I was always destined to be a cook. I mean, what other explanation is there for my birthday falling on the same day as the birthday of culinary maven, and part-time spy, Julia Child? No offense to Ben Affleck, Ethel Barrymore, and Napoleon, some of the other famous folks who share my big day. You're all great and accomplished in your individual fields, but I have no aspirations to be an actress, dictator, or director/tabloid regular, so I'm going to go ahead and toast to Julia. You understand.
Since it's my birthday today, I decided to bake myself some cupcakes. Don't feel sorry for me. You need to remember that I enjoy baking, so the process of creating a new recipe is fun for me. Growing up, my mom always made us our birthday cakes (except for the one year that I insisted on a Carvel ice cream cake), so I'm not a big fan of store-bought or bakery-made cake anyhow. As far as I'm concerned, bringing me a cake would be like bringing Mrs. Fields a box of Chips Ahoy! chocolate chip cookies. Chances are, Eric will eat one cupcake, I'll take a bite, and the rest will go to the neighbors anyway, and it's much easier to bring them cupcakes than 9/10 of a birthday cake.
One of my favorite flavor combinations is vanilla and orange. Whenever the ice cream truck would drive through the neighborhood where I grew up, I would almost always opt for the Creamsicle. There is something so light and refreshing about the tart citrus, mellowed out by the smooth vanilla. Creating a moist vanilla cupcake is no easy task. The majority of the recipes that I have tried err a little on the dry side. After much trial and error, I found a combination that yields a moist and light cupcake (using both butter and oil is the trick.) Add some orange flavor to both the cupcake batter and to my go-to easy vanilla buttercream and voila! You've got yourself a batch of Creamsicle Cupcakes. Here are my extra tips for these sure-to-vanish vanilla-orange cupcakes:
- One great product that I have found is called Fiori di Sicilia, which is sold through the King Arthur Catalogue. It is a very concentrated extract, which gives baked goods a very distinct vanilla-orange "bakeshop" flavor. Just a small amount added to sugar cookies, vanilla batters, and certain muffins makes a huge difference. I add about 1/4 teaspoon to this batter.
- If you don't have orange extract for the buttercream, you can add more orange zest or a tablespoon of orange juice (adjust the amount of whipping cream accordingly.)
- I added 4 drops of red and 6 drops of yellow food coloring in order to give the buttercream that creamsicle hue.
- Chocolate and orange make a great flavor combination. Add some miniature semisweet chocolate chips or some chopped bittersweet chocolate to the cupcake batter to take these cupcakes to the next level!
Creamsicle Cupcakes with Easy Buttercream Frosting
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of one large orange
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/3 cup canola or safflower oil
1/2 cup whole milk, room temperature
For the frosting
3 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon orange extract (or to your liking)
2-3 tablespoons whipping cream
Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt.
In the bow of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar with the eggs and vanilla a medium speed until smooth and thickened, 3 minutes. Add the orange zest, butter and the oil and beat until incorporated, scraping the sides of hte bowl as necessary. Add the dry ingredients and milk in 3 alternating batches, beating between additions. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin tins, filling them just over halfway full.
Bake the cupcakes for 18-20 minutes or until they spring back when lightly touched and a toothpick inserted into the center emerges clean. Let the cupcakes cook slightly in the tin and then transfer them to a wire rack to cook completely.
Prepare the buttercream: In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the sugar and the butter until well combined. Add the vanilla and orange extracts and mix on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add enough whipping cream to reach your desired consistency, beating on medium speed for about 1 minute longer. Decorate the cooled cupcakes using a piping bag fitted with a large star tip or with a small offset spatula.