Friday, January 12, 2007

"Hit up Magnolia and mack on some cupcakes!"

I got some great Christmas/Hanukkah gifts from my sweet friend, Rosanne, who has been so supportive of my fledging efforts at catering and baking for the farmers' market. Her new vision for me is to jump on the cupcake craze that started with the Magnolia Bakery in NYC and is still sweeping the nation. To encourage me in this endeavor, she sent me four cookbooks from three different bakeries in the City: The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook, The Buttercup Bake Shop Cookbook, More from Magnolia: Recipes from the World Famous Bakery and Allysa Torey's Home Kitchen, and Sweet Serendipity: Delicious Desserts and Devilish Dish.

Serendipity is the Upper East Side gift shop and cafe' that is home to the infamous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate made even more famous by Oprah and which I've blogged about previously. Then, of course, I had heard of the Magnolia Bakery--I mean, who hasn't--especially after the Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell homage to the cupcakes in their video, "Lazy Sunday" on SNL, and the bakery was also referenced on "Sex in the City" and in the movie, Prime. As for the Buttercup Bake Shop, the name was vaguely familiar, and I think I remember reading in a guide book or on a web page somewhere that, if you couldn't get your hands on Magnolia cupcakes, then try the ones at the Buttercup Bake shop, that they were equally delicious. Well, it wasn't until I received these cookbooks and started to read up about the bakeries that I realized the reason for the similarity. Their recipes are, in fact, identical, because the owners of the two bakeries used to be co-owners of the Magnolia before an apparently ugly split. If you're interested in the whole tawdry story, read this fascinating article. What I find the most interesting is that, not only are Magnolia and Buttercup spin-offs of one another, it would seem that almost every cupcake bakery in the City is related to all the others like the characters in a soap opera or, given all the lawsuits and bad feelings, a more appropriate comparison may be the Bloods and the Crips!

Despite all the bakery politics and infighting down south, I thought I'd try my hand at baking up a batch of both bakeries' most popular cupcake, the vanilla-vanilla. I hate to have to say it, but I don't see what all the fuss is about! The cupcakes were okay, I guess. Truthfully, the cake was a bit on the dry side for me and a bit coarse in texture. And admittedly, I have never been a friend of frosting, especially if there's no cream cheese involved in it, but I found the vanilla "buttercream" overly sweet, and it dries out far too quickly and becomes unappealingly hard. Still, I will try to keep an open mind and try their chocolate cupcakes next. But they would have to be pretty phenomenal to be worth $1.75 apiece! Jeesh! If you want to judge for yourself, here's the recipe used by both Magnolia and Buttercup:

Vanilla-Vanilla Cupcakes
(Source: More from Magnolia by Allysa Torey)
Makes about 2 dozen cupcakes, depending on the size of your cupcake papers and muffin tins

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about three-quarters full. Bake for 20–25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing. Ice the cupcakes with either vanilla buttercream (recipe below) or chocolate buttercream.

Note: If you would like to make a layer cake instead of cupcakes, divide the batter between two 9-inch round cake pans and bake the layers for 30-40 minutes.

Vanilla Buttercream:
Makes enough for one 2-layer 9-inch cake or 2 dozen cupcakes*

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3-5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

*Note: If you are icing a 3-layer cake, use the following recipe proportions:
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter
8 to 10 cups confectioners’ sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract


Anonymous said...

I have Billy's vanilla, vanilla cupcake tagged in my delicious file. 52 cupcakes blog said it was awesome.

JoyBugaloo said... this is interesting! Did you actually make them yourself? Because Billy's is one of the bakeries that spawned from Magnolia, and his recipe is very similar to Magnolia's/Buttercup's. He seems to swap out cake flour for the self-rising, and adds a tablespoon of baking powder. Maybe I'll try that version, as it might make for a more tender interior. However, his buttercream recipe is identical to the others. --Gina

Anonymous said...

Gina, I didnt make them, I've been looking for a chocolate recipe to try since I want to enter this months sugar high friday using my guitard choc. disks. Also, I'm trying not to bake this week because Robin can't eat any of it. See what a good wife I am? LOL