Tuesday, December 8, 2009

My mother, the little black dress of cupcakes

We've all been victims of fashion, as much as we hate to admit it. We try to ignore the reports out of New York, but we're intrigued and jealous, then elated at an LA sighting. We guiltily search the Web and ogle the celebrity clientele . We mock the lines in front of the boutiques while we search desperately for a parking place. We ridicule the prices, even as we fork over our hard earned cash and hate ourselves for it. We starve ourselves before we buy. We judge guests by the type of shopping bag they tote, and secretly scan a hostess' closets for signs of the source of her finery. Finally, as the trend goes from hip to ridiculously overplayed, we turn our noses up at the numerous imitators, the wanna-bes on every corner. After so much exposure, we may even begin to tire of the whole thing and wonder what we were thinking in the first place.

I speak, of course, of designer cupcakes. The $5-a-pop creations in the oh-so-precious eco-cardboard carton with a perky sticker or lovingly tied raffia ribbon, replete with adorable crowns of cream cheese icing as thick and heavy as wet sand. Vintage red velvet is suddenly all the rage again. And the colorful fondant buttons? So CUTE!!!

So last year. I hear everyone's moved on to macarons these days.

Except Mom. Her mini cupcakes are nobody's fashion statement. She's been making them for years. They only come in vanilla. They only come on your birthday. They are timeless classics, and they are the best*.

Mom's Birthday Cupcakes

Preheat oven to 350. Spray mini muffin trays with baking spray and set aside. This recipe literally makes close to 100 mini cupcakes, so hopefully you have a bunch of these trays on hand, or you can work in batches.

Buy one package of butter recipe yellow cake mix. You can use Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines, whichever one you have a coupon for. Follow the directions on the box, except use whole milk in place of the water, and add about a teaspoon of vanilla extract to the batter**. Using a small ice cream scoop, fill muffin tins about 2/3 full with batter. Bake for about 12-15 minutes, until light golden brown. Remove to cooling racks and let stand.

Buy a box of C&H powdered sugar. Follow the recipe for buttercream frosting on the back of the box except add a bit more vanilla than they call for. Also, soften the butter a lot so you can mix the frosting by hand with a wooden spoon.

To make rainbow birthday cupcakes, divide frosting into smaller bowls and tint each bowl with a few drops of liquid food coloring. Frost cupcakes lightly, and arrange on your serving platter. Dust with colored sprinkles or rainbow sugar, if desired.***

The cupcakes are the stars of my daughter's recent 11th birthday party

* Plus you can get about 100 of them for the price of two sugar bombs from Sprinkles. If you have the right Mom. And the cake mix and powdered sugar are on special.
** Mom was also way ahead of The Cake Mix Doctor, who built an entire empire on this idea.
*** Always desired by my kids.

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