a classic cupcake

this weekend i made a batch of cupcakes for a bbq and kept it simple- vanilla cake with a chocolate buttercream frosting. a combo that isn't fancy, but pretty universally loved.  i will occasionally use a recipe that incorporates a boxed cake mix if i'm looking for a really fluffy cupcake, as i find purely homemade cake tends to be significantly more dense. i love that this version strikes a nice textural balance between the two.

i will also add for anyone new to baking... it's really very scientific. with cooking you can be imprecise with your measurements, you can add, substitute or subtract ingredients as you wish and usually the dish will still come together just fine. the same principle doesn't apply in baking. you cannot substitute baking powder for baking soda and vice versa. if a recipe calls for a cup of flour, scoop out your cup and then take the 2 seconds to use a butter knife to level it off. don't just dump a heaping cup (which is really more than one cup of flour) into the bowl.  in europe most baking recipes measure ingredients by weight and not volume for consistency, and to avoid this exact scenario.

additionally, the order in which you are instructed to add and mix ingredients is by design, it's all very chemical. and if a recipe calls for whole milk or heavy cream, then it is relying on a specific percentage of milk fat. substituting skim milk may or may not ruin it completely, but at the least it will cause your final product come out less than perfect. (and some people are just peachy with that, and that's fine.)

but for beginners or anyone who has struggled with a recipe, i strongly suggest following it exactly as written, using the exact ingredients specified before giving up on it. once you start to develop an intuition or master a recipe, you can start to play around and substitute - but i always do a test run before making an altered version to serve!

| ingredients |

vanilla cake (adapted from sweetapolita)

5 large egg whites, plus one whole egg- at room temperature
1 cup whole milk, divided (1/4 + 3/4)
3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon  salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold and cut into small cubes

chocolate buttercream

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 block (8 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2-3 cups powdered sugar
you can serve plain, or garnish with sprinkles/fresh fruit.

you can top with fresh fruit or sprinkles if desired. i liked the strawberries as a sort of take on a neapolitan.

| method |

preheat oven to 350 degrees F and line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.

in a medium mixing bowl, combine the 5 egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk and vanilla extract. 

in the bowl of an electric mixer, add the flour and use a whisk to remove lumps. add in the sugar, baking powder and salt and whisk until thoroughly combined. place the bowl on the electric mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment. turn your mixer on a low speed and slowly add your pieces of cold butter one at a time, until all of the pieces have been incorporated and the dough is crumbly. add your remaining 3/4 cup of milk and continue to mix on low for another 5 minutes. at this point, your dough will be thick like cookie dough. use a spatula to scrape down the sides and around the bottom of the bowl to ensure that everything is evenly incorporated.

slowly add the egg mixture, 1/3 at a time, while continuing to mix on low speed. we add the mixture in batches so that everything combines uniformly and there are no lumps. after 4 minutes, you can turn the mixer off, scraping again around the sides and bottom of the bowl so that nothing is stuck where it shouldn't be!

carefully spoon the batter in your prepared cupcake liners, filling each cup a little over halfway. bake at 350 for 18 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. immediately remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool before frosting. 

while the cupcakes are cooling, make the buttercream frosting. beat your softened butter and cream cheese together for 2 minutes. scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and beat for another two minutes. add the cocoa and vanilla extract and beat again for 1 minute, add the powdered sugar and beat again until the desired consistency is achieved, the color of the frosting will actually lighten from a brownie batter brown to what is pictured when ready.

(note: i add the powdered sugar while the mixer is stopped, then turn it on the lowest speed and mix so that the powdered sugar combines with the wetter ingredients, once it is semi incorporated i increase speed and whip. if you attempt to add the powdered sugar while the mixer is moving quickly, or immediately increase to a high speed it goes POOF! and you'll have powdered sugar everywhere. no one wants to clean that up.)

garnish if desired.

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