So I made these cupcakes for my Mother-in-Law’s birthday last week and people more or less lost it. If you are my Facebook friend you’ve already seen them and/or “liked” them – I think more people liked the picture of these cupcakes than liked the time Tom and I got engaged. Because apparently aesthetically-pleasing baked goods are more likable than everlasting love. Or something.
I actually had a neighbor corner me in the elevator and make me take one out of its dish to inspect it.
She asked if I’d found them on Pinterest.
The cupcakes are stunning, for sure, but I can’t take credit for the idea. I actually followed easy directions from Karen Tack and Alan Richardson’s What’s New, Cupcake?, an ingenious little book that teaches you to do…cupcake crafts? Is that a thing? These were REALLY simple, although they did take about an hour and a half to finish, so put a movie on.
As a general rule when I try out something fancy-pants in one aspect of a dish – a complex sauce, intricate layers, handmade crust, etc. – I like to make all the other elements as easy as humanly possible. Less room for error there, you see. I don’t want to spend all day decorating beautiful cupcakes only to have them taste like sidewalk chalk. So for these little guys I used a boxed (que horror!) Betty Crocker cake mix, Butter flavor, although I did add almond extract and replace the directed water with milk, thankyouverymuch. They were actually ridiculously delicious.
Anyway, Friday was the first time I’ve ever made buttercream frosting from scratch, if you can believe it. Mostly because I know myself well enough to know having a massive bowl of buttercream sitting around is a generally terrible idea.
I learned that making your own buttercream is worth it in every sense of the word.
RICH VANILLA BUTTERCREAM
(original recipe courtesy of Sweet Savory Life)
makes about 3-4 cups of frosting, or enough for about 18 cupcakes
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp (leave them out for 2+ hours, no microwaving in this recipe!)
3-4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 tsp. table salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract (use different flavored extract for different flavored buttercream)
2-4 tbsp. milk, cream, or half-and-half
optional: seeds from one vanilla pod
1. Beat the butter in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment for at least 2 minutes on medium speed. If using the vanilla bean seeds, add now and allow to mix in. While the butter’s whipping, sift your powdered sugar into a bowl.
2. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar (one cup at a time to avoid a big mess) until thoroughly mixed in. Add in vanilla extract, salt, and 2 tbsp. of your milk/cream. At this point it’s time to decide if you like the buttercream as is – if it’s too wet, add more powered sugar; too dry, add more milk. Once it’s ready you’ll usually want to frost your cake or cupcakes immediately before the buttercream hardens a bit. For this recipe it’s best to frost a couple cupcakes at a time.
CUPCAKES IN BLOOM
18 evenly-mounded cupcakes, any flavor, baked in paper liners (I used a boxed mix)
1 bag mini-marshmallows
2-4 colors of granulated decorative sprinkles
1 box DOTS candy
1. Frost a couple of cupcakes generously with the buttercream. Don’t worry about making them pretty – you’ll cover the frosting completely. Pour 1-2 tbsp. of sprinkles (one color) into a small bowl. Using kitchen shears, cut 15 or so mini-marshmallows in half on the diagonal, letting them drop into the sprinkle bowl as you do. Cover the bowl with a plate (or whatever works) and shake to coat the sticky side of the marshmallows with the sprinkles. Use a separate bowl for each color sprinkle.
2. Cut a yellow (or any color) DOTS candy in half horizontally and place in the middle of the first cupcake. Starting on the outside, individually place the mini-marshmallows around the cupcake until you’ve made a full circle. Complete two more rows inside the first circle to finish the flower. Do this about 6,000 more times to make a whole “bouquet” of (thoroughly impressive) flower cupcakes!
***Note: Some of the mini-marshmallows will probably stick together as you shake them in the bowl. Just pull them apart and press individually in the sprinkles to coat. Also, if you frost too many cupcakes at once the buttercream may get too stiff for the marshmallows to stick. If this happens just use your fingers or a knife to “stir” the frosting on top of the cupcake which will loosen it up again.