vanilla on vanilla cupcakes

13 Sep

Simplicity is vastly underrated these days. Take for instance Lady Gaga at last night’s VMAs. Zillions of wardrobe changes, costumer-bearing servants to move her from seat to stage, and a dress made of meat. It’s what we’ve come to expect: OVER STIMULATION.

I won’t deny it. I’m just a copacetic lemming in this tornado of consumption from pop culture to gastronomy. But, every now and then, a day comes along when I stop to smell the ocean breeze, charge up a mountain, and revel in the grit of dirt on my face.

View of SF and its two bridges - Mt. Livermore - Angel Island - Click to enlarge

It was Rosie the birthday girl’s request to spend the day hiking and picnicking at Angel Island. Also requested: cupcakes. When asked for her favorite flavor, I was surprised by her immediate and enthusiastic response — VANILLA! Often deemed a distant second to chocolate or canvas for fruit flavors, we forget how pure, simple and spectacular vanilla can be on its own.

Like an ode to childhood, I resolved to bake a batch of vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting and bright pink sugar sprinkles. The cake batter, however, was strictly an “adults only” version with rich pound cake consistency. And, instead of the frosting tub crap from the grocery store, I whipped together an easy cream cheese and vanilla buttercream.

Pure vanilla-on-vanilla goodness is how I’d best describe these cupcakes. Spectacular in their simplicity — just like our day of hiking and birthday-celebrating at Angel Island.

vanilla on vanilla cupcakes
adapted from the barefoot contessa

* 18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 3 cups sugar
* 6 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
* 1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
* 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 3 cups all-purpose flour
* 1/3 cup cornstarch
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 teaspoon baking soda

For the icing:
* 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
* 1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature
* 3/4 pound confectioners’ sugar, sifted
* 1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line muffin pans with paper liners.

Cream the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on high speed, until light and fluffy. On medium speed, add the eggs, 2 at a time, then add the sour cream and vanilla. Scrape down the sides and stir until smooth.

Sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture until just combined. Fill the cupcake liners 2/3-full with batter. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool to room temperature.

For the icing, mix the butter, cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, mixing just until smooth. Spread the frosting generously on top of each cupcake.

Makes 30 cupcakes (I know, it’s sorta too much!).

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