interesting, funny individual who hadn’t a care in world.

of course, it’s never that simple – but now that i’m a full ten years past my supposedly golden age, i have to admit i feel a bit disappointed. it’s silly, isn’t it? we’re never as far along as we wish we were, never as good enough as we hope to be. around me, as friends get engaged and high school acquaintances pop out babies, i look around and i wonder, do i have enough? am i enough? am i doing enough? yesterday, i woke up and i thought to myself, “27. and what do i have to show for it?” and the truth is, i have a lot to show for it. i live in new york city, which is a feat in and of itself – this place is wonderful but everyone knows it knocks you down on a near daily basis. i have a great job at a great advertising agency, and my job title is exactly what i hoped it would be when i moved to new york in the first place (and it took me four years of sweat and many a tear to get here). i have an apartment that feels solidly mine and at last 85% like home. i can count my best friends in the world on one hand – people i’d go to the end of the earth for, and those i know would do the same for me. i have a cat i am 110% obsessed with (cat ladies unite!). i have a family i wouldn’t trade for the world – a sister who simultaneously looks up to me and offers some of the best advice a girl can get, plus two mothers who have fought battles both for myself and for our family to be recognized. Image

and yet? sometimes it doesn’t feel like it’s enough. and i hate myself for writing this, i really, truly do – but sometimes, i just wish i too had a serious boyfriend, or was engaged, or was married. most days, i’m just fine with who i am and where i’m at, but somehow, birthdays always bring it out in me – that drumming sense of “you’re not enough. you’re not where you want to be yet. you’re here and what have you done?” add on top of that the fact that i adore birthdays and always have such ridiculously high hopes for mine to be the best day of the year (and consequently, am always let down, my own fault), and somehow, the day never stacks up as i want it to, and i always go to bed feeling disappointed that yet another has gone by and i’m still the same.

last year, i baked my own birthday cake, because no one had done any dessert-related thing for me at my dinner the night before, and i wanted a cake. let me tell you, i’ve never felt more pathetic in my life. until yesterday, when my office completely neglected to do anything (my previous job went all out for birthdays; i was the resident cake baker for our team), and i seriously contemplated buying my own damn cupcakes just so i wouldn’t consider the day a wash. and admittedly, i was sad yesterday – until a wonderful friend went out and bought a cupcake for us to eat, making the whole day about a zillion times better.

this post is really just a long ramble that probably feels like i’ve thrown myself a pity party complete with balloons (hey, there have to be balloons at any good party), and for the two people actually reading this, i apologize. the reality is this: should i be less into my birthday and expect less? of course. but you know what? i’ve gone 27 years believing birthdays are important and attempting to make my loved ones’ birthdays the best they can be, and goddammit, i’m  not giving up on the birthday dream! and when i have children, you better believe their parties will be special and their cakes delicious. and when i move up the ladder and have people working under me, i’ll schedule team lunches and get special cupcakes and leave flowers at their desk the morning of – because we only get one day a year that’s all about celebrating the fact that we’re still here, we’ve made it, and we woke up today with a smile on our face. and that’s a pretty special thing.

and you know what else? i’m 27, and i do have a lot to show for it. and when i forget that, i’ll look back on this post and be reminded that my life is pretty great. and when all else fails, i always have my cat.

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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.

Hot Pink Birthday Cupcakes Vanilla Buttercreamas 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. Vanilla Yellow Birthday Cupcakes

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. Hot Pink Birthday Cupcakes

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. Hot Pink Birthday Cupcakes

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.Image

i’ve got two words for you: rainbow cake. no, three: rainbow swirl cake. this badass confection is so much fun to make, but even more fun to make. i made this for a coworker’s birthday, and suffice it to say, she was a happy girl with a happy tummy as soon as we cut this bad boy open. 

rainbow cakes look a lot more intimidating to make than they actually are. there are a myriad of great tutorials out there, so i’ll spare you the details and just link you here. basically, just make yourself some damn good yellow cake*, split the batter into bowls, color each bowl, then drop the different colors into concentric circles in your cake pans.

*my go to cake recipe is smitten kitchen’s “best birthday cake” - you can’t go wrong with this recipe. don’t attempt to taste the batter, because before you know it, you’ll have slurped down half of the bowl. this shit is GOOD.  you’ll need cake flour - i like swan’s down brand. it comes in a red box with yellow cake on the front, so it’s hard to miss. cake flour is finer, so it makes for fluffier, all around better cakes/cupcakes. go for the real thing, you won’t regret it. 

there’s dessert, and then there’s breakfast. and then there’s breakfast that tastes like dessert. these whole wheat banana bread muffins certainly fall into that category. they’re homey, perfectly dense and yet ultra moist (does anyone else hate that word?), and oh so good with a little bit of cinnamon sprinkled on top.

i adapted this recipe, and used whole wheat flour in hopes of making it a bit healthier. stick them in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes, prick with a toothpick to make sure they’re done and serve them with butter.