Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Back to Basics: Vanilla Poundcake Cupcakes

Sometimes you have to make something familiar and simple.  My mom's birthday was last weekend, so I took her request for the cake she wanted.  She wanted these vanilla poundcake cupcakes with vanilla buttercream.  My mom is the opposite of fussy, especially when it comes to food.  The simpler the better.  There's a beauty in the pure vanilla flavor these cupcakes possess.  Vanilla is not, I repeat, not boring.  I think you just have to appreciate that it's uncomplicated.  It's homey.  It's simply delicious.

The nitty gritty: butter, vanilla extract, milk, cake flour, eggs, sugar, baking powder, and salt.
 Cream the butter and sugar together at least 5 minutes to make it fluffy.
You might need to scrape the bowl once or twice just to make sure all the butter is mixing with all the sugar.
In the meantime, sift the cake flour, baking powder, and salt.
 Add the eggs one at a time.  I like to crack the eggs in the bowl in case a sneaky piece of eggshell tries to infiltrate my batter.  I'm paranoid.
Pretty already!
 Alternate adding the flour and the milk.
You should begin and end with flour.  I think 3 additions of flour is about right.
Stir in the vanilla extract with a rubber spatula.
That's some good lookin' batter.
 Line a 12-cup tin.  Fill each liner about 3/4 full.  I like to use a ladle for this job.
This makes about the right amount for 12 cupcakes.  You can easily double the quantities of the recipe to make cupcakes for, say, your kid's class or your office.  The thing I love about this recipe is that it's a cold-oven cupcake.  That means no preheating the oven.  Stick the cupcakes in the oven then turn it on and bake.
Bake these until a toothpick comes out clean or mostly clean.  I love the crust that forms on the top.  It's pretty much my favorite part of any poundcake.  
Let them cool fully on a wire rack.  Now, these don't need frosting.  But they're so good with it.
For the frosting:  powdered sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla bean paste.  A word about the vanilla bean paste.  It's a little more concentrated than vanilla extract, but extract can absolutely be substituted.  I still think it's worth seeking out because it makes not only a super-vanilla frosting, it also looks pretty.  You'll see.
It starts with the butter and powdered sugar.  Powdered sugar has a tendency all over the place.  Like all over you.  Especially if you're wearing black.  So I started with half a cup at a time.
Each time I added a cup of powdered sugar I countered with a tablespoon of milk.  
Eventually I got to 3 cups of powdered sugar and about 3 1/2 tablespoons of milk.  This is something you'll have to gauge for yourself when you do it.  If it seems a little too thick, add a little milk.  Too thin?  Add a touch more powdered sugar.
The piéce de résistance:  the vanilla bean paste.  This is not a time to be chintzy.  
 I can't stand how pretty this is!  I love the specks of vanilla bean in the frosting.
This is ready to go on the cupcakes.
You could pipe this on, but I like just spreading the frosting with an offset spatula.  Again, with my mom, the simpler the better.
Plus it's really hard to lick the inside of a pastry bag.

 This a dense cake, but it's not heavy.
And my goodness is it moist inside!  The frosting is fluffy and sweet and perfectly vanilla.

Vanilla Poundcake Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream (makes 12 cupcakes)

1 1/2 c cake flour (all-purpose may be substituted)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 c butter, room temperature
1 1/2 c sugar
3 eggs
1/2 c milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Vanilla Buttercream (recipe below)
  • Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Cream together butter and sugar about 5 minutes, until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time until completely combined.  Alternate mixing in flour and milk.  Starting and ending with flour, 3 additions should suffice.  Stir in vanilla extract with a rubber spatula.
  • Line a 12-cup cupcake tin.  Fill each liner about 3/4 full with the batter.  Place tin into a cold oven, then turn to 275º.  Bake 45 minutes to 1 hour.  I like to start checking at 45 minutes and go from there.  When a toothpick comes out clean or nearly clean, the cupcakes are ready.  When you're able to get the cupcakes out of the tin, transfer them to a wire rack to cool fully.  Frost with vanilla buttercream.
Vanilla Buttercream (frosts 12 cupcakes)

1 stick butter, room temperature
3 c powdered sugar
3-4 tbs milk
1 tbs vanilla bean paste
  • Cream together butter and one cup powdered sugar.  Add a tablespoon of milk.  Add the rest of the powdered sugar one cup at a time, alternating with the milk.  Adjust milk and/or powdered sugar until you have your desired consistency.  Beat in the vanilla bean paste.  Frost cupcakes immediately.

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