Saturday, September 17, 2011

Recipe: Vanilla Buttercream Frosting (for Caribbean-themed vanilla cupcakes)

A few weeks ago, I found a recipe for these beautiful seaside-themed cupcakes, topped with molded chocolate seashells and pale blue frosting—gorgeous! I showed them to my mom and asked if she had any need of them for an upcoming event and, lucky for me, she had a Caribbean-themed potluck dinner going on tonight that would be the perfect place for them. She picked up ingredients for them yesterday afternoon and we made a change of plans when she found some Swedish Fish packages that included fun multicolored sea creatures. My seaside-themed cupcakes became Caribbean-themed vanilla cupcakes, topped with homemade vanilla buttercream, hand-colored sanding sugar, and assorted Swedish Fish shapes. Fun, tasty, and perfect for any ocean-themed party! I used a boxed French Vanilla cupcake mix (yes, I know...I should be ashamed of myself for not making homemade batter, but I wanted this dessert to be as easy and quick as possible). What I'm sharing here is my recipe for buttercream frosting. I absolutely hate that disgusting, fluffy, oily frosting they use at grocery stores and cheap bakeries and ice cream shops. I'm also not really a fan of the pre-made stuff they sell to go along with boxed cake mixes. I like thick, substantial icing, with a rich, yet creamy texture and flavor. This buttercream frosting, adapted from a recipe from Anne Bryn's The Cake Mix Doctor, is thick without being stiff and it has a delicious vanilla-and-sugar flavor.

One of these things is not like the other. Haha. Gotta love the random green fish.

Yields: About 2 cups (the original recipe said it yields 3.5 cups, but I definitely got less and ended up needing to make a second batch). Two batches will be enough to cover approx. 24 cupcakes with a nice thick swirl of frosting)
Production Time: 10-20 minutes
Difficulty: Easy
Special equipment: Electric mixer

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted (sifting removes lumps that would clump up in the frosting) 
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3-4 tbsp. milk

Put the butter in the mixer bowl and, using the paddle attachment, blend it on low for about a minute until the butter is a little creamy. Turn off the mixer and add the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla to the bowl. Blend the mixture on low for about a minute, until the powdered sugar is incorporated into the wet ingredients. Increase the speed to medium and whip until the mixture is completely blended and looks thick and creamy. If you find it's not holding its shape or seems to be "melting" on top of the cupcakes or cake you're putting it on, add just a little more powdered sugar to thicken it up (don't add too much, because it'll make your frosting gritty and dry-tasting). The frosting can be spread on cupcakes or cakes with a knife, but I used one of my "fancy" frosting tips for my culinary classes, fashioned myself a pastry/piping bag out of a Ziploc back, and piped the frosting in a simple swirl on top of of the cupcakes. Turned out great!

This is a great basic buttercream that can easily be altered to suit your needs. Add food coloring, mix in a flavor other than vanilla (like orange extract or cocoa), or mix in finely chopped ingredients (like nuts or chocolate chips) to make it perfect for any cake. For my Caribbean-themed cupcakes, I just added a few drops of blue food coloring to achieve a pretty pale blue color. That, topped with blue sugar and fish decorations made for some fun and tasty cupcakes!

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