Magnolia's Traditional Vanilla Cupcakes with Traditional Vanilla Buttercream

10/24/2007 07:18:00 PM

For my picnic on Saturday, I wanted cupcakes. I wanted them bad. Cute, sweet, individual cupcakes, pretty as a picture and perfect to pop out of my picnic basket at a moment's notice. I wanted them covered in swirly (even pink) icing, and covered in sugar flowers. I know I've previously mentioned that I'm sick of the ubiquitous perfect pretty cupcake, but for some reason I just really wanted them for the picnic.

Where else to turn but The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook? And to their original, basic, essential recipe - the traditional vanilla birthday cake topped with traditional vanilla buttercream?

I have made them once before, but this time, I did the icing a little differently. The main difference was that I used unrefined golden icing sugar. It's not easy to find, but if you do, it's well worth having a go with it. Because it is unrefined, the sugar is a mellow off-white, caramelly colour, and has a corresponding depth of flavour that ordinary icing sugar lacks. The only problem I found with this sugar was its texture - in its box, the sugar it had compacted into a rather solid cube, which took a few good whizzes in the blender, as well as some vigorous sifting, to sort out.

Once, however, the de-solidified sugar is mixed with butter, vanilla and a dash of milk, and is strongly beaten for a good 5-10 minutes, it becomes a very attractive, buff-coloured icing.

This makes a lovely cupcake topping. Whether it be au naturel with a subdued swirl and a crystallized violet...

... or more guadily adorned with numerous sugar flowers...

... or dyed a deep "your mum in the 80's" pink...
... or any colour that takes your fancy. In the above photo, we also have a cocoa-dusted version, a salmon-coloured one and a sprinkle-rimmed swirly one. Below, we have Berlin "Love Parade" electric blue, one of which is rimmed with multicoloured sprinkles - appropriate enough for the theme; a few apricot coloured cupcakes; as well as the buff beauties on the right hand side. Those turned out to be my favourites.

I love, love, love the vanilla cupcakes! They remind me of the patty cakes my mum used to make for our childhood birthdays, which my cousin (and fellow picnicker) Catherine loves, and requested for her 18th birthday not too long ago. Both are vanilla scented, soft and light, with a slightly crunchy top. The icing, on the other hand, is not one of my favourites. (And yet, for some reason, I keep making it. Perhaps I keep hoping that they will, one day, taste as good as they look). I really like the delicately milky taste of the icing, but the amount of sugar - 8 cups to 112.5 grams of butter - is huge. I'm not sure that the cupcakes don't taste better without the icing at all, which would rather defeat the purpose of the whole "cute pink cupcake making" exercise. So, I am now on the lookout for a new icing recipe, if for no other reason than to unleash my inner artist. Any recipes or ideas for a stiff and swirly icing, that's not too sweet and takes colours well would be greatly appreciated.

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  1. Anonymous3:13 AM

    Sarah, I've had the same problems with the Mag frosting. I just think a vanilla frosting is too sweet. You won't be able to tint this one, as it's chocolate, but it would be the perfect foil for your fab decorations. It is THE best frosting I've ever tasted. There's quite a bit of sugar, but the unsweetened chocolate (MUST be unsweetened) really balances it:

    Dark Chocolate Frosting:

    4 squares (1 oz. each) UNSWEETENED chocolate
    1/2 C. unsalted butter (1 stick)
    1/2 C. evaporated milk (I use regular milk but about 1/4 C., just enough to make the frosting creamy)
    1 t. vanilla extract
    1/8 t. salt
    1 box (16 oz.) confectioners' sugar

    Melt chocolate and butter in a small, heavy saucepan over very low heat. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and set aside.

    Add evaporated milk (or regular milk), vanilla, and salt to confectioners' sugar in a medium bowl. The mixture will be thin. Stir in melted chocolate mixture and beat until frosting thickens to a spreading consistency.



  2. Those cupcakes look absolutely stunning! :) I have to admit I had a massive thing with cupcakes earlier this year - well, they are everywhere you turn when reading Nigella books...I tend not to use a recipe for buttercream - just soften about 100g butter and sift in icing sugar till I get the right consistency, adding a bit of milk if I need to.

  3. Mmmmmm!!!

    They look soooo tasty!! Gimme gimme gimme! Hehehe..

  4. Pretty pretty cupcakes, I love to see how all my foodie friends decorate cupcakes =)

  5. Anonymous11:01 PM

    Hi Sarah,

    I know I'm a bit late suggesting this but was just reading through some of your old posts and thinking your cupcakes look totally fab.

    I was wondering if a cream cheese icing, like you would have on carrot cake (cream cheese, icing sugar and lemon/lime juice) would provide you with the bit of bite you're looking for? It also has the benefit of being white so you could colour it to your heart's content!

    Just a thought..

  6. Thank-you everyone!

    Rachel and Laura, thank you for the recipes. That dark chocolate frosting sounds really nice.

    Imogen, funnily enough I did try a cream-cheese based icing just recently! (Nigella's Night and Day cupcakes from How to be a Domestic Goddess) It tasted great but the texture wasn't quite as peaky as I'd like, but definitely a huge improvement on the Magnolia ones. I hadn't even though of colouring it. Next time I'll take your suggestion and try all sorts of different colours.

    xox Sarah



My email address is sarahcooks [at] hotmail [dot] com.