Cupcakes à go go

Do you remember your 10th birthday?

Big day, right? At last – double digits!

My youngest niece, Julia, recently celebrated her 10th birthday.

But she didn’t enjoy the usual party with friends – a sleepover with DVDs, ice cream and cake. Why not? Because Julia’s birthday was the same day as the wedding of her oldest cousin, Kendra.

So instead of celebrating her birthday with a small party – Julia got to dress up, dance, drink (Shirley Temples), and celebrate with a crowd of about 200 people.

And THEN have her birthday party.

A couple of weeks before her birthday, I asked Julia if she could choose her favorite cake in the whole world, what would it be?

“Yellow cake with chocolate frosting and pink sprinkles.”

We can do that!

First, preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease the wells of two muffin tins (24 muffin cups). You can also line the muffin tins with papers, and spray the insides of the papers.

Whisk together the following:

2 cups sugar
3 1/4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Add 3/4 cup soft unsalted butter and beat with an electric mixer at low speed, until the mixture looks sandy.

What would yellow cake be without vanilla? Here’s my favorite, Vanilla Bean Crush.

Combine 1 1/2 cups room-temperature milk and 1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

So, what’s the deal with the Vanilla Bean Crush? Vanilla’s vanilla, right?

Not when it’s Crush. Look at those seeds.

There’s something about seeing the crushed beans and seeds in whatever you’re baking that really shouts VANILLA.

Add the milk and vanilla to the dry ingredients.

Mix at low speed for 30 seconds…

…then increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

Scrape the bottom and sides of the mixing bowl.

With the mixer running at low speed, add 1 large egg. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 30 seconds.

Repeat the process with 3 additional eggs, for a total of 4 large eggs.

After the last egg is added, scrape the bowl once more, then beat at medium-high speed for 30 more seconds. The batter will be thick and smooth.

Scoop the batter by heaping 1/4-cupfuls into the prepared muffin tins. A muffin scoop works very well here.

Bake the cupcakes for 23 to 25 minutes.

When they’re done, the cupcakes’ tops will feel firm and set; and a toothpick inserted into the middle of one of the center cupcakes will come out clean.

Remove them from the oven, and cool completely.

Now that’s one lovely cupcake, eh?

Sift the following into a bowl:

1 3/4 cups unsweetened baking cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, but good)

See all these lumps that might have been in your frosting? That’s why you take the extra time to sift.

Bring 1 cup heavy cream to a simmer on the stove or in the microwave.

Add it to the cocoa mixture.

It doesn’t really look too promising at this point, does it?

But start beating, and you’ll see frosting begin to take shape.

At first the mixture will look grainy; continue beating for a minute. You’ll see the lumps disappear as the sugar dissolves and the cocoa hydrates.

Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Place the following in a mixing bowl:

1 cup very soft unsalted butter
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Beat until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Beat in 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

With the mixer running on low speed, add the cocoa mixture a spoonful at a time.

(I know, the mixer isn’t running; I just wanted to show you what a spoonful of cocoa mixture looks like.)

Beat until fully incorporated, then add the next spoonful of cocoa mixture.

Keep beating in the cocoa mixture, one spoonful at a time, until it’s all added, and the frosting is smooth.

If it seems too soft to spread, refrigerate the frosting for awhile until it’s as firm as you like it.

Spread or pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes. I couldn’t resist seeing how a pink candle looked.

Add sugar decorations, if desired.

Julia asked for pink; pink it is.

Pretty in pink!

Here’s a side view.

Add the pink candle, light it – instant party!

But hold on – these cupcakes need to hit the road. Julia’s birthday party is tomorrow, 120 miles away.

Into the cupcake carrier they go.

On goes the lid…

…and out the door we go!

The cupcakes find a safe place in the back of my car for their ride south.

Next day…

We all enjoy Kendra’s wedding. Sigh…

Julia has never been to a dance before. So her mom, Patty, and sister, Jackie, get her out on the floor and show her how it’s done.

Next morning…

…we gather in the hotel dining room for Julia’s impromptu birthday party. That’s Uncle Andy in the back.

Does she like how I’ve decorated her birthday cupcakes?

You bet. I’m not the best decorator in the world, but then Julia’s about the most easy-going kid I’ve ever known.

Happy 10th, Julia!

Please read, rate, and review our recipes for Golden Vanilla Cake, and Super-Simple Chocolate Frosting.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


  1. milkwithknives

    Those are the most perfect looking cupcakes I’ve ever seen. And Julia knows how to pick her flavors, that’s for sure. I ALWAYS pick chocolate frosting, and I love sprinkles, too. Wonderful post.

  2. JuliaJ


    So thoughtful of you to give niece Julia her own celebration of a birthday milestone amidst Kendra’s wedding festivities! The cupcakes look super-yummy!!

    Best wishes to Julia for great times ahead in the years to come–

    … from another Julia!

  3. Maggie

    What perfect timing! My husband has asked for a yellow cake with chocolate frosting for HIS birthday! If I made the batter as round or square cakes, what sizes would this recipe make? Thanks for the great recipes and info. Oh, I’ve made this chocolate frosting recipe before and love it!

    Maggie, this would make a 9″ x 13″ sheet cake, or 8″ or 9″ round layer cake. Check out the recipe for details. Enjoy! PJH

  4. rohna

    I am dying to know how you get your cupcake liners to stay so vibrant! When I use them, you can hardly tell what the design was after they’re baked. Do you use 2 at a time??

    Looks like PJ used one cupcake liner for these cakes. Sometimes we bake cupcakes in plain liners and use the decorative ones for prseentation….we just place the cooked cupcake with the plain liner inside the decorative one. Irene @ KAF

    With yellow cake, you don’t usually need to use two papers; chocolate cake, I’d advise it. PJH

  5. RustyBird

    Julia is SO lucky to have you for a loving Aunt!

    The cupcakes look delicious. I’ll be adding these two recipes to my recipe file, and the cupcake carrier to my wishlist. I love the photo of the cupcakes in your car – next to the Curves bag! :o)

    Eat cupcake – go to Curves. Eat cupcake – go to Curves. Do they cancel each other out? 🙂 PJH

  6. kmjas1

    Happy Birthday, Julia!

    Oh, what lovely memories for Julia and everyone else.

    I have a Kitchen Aid mixer, so need to know what speed you mean by medium (5?), medium high (8?) and low(2 or 3?). Thanks for answering my novice question.

    To me, medium is the next speed up from the slowest speed. I find the numbers on the side rather confusing, so can’t tell you an exact number… PJH

  7. Pral

    I loved this website, many good ideas 🙂

    I am new to baking and am confused . I have read that we should not over mix the dry ingredients with the wet ones, but just fold it in lightly. But I see that they are mixed thoroughly in this case. What is the difference? When is it allowed? Is there an FAQ section ?

    ps:Pardon my ignorance

    Great question! We recommend gently incorporating the dry ingredients with wet ingredients in muffin and quick-breads to improve the product volume and texture. Muffins and quick breads are typically thicker batters associated with an more “open or coarse” crumb. If you over-mix muffins they will not rise as well in the oven. However, cakes are generally associated with a finer crumb texture. Cake batter needs to be mixed until completely smooth to incorporate air and ensure the crumb is small and fine. Cakes that are poorly mixed will be lower in volume. If you have any additional questions please give us a call at 1-800-827-6836 and we’d be happy to discuss mixing variations with you! kelsey@KAF

  8. aaronatthedoublef

    This is so cool and so sweet. Happy birthday to your niece!

    Is there a difference between cupcake and cake batter? I have a few cake recipes that my family loves and asks me to use for cupcakes. I never get that nice crown like your cupcakes have. I fill the tins about 2/3rds full.

    Any tips would be appreciated.


    For more of a crown, you’ll want a “thicker” batter. Either add more flour, or decrease the amount of liquid. Frank @ KAF.

  9. Shan

    A girl with good taste! thats what I asked for every year for my cake (we had small bday parties…poor as we were, we got to pick a cake and what we wanted mom to cook for dinner)

    …unfortunately mom didn’t *quite* listen. Every year I got yellow cake with cream cheese icing. which I cannot stand to this day. I was explaining to someone the other day that cream cheese icing tastes like “childhood disappointment” to me now. LOL!

    Lucky girl! 🙂

    Hope you’ve since developed a new birthday tradition of cakes you actually like, Shan… 🙂 PJH

  10. Kate

    What a sweet idea, to remember your niece’s birthday how you did! Very anti-“16 Candles” 🙂

    Your cupcakes look delicious and perfect – even when I use an ice cream scoop, I still over-fill sometimes. I guess I just need to be more careful!

    I have a question regarding the paddle you use in your mixer… does it really eliminate having to scrape down the bowl??

    Those silicone coated beaters really do work very very well for cake batters. You still have to give a scrape or two, but not nearly as much as with no silicone. Hope this helps. ~ MaryJane

  11. mrskim

    made these for halloween and not one left…my husband and i did manage to get one a piece, but my daughter took the rest to school with her…how dare she, right? however these were very, very good and i will make them again

    Glad they were a hit with the whole family. 🙂 PJH

  12. susanmcnamee

    my most recent batch totally collapsed and had to be thrown away.and the papers were a soggy greasy mess. Its not my oven, as I use an oven thermometer to be sure the temp is right. and I didn’t open the oven door at all. The butter was room temp, as were the eggs (left them out all day). tasted great as I scraped them out of the pans and into the trash tho!

    Sorry to hear of your difficulty. This may be related to the mixing process. Give us a call on the hot line for assistance: 800-827-6836. Frank @ KAF.

  13. kapintoperry

    I just got done making these and they did not disappoint. These are actually the best cupcakes and icing i’ve ever tasted. Taste 10x better than these cupcake franchises popping up all over Houston. The cake was light and yet held together and didn’t fall apart when removing liner or eating. This icing is d-e-l-i-s-h!!! and it makes really nice swirls. thank you KAF for providing me with my go-to recipes when i am feigning yellow cake with chocolate icing! woohooo

    WOW, thanks so much for the testimonial – and the great endorsement. It’s nice to have a “go to” recipe for these basic “gotta have” treats, isn’t it? PJH

  14. Siebutterbar

    No doubt about it , these are the best cupcakes EVER!!

    Glad you like them – they seemed to be a hit with Julia and her uncles, too… PJH

  15. DWgirl

    Could I substitute milk for the cream in the frosting?
    You can try milk, but it will take on a thinner consistency, so you may need to add more sugar to stiffen the frosting. ~Amy

  16. JoeleenAchurch

    My daughter wants a lemon cake for her birthday so I was wondering if it were possible to flavour the cake? Would you recommend adding 2T lemon zest?

    would you have any other possible flavourings for the cake?


    You might want to consider trying this lemon juice powder in your cake. ~Amy

  17. JoeleenAchurch

    Not sure if my last comment went through but are you able to make this into a lemon cake? If so, would you recommend 2 T lemon zest? Any other changes that would have to be made?

    Hi Joeleen – Amy did answer your question and her reply may be found in the blog comments. She suggested adding some lemon juice powder. You may also add the zest or even some lemon oil. Enjoy! Elisabeth

  18. Papillon

    Hi Could you add shortening to the buttercream frosting to make it more stable in heat? I’ve read you can do this with other types of buttercream but not sure about this recipe. If you were to add it how much would you reduce the butter by?

    Shortening will certainly make the frosting a bit more heat stable. I would try replacing 1/3rd of the butter with shortening and see how it works for you.-Jon

  19. Vicky

    I’m using this cake for my daughters birthday, I’m hoping to bake them today (thurs),decorate Fri to eat Sat… Will the cake still be ok?

    Yup, that’s a good process to follow. It will allow all the flavors to meld together. Happy baking!

  20. Joree

    I don’t like a real sweet frosting. Is there a way to make this chocolate frosting without so much confectioners sugar . . . maybe using whipped cream or cream cheese? Thanks!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I suggest trying another type of icing which is called, Italian Meringue Buttercream. Susan Reid has done a wonderful blog on it. This type of icing is not as sweet tasting, but has its share of butter and sugar, too! Confectioners sugar can be overbearingly sweet, so you may really take to the buttercream instead. The blog is called, Blissful Buttercream. If you need further assistance, we have a toll free Baker’s Hotline, 1-855-371-BAKE. Call us anytime! Elisabeth

  21. Mani

    I loved the chocolate frosting. I would like to know if it will work with 30% fate cream? As we do not get cream with higher fat content. Does this frosting hold up well in warm weather conditions?

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Mani, the light cream you mention is just on the edge of being “whippable” – I think it’ll work, though no guarantees. The frosting holds up better than pure buttercream, but will definitely soften considerably in very high heat, or over a prolonged period in “normal” heat (say, 80s or above). Hope this helps – PJH

  22. Maharja

    Hi there. Need help on a newbie question. What are the expected outcome from cakes made by 1.) Creaming butter in the sugar, then adding eggs, then alternating the addition of liquid ang flour in several turns; 2.) crumbling butter into dry ingredients at the beginning, then adding the liquid; 3.) adding hot liquid into the cake batter; 4.) adding melted butter into the batter? Thank you so much!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You ask a great question, Maharja. We’ll try to break it down for you in a way that’s both useful and easy to understand.

      1.) Creaming method Perhaps the most common method for making cakes, it makes a light, fluffy texture. The resulting crumb is mid-sized (not too large, not too small) and the cake is firm and springy. Just be sure not to over-cream the butter and sugar together, otherwise it may deflate in the oven. It is common for this mixture to curdle once liquids are added, especially if the liquid is cold. You can mitigate this by adding a few tablespoons of the recipe’s dry ingredients to the butter and sugar BEFORE adding the first egg.

      2.) Paste method This method is simple — there’s no need to worry about how long to cream the butter and sugar together for optimal results. The texture of these are different than creamed cakes though still delicious; it’s more even and tender with a fine-grained crumb that’s a little more dense, more like pound cake. They can be delicate, even crumbly in a pleasant way.

      3.) Hot Milk Cake method This is a classic method that produces a fine-grained cake; it’s prepared similar to a sponge cake. The addition of heated milk helps to set the protein in the eggs, meaning they’re more easily able to hold onto the air that’s been beaten into them. This formula usually has less fat than a creamed or paste method cake.

      4.) Adding melted butter This technique is usually used in sponge cake formulas, like genoise. Best results in this technique are achieved when the butter is melted but cooled, and is folded in quickly and thoroughly, without deflating the eggs. The butter’s function in these cakes is to make it more flexible in a preparation such as a jelly roll. The other place melted butter is added is in the cake portion of a pudding cake, where melting is primarily done to make mixing the batter simpler. In those formula, melted butter is mixed in, and which coats the flour in fat to prevent gluten development. This in turn makes a more tender texture if the batter’s not over-mixed, with a slightly more open crumb.

      For more information on cake baking, please check out our full Cake Baking Guide. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Maharja

      Thank you! One more question, please. I’m working on papaya entremet for friend’s final doctor of veterinary medicine exam, it will be consisting of papaya chiffon, papaya cheesecake, papaya mousse, and papaya gelee glaze. I’m planning to use your chiffon recipe as the framework to make papaya chiffon. Can I swap papaya puree in place of the milk, and swap sweetened condensed milk in place of some of the sugar? (I’ve known my regular condensed milk sugar content already). I feel that papaya is much like apricot of the east, since it has neutral and subtle flavor. Hence, I want to incorporate as much papaya as possible into the entremet. Thank you so much!

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      Maharja, while we can imagine that it could work to swap papaya puree for the milk, we wouldn’t recommend using sweetened condensed milk in place of the sugar in a chiffon cake. Given the level of detail your entremet requires, we’d also suggest testing the papaya chiffon out ahead of the big day. Hope this helps and happy baking! Mollie@KAF

  23. Maharja

    Hi there, it’s me again. Just playing around lately with basic cakes to get to know better the basics. Never really play around with yellow cakes before, I have some questions in mind if you allow me.
    1.) What are the possible causes of cake being sunk in the middle after cooling (toothpick test came out clean)?
    2.) Why some pound cake recipes start with cool butter instead of room temperature ones?
    3.) By how much we can reduce sugar in yellow cake recipes either by creaming or pasting (have no prob with diabetes, just a matter of taste)?
    4.) What is an early sign of overbeaten butter? When we know that the butter is perfectly creamed? How about underbeaten one?
    5.) Does the first eggs added to the creamed butter always perfectly emulsified? Honestly I’ve never seen a perfectly emulsified one, since I am totally self taught. You’ve already explained before that this can be fixed by adding a tablespoon of flour or two before the addition of eggs. But let’s assume that there’s no need to add flour in advance.
    6.) What is the range of large egg weight? I always use eggs around 56-60 gram (still in the shell). Am I correct?
    7.) I tried several recipes lately, by several I mean a lot. One of them was measured by cup, so I converted them to gram. Using pasting method, the flour literally turned into a paste instead of crumble. The bottom of the cake was dense and seemed unleavened but surprisingly tender (think of crepes tender). Was that caused by slightly larger proportion of butter?
    Thanks in advance and sorry for asking too much. This little me can take elaborate answers.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi again Maharja, we’re thrilled to hear you’re so eager to learn more about baking! You have a plethora of questions, some of which require in-depth answers. We encourage you to take a look at The Complete Guide: Cake & Cupcakes first, which has lots of valuable information and tips. Then if you still have further questions, we’ll be able to assist you best if you give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE(2253). Kindly, Kye@KAF

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