Sunday, April 22, 2012

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Monograms

This spring has been crazy busy-- even crazier than usual.  I expect a certain level of insanity this time of year-- prepping my students for the AP, doing my own final papers for my spring class, chaperoning prom, all accompanied by a general desire to start the summer, which means I stay up way too late reading or doing something slightly less productive, like watching The Borgias with Ana.  This year I've added the unenviable task of being in charge admitting the 8th graders to the AP program in my high school, along with various other AP tasks. Also, little miss has started her first season of soccer, which means practice and games twice a week, which is SO. CUTE-- but it adds up. So, needless to say (although I just did), I am swamped.  "Psychotically busy" is probably the best way to describe it. 

Because of this, I have developed a bad habit of thinking that doing any activity that isn't immediately associated with school (either the school I teach at or my graduate work) is wasting my time.  So all the things I enjoy doing, like reading, spending time with family and friends, catching up on bad TV, going to the beach, taking a nap, baking, blogging, listening to music, idly looking at Pinterest, etc-- all those things that keep me sane-- all those things have become unproductive in my brain and I feel guilty for doing them.  So my resolution for the rest of this spring is, at the end of the day, to review all the things I did accomplish, not the things I left undone.  For example, today my school bag stayed in my car.  However, I did watch cartoons with little miss this morning.  I got to go to lunch with my husband and little miss.  We all went grocery shopping together.  I took a nap (which was amazing).  I finished reading The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt.  I read more of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to little miss.  And now I am (finally) updating this blog.

Looking at my life this way makes me much happier.  You should try it.  :)

How to Make Cupcake Monograms
From ohcupcakes! via Pinterest

4-6 blocks of Candy-Quik (I used vanilla)
Round multi-colored nonpareil sprinkles

These are actually very easy-- I was shocked.  I don't have a very steady hand, and any attempts I have made at decorations prior to this have been disastrous.  But these turned out great!  One of the things that helped was the fact that I printed guide sheets to trace for all the decorations I wanted to create-- letters and flowers in this case. 

Prep the tracing area-- place your printed guide sheets on cookie sheets, then cover the guide sheets/cookie sheets with waxed paper.

Melt the Candy-Quik in a heat-proof bowl in the microwave according to the directions on the package.  When warm and smooth, transfer the Candy-Quik to a pastry bag with a round tip (I used a Wilton #7 tip) or a baggie with a small part of a corner cut off.  Trace the printed guide sheets with the melted Candy-Quik.  While the Candy-Quik is still soft, sprinkle the letters/shapes with the round non-pareil sprinkles.  Let the monograms harden-- you can speed this process by refrigerating them. 

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
(From Annie's Eats)
Makes 24+ cupcakes

3 cups cake flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
16 Tbsp unsalted butter (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs (room temperature)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk (I made my own-- directions here)
1 Tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line two cupcake pans.  In a medium bowl, combine and whisk together cake flour, baking powder, and salt.  In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, add the butter and scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the same bowl.  Beat the butter and vanilla bean seeds on medium-high until light and creamy, about 3 minutes.  Scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for another minute.

Add the sugar to the butter mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition.  (I know, I know-- this part is annoying, but it makes a difference.  Just take the time to do it.)  Mix in the eggs one at a time, beating until incorporated.  Scrape the sides after each addition of egg.  Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup.  With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the dry and wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry-- be sure to mix each addition only until just incorporated.  When finished, scrape the sides of the bowl and beat for an additional 15 seconds.

Fill each liner approximately 2/3 of the way full.  You will probably have extra batter-- I made about 12 mini cupcakes to go along with the 24 full-size cupcakes.  Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool the cupcakes in the pans for about 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack.

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
(Adapted from Wilton)

2 sticks unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla extract (I use the clear, artificial stuff for this-- it keeps the color very white, and there's something about the taste of it in this frosting...(
4 cups powdered sugar
2 Tbsp milk

In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter.  Add the vanilla to the butter, mixing until incorporated.  Add the powdered sugar one cup at a time, scraping the sides after each addition.  Add milk and beat until frosting achieves desired consistency-- you may end up using more or less milk, depending on your frosting.  Frost cupcakes.

My cupcakes were for a girl's baby shower, soI tinted my icing pink with Wilton icing gel color and then frosted them using a pastry bag and a Wilton 1M tip.  I added the monograms at the end. 

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