It's still MAYCRAFT (Minecraft Month) which means we're still striving to make square food, served on square plates. This episode of Cooking With Heat also happened to fall on the day after my birthday, so why not CAKE?!
The original recipe was a sheet/layer cake taken from Serious Eats and adapted to smaller, square cupcakes. This changes the cooking times and the method, but leaves the recipe largely untouched.
Speaking of the recipe, there's one key ingredient to both the cake and the buttercream and you can't buy it off store shelves:
- One 4lb bag of granulated white sugar
- A 9"x13" ceramic or Pyrex baking dish (I used a casserole dish)
Center an oven rack and preheat oven to 300°F.
Pour sugar into baking dish and level so the surface is mostly flat.
Toast for one hour. The sugar should turn a bit darker, somewhat ivory.
Stir well and continue roasting for 30 minutes.
After each trip back into the oven, the sugar will darken and need stirring again. Repeat stirring every 30 minutes until:
Sugar reaches a sandy beige color OR
Sugar has been baking for 3 to 5 hours. Beyond that, the sugar will begin to liquefy.
Now you've got yourself 4 pounds of a delectable goodie, toasted sugar! It's really important to the next parts of the recipe.
TOOLS YOU MAY NOT HAVE:
Baking is pretty tool-heavy, so I'll outline some things you'll need to get into cupcake making:
Etekcity Digital Kitchen Scale Multifunction Food Scale
You'll need one of these to properly measure out your ingredients. Baking is a science!
Wilton Perfect Results Non-Stick Bar Pan, 12-Cavity
These seem a little big, but don't worry. The recipe adjusts for the extra volume.
KitchenAid 5-Quart Stand Mixer, Black
Stand Mixers are basically the coolest kitchen gadgets. For this recipe, you'll need both the paddle attachment and the whisk attachment. (P.S. The whisk attachment is NOT dishwasher safe. Ask me how I found out.)
Vanilla Butter Cake
- 16 ounces toasted sugar
- 4 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 8 ounces unsalted butter (room temp or slightly cooler)
- 3 large eggs (room temp or slightly cooler)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 16 ounces whole milk (room temp or slightly cooler)
- 16 ounces all-purpose flour
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat to 350°F.
Lightly grease the cupcake or muffin tins with a stick of unsalted butter.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter.
Mix on low speed to roughly incorporate, then increase to medium and beat until fluffy and light, about 5 minutes. About halfway through, pause to scrape the bowl and beater with a flexible spatula.
With the mixer still running, add the eggs one at a time, letting each fully incorporate before adding the next.
Dribble in the vanilla.
Reduce speed to low and sprinkle in about 1/3 of the flour, then drizzle in 1/3 of the milk. Repeat with remaining flour and milk, working in thirds as before.
Scrape the bowl and beater with a flexible spatula, and resume mixing on medium speed for about 15 seconds to ensure everything is well combined. The batter should look creamy and thick. (ccccc)
Divide evenly between prepared tins, filling each tin cup about 1/2 to 2/3 of the way.
If you have multiple tins, stagger them together on the oven rack, and bake until puffed, firm, and pale gold, about 16 minutes. Use a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake to determine doneness. If the toothpick comes out clean, your cakes are done!
Cool cakes directly in their pans for about 10 minutes, or until tins are able to be handled, then invert onto a parchment covered wire rack or pan to continue cooling. Now for the buttercream!
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 6 ounces egg whites from 5 to 6 large eggs
- 11 ounces toasted sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 20 ounces unsalted butter (5 sticks), softened to room temperature or slightly cooler
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Meringue first! You'll start by making a double-boiler with your stand mixer bowl. Fill a wide pot with at least 1 1/2 inches of water and place over high heat until steaming-hot, then adjust temperature to maintain a gentle simmer.
Combine egg whites, sugar, salt, and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Set over steaming water, stirring and scraping constantly with a flexible spatula, until egg whites hold steady at 185°F. This should take only 10 to 12 minutes, so if mixture seems to be moving slowly, simply turn up the heat.
Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whip at high speed about 10 minutes, until meringue is glossy, stiff, and cool to the touch, around 90°F.
Now it's time for the buttercream part! With mixer still running, add butter, 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time.
Initially, the volume of the meringue will decrease dramatically; it may even seem soupy along the way. The mixture will begin to thicken and cool as you add the cool butter. In the end, buttercream should be thick, creamy, and soft but not runny, around 72°F.
Mix in vanilla extract and almond extract on low speed until well combined.
Use buttercream right away! Add to a piping bag (or an improvised ziploc bag with the end cut off) and pipe onto cupcakes, or simply spread with a spatula or an icing knife.
Buttercream can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks and frozen for up to several months in a sealed ziploc bag. Rewarm to 72°F and re-whip before using.