4th Birthday Was the Charm Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

Unrequited love is a funny thing. Most of us have experienced it, whether we’ve been the object of too much attention we’d rather not receive or given too much attention to an object who would rather not receive it. Either way, the situation is a slippery slope that can easily slide into a state of discomfort and humiliation, depending on which role you happen to be playing at the time.

Hopefully we mature and would never waste our time trying to win the heart of someone who would rather not lose his or hers to us. I’d like to think, when it comes to romance, that I have indeed grown out of that unproductive cycle of behavior. Believe me, I did my share of colluding, plotting, manipulating and strategizing in the name of “love.” And I was sure those days were long behind me, having successfully packed up my bag of tricks and only allowing myself to engage in relationships based on a mutual admiration and respect. That was, until I met Niece Two.
Since I became an aunt I have been the birthday cake baker of record. Niece One has been a pleasure to serve. For her first birthday she lunged at the lit candle on her plain vanilla cupcake and has had crumbs on her face every March 30th since. Weeks beforehand we design her annual treat together and I try to accommodate all of her requests, going so far as to use over-priced all-natural food colorings to keep her parents happy. She even laughed off the mortifying, anxiety induced spelling mistake I made on her sixth birthday cake last year. I had every reason to think her sister was going to be as easy she had been. I was wrong.
Niece Two has been impossible to please since her first birthday. There was no lunging, no crumb covered party dress, no nothing. With the exception of a forced photo op, she ignored her cupcakes and I was shocked. I wanted to scream, “Excuse me little lady, that is for you and it’s delicious. Now eat it!” But instead I took note and became more determined to make her second birthday a success. She was a major strawberry eater and when asked if she’d like a cupcake with strawberry frosting for her birthday, she nodded “yes” very enthusiastically. If you are a regular reader you already know that this is what her enthusiasm looked like.
What the hell was going on here?! I did what she asked and I was still being rejected? In the meantime, her sister had had two more birthdays of her own, again polishing off her bedazzled treats as Niece Two abandoned her plate at her big sister’s birthday parties. While clearing the table I felt the sting of shame picking up her untouched cupcake, mothers of the other kids politely smiling and shaking their heads.

I should have given up on Niece Two’s sweet tooth but I couldn’t. Tapping into my old desperate attempts to convince someone that really, I knew what was best for him and that was me, came all too easily. I began planning for her third birthday. At this point she could communicate perfectly and when she announced she wanted a cake, not cupcakes, and that it should be white, with brown frosting and orange writing (her favorite color), I was sure I had a winning recipe.

And I did, as far as all the other party goers were concerned. The birthday girl? She didn’t seem to care at all! She smiled broadly when I showed her the cake and said, “You’re the best baker!” But when it came time for the big song and candle blowing she made her wish and then got up from the table to play Busytown with her little friends. I ate her slice.
Again, how much rejection was I supposed to take? What was wrong with this kid and how on earth were we related? But, like all unhealthy relationships, her rejection only fueled my fire. Birthday number four would be the make it or break it year. I didn’t tell my sister, but my plan was to toss off my apron if I couldn’t finally lure her into cupcake heaven. So I started observing her. Although I am always getting in trouble with her parents for letting her play Cupcakes on my IPhone, I let her have it so I could see which ones she “baked.” What color was the frosting? I’d never seen those flat sprinkles she was always choosing. Would I be able to find them? In the middle of my research came the news that she is officially allergic to nuts and eggs should be limited. Great, more restrictions. I would have to abandon my Buttercream Principles. I have historically mocked the butter-sugar-cream and cloyingly sweet frosting so many people are familiar with from the cute cupcakeries that have sprung up everywhere. However, the buttercream I prefer is made with copious egg white and that would no longer do. But who cares, I’ve already admitted my principles are fluid and I’ll do anything for love.

It worked! Upon blowing out her candle, she took a big bite, yelled, “I love it!” and finished the whole thing. (Okay, all of the icing and 1/2 the cake.) Good enough for me.
I made a kid friendly chocolate cupcake with a vanilla buttercream, and I found the flat sprinkles on a trip to the grouchy cake decorating store in Chelsea, (talk about doing anything for love). Sure the frosting was super sweet but it was actually really good and the cake was excellent, full of chocolate flavor but still so light and moist. My love is no longer unrequited! And yet I’m faced with the question we’ve all had after conquering a heart. Now what?

4th Birthday Was the Charm Chocolate Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream

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Chocolate Cupcakes

From Martha Stewart Kids, 2004
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup warm water
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons safflower oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line two standard muffin tins with paper liners; set aside.

Sift together cocoa powder, flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.
Add eggs, warm water, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla, and mix until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Scrape down the sides and bottom of bowl to assure batter is well mixed.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, filling each 2/3 full. Bake until tops spring back when touched, about 20 minutes.Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely.
Yield: 18 cupcakes

Vanilla Buttercream

Adapted from Food and Wine, May 2008
11 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons milk or cream

In a medium bowl, using a handheld electric mixer OR in the bowl of a standing mixer, beat the softened butter at medium speed until smooth.
Add the powdered sugar, vanilla and salt and beat at low speed until just combined.
Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth.
Add the milk or heavy cream and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
Spread on cupcakes using an offset spatula or a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip.
Yield: Enough to appropriately frost 18 cupcakes

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