For my yoga teacher’s birthday party a couple of weeks ago, I made mini cupcakes, some frosted with Bailey’s cream cheese frosting and some frosted with lavender cream cheese frosting. Since his birthday party was two days before his actual birthday, I decided that I wanted to honor his actual birthday by bringing him a special cupcake. I couldn’t settle on what to make — a vanilla-cardamom cupcake with chocolate frosting? Hmm…Interesting, but not interesting enough. It seemed too “grown-up.” I wanted something more fun…something that said, Birthday! I don’t know what finally brought me to the idea, but I decided to make a really special cupcake. No, I didn’t lace it with drugs or any kind of hallucinogenic mushrooms, thank you.
And here it is…
A vanilla cupcake, all dressed up for the party. Not wanting to use my usual vanilla cupcake recipe, I googled for a different recipe, and found the recipe for Billy’s Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes, originally by Billy Reece, the owner of Billy’s Bakery in NYC…
Billy’s Vanilla, Vanilla Cupcakes (makes about 30)
1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt; mix on low speed until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.
2. In a large glass measuring cup, whisk together eggs, milk, and vanilla. With mixer on medium speed, add wet ingredients in 3 parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition; beat until ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.
3. Divide batter evenly among liners, filling about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 17 to 20 minutes.
4. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat process with remaining batter. Once cupcakes have cooled, use a small offset spatula to frost tops of each cupcake. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Serve at room temperature.
The cupcakes are called “Vanilla Vanilla” because they’re usually frosted with a vanilla buttercream. You can get the recipe here. As a matter of fact, there’s also a chocolate buttercream version of this recipe. I opted not to use buttercream and used my go-to, favorite chocolate cream cheese frosting instead. I love cream cheese frostings…this one that I used tastes a bit like chocolate cheesecake. At least to me.
I followed the cupcake recipe for the most part, but I used vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract. I also added an extra 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste just to kick up the vanilla flavor. I didn’t use regular-sized cupcake pans, but instead used muffin tins (if you do the same thing, bake them at 350° for about 20 minutes, maybe a little less…you’ll have to watch them). These cupcakes were much larger than my usual ones. Remember, these were special cupcakes…
The most labor-intensive part came after dividing the batter into 5 parts. Each part was colored a different color, and thanks to my past projects which have caused me to buy different colors of gel paste for frostings, I’ve managed to collect the basic colors of the rainbow — red, orange, yellow, green and blue. I used about 1/4 teaspoon of each color per portion of batter.
Once the colors were blended in, I spooned each color into the cupcake cups in the following order — blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. I was hoping for a more layered look, with a definitive blue layer, then green, then yellow, and so on, but what resulted was unexpected, yet pleasant — the different colors seem to have decided to do a dance while in the oven and what I saw when I sliced one in half was the beautiful result of their waltz (or cha-cha, or mambo or whichever dance you want to think they did). I couldn’t believe how pretty it was. I wanted to frame my cupcake and hang it up like a work of art!
You’d think that once you bake the cupcakes, you can rest, but oh no no…you must think of presentation. Sure, it’s okay if you’re just eating the cupcakes yourself — frost them, don’t frost them, who cares? But these cupcakes were — say it with me — special cupcakes.
I think I was inspired by the thought of the surprise one feels when unwrapping a present and finding out what’s under all the wrapping, which led me to do what I did next. I noticed that the foil muffin cups that I bought concealed the rainbow nature of the cupcakes quite nicely, and so I thought, “Why not hide it all?” I dipped the tops of the cupcakes in a dark chocolate ganache (something I seem to love to do to my cupcakes, as this wasn’t the first time I’d done it) and piped my beloved chocolate cream cheese frosting on top in a generous heap. And because I was feeling a little mischievous, I decided to put a “hint” on the cupcake about the secret of what’s inside. I sprinkled a few color-coated chocolate chips on top to finish. And no one would know their significance but me. Looking at the cupcake, you would think, “Oh, how nice, it’s a chocolate cupcake with some colored sprinkles!” But slice it open and you see just how wrong you were…
As you can see, a lot of thought went into the presentation of this little birthday cupcake. I either have too much time on my hands, or I am just incredibly intelligent and creative. I prefer the latter.