I know, I know…it’s been nearly a month of crickets from this bitch. Shit happens… I had some failed cupcake recipes (I do mess up every once in a while), birthdays to celebrate, and a slew of Jewish holidays that took me out of my normal routine. But I’m back and will try my best to post once a week.
So, you know how I said that I never used artificial colors with the exception of red velvet? I lied. I really pride myself in using fresh, all natural ingredients, but I’m a graphic designer and every once in a while I let aesthetics win. Not that these cupcakes aren’t tasty…they are! BUT they are definitely unnaturally colored. Who cares though, look how cute and pretty they are??!!?
The thing is, it was my birthday so I wanted to make a cupcake that expressed me and my aesthetic. Like I said in my last post, I love pink something serious and not the kind of pink you can achieve through natural means. And I came across this awesome post over at Somewhere Splendid where they made an amazing looking ombré cupcake. If you’re wondering what ombré means, it’s when one color fades into the next – like a gradient. It’s been a pretty big trend in fashion over the past few years, from ombré dresses, to ombré hair, nails and more. In fact my hair is currently ombré’ed, from my natural brown hair at the root, to blonde, to hot pink at the ends.
The second component of the cupcake design was the “kawaii” style. Kawaii is a Japanese word that means cute or loveable, and has become a style in the Japanese culture as well as in the graphic design world. In regards to design, kawaii is most often identified by characters with simplified facial features, bright colors, using elements such as hearts, rainbows and other “cutesy” things. A good example would be Hello Kitty.
I used my old stand-by white cake recipe, only with the addition of food coloring. I’ve been favoring this cake over a regular old vanilla. I like how the lack of yolk gives it a finer, more delicate texture. As for the buttercream, aesthetically I wanted something white, but rather than do a plain vanilla American buttercream, I opted for Magnolia’s creamy vanilla frosting which uses a thick milk/flour “sauce” to give the buttercream and unbelievable texture. As for the decorations, just some simple melted semi-sweet chocolate and a squeeze bottle.
Pink Ombré + Kawaii Cupcakes
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
Food coloring of your choice – I used Electric Pink Paste Gel from Bake It Pretty
For the Buttercream:
2 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons all purpose flour
4 sticks unsalted butter- room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the Decorations:
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
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. Once everything is evenly incorporated, separate your mixture equally between 3 bowls. Now time for the fun part…adding the food coloring!! This part will have to take some experimentation on your part, since depending on the color, manufacturer and type (gel vs. liquid) you use will yield varying results. In my case, using the Electric Pink gel from Bake It Pretty, I used 3 “drops” for the darkest shade, 1 “drop” for the medium shade, and about half a “drop” for the lightest. I put “drop” in quotes because it’s a gel and gel doesn’t create drops as easily as liquid coloring does.
6. Using an ice cream scoop, scoop the batter into the lined cupcake pan starting with the darkest color on the bottom, following with the medium color and finally the lightest on top. Overall, they should be about 2/3 of the way full. You can also spoon the batter into a piping bag, cut the tip off, and squeeze the batter into the liners.
7. Bake for 18 – 22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. With my convection oven, I rotate the pan after 15 minutes and then bake for another 7 minutes. As every oven is different, do the toothpick test every minute or two when you come close to end of your baking time. You can also gently press your finger on the top of the cakes; it should spring back when you push it. If it leaves any kind of indentation, it’s not fully baked yet.
8. Let them cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before frosting.
For the Buttercream:
1. Take a square piece of parchment paper. Fold in half, then in half again and continue folding until it resembles a cone shape. Place the pointed tip of the paper in the middle of a medium sized saucepan and mark where the paper reaches the end of the pan. With a pair of scissors, cut the parchment off where you made your mark. When you unfold the parchment, you’ll be left with a circle exactly the size of your pan. Place aside for later.
2. In that same medium sized saucepan, place the milk and flour and whisk until smooth. Place the saucepan over medium heat and continue whisking until the mixture becomes thick (like wallpaper paste) and begins to bubble. This can take anywhere between 10 and 15 minutes.
3. Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately place your parchment paper round on the surface of the mixture. This will prevent a skin from forming at the top. Set aside to cool for at least 20 minutes. Once it’s cooled down to room temperature, it will get even thicker and almost gelatinous (see image below).
4. In the bowl of your stand mixer, place your butter and beat on medium high with your paddle attachment for 3 minutes or until the mixture is lighter in color and fluffy.
5. With the mixer still on medium high, gradually add your sugar. So once all of your sugar has been added, keep the mixer on medium high and let the mixture continue to cream for 3 minutes.
6. Next add your vanilla extract and beat for another 2 minutes.
7. Lastly, add the cooled (but not cold) milk and flour mixture and beat for 5 minutes on medium high until the mixture is smooth and noticeably whiter. Because you are using granulated and not confectioners it’s important to cream the mixture until the sugar has fully dissolved.
8. The final step is to cover the buttercream with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for no more, and no less than 15 minutes.
9. After 15 minutes, pull your buttercream from the fridge, place into a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip and pipe on to your cooled cupcakes.
Special shout out to my sister for her superior hand modeling skills.
For the Decorations:
1. Melt a few ounces of bitter or semi-sweet chocolate chips (or you can chop some from a larger piece). You can melt them down in either a double boiler, or since this is such a small amount and I hate doing dishes place it in a microwave safe bowl and nuke for 15 second increments, mixing in between, until the chocolate is melted.
2. When the chocolate has cooled a bit, but is still pourable pour it into a squeeze bottle. I got this fancy ass one at Sur la Table (see pic below), but you can use a plain clear kind.
3. Place a Silpat mat (I recommend investing in one of these) on top of a cookie sheet. With your squeeze bottle in had, gently squeeze out some shapes to form your eyes and mouths. For the eyes I alternated between plain round dots and X’s for that quintessential cartoony dead look. For the mouth I alternated between smiles, straight lines and straight lines with a tongue sticking out. Again, they key for that kawaii look is to keep the shapes really simple.
4. Once you finish squeezing out your shapes gently tap the cookie sheet down on your counter to flatten out any peaks in the chocolate. Place in the refrigerator to set.
5. Once your chocolate has cooled and set and your cupcakes are frosted, you’re going to want to work quickly. These decorations are pretty small and will melt in your hands very quickly. If you want to be technical about it, you can use tweezers…just make sure they are clean and not the ones you use to pluck hair from your various body parts. So either quickly with your hands, or with clean tweezers, remove the chocolate shapes from the Silpat and place on to your buttercream. Again to reinforce that kawaii style, the eyes tend to be far apart from each other, but with the mouth close to the eyes.
6. Feel free to experiment with additional shapes and colors. You can use white chocolate with some pink coloring and make some circles to make your cupcakes “blush”. Or try making a little hair bow, Hello Kitty style.
If you can stand the guilt of eating this precious little cupcake staring innocently at you, do so asap. This creamy vanilla frosting is the absolute BOMB…seriously. It’s so silky and light and creamy and just perfect. And just imagine the color combinations you could do. Bake It Pretty has a ton of gorgeous gel colors that lend themselves to some really beautiful ombrés like lavender or peach. Or rather than go from light to dark, try combining different but complimentary colors altogether. I would limit to three colors max though, since cupcakes are pretty small.