Posted by Laurie
I just had an entertaining trip to Michaels–we’ve got a brand-new one in Tarzana in a huge space. I found several useful items for the Queen of Hearts birthday party we’re planning (for the sake of our guests, we’re not writing much about it until after the event–when we will share all the details!), and I spent quite a bit of time marveling at the cupcake-making supplies.
But I am something of a purist when it comes to cupcakes. I don’t want a mountain of icing and a dab of mediocre cake. I like some icing and good cake, in proportion. And I think if you’re going to decorate a cupcake, you ought to decorate it with something edible. Preferably something delicious.
It took me a long time to start baking cakes as a adult, which is weird because the very first thing I ever baked was a cake, from scratch, when I was nine. It was a yellow cake with chocolate frosting, and I made it for my father–it was his favorite, or so my mother claimed. (In retrospect, I suspect the chocolate frosting was her favorite, not his.) But as an adult, I had an unreliable oven for many years–it had two temperatures, off and arc weld, which just didn’t work for cake, and I stopped making them.
I finally got an oven I could trust to keep an even temperature and I hesitantly started making…cake mixes. It seemed safer. And then last year, I got tired of tasting cardboard box with every cake. I tried various cake recipes. I wasn’t happy with them. Then I went back to the recipes that worked for me when I was nine: the ones in the 1951 Betty Crocker cookbook, which had been a wedding present to my mother.
I’ve been making those old-fashioned three-egg cakes for the past year. They’re great. Here’s my favorite chocolate cake recipe at the moment, slightly modified from the Betty Crocker original:
2/3 cup butter, softened
1 2/3 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/3 cups milk
2/3 cup cocoa
2 cups flour
1/3 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
Heat the oven to 350 degrees, and put cupcake papers in two one-dozen-cup muffin tins.
Cream the butter, sugar and eggs together. Mix together the dry ingredients (do you own a sifter? do it the old-fashioned way and sift in the flour, cocoa, etc. That way you’ll know the baking soda is properly distributed throughout the batter) and add to the butter mixture. Beat them together with the milk for about two minutes, until the batter is thick and smooth and creamy. Distribute equally among the two dozen cupcake papers.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until the cupcakes test done. Cool
White Chocolate Frosting
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup white chocolate
2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 or 2 teaspoons cream if needed
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt the butter and white chocolate together. You can do this in the microwave if you’re careful. Mix in the sugar and salt and beat until smooth (once again, that old-fashioned sifter comes in handy). Add the vanilla and, if the frosting is a little stiff, beat in enough cream to make the consistency you want. Frost the cooled cupcakes.
I like to sprinkle something fun on my cupcakes: bits of crushed peppermint, chocolate sprinkles, cake decors…you could even use some of those little paper figures. Just don’t eat them.