Carnival Cupcakes

photo 3-117

While I love baking, anything involving decorating with icing really isn’t my forte. A few years ago I got ambitious and baked 250 miniature cupcakes for a friend’s farewell party. This was probably my most creative baking moment as I made hundreds of miniature mocha cupcakes topped with coffee bean icing, devil’s food with fresh coconut frosting, and lemon with mixed berry icing. They were a hit and disappeared long before the cramp in my hands did. But I found the task tedious and after that baking and icing extravaganza, I vowed never to repeat that foolishness again. (In all fairness I should also mention that I only had a couple of days to prepare and execute all of the baking and decorating).

So for the next couple of years I focused on baking and perfecting other sweet treats–cookies, tarts, bars, and breads–these are all right up my alley. And I studiously avoided making another cake or cupcake. But then this past year, at Sidney’s request, I baked and iced cupcakes for his birthday. While they tasted great, their appearance left a lot to be desired. And then last week I received a request from  Sidney’s pre-school asking parents to contribute baked goods for their upcoming Carnival party. Sidney once again requested cupcakes and since this was going to be a kid’s party, I decided to make them fun.

One of the things I love about Sidney’s school is its complete lack of food restrictions. Children are encouraged to eat anything and everything and are welcome to bring in homemade treats to share with their classmates. While my initial inclination was to get creative with my flavors, I eventually decided to keep it simple and kid friendly. Both the cupcake and butter cream recipes are courtesy of Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes. The yellow buttermilk cupcakes are tender without being overly sweet. And I must admit, I absolutely love this Swiss meringue butter cream icing recipe. Again, since it has a minimal amount of sugar it isn’t sweet and the loftiness of the meringue makes it a decorators dream–and yes, this is coming from a cake decorating adverse person.


For the cupcakes:

3 cups cake flour

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 1/2 cups sugar

5 whole eggs, at room temperature

3 egg yolks, at room temperature

2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line standard sized muffin tins with paper liners.
  • Sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  • With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium. Add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating until each in incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  • Add the egg yolks, and beat until thoroughly combined.
  • Reduce the speed to low and add the flour in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk in two additions.
  • Add the vanilla and beat until combined.
  • Divide the batter evenly among the lined cups, filling each three-quarters of the way full.
  • Bake, in batches if necessary, rotating half way through for 20 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcakes comes out clean.
  • Transfer to a wire rack and cool in the tins for 10 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely before frosting.

Yields: 36 standard sized cupcakes

Swiss Meringue Butter Cream

5 large egg whites

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

Pinch of salt

1 pound unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Food coloring, if desired

  • Combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heat proof bowl of a stand mixer set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly by hand until the mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved (the mixture will feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingers).
  • 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, about 10 minutes.
  • With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition. Once all of the butter has been added, add the vanilla extract and food coloring, if using.
  • Switch to a paddle attachment and continue beating on a low-speed until all of the air bubbles have been eliminated, about 2 minutes.
  • If using immediately, use a rubber spatula to move to a piping bag and decorate your cupcakes as desired.  Or, transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days of freeze for up to 1 month. Before using, return the frosting to room temperature and beat with the paddle attachment on low-speed until smooth, about 5 minutes.

Yields: 5 cups of frosting

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