Cupcakes are an interesting beast. They’ve been oh-so-popular for the past few years, which has lead to a bit of a backlash. Those nay-sayers who like to be all “cupcakes are so overrated, I don’t understand why everyone is so into them.” I have to admit, they are a tad too trendy, and often a tad overpriced, but seriously. Who doesn’t love a cupcake? The perfect portion of cake and frosting goodness. And everyone gets to pick their favorite flavor. And they’re are special varieties. Seasonal varieties. Cake & frosting. You can’t go wrong. (Unless they’re grocery-store bought. Yuck.)
I’ve had quite a few memorable cupcake experiences in the past year:
BUTTER LANE (East Village, NYC) In April 2010, I was in NYC reconnecting with my dear friend Susanna, and while touring her ‘hood, we chatted over Stumptown coffee and cupcakes. A moment I’ll always remember. Cupcakes are good to bond over. I have to admit I can’t remember what type of cupcake I chose, but it was mighty delicious. I started following them on Twitter. Their tweets make me smile.
GEORGETOWN CUPCAKE (Washington, D.C.) When I was in DC in September, for work and visiting my sister, I had my heart set on getting a Georgetown Cupcake. A week or two before my trip out there, I spent a day on the couch under the weather. My DVR was empty and somehowI stumbled upon “DC Cupcakes” on TLC. The show was pretty terrible as far as reality TV shows go (and I love reality TV), but it whetted my appetite. I had to see what this place was all about. So on a warm September day we braved the line for our cupcakes. The line, apparently, is always long, and snakes up the block through housing lived in by rowdy Georgetown students. The day we were there happened to be homecoming or something, and the kids had been downing some Keystone light. They were rude. They heckled the line. “You’re wasting you TIME! I could bake you a better cupcake!” “Get a LIFE!” Ouch. It hurt a little. But we held our ground. We ordered a half-dozen cupcakes (strategically planned the night prior after careful analysis of their online menu and daily specials). And gosh were they good. Some better than others. The Mint Cookies & Creme was the best. Well worth the wait. Not everyday, but at least once in awhile.
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
While in Charlotte for a beautiful wedding, we were treated to a cupcake tower in lieu of a wedding cake at the reception. This choice, of course, is also trendy. I hadn’t actually experienced it before Charlotte, despite it’s popularity and attending several weddings. This moment in March 2010, however, completely won me over. I’ve never had such a delicious cupcake. Er, cupcakes. I had three, I believe (gasp!). One vanilla, one chocolate, and one more vanilla since those are my favorite. Delightful.
In addition to cupcakes while traveling, I’ve of course indulged in some here at home. And, shockingly, I have some opinions. For awhile I thought Trophy Cupcakes were the best. They edge out Cupcake Royale in moistness. Not to mention I like the blue and brown color scheme better than the pink. But that’s beside the point. I’m focusing on taste. So yeah, I’d often say I liked Trophy best, but in reality I’d eat and enjoy any Seattle cupcake. Like I said, I’m not one to complain about sweet frosting and loveingly baked goodness. But then, recently, I stumbled upon the cupcake of all cupcakes. I was in Bellevue wasting time before a movie. I was a bit cranky. I need a pick me up. I needed a cupcake. I’d spotted a little booth down a side hall of the mall. Returning, I saw a sign that stated they were voted the best cupcakes in the Seattle area by King5 viewers. I had to try. Bananas Foster was my choice. I died. And went to heaven. Amazing. Best. Cupcake. Ever. Pinka Bella Cupcakes. Go now, try one! It’ll make your day.
But like I said, cupcakes are a tad pricey. The cost-benefit is not always there. Sometimes you just need to hunker down and make your own. Sometimes, like me, you need to take them with you somewhere so you put them in your Crate & Barrel cupcake carrier. For these occasions, I have a go to cupcake recipe. And frosting recipe. They’re delightful. Probably not change your life good, but good in that “who doesn’t like a cupcake?” kind of way.
- Yield: Makes 18-22 cupcakes
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour
- 1 1/4 cups milk (I usually use soy)
Important to remember (although I always forget): 30 minutes to an hour before starting, put butter, eggs and milk on counter to bring them to room temperature.
Mix the butter at medium speed until somewhat smooth. I am in love with my KitchenAid mixer, so that’s what I use, but a regular electric mixer works too. Pour in sugar and beat well. Add eggs, waiting 30 seconds or so between each. Mix well.
Take a break and preheat oven to 350. (Most recipes say to do this at the beginning but who can prep that fast? I for one need more time!)
Add vanilla, almond extract, baking powder, salt, flour, and milk. Beat until everything’s incorporated. Pour into cupcake pan. I often don’t use papers – if you go this route make sure the pan is well buttered or oiled. Bake approximately 20 minutes, until a toothpick or sharp knife comes out clean.
The Best Chocolate Frosting Ever
- 1 8 oz package cream cheese at room temperature
- 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) at room temperature
- 4 cup sifted powdered sugar (You can decrease this amount if you don’t care about it being as stiff for piping)
- 1/2 cup high-quality cocoa powder
Mix cream cheese and butter until smooth and creamy. Mix in powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Mix in cocoa powder. Once cupcakes are cooled (completely cooled!), frost using a knife, or piping bag, or ziplock bag.