I've said this on more than one occasion, but I do find it an honor to be asked by someone to bake specifically for an occasion. Therefore, when friend YK asked me to bake for her twins' birthday party, I was very touched and flattered, mostly because she has such high standards, and asking me told me that she thought my cupcakes were pretty good.
But the flip side of that is extreme nervousness and panic because I am slightly a perfectionist (if one can be slightly) and I don't like having my food eaten by people I don't know. My friends can comment, can give critiques and I accept them freely, but strangers, people I don't know - I always cringe inwardly wondering what they are thinking about my food. I have panicky thoughts as they may be commenting silently in their head about how it doesn't taste good, and I'll never know it since they probably won't tell me.
But the day arrived for baking and my friend YK had asked for pumpkin cupcake with cream cheese frosting, since the party was on October 31. Her choice made me even a bit more nervous, because pumpkin cupcakes are not first on any child's list of favorite cupcakes to eat. (Daughters #1 and #2 prefer chocolate for example.) I think my nervousness got the better of me, because one batch of cakes I COMPLETELY left out all leavening (no baking soda or baking powder) and had the cupcakes in the oven for 10 minutes before realizing it. I grabbed them out of the oven and had to scrape and dump all the batter and add the leavening without knowing if the end result was even going to be edible. Fortunately for me, they were fine and I breathed a sigh of relief. I made another batch with no mishaps, and had before me 48 cupcakes.
The original recipe for the cupcakes come from Martha Stewart. I actually use the same ingredients, but don't follow the instructions she gives on making it. (She has you melting butter and then whisking all ingredients.) I'm a cream the butter with sugar for the best texture of cupcakes kind of girl, so I did that with these. These cupcakes are lightly spiced, very delicious and pair really well with the vanilla bean cream cheese frosting, which is my favorite frosting of all time. I made these the night before they were needed and they were delicious and moist the day of. These hold up well, and are just a great addition to your holiday table. (an unexpected one but a very welcome one)
As a final note, YK's twins are one girl and one boy, and I decorated with Hello Kitty rings on the girls' cakes, and Cars (the movie) on other cakes. When I pulled the cupcakes out of the box to display them on the cupcake stand, kids got very excited about the rings, but I don't know if they had any idea about the kind of cake it was.
Pumpkin Cupcakes and Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Martha Stewart)
Makes 24.2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup packed light-brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin puree
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cupcake pans with paper liners; set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and allspice; set aside.
In a mixing bowl, on medium speed, cream softened butter with both brown and white sugars until light and fluffy, scraping down sides to make sure all is well incorporated. Add eggs one at a time and mix. Finally add pumpkin. Mix.
Add flour mixture and mix until just combined.
Divide batter evenly among liners, filling each about halfway. Bake until tops spring back when touched, and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes, rotating pans once if needed. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely. Frost with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting.
Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
More than enough for 30 cupcakes
1 cup of unsalted butter, softened
2 8oz pack of cream cheese, softened
1 whole vanilla bean, split open with a knife and vanilla beans scraped out (Amazon.com has 16 beans for $15)
4-5 cups confectioner sugar (I try and use as little as I can, but making sure it's pipeable)
Cream butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until texture is uniform. Add 2 cups of confectioners sugar and beat on low speed until sugar is all incorporated. Add 2 more cups and again mix on low speed until sugar is all incorporated. Add scraped vanilla beans (get every last bit) and mix on medium speed for 8 minutes, occasionally scraping down sides. The key to really creamy frosting is to NOT beat too much air into the frosting but rather, on a medium speed, beat it until it is creamy.
How to scoop relatively even cupcake portions.
This is where I buy my vanilla beans.