Billy’s Vanilla Buttercream Cupcakes

I’ve always wanted to find a nice vanilla cake recipe to make from scratch. Previously, when I needed a basic pound cake, I’d head straight to the supermarket to pick up some Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines mix. Then I got to Korea and saw the astronomical price for boxed cakes, and this prompted me to get on top of my search.

When I’m looking for a basic American-style recipe, of course I go to the queen of insider trading American food, Martha Stewart. This recipe’s great—pretty simple to make, pretty basic ingredients. The only tough part is finding cake flour that’s not self-rising. Here in The Netherlands, I had to trek out to the cash ‘n carry to get the right type of flour.

I suggest watching the video on the website, especially if you’re not used to baking cakes. In the video they note that you should add two tablespoons of baking powder to the batter, whereas the written instructions state only one. I have never made them with one tablespoon, but based on readers’ comments, it’s not a good idea.

As always with recipes involving vanilla extract, the purer the vanilla, the better. Vanilla flavouring or artificial vanilla just won’t have the same taste as pure vanilla extract, but you need to be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for the real deal. A bottle of vanilla flavouring will set you back no more than 2 euros here in the Lowlands, but pure extract will set you back at least 15 euros.

I’ve made this recipe a few times, most notably for my sister’s birthday. They turned out great and the kids all loved them. The best part of this cake is that it’s very light and not too sugary, as many cupcakes tend to be.

The most recent time I made it was again for my sister’s graduation. This time around, I made a full, double-layered cake by doubling the recipe. The last time I made a double-layered vanilla cake was in 2004, for my prom. I was the treasurer for student council and on the prom committee and I didn’t want to spend a ton of money for someone’s mom to make a Duncan Hines cake when I felt that we could make it ourselves. So one evening, we sent my family out of my house, and proceeded to bake the cake. Unfortunately, we didn’t grease our pan enough, so our cake ended up a little broken, and looking a little disastrous. It was very uneven, and we didn’t have any extra cake mix, so we were stuck with our disaster.

We came up with what we thought was an ingenious way to hide the cakes deformities. We ended up (over)icing the cake in white  and then colouring the icing in different colours and then spreading it out on the cake Jackson Pollock style. Here it is, the mess that we nicknamed ‘de kaqe’:

It was a MESS. The one-centimeter layer of icing made the cake incredibly sweet, to the point where it hurt your teeth to eat it. I’d never seen such a deep sigh of relief from my friends as when I put down my piece of cake, defeated and refusing to eat it, because it meant that no one else had to eat it either.

So when it came to making the cake a few weeks ago, the pressure was on. Typical me, I didn’t grease/flour the pan well enough for the first cake. Fortunately I learned from my mistake and fixed the problem on the second layer. Cake done, no one hurt.

The icing was pretty easy to make, no problems there, I mixed it, and put it in the fridge to firm up a bit.

The tricky part came when I had to ice the cake. That was pretty tough, considering that it was over 25°C in the kitchen. I got a little worried and thought 2004 was going to happen all over again. I persevered though, and put the cake in the fridge to firm up. Fortunately, that was all it needed. My icing job is nowhere near the standards of Cake Boss, but this time around I was pretty pleased with the icing/cake ratio. In the future, I’ll certainly need to work on my piping, icing and decorating skills, but for now I’m willing to blame my poor presentation in part on the temperature of the kitchen. Here it is, in cake form and in cupcake form, Billy’s Vanilla Buttercream:

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