To start, then. I am a big fan of the idea that simpler is better. I like margharita pizza. I like pasta with cheese. My favourite cupcakes? Vanilla, with vanilla buttercream icing. To say that I like these would be an understatement. I don’t see vanilla as vanilla, not at all. It is such a beautiful flavour. It can add depth to chocolate and turn mediocrity to divinity. It can be sweetness and light, or heady, sexy and seductive.
Of course, you have to have the right vanilla. I made mine, and will do so again – with the amount I get through it is much better than buying those tiddly little bottles in the supermarket. Not to mention that the vanilla essence you make at home will be way ahead of anything you might find in the supermarket. (More on this later, when I make my next batch in probably the not-too-distant future.)
The thing I love about this recipe is its simplicity. I can keep it in my head and carry it round with me, safe in the knowledge that, if called upon, I could easily make a batch. It hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one day… The other great thing is that as far as my experience goes, it is foolproof. I do not say this lightly, but the first time I used this recipe I was baking with two four-year-olds, in an unfamiliar kitchen, with only one spoon and two spatulas to mix, and they turned out beautifully. The kids loved them. The parents loved them. The Venezuelan nanny loved them. I knew I was onto a good thing.
The recipe is in cups. Cupcakes are called cupcakes because the recipe originally used one cup of everything. This one doesn’t quite, but it’s pretty darn close.
For the cakes:
1 cup granulated or caster sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 medium eggs, at room temperature
2 cups plain/all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla essence (or more, if you’re me – I just pour in a generous dash)
1 tsp baking powder
For the buttercream:
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla essence (again, more if you’re me)
3 tbsp full fat milk, or 2 tbsp cream
1. Preheat the oven to 180C (160 for a fan oven) / 350F. Line a cupcake tray with paper liners
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each
4. Add the flour and baking powder, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition
5. Beat in the vanilla. I like to do it before the milk, separately, in case for any reason it looks like the milk is going to be too much
6. Mix in the milk, again a little at a time, just in case it looks like the mixture will get too wet. It never has with me, but you never know.
7. Give it one last good mix – it should be light, fluffy and just begging you to stick your finger in. (I won’t tell if you don’t)
8. Spoon into the cases. Fill each about 2/3 full
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Your kitchen will smell delicious.
In a large bowl, beat the butter, vanilla, milk/cream and icing sugar together. I prefer to mix it up a bit with a spoon first before plunging in with the electric beater so I don’t get icing sugar dust everywhere. Keep beating until it’s light and fluffy and looks like a buttercream dream.
Use a piping bag to ice swirls onto your cakes once they are cool, or slap it on with a metal spatula or just use a knife. These don’t need to look good to taste it.
Of course you could endlessly mess with these cakes. You could add raisins or chocolate chips, top with sprinkles, chocolate buttercream, ganache, caramel, drizzle with lemon or berry compote…
You could, but why mess with perfection?