Not so long ago, cupcakes were everywhere. Overpriced cupcake bakeries cropped up on every corner, with twirls of colored frosting and rainbows of sprinkles beckoning from shop windows and enticing cupcake-crazed customers to queue up for their daily fix. We called the demise of this trend all the way back in 2008, and indeed, cupcakes have fallen out of the spotlight. They seem downright quaint now, compared to the Cronut fad.
So that's why I felt it was the right time to bring you my favorite vanilla cupcake recipe. Cupcakes have gone from being a fad back to where they belong, which is a downright homey and retro dessert, a sweet treat for birthday parties. This is the recipe I rely on when I want a deeply indulgent yet easy cupcake.
These are adapted lightly from one of my favorite vanilla cupcake recipes, originally from Billy's in New York City and found on 52 Cupcakes (such a fun blog!). This is a slightly unusual cake recipe in that the butter is beaten directly into the flour. I find that the recipe just goes very, very quickly, and it always bakes up moist and tender. I like to use all cake flour for a more delicate crumb; this helps avoid the tougher muffin-esque texture that so many plain vanilla cupcakes have.
And if I'm going to make cupcakes, I'm also going all out on frosting. In for a penny, in for a pound. The buttercream here is a very basic buttercream, made just with butter and powdered sugar. A touch of cream cheese keeps it interesting, but in a pinch you could even leave that out. Usually I prefer silkier French or Swiss buttercream but for a simple cupcake like this the ease and pure butter indulgence of a basic buttercream work well.
These are the cupcakes I turn to when I just want an easy yet delightful treat to send with my husband to the office, or for a last-minute birthday party. Easy, quick, and so delicious.
Vanilla Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream
Adapted from Billy's Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes at 52 Cupcakes; makes 12 cupcakes
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, softened to room temperature
2 large eggs
1/2 cup whole milk
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
To frost: 1 batch Very Basic Lemon Buttercream (recipe follows)
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line a cupcake pan with paper liners and spray them lightly with baking spray.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add the butter and mix on medium speed for about 1 minute, or until the flour has coated the butter but the butter is still in discrete pieces.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, and vanilla. With the mixer on low speed, add the wet ingredients in 2 separate additions, scraping down the sides of bowl before each addition. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed or until ingredients are incorporated.
Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling about two-thirds full. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Frost with Very Basic Lemon Buttercream once cool.
• If you forgot to soften your butter in advance, this recipe actually works fine with either cold or room temperature butter!
Very Basic Lemon Buttercream
Makes enough to frost 12 cupcakes generously
2 ounces cream cheese, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
1/2 cup butter, softened at room temperature for 1 hour
Pinch of salt
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons milk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
Beat the cream cheese and butter together in the bowl of a stand mixer until lightened and fluffy. Add the salt, then 1 cup of powdered sugar at a time, scraping down the bowl between additions. Add the milk, adjusting consistency if necessary. Beat in the extracts and continue beating at high speed for 3 to 5 minutes or until whipped and creamy.
(Image credits: Faith Durand)