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. Jessica

    I made this cake and topped with a vanilla buttercream frosting, and it was fantastic, just like so many of your recipes I’ve made! However, as I was measuring ingredients, I initially absent-mindedly put one TABLESPOON salt in with the flour and sugar. Thankfully I caught myself right after, didn’t even add the baking powder, but now I have a bowl with those three ingredients in it. Any clue if there’s a recipe out there that uses that much sugar AND that much salt with the flour? Could be anything, bread or dessert or whatever. Maybe something that would be doable by adding more flour or whatever ingredients to end up with a double batch of something? It’s just more sugar than any of my “old faithful” recipes would use easily. I scattered the salt across the top after the sugar, there’s no way to really be sure I’m getting enough of it out to rescue it otherwise… whoops!! Thanks in advance for any response at all!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’ve all had “whoops” moments like that in the kitchen, Jessica. We think your best bet might be to mix up another bowl that has 2x all the other dry ingredients, minus the salt, and then mix that to the ingredients you already have. You’ll essentially have a triple batch of dry ingredients here. You can weigh out the total and divide it by three. (It should be around 805 grams.) Put 1/3 of the dry mixture into a zip-lock bag, and repeat with another third. You’ll be left with enough dry ingredients to make a single batch of the Golden Vanilla Cake, so you can proceed with the recipe as written. You’ll be left with two ready-to-go dry mixtures that you can use the next time you need cake or cupcakes quick! (You could also skip the dividing step and simply add 3x all of the wet ingredients, butter, milk, vanilla, and eggs.) We hope this helps, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  2. 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

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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

  6. 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!

  7. 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

  8. 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


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