For my little sister’s sweet sixteen party, I decided to make a tower of cupcakes to accompany her birthday cake. I wanted to keep the cupcake design and color scheme very simple, so I chose to do an all white vanilla cupcake with vanilla butter cream icing topped with pink monogrammed letter “E” sugar cookies (letter “E” for Ella). The cupcakes took forever to make since there were three parts to assemble (cake, icing, and cookie), but they turned out beautiful and even better yet, tasted delicious. At the time, I didn’t have a go-to recipe for vanilla cupcakes, so I headed straight to the internet to find one. I googled “best vanilla cupcakes” and the two most popular search results were Billy’s Vanilla,Vanilla Cupcakes and Magnolia’s Vanilla Cupcakes. After reading several blog reviews on both, I decided to go with Billy’s recipe and I was very happy with the result. I don’t even feel compelled to ever try Magnolia’s recipe. In fact, I’ve been to Magnolia Bakery in NY before, and thought the cupcakes were a little dry…thus my hesitation to try their recipe. Billy’s on the other hand, turned out super moist and very strong in vanilla flavor. The texture of the cake was really perfect and cooked true to the suggested time. Although I loved Billy’s cupcake recipe, I didn’t use his buttercream icing recipe (a lot of reviewers said it was too sweet), so I went with Martha Stewart’s Swiss Meringue Buttercream instead. It’s a perfect icing in my opinion, it has the flavor of a butter cream but it is much less dense than a traditional butter cream. This extra fluffy texture makes it much easier to decorate using a pastry bag. The recipe follows.
To decorate, I inserted a monogrammed sugar cookie with pink royal icing. The sugar cookies were more than just a decoration though because they were delicious independent of the cupcake. The royal icing was ridiculously sweet (as all royal icings are), but I found that adding a squeeze of lemon juice helps to cut the sweetness. The letters are piped in the same swiss meringue buttercream on top of the cupcake!
**Makes about 30 cupcakes**
- 1 ¾ cup cake flour, not self-rising
- 1 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I recommend Madagascar Vanilla)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.
In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat.
Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about 2/3 full. (hint: I like to use an ice-cream scooper to distribute batter into pans because it does so neatly and evenly). Bake, rotating pans halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Once cupcakes have cooled, ice the tops and decorate. Serve at room temperature.
Ingredients Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, room temperature
- 1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Directions Swiss Meringue Buttercream:
Combine egg whites, sugar, and salt in the heatproof bowl of a standing mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).
Attach the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Continue mixing until the mixture is fluffy and glossy, and completely cool (test by touching the bottom of the bowl), about 10 minutes.
With mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all butter has been added, whisk in vanilla. Switch to the paddle attachment, and continue beating on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl with a flexible spatula, and continue beating until the frosting is completely smooth. Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 1 month. Before using, bring to room temperature and beat with paddle attachment on low speed until smooth again, about 5 minutes.
(Optional) To tint buttercream (or royal icing), reserve some for toning down the color, if necessary. Add gel-paste food color, a drop at a time (or use the toothpick or skewer to add food color a dab at a time) to the remaining buttercream. You can use a single shade of food color or experiment by mixing two or more. Blend after each addition with the mixer (use a paddle attachment) or a flexible spatula, until desired shade is achieved. Avoid adding too much food color too soon, as the hue will intensify with continued stirring; if necessary, you can tone down the shade by mixing in some reserved untinted buttercream.
Sugar Cookie Ingredients:
- 4 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Sugar Cookie Directions:
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.
Put butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Gradually mix in flour mixture. Divide dough into quarters; flatten each quarter into a disk. Wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Let one disk of dough stand at room temperature just until soft enough to roll, about 10 minutes. Roll out dough between two pieces of plastic wrap to 1/4-inch thickness. Remove top layer of plastic wrap. Cut out cookies with a 4-to-5-inch cookie cutter. Transfer cookie dough on plastic wrap to a baking sheet. Transfer baking sheet to freezer, and freeze until very firm, about 15 minutes. Remove baking sheet from freezer, and transfer shapes to baking sheets lined with nonstick baking mats. Roll out scraps, and repeat. Repeat with remaining disk of dough.
Bake, switching positions of sheets and rotating halfway through, until edges turn golden, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cool on sheets on wire racks.