The Basics, Now With Kitsch

A funny thing happened on the way to these kitschy cupcakes.

I created them based on a recent pin, and knew they’d be a hit on my annual beach vacation.

And they were.

But what I didn’t know was that in making them, I’d find yellow cake nirvana.  Courtesy of Deb, and her flag cake recipe.

I whined, several posts ago, that this little old blog was 500 posts strong, yet still without a fail-safe recipe for what should be a staple in any good home cook’s repertoire.  A solid yellow cake is something you can stack to the sky to celebrate another year of life, something you can spin into cupcakes at a moment’s notice, and most importantly, something you can tweak, in any number of ways, when you are dreaming up flavor combinations.  It’s also something that has eluded me for far too long.

Forty-four posts later, here we are.  I don’t know enough about the science of baking to tell you whether it’s the cake flour, the buttermilk, or the simple ratio of butter to flour to sugar to eggs, but when you set to whisking, something will happen in your faithful mixing bowl that makes the ingredients come together just so.  The cake is dense enough, moist enough, and crumbly enough to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.  It reminds you that, when made just right, yellow cake is not a boring choice, but a timeless classic.*

To make 30 cupcakes, or a 9 x 13 cake, or 2 or 3, 8 inch layer cakes (I’m guessing 3 with the amount of batter I had), you will need:

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 C sugar
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 C cake flour (or 3 2/3 C all purpose flour and 1/3 C cornstarch)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. table salt
  • 2 C buttermilk, well shaken

For the cream cheese icing:

  • 2, 8 oz. packages cream cheese
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 C powdered sugar

And if you wanted to decorate them like I did:

  • Blue food coloring or gel (for the icing)
  • 4 of those little blue food gel tubes you can buy in the grocery aisle
  • Gummy Life Savers

To make the cake, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  If you’re making a cake, grease the pan(s) you’re using, add a layer of parchment to the bottom, and grease again.  Alternatively, spray the sucker(s) with cooking spray.  If you’re making cupcakes, set paper liners in your muffin tins.

Beat butter and sugar together in large bowl till light and fluffy, at least 3 minutes.  Add eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down bowl after each addition.  Add vanilla.  Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in bowl till combined.  Add half to butter mixture, and mix just till combined.  Scrape down bowl again, add buttermilk, and mix till combined.  Add remaining flour mixture, and mix till combined.  Pour batter into prepared pan(s).

I was working with a funky beach oven, but my cupcakes were done in 18 minutes.  I’d expect an 8 x 8 cake to take 30ish minutes, and a 9 x 13 pan to take longer than that.  Check this cake when it’s had less time than you think it needs, because you can always let it go a little longer.

Remove cake from oven and let cool completely before frosting.

To make the icing, beat cream cheese and butter till thoroughly combined and smooth, about 3 minutes.  Add vanilla and beat till combined.  Add sugar and beat till combined.  If you’re going for beach cupcakes, stir in blue food coloring or gel till you reach the color you’re looking for.

If you’re decorating the (cup)cakes, all you have left to do is pipe on some waves, and add a well-placed Gummy Saver.

*It may also remind you, two days later, when you reach for a boxed mix because you only want your cake to look a certain way, that you are crazy not to set out the butter ahead of time, and wait for it to soften.  A good homemade cake is always worth it.  Look for this disaster story soon.

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