Having your (cup)cake and eating
it two (ways)

Yeah I know, terrible terrible title! But I couldn’t help myself. So I apologize anyway. Sorry!

Having found cupcake wrappers at the British expat store (of course it took me a while because they call it ‘muffin cases’, how un-American of them!) I’ve been psyched to start working on cupcakes again. This baking frenzy was spurred a few weeks ago when I was asked, by a fellow Seattlelite, which cupcake at Cupcake Royale was my favorite. As always when I’m talking with Seattlelites, I had to apologetically confess that actually, no, I didn’t eat cupcakes at Cupcake Royale anymore because the level of sweetness makes me incredibly sick. I am always met with a totally incredulous look, and I always feel bad about this admission because let me tell ya, Seattlelites love themselves some Cupcake Royale. The problem is that in Seattle, Cupcake Royale is the only game in town; I think there needs to be some friendly competition in that space!

That said, I actually like their cake part of the cupcake quite a bit: it’s got that crispy top ‘lip’ that is special about cupcakes as opposed to regular cakes. The part that I can’t deal with is the frosting: it is truly, stickily, sickeningly sweet. I found out that it is what is known as ‘American buttercream‘ or for those who are sticklers about accuracy, an American butter frosting (since it doesn’t involve the creaming of eggs and butter that a classic buttercream has). An American buttercream consists of butter, flavoring such as vanilla or chocolate or whatever, and copious amounts of powdered sugar to give it a creamy consistency and sweet taste. Too sweet, in my opinion. But, I know there are people out there who like it, and who’ve grown up on American cakes and frostings. I actually have a beautiful mother who loves to bake, so we grew up either eating her cakes, or cakes she bought at Filipino bakeries. The taste in Filipino desserts is far less sweet than the typical American dessert, so preference is basically, (literally) a matter of taste.

I made a batch of yellow cupcakes and gave them two different frosting treatments: a chocolate American buttercream, and a classic chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream. I prefer eating the meringue buttercream because you can more easily control the sugar, as the texture is not dependent on the amount of sugar used, as it is in an American buttercream. But honestly, the butter + powdered sugar method is incredibly easy and worth doing if you don’t have the time to do a classic buttercream (and don’t mind copious amounts of powdered sugar.)

The cake I made is a favorite: you’ll find it’s the easiest recipe there is (I based it on a recipe from Cooks Illustrated), and it’s great especially for a meringue buttercream because the icing gives you a use for the egg whites you would otherwise discard. Also, if you fill the cups up enough you will get that crispy ‘lip’ on the edges of the cupcakes. Delish!

Vanilla Cupcakes
makes 12 cupcakes

1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cups sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1 large egg, room temperature
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees with the oven rack in the middle position. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake wrappers.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar until light colored and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the egg, egg yolks and vanilla and beat at medium speed until thoroughly incorporated.
  5. Add the sour cream and beat until incorporated.
  6. Add the flour mixture and beat until just incorporated.
  7. Spoon the mixture into the muffin cups and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes.
  8. Remove and cool to room temperature on a rack, about 45 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the frosting of your choice.

Buttercream 1: Chocolate American Buttercream
For this recipe, I tried to cut down a bit on the confectioners’ sugar that is normally called for in a typical recipe, but don’t take it down any further because it will affect texture. If you like a less sweet frosting, try the Meringue Buttercream below.

2 sticks (1 cup) butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted in a double boiler and cooled to room temperature
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1-1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar

  1. In a stand mixer, beat butter until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add chocolate and stir until just combined with a rubber spatula.
  3. Add milk, vanilla and sugar. Beat at medium speed until just combined. (be careful not to overbeat).
  4. Frost the cupcakes with an offset spatula.

Cupcakes with chocolate American buttercream

Buttercream 2: Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
This buttercream is definitely more of a pain in the neck to make, but it has its advantages over the easy recipe above: it has a super creamy texture that you can’t achieve with confectioners’ sugar, it can be adjusted for sweetness while still maintaining its creamy texture, and it doesn’t get crusty like a confectioners’ sugar icing. Also, it actually uses less butter because it gets a lot of volume from the egg whites. All in all, I think, worth the trouble.

1/4 cup fine granulated sugar
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-1/2 sticks (3/4 cups) butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted in a double boiler and cooled to room temperature

  1. Combine the sugar, egg whites, cream of tartar and water in the stainless steel bowl of an electric mixer (i.e. your KitchenAid bowl). Bring a large pan of water to simmer, making sure that the water is a the same height as the egg whites in your stainless bowl. Set the bowl in the pan of simmering water and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 140 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Be really careful not to curdle the egg whites– simply remove the bowl from the heat for a bit if it feels like that’s happening. Also, you’ll know when it’s getting close to 140 degrees; the mixture will be getting ultra foamy, like the top of a latte. (A really good latte that is– one of those kinds where it has a leaf-pattern on top, you know what I’m talking about.)
  2. Remove the bowl to your stand mixer and beat on high speed for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture holds glossy, marshmallowy peaks. Remove the meringue to another bowl.
  3. In the standing mixer, beat half the butter and one-third of the meringue until well combined. Continue to add the remaining two-thirds of the meringue a dollop at a time. The mixture may look scarily curdled at this point; adding the remaining butter a tablespoon at a time will smooth things out. (Basically, just keep adding a bit of butter at a time until the curdling corrects itself.)
  4. Using a rubber spatula, stir in the melted chocolate until well-combined.
  5. Frost the cupcakes using an offset spatula.

Cupcakes with chocolate swiss meringue buttercream