One of my favorite shows on TV is “Cupcake Wars” on Food Network. Every Sunday night, you can find me in front of my TV, stressing out with the cupcake bakers on how to pass the taste challenge (Round 1), the taste and presentation challenge (Round 2) and creating a display and baking 1,000 cupcakes in 2 hours (Round 3) with 4 baking assistants and a bearded carpenter clad in plaid.
When I first started watching the show, it stressed me out so much I almost couldn't watch it. It reminded me too much of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and the daily stress of making desserts in time for the lunch deadline (you don't sit down and eat lunch until the desserts are done, plated, on display and your station is clean). I've since gotten used to the show so now I can actually distance myself enough to enjoy the cupcakes they're making rather than cringing in empathic sympathy for what the contestants are going through.
What does fascinate me about the show is all the flavor combinations they put together. My idea of the perfect cupcake is a well-made, moist, plain (i.e. non-filled) cupcake topped with the thinnest layer of frosting and no decorations that I would otherwise only pluck off and never eat. “Cupcake Wars” goes to the opposite end of the spectrum and the most exotic (or sometimes just plain weird) flavors are baked into the cupcakes, they're filled with “stuff,” thickly topped with frosting, and decorated in all sorts of ways. Most of them are probably cupcakes I wouldn't eat but some of them sure look pretty. And some do put together flavor combinations I would probably like.
Despite my aversion to cupcake fillings, I decided I'd try it out – namely because I found a cool new baking gadget to play with: the cupcake corer. Granted, a small knife or the large-enough end of a decorating tip could accomplish the same thing – making a hole or well in the center to be filled with filling. But for $4.99, no tax, and free shipping, I felt I could indulge in a new baking gadget.
I was meeting my cousin and her son, Vanilla King, for dinner and I needed something befitting his moniker. (I gave it to him, after all, since he's the only kid I know who not only prefers vanilla, but actually doesn't like chocolate. Doesn't like chocolate.) In any case, what better cupcake for Vanilla King than a vanilla cupcake filled with vanilla pastry cream and topped with vanilla icing? I used Martha Stewart's recipe for Yellow Butter Cake and made a half recipe into cupcakes. Turns out I didn't have regular cupcake liners on hand so I used the mini panettone molds instead. They made for a bigger, taller cupcake than I intended.
I used the CIA recipe for pastry cream because it's my favorite. If you are only making 1 batch of cupcakes, a half recipe of the pastry cream would be more than enough.
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cups cake flour
1/2 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup plus 2 tables milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter cupcake pans or line with baking cups.
In a medium bowl, sift together flours, baking powder and salt; set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until combined after each addition.
Divide the batter evenly between the cupcake pans and smooth with an offset metal spatula. Bake, rotating the pans halfway through, until cakes are golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the centers come out clean, 20-25 minutes or less. Transfer pans to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Let cool completely before coring and frosting.
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted (more or less, depending on the consistency you want your frosting)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk, adjust with confectioners’ sugar for desired consistency
With an electric mixer, beat butter on medium high speed until pale and creamy, about 2 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium. Add the confectioners’ sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as needed; after every two additions, raise speed to high and beat 10 seconds to aerate frosting, then return to medium.
Add vanilla and milk, and beat until frosting is smooth. If not using immediately, frosting can be refrigerated up to 10 days in an airtight container. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
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