A few days ago, I got a very exciting package in the post. It was enormous, and I couldn’t figure out what it was – it was addressed to me and came in a big box from Amazon UK, which was all fine…except that I hadn’t ordered anything. I opened it up, though, and sitting on top was a note…
…and inside was this little beauty.
I officially have the most amazing dad in the whole world! No offence to your dad, though. I’m sure he’s completely lovely, too.
I was honestly far too excited to wait to use it, so I had to find an excuse to bake. And what better excuse is there than Valentine’s Day? I ended up making a small batch (12 cupcakes instead of the usual 24) and gave six of them to my mother-in-law to take into work to give to her team today, and left six at home for The Husband to eat at his leisure.
Before we get cracking with the recipe, though, there’s something I need to confess. I got a little bit ahead of myself and was inspired by this wonderful post on Alison’s Wonder Scraporium, which I was desperate to try; I mean, what could be more perfect for Valentine’s Day cupcakes than finding a heart inside the cupcake?
I really should have followed Alison’s instructions more carefully, though. I forgot to buy red food colouring (I only got pink, as I knew I wanted to do pink frosting), and that was a huge rookie mistake. Pink is all well and good when you’re doing frostings and light coloured cakes, but once the cake is baked it’s really difficult to get that depth of colour that red brings. The pink tends to fade a bit in the oven, so although you might get a lovely coloured buttercream, pink coloured hearts baked inside vanilla cupcakes very quickly become almost totally invisible. Bah, humbug.
Nevertheless, we can learn from my bad decision making skills, and next time we’ll get it perfectly right. As long as you use red food colouring for the hearts and add enough of the colour to get a very strong, deep shade before baking, then it should work an absolute treat. Winner!
I’ve included pictures of my botched heart attempt, but other than that slight devastation, the cupcakes turned out wonderfully. This is my absolute favourite vanilla cupcake recipe in my own words and VERY slightly modified (it comes from the ever-amazing The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook – if you don’t have it, you have to get it. It’s worth absolutely every penny!), which I’ve teamed with my modified version of the same book’s vanilla buttercream to create a strawberry frosting instead.
The cupcakes are light, fluffy and packed with vanilla, while the frosting is smooth, creamy and bursting with strawberry flavour. The perfect Valentine’s Day treat! Happy baking!
VANILLA CUPCAKES WITH STRAWBERRY BUTTERCREAM
These are dedicated, of course, to my wonderful husband – thank you for everything. I love you.
2 3/4 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
200g softened butter
1 3/4 cups castor sugar
5 eggs (or 4, if you’re using especially large ones)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons strawberry essence
Pink food colouring (red, though, if you don’t want it to fail like mine did!)
1 cup milk
Firstly, preheat your oven to 170 degrees Celsius (that’s 340 degrees Fahrenheit or Gas Mark 3 – 4), line a 12 hole muffin tray with cupcake papers and grease a non-stick a 20cm round cake pan.
In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder and set it aside.
Then, in a large bowl (or the bowl attachment of your stand mixer), cream the butter for 2 minutes on high speed.
Add the castor sugar 1/3 at a time, beating on high for 2 -3 minutes after each addition. Once all the castor sugar is in, beat the mixture on high speed for at least 2 minutes, until the sugar has almost totally dissolved. Then add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until the mixture hits a light and fluffy consistency. Now add the vanilla extract and beat thoroughly.
Pour 1/3 of the sifted flour in the butter mixture and mix together using the lowest possible speed until just combined.
Then add 1/2 of the milk and continue to mix together on low speed until just combined. Repeat this, making sure that the last ingredient you add is the flour and that the mixture is smooth. It’s really important to not to overbeat during this stage – you’ll end up with dense, tough cupcakes if you do!
Now’s the time that we deviate from the regular recipe. Grab a separate bowl and spoon around 1/2 of the cupcake mixture into it, and set the bowl aside. With the mixture that’s left in the original mixer bowl, add the strawberry essence and the food colouring and beat on low speed until combined and the food colouring is evenly distributed.
Pour the coloured batter into the greased cake pan and bake in the oven for 20 minutes, until the cake is coming away from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Once you’ve pulled out the coloured cake, leave it to cool (I won’t lie, I jammed it in the freezer for 10 minutes to cool it down faster because I have literally no patience). Once cooled, remove it from the cake pan and set about cutting little hearts out of the cake, small enough to fit inside a cupcake. If you’re super-organised then you probably have a tiny little heart-shaped cookie cutter, so use that. If you’re disorganised like me, you’ll have to cut them out yourself. I used a small, sharp knife and just cut them freehand – they’re obviously all slightly different because of that, but never mind!
Once you’ve cut out your hearts (and yes, I did cut out too many – I kept trying to get them as perfect as possible, so I ended up with extras!), spoon a heaped tablespoon of the plain vanilla cupcake mixture into the bottom of each cupcake paper. Then gently press a heart into the middle of each, so that the hearts are standing upright.
Very carefully spoon enough cupcake mixture over the top of the hearts to cover them.
Place the cupcakes in the oven and bake for 20 minutes (but start checking after 15 in case your oven runs hot!). The cupcakes are done once they’re springy to touch and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Cool to room temperature before frosting.
8 cups icing sugar, sifted
200g salted butter
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons strawberry essence
Pink food colouring
Cream the butter on high speed for 2 -3 minutes until light and fluffy.
Then add the milk, strawberry essence and half of the sifted icing sugar and beat, starting on low speed until the sugar is just combined and then turning it up to high speed for 4 -5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has almost completely dissolved.
Add the remaining sugar and beat again for 3 -4 minutes until the frosting is soft, fluffy and spreadable. Add a bit more milk if it’s too dry, or a bit more icing sugar if it’s too runny.
Now add the food colouring a little at a time, beating between each addition until you get the shade of pink that you want.
Frost the cupcakes using your favourite piping tip (I used a big open star tip, about twice the size of Wilton’s 1M) and decorate however you like – I used white and pink sprinkles and white chocolate hearts.
And here’s a picture of the failed hearts. Boo!
Enjoy, and happy Valentine’s Day!