Let me start off by saying that Sundays are typically my baking day. The reason? True Blood. See my guinea pigs are split between two groups. The first is the True Blood viewing party that I belong too which takes place in my apartment building over the course of about 12 Sunday nights during the summer. Everyone who joins brings some kind of food or drink with them, and since I’d rather not eat two dozen cupcakes myself I thought it would be a perfect group to unload my confections on. The second group are my co-workers who, when True Blood is on, are treated to the left-overs from the night before. The rest of the year on Monday morning they get the first dibs on my baking experiments from the night before.
A few weeks ago I was really jonesing (do people still say that?) for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, which then became the inspiration for that Sunday’s cupcake flavor. I love the idea of taking familiar flavors, or comforting things from your childhood and turning them into cupcakes. With this recipe I really wanted to keep that integrity…no fancy-ass organic raisin studded artisan bread with ground peanuts from the Himalayans and a strawberry preserve made from the strawberries you all obviously grow in your backyard (I’m side-eyeing you, Martha Stewart). I’m talking two pieces of spongey white bread, good old homogenized peanut butter, and sugary sweet strawberry preserves from a jar. I wanted people to take a bite and be catapulted into their childhood and I think I succeeded.
In order to best mimic the flavor and texture of the spongey white bread we all know from our childhood, I decided to use a white cake recipe rather than a vanilla cake. The major difference is that white cake doesn’t have any yolks in the recipe, which yields a really light and fluffy texture. For the filling I used plain old strawberry preserves from a jar. Lastly, for the buttercream I used Skippy cause…I’m a Skippy girl through and through. You won’t hurt my feelings if you choose to use Jif, but I do not recommend using “natural” peanut butter. The consistency is completely different so I can’t guarantee how the results will come out. And now on to the recipe…
Yields approx. 24 cupcakes
For the Cake:
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated white sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk, sour cream, or yogurt – room temperature
4 large egg whites – room temperature
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter – room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Buttercream:
3 sticks unsalted butter- room temperature
2 cups creamy peanut butter
1/2 to 1 pound confectioners sugar
6-8 tablespoons heavy cream
Note: While baking really is a science which requires precise measuring, the time to play around with quantities and ingredients is when making buttercream…specifically an American buttercream like this one. I don’t mess with the proportions for Swiss meringue and other frostings/buttercreams as much, since they are much more temperamental and require much more accuracy and technique. That being said, I can pretty much guarantee you that no matter what American buttercream recipe I use as a base for my own recipes, I typically cut the quantity of sugar in half. One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to buttercreams is when you bite into one that is sickly sweet and has SO much sugar in it that you can actually feel the grit on your teeth. If that’s your thing, feel free to add more sugar to the recipe. And that’s really what I’m trying to say here; experiment and adjust the quantities to your liking. Add the sugar half a cup at a time and taste as you go. If it’s not peanut buttery enough? Add another tablespoon or two and taste again.
For the Filling:
1 jar of strawberry preserves – You can use whatever brand you prefer. I chose to use preserves which have pieces of fruit in them, but if you prefer jelly go ahead and use that instead. Feel free to experiment with other flavors like gold old fashion grape, or something a bit different like black currant.
For the Cake:
1. Preheat your oven to 350°F (If you have a convection oven, as I do, you should lower that temperature to about 330°F, but prepare to bake them a few minutes longer). Line your cupcake pan with paper liners.
2. In the bowl of your stand mixer combine all of your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, sugar and salt). Mix on low speed with the paddle attachment for a few seconds to combine.
3. Cut the softened, room temperature butter into tablespoon-sized pieces. Turn the stand mixer back on low speed, and add the butter once piece at a time. Wait for the previous piece to be incorporated before adding the next. Once all of your butter is incorporated, the texture should be similar to wet sand (only much lighter in color).
4. In a medium bowl whisk together the egg whites, buttermilk (or sour cream or yogurt), and vanilla extract. Once combined, add slowly (in thirds if you like) to the butter + dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer on low to medium speed. DO NOT over mix, unless of course you like tough chewy cupcakes.. Just mix until the mixture is homogenous. Don’t forget to scrape the sides of your bowl as you go to make sure everything is incorporated evenly.
5. Using a large ice cream scoop (like this one), scoop the batter into the lined cupcake pan. They should be about 2/3 of the way full. Using a scoop will help keep the size consistent, but you can also spoon the batter into a piping bag, cut the tip off, and squeeze the batter into the liners.
6. Bake for 18 – 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. If using a convection oven, you should rotate the pan after 15 minutes and bake for 20 – 25 minutes. As every oven is different, and until you get the hang of yours, you really want to do the toothpick test every minute or two when you come close to end of your baking time. Just don’t open the oven too often, as you’ll loose heat quickly.
7. Let them cool on a wire rack. Once cooled you want to create a hole in the center for the filling. There are several methods you can use for this, but I just use a sharp pairing knife and cut a cone shape into the cake. Be sure to only cut about halfway down, and not all the way to the bottom of the cake. I didn’t put those tops back on, so you can either throw them into the trash or into your mouth. Then with a teaspoon, spoon in a dollop of preserves, jelly or jam so that it sits flush with the height of the cake. If you over-fill, piping on the buttercream could get messy.
For the Buttercream:
1. In the bowl of your stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for 3 minutes on medium to high speed until fluffy and much lighter in color.
2. Next add the peanut butter and cream for another 3 minutes.
3. Turn the mixer speed down to medium low and begin adding the confectioners sugar (sift if it looks lumpy), half a cup at a time. As I stated previously, you should taste every so often and use more or less sugar to your liking.
4. Add in the heavy cream one tablespoon at a time, until you reach your desired consistency.
5. Pipe the buttercream on to the cooled and filled cupcakes (I used a large round tip). With the back of a small spoon, I pushed into the top of the frosted cupcakes to create a little pool in which to spoon a tiny dollop of preserves on the top.
Note: This recipe was adapted from a recipe over at mybakingaddiction.com