Stiff Peaks

I just made cupcakes.  Exquisite cupcakes.  Probably the best cupcakes I’ve ever made kind of cupcakes…and I’ve made plenty of cupcakes.  They’re so yummy, they’re just begging to be written about, so I’m getting on that, right now – I haven’t even iced all of them yet.  Nor have I started to clean the kitchen, which looks like it got hit with a hurricane of flour and granulated sugar.

And I’m wearing an apron.  A cute little 1950’s 1/2 apron with flowers and red ric rac outlining the two front pockets, that my granny sent me.  Do you know what ric rac is?  I didn’t.  Pretty nifty.  I’m convinced it helps my baking.

I’ve been in search of the perfect yellow cake or buttermilk cake recipe for awhile now and the last time I made yellow cupcakes, they were pretty disappointing, dry and crumbly.  Not what you want when you’re making cupcakes.  One of the places on my “must visit” list for NYC was Butter Lane – an adorable and favorable cupcake shop in the East Village.  I wanted to try their Swiss Meringue buttercream.  However, much to my dismay, they were closed when I tracked them down (due to a sidewalk parking violation or some nonsense).  So, for the last week or so following my trip, I’ve been wanting to try & make this buttercream with my own to hands.  I scoured the Internet for some Butter Lane cupcake recipes and found one for their chocolate cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Swiss Meringue buttercream.  I decided if I can’t come to Butter Lane, Butter Lane can come to me.

I attempted to make Swiss Meringue buttercream (of French buttercream) for the first time, the other night (using the Butter Lane recipe I found), but I failed.  I was anxiously dying to remake the icing (but do chocolate instead).  See, I don’t own a Kitchen Aid mixer.  I wish I did and I intend to amend this problem as soon as I can, but in the mean time, I am visiting my parents and taking advantage of their kitchen aid mixer.

The reason why my vanilla bean swiss meringue icing was a failure is because I lacked a whisk attachment for my mixer and the icing that I patiently whipped for about 15 minutes was runny and stubborn and decided not to form stiff peaks.  My boyfriend and our friend Mark enjoyed laughing at me every time I said “stiff peaks.”  I made them eat my mediocre cupcakes.

So, going against my typical method for recipe finding, I typed  “chocolate cake” into the Google Image search and found a temptress of a cupcake.  The icing was from Cooks Illustrated and it looked perfect.  Wanting to pair it with a yellow cake, I sifted through my giant recipe binder (also known as “the Bible”), and looked for a suitable recipe.  I decided on Deb’s “best birthday cake” from Smitten Kitchen, and made cupcakes instead of a layer cake.  I made this cake about a year ago, for my grandma’s birthday and it was a big hit, but I remember not being too crazy about the icing.  I remember liking the cake, so I thought I’d try it again.

…And the search for the perfect yellow cake/buttermilk cake recipe has ended, folks!  Deb, you win.

Let me tell you.  This is the kind of cake batter you can’t stop licking from the bowl.  It’s incredibly moist and has the perfect flour and sugar ratio.  It’s also easy to make and has one of my most favorite ingredients ever in it.  (Buttermilk).  Just think, you have buttermilk fried chicken, buttermilk in pancakes, buttermilk biscuits, and buttermilk cake.  Buttermilk makes everything better.  I really love it.  These little babies were beautiful.  Rich, moist, bursting with buttermilk flavor with the slightest hint of tangy, incredibly fluffy and most importantly, not dry or crumbly.  These are much better in cupcake form.

As for the icing, it is the fluffiest, lightest, most spreadable icing I’ve ever had and is not that difficult to make (when you have a whisk attachment, of course).  It’s silky and shiny and has enough butter in it to choke a horse.  It’s deceiving though, because it’s so light, you can’t even tell – it has the consistency of chocolate mousse.  If you’re old-fashioned and prefer a more traditional kind of icing (no egg whites, and powdered sugar instead of granulated), this not might be your cup of tea, though I can’t fathom anyone not liking it especially for its flavor.  I like icing so sugary it’s a bit grainy, just as much as the next person, but I think this is even better.

Do yourself a favor and make these, now!  Now if you’ll excuse me, I must tend to the naked cupcakes I’ve abandoned on the kitchen counter.  They need their French buttercream.

For the Cake (as seen on Smitten Kitchen)

*Again, I followed this to a t, except I made cupcakes instead of a layer cake, and it made closer to 30 cupcakes*.

Yield: Two 9-inch round, 2-inch tall cake layers, and, in theory, 22 to 24 cupcakes, two 8-inch squares or a 9×13 single-layer cake (I have yet to audition the cupcakes, shame on me)

4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour (not self-rising)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs, at room temperature
2 cups buttermilk, well-shaken

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans and line with circles of parchment paper, then butter parchment. (Alternately, you can use a cooking spray, either with just butter or butter and flour to speed this process up.)

Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just Incorporated.

Spread batter evenly in cake pan, then rap pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. (I like to drop mine a few times from two inches up, making a great big noisy fuss.) Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack and discard parchment, then cool completely, about 1 hour.

For the Icing (From Cook’s Illustrated *seen on The Recipe Fairy*)

Creamy Chocolate Frosting:

Makes about 2 1/4 cups

1/3 cup (2 ½ oz) granulated sugar
2 large egg whites
pinch table salt
12 tbsp. (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-tbsp. pieces
6 oz bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to 85-100F.
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in bowl of stand mixer; place bowl over pan of simmering water. Whisking gently but constantly, heat mixture until slightly thickened, foamy, and registers 150F on instant-read thermometer, 2-3 minutes. Place bowl in stand mixer
fitted with whisk attachment. Beat mixture on medium speed until consistency of shaving cream and slightly cooled, 1-2 minutes. Add butter, 1 piece at a time, until smooth and creamy. Once all butter is added, add cooled melted chocolate and vanilla, mix until combined. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until light, fluffy, and thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds, scraping beater and sides of bowl with rubber spatula as necessary.

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