Thursday, February 26, 2015

Vanilla Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting

Cupcakes? Frosting? Sprinkles!? It's birthday time!  If you've been here a while, you know that this time of year is marked by a very special set of birthdays.  My twin baby cousins are officially 3 years old today! They're a cute set of rambunctious little toddlers who are finally out of their terrible two's, and entering their terrible three's. They're celebrating with an adorable, home-crafted Elmo birthday celebration, and even though I'm never able to be with them at their actual birthday party, I always make them an honorary batch of cupcakes to celebrate.  Two years ago I made ganache-frosted, pudding-filled chocolate cupcakes; one year ago I made tons of mini vanilla cupcakes, frosted in an array of colors, and shaped in a big "2."  This year, I wanted to keep things super classic. Nothing says kid's birthday quite like a vanilla cupcake and chocolate frosting, right?  The twins are fans of Nutella though (as evidenced by Valentina enjoying waffles with Nutella one morning during my last trip to Colombia), and since I'm also a fan of Nutella, a Nutella topped cupcake with colorful sprinkles seemed like a fun and easy twist on a birthday favorite. 

I really feel that vanilla cakes are one of the hardest things to bake. I mean, they're pretty basic in theory (because isn't a vanilla cake the basis for all flavored layer cakes anyway?), and they seem like a natural first step in cake baking, but I find this to be completely untrue. Nailing a vanilla cake is hard. I have yet to find or develop what I consider to be a perfect vanilla cake, with a recipe that develops consistent results each and every time. I've already figured out my favorite chocolate cake recipes, and most of them I only had to make once to realize that they were special in every way possible (rich, with a real chocolate taste, moist, and with a wonderful crumb). Even chocolate cakes that end up not making my list of favorites are usually really delicious anyway. Vanilla cakes are definitely not like foolproof chocolate cakes. They're more fickle; if I get the texture just right the flavor isn't quite what I'm looking for, or vice versa. Or the recipe, if it was really good, doesn't perform the same way the second time around. It's a series of trial and error, but at least it's a fun experiment! 

With all that being said, I really liked these vanilla cupcakes.  They're a bit less fluffy than I would have liked, but that's my own fault.  The recipe calls for 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, and for some reason, I ended up using 3 whole eggs.  I actually didn't realize that I had made the mistake until the next day, when I went to cook my breakfast and couldn't find the extra egg white in my fridge!  Regardless, I thought that the cupcakes had a great flavor, so I'm going to give these a second go (with the correct number of eggs), and hopefully the texture will be what I'm looking for.  Let's go over the recipe so that you don't make the same mistake I did, shall we? 

First off, a bit of buttermilk, the eggs, yolk, vanilla extract, and butter extract are lightly beaten together with a fork in a glass measuring cup.  Cake flour is sifted three times into the bowl of an electric mixer (I actually only did this once, but this is another step I will correct the next time I make these), and then combined with all of the remaining dry ingredients, including the sugar.  Room temperature butter is then added to the mixer, and mixed into dry ingredients.  This is known as the reverse creaming method, in which the fats are coated in flour in order to produce a cake with a much more tender crumb.   I've been using this method more and more to make vanilla cakes, and I do think it helps as far as texture is concerned.  Once the butter has been coated in flour (about 30 seconds), buttermilk is added to the batter to moisten it. With the mixer running on medium speed, the egg-buttermilk mixture is then added in three additions, and with that, the batter is done! It's a quick batter to make, and after just 20 minutes in the oven, you'll have beautifully domed cupcakes. The Nutella frosting comes together just as easily; all it takes is a few minutes in the stand mixer to create a fluffy and chocolatey frosting.  

I piped a generous swirl of frosting onto each cupcake and sprinkled on some colorful sprinkles.  They're simple and classic, which is my kind of cupcake.  The cupcakes are fluffy, and the butter extract is the secret ingredient in making these cupcakes extra special.  It's subtle, but it's a flavor that's hard to detect and is actually reminiscent of boxed cake mix (because honestly, who doesn't love a freshly frosted Betty Crocker cupcake?).  You only need a small amount to really make a difference here and make them special.  These cupcakes are moist and light.  They're delicious with or without frosting, but for a third birthday party, loads of Nutella frosting and sprinkles are mandatory.  These would be a wonderful addition to any birthday celebration, and I'm already excited to start planning next year's batch of cupcakes.  For now though, Feliz Cumplea
ños Valentina and Federico! 

Vanilla Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting

cupcake recipe adapted from Sweetapolita


For the Cupcakes

1 cup buttermilk

3 eggs, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon butter extract
2 cups cake flour, sifted
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

For the Frosting

1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, but cool

2 1/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
heaping cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 cup Nutella
1 tablespoon milk
pinch of salt


Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.  Line cupcake tins with your favorite paper liners and set aside. 

In a medium bowl or measuring cup, beat together the eggs, 1/4 cup buttermilk, vanilla extract and butter extract with a fork.  Set aside.  In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt on low speed, about 30 seconds. Add the butter all at once (I sliced it into rough tablespoons) and mix on low speed for about 30 seconds.  Pour in the remaining 3/4 cup buttermilk, and mix on low speed until just moistened. Increase the speed to medium, and mix for another 1 1/2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the egg/buttermilk mixture in three additions, beating on medium speed for 20 seconds following each addition.  

Divide the batter among the prepared cupcake tins, filling them no more than 2/3 way full. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes.  Immediately remove the cupcakes from the hot baking tins and place them on a wire rack to cool completely before decorating. 

While the cupcakes are cooling, prepare the frosting.  In the bowl of a standard electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and powdered sugar on low speed for about 2 minutes to combine.  Add the vanilla, beating in until well combined.  Beat in the melted chocolate and mix on medium speed for about 2-3 minutes, or until smooth. Add the Nutella, milk, and pinch of salt, beating until smooth.  

Add the Nutella frosting to a piping bag fitted with a large star tip (I used a Wilton 1M) and pipe generous swirls of frosting over each cupcake.  Top with sprinkles and enjoy!

Makes 18 cupcakes and enough frosting to generously frost each one as shown here


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