1 Frosting Recipe, 5 Flavors

Today is all about frosting. This is my 100% favorite part of any cake. Frosting is smooth, creamy, rich, sweet goodness that I could eat by the spoonful. My (not so) secret dream is to one day have a birthday cake made entirely out of vanilla frosting. If it could be incorporated into a pie crust, that would be cool, too. And Blue Bell triple chocolate ice cream on the side….but I digress.

The reason I chose to go all vanilla this month is to show how you can take one basic recipe with a nice, neutral flavor like vanilla and turn it into anything you want. Vanilla cake and vanilla frosting are great on their own. I love the flavor of vanilla, but I also really love taking one recipe and turning it into something else I love. So I’m going to share my favorite vanilla frosting recipe with you and then show you how to turn it into 5 other flavors!

The ingredients in frosting are incredibly forgiving, so don’t be intimidated by this process. I always thought frosting would be super hard to make, but once I tried it I was hooked. The frosting you can make at home is every bit as good (if not better) than what you get at the store, and you control the ingredients in it. While some things, like pie crust, require a gentle touch, you can beat the heck out of the butter in frosting and it will still turn into something delicious. If you have a stand mixer, I do recommend using it to make life easier, but hand mixers work great, too. If I only need a small batch (like 1 cake or a dozen cupcakes) of frosting I regularly use my hand mixer.

Here are the ingredients you need for 12 cupcakes or an 8″ 2 layer cake:
1 stick butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 ½ cups powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

The first step is to take the butter out of the fridge about 30 minutes to 1 hour before you are going to use it. Softening the butter makes it way easier to work with and will help you achieve a nice, smooth frosting with no butter chunks without wearing out your arm in the process. Once the butter is soft enough that it gives a little (without melting out of the package completely), stick it in a mixing bowl and start your mixer on medium-low. The butter should break apart pretty easily. If it doesn’t, turn up the speed of the mixer or let the butter soften a little longer.

Once the butter is nice and smooth, stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Why is this important? The mixer mushes the butter down against the sides and bottom of the bowl and you want to make sure it’s fluffed up enough to mix thoroughly with the other ingredients. I used to ignore this step all the time and my results were inconsistent. Once I started scraping the bowl, my frosting became much smoother more easily and the texture and taste were much more consistent. So take 15 seconds and scrape the bowl to save yourself time and energy.

Next, add 1 cup of powdered sugar, 2 teaspoons of vanilla, and ¼ teaspoon of salt to the mixing bowl and turn the mixer back onto medium low. This time, you’ll give it about 1 minute to start mixing the ingredients together. You want them to be somewhat incorporated, but don’t be worried if you have some chunks. Those will work out as you go. Next, add the rest of the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time until it is fully incorporated. The frosting should be mostly smooth at this point. If not, turn the mixer up just a smidge. If it is almost entirely smooth, check the texture. If it is still a little runnier than you prefer, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar at a time until you have the consistency you want. Just remember- it’s easier to add than remove, so go easy on the additions. It takes a little more time but it’s worth it in the end. Once it’s the consistency you’re looking for, turn up the speed of the mixer to medium-high to add some air. This helps make the frosting a little lighter.

After about 30 seconds to 1 minute, you’re done! Spread the frosting onto a cake, cupcakes, or eat it by the spoonful. Or, add some flavor to the vanilla frosting and really go crazy. The 5 options I have here to change the flavor of the frosting require a little more powdered sugar and 1 additional ingredient.

For my cupcakes, I used one batch of frosting and split it between 6 flavors. You can also flavor one batch of frosting. I have amounts below for whichever option you choose.

  • To create lemon frosting, add 1 teaspoon of zest and 1 teaspoon of lemon juice to the frosting and mix. If the frosting seems runny, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar. For a full batch of lemon frosting, add 2 tablespoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice. Again, add powdered sugar by the ¼ cup if you need it a little stiffer. You can add more or less juice depending on how strong you like the lemon flavor.
  • Orange frosting is the same as the lemon- 1 teaspoon of zest and 1 teaspoon of orange juice is what I added to frost 2 cupcakes. For a full batch, it would be 2 tablespoons of zest and 2 tablespoons of juice, plus additional powdered frosting as needed.
  • For the jam cupcakes, add ¼ cup of powdered sugar to the split batch of frosting and 1 tablespoon of the jam of your choice. You definitely need to add the powdered sugar to this one because the jam makes the frosting runny and it will slide right off your cake if you don’t stiffen it a little. For a full batch of frosting, try add 1 cup of powdered sugar and 4 tablespoons of jam.
  • Caramel frosting also requires extra powdered sugar. To make this frosting, I used 1 tablespoon of salted caramel ice cream topping and ¼ cup of powdered sugar in the split batch (4 tablespoons of caramel topping and 1 cup of powdered sugar for the full batch).
  • Last but not least is the cookies n’ cream. This just requires 2 cookies for a split batch of frosting and 6 cookies for a full batch.

Once you have the extra ingredients in the bowl, blend them into your frosting, either with your mixer or by hand with a spoon. Proceed with frosting your cake or cupcakes and enjoy!

Fun Fillings for Vanilla Cakes

One of the great things about vanilla cakes and cupcakes is that they can be paired with a huge variety of fillings to change up the flavor and make them more interesting. You can have chocolate, fruit, cream, or any other filling your heart desires, and it will taste great with the neutral vanilla cake.

The beauty of a filling is that, not only does it ramp up a cupcake’s wow factor, it can also be as simple or as complicated as you desire. One of the best and easiest fillings I do regularly is jam. Yep, you just buy a jar of jam at the store and add it to your cake or cupcake some jam. Once you top it with frosting, you have a delicious dessert with a fruity surprise filling sure to please any sweet tooth. Another crazy easy option is marshmallow fluff. If you want to lighten up your vanilla cake a little but keep the flavor pretty similar, toss some marshmallow fluff in the center. You can also use syrups if you want a really runny filling, ice cream if you’re going to eat the dessert right away, pudding, peanut butter, or pretty much anything else you imagine.

Cakes are easy to fill because you just put the filling between the layers, but what’s the easiest way to make room for the filling in a cupcake? There’s nothing wrong with using a knife or spoon to cut out the center. These options are actually nice because you can make the hole as large or small as you want. But what really changed the game for me is a little, unassuming cupcake corer a friend gave me a few years ago

This little cupcake corer is just about the coolest thing in the world. You set it on top of a cupcake, push down, and a neat little chunk of cupcake pops out. It’s the coolest thing and makes cupcake filling sooooo much faster!

If you’re interested in making your own filling, here are some great options from around the web:

  1. Strawberry: http://www.food.com/recipe/strawberry-filling-10045
  2. Chocolate ganache: https://addapinch.com/ganache-recipe/
  3. Lemon curd: http://thepioneerwoman.com/food-and-friends/how-to-make-lemon-curd/
  4. Whipped cream: http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/sweetened-whipped-cream
  5. Cream cheese: http://yummiestfood.com/chocolate-layer-cake-with-cream-cheese-filling/

Are you a fan of filled cakes and cupcakes? What are your favorites?

Vanilla Cake Mix Competition

There are a lot of vanilla cake mixes on the shelves of your local grocery store. You probably see them every time you go to the store and walk past them or grab a box without thinking too much of it. But if you’re looking for the best vanilla cake mix and frosting for guaranteed delicious cakes and cupcakes every time, you should definitely consider which mix you get.

I tested three of the most common mixes on the shelves of the local grocery store to see how they compare in terms of instructions, ingredients, and outcomes. I also tested their frosting counterparts to see how they compare. Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, and Pillsbury are all household names that have similar mixes for easy quality comparison. It’s really hard to find “vanilla” cake mixes (they tend to be yellow or white, even though the flavor on both is actually vanilla), so I went with the classic white cake for all three. Most of the time, a white cake is a vanilla cake that is made with egg whites, while a yellow cake is a vanilla cake made with whole eggs. With cake mixes that line is blurred some because white cakes are extra white and yellow cakes are super yellow and the directions often allow for the use of either whole eggs or egg whites. For the purposes of this post, we’ll call the white cake a vanilla cake, since that’s what flavor it really is. I made the mixes with whole eggs, except for the Duncan Hines because the directions specifically called for egg whites and I wanted to ensure that the results were as accurate as possible. I also used the same size ice cream scoop to portion the batter, so any differences in size of the cupcakes were due to the way the batter rose, rather than differences in the amount of batter used.

So what’s the result? In terms of frosting, get whichever is cheapest. I could not detect a significant difference in taste or texture of any of the frostings. I even left the frosted cupcakes outside on a hot day for 15 minutes to see if any of them held up better than others and…nothing. They are virtually identical. For the cakes, my vote for the best all-around is Betty Crocker. I was actually surprised by this because the batter was really runny and I was afraid the cupcakes would be too flat. However, they had a good shape for a basic cupcake.

The main differences between the mixes is the proportions of eggs, oil, and water. The Duncan Hines cupcakes turned out the driest, with a crumbly texture. They also didn’t have as much flavor as the others. This is to be expected because the total liquid was less than the other 2 mixes, and only egg whites were used instead of the whole egg. Whole eggs help add moisture and depth of flavor to a recipe. The cupcakes had fairly flat tops. The Pillsbury recipe was the most domed of the three, so if that’s the look you’re going for, this is the mix for you.

Overall, the mixes turned out fairly similar in taste, so you should be pretty safe picking from any of the three. If you want a good, standard cupcake Betty Crocker is my pick. If you really need a flat or domed cupcake, Duncan Hines and Pillsbury would be your best respective options.

Vanilla Cake and Wine

Happy July! I hope you had a great Independence Day and that you’re ready for a new month of desserts and wine! This month, we’re going to talk about one of the most versatile desserts I know: vanilla cake (and cupcakes). This classic dessert is an important part of any baker’s repertoire because, while it’s great on its own, it can be turned into different flavors and combined with different fillings and frostings to become something entirely different. If you can successfully make a vanilla cake you can make hundreds, if not thousands of desserts.

Here are just a few ways you can transform vanilla cake:

  1. Add fruit juice or extract to the cake to change the flavor
  2. Add a filling to the cake, like jam, whipped cream, fruit, cookie dough, or ganache
  3. Add fruit juice or extract to the frosting to change the flavor
  4. Do 2 of these options at the same time (or all 3) to come up with something completely different

A few of my favorite combinations that all start with vanilla cake and vanilla frosting are lemon cake with raspberry filling and lemon frosting, vanilla cake with strawberry filling and vanilla frosting, and vanilla cake with cookies n’ cream frosting. To create these, you seriously only add one additional ingredient to the cake batter or frosting and turn it into something special. And you only need one recipe

Another wonderful thing about vanilla cake is that it pairs really well with wine! I absolutely love vanilla cake and vanilla frosting with Vermentino. Vermentino is similar to sauvignon blanc in terms of body and taste- light and refreshing with a mild citrus flavor. With the cake, the citrus and vanilla combine to produce a mellow, lightly sweet combination that is very smooth and pleasing. I hadn’t had Vermentino previously but it will definitely be part of my regular stock in the future, especially with vanilla desserts.

You can also try an off-dry white with citrus and vanilla flavors. I don’t recommend anything too heavy, like a dessert wine, because the body of the wine is going to overwhelm the delicate flavor and texture of the cake. A nice, light wine is a good option to match the vanilla cake. I had a Lobo e Falcao white wine with vanilla cupcakes and it was a really good combination. It was a touch more tart than the Vermentino, which was fun.

If you opt to change up the flavor of the cake or frosting or add a filling, you may need to change up the wine. The Vermentino and white blend are both nice and versatile so they might work, but it all depends on the flavors you choose. I am a big fan of sauvignon blanc or white Bordeaux with lemon or lime cake, or even an orange one. If you add a chocolate ganache, try a light red, since the ganache makes the cake a little more substantial.

Stay tuned next week for the best boxed cake mixes for those times you just don’t feel like measuring a lot. After that, we’ll have a round-up of fillings to change up the flavor and texture of your cakes and cupcakes. At the end of the month, I’ll show you how to turn one frosting recipe into five different flavors.

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Celebrating Independence Day with Chocolate Chip Cookie Sandwiches

The 4th of July is right around the corner, which means it’s time to pull out your stars and stripes, do some grilling, spend time with friends and family, set off fireworks, and be grateful for the many freedoms we have. Many people spend the 4th of July outside- at parades, picnics, parties, camping- and I have the perfect dessert for any 4th of July celebration: chocolate chip cookie sandwiches!

Why do I like these chocolate chip cookie sandwiches for 4th of July? Let’s count the reasons:

  1. They’re simple
  2. They make a big statement in a small package
  3. They’re easy to make
  4. They’re a big crowdpleaser
  5. You can decorate them any way you want to make them your own
  6. You can do most of the work ahead of time
  7. They’re portable
  8. They hold up well in the heat
  9. They’re easy to eat on the move
  10. You can change up the flavors for something new and exciting or stick with the classic

The list could keep going but you get the point!

So how do you make these lovely little sandwiches? First, make chocolate chip cookies. You can use pre-made dough from the store (see reviews here) or you can make your own (need a recipe? Check out mine here). I personally like to make these in miniature so they’re super easy to grab and snack while you’re on the move. To do this, just make each cookie a little smaller than you normally would, and check them a minute or two earlier while they’re in the oven- smaller cookies usually cook a bit faster than bigger ones.

While the cookies are cooling, either make your own frosting or dump a can of store frosting into a bowl. If you want, play up the frosting a little. You can do this by coloring it red or blue, mixing in star sprinkles, or anything else you can think of to make it fun and festive. I do recommend using a slightly stiffer frosting than you normally do for basic cake frosting because you want it to stay put on the cookies and not slide off in the heat. If your frosting seems a little too wet, you can add a small amount (about ¼ cup at a time) of powdered sugar to thicken it to the desired consistency.

Once the cookies are cool, flip half of them over so the bottoms are facing up. Then, spread a healthy dollop of frosting on each one and cover it with another cookie facing right side up. Then you can roll the sides of the cookie in sprinkles if you want to up the wow factor a little

Have some fun with these little bites of awesomeness at your 4th of July celebration this year, and don’t forget to show off your delicious creations!

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Jazzing Up A Classic

Chocolate chip cookies are the perfect sweet treat that will never let you down. They are crunchy, chewy, melty, chocolatey, delicious, and perfect for any occasion. Despite all of this, there may come a day when you want a chocolate chip cookies with a little pizzazz. Fortunately, chocolate chip cookies are incredibly versatile! You can do pretty much anything you want to a cookie to help it go from a sweet treat to a delicious dessert- from cookie cakes to cookie sandwiches, to ice cream sandwiches, to just playing with the different chocolate chips to shift the taste. I scoured the internet to come up with 10 of the best ideas for you:

Double chocolate
http://www.kraftrecipes.com/recipes/bakers-one-bowl-chocolate-bliss-cookies-53456.aspx
I always use chocolate chips for this instead of chopping chocolate. Why? It makes my life easier. That’s why I count these as chocolate chip. I have tried a lot of different chocolate combinations on this and they all taste good!

Cookie sandwiches
Chocolate chip cookie sandwiches seriously take regular cookies up a notch and they’re so easy- all you do is make the cookies and slather frosting on top! Stay tuned next week for the perfect chocolate chip cookie sandwiches, just in time for those 4th of July parties.

Cookie cake
http://www.garnishandglaze.com/2016/04/21/chocolate-chip-cookie-cake-recipe/

Cookie cups
http://livforcake.com/2017/04/chocolate-chip-cookie-cups.html

Ice cream sandwich
http://pinchofyum.com/chocolate-chip-cookie-ice-cream-bars

Cookie pizza
http://utah.todaysmama.com/2014/04/04/chocolate-chip-cookie-pizza-fun-toppings/

Deep fried chocolate chip cookie dough
http://www.sugarhero.com/deep-fried-chocolate-chip-cookie-dough/

S’mores
http://www.cookingclassy.com/chocolate-chip-cookie-smores/

Dip
http://www.ericasweettooth.com/2014/01/chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-football-dip.html

Cannoli
http://thedomesticrebel.com/2013/05/22/chocolate-chip-cookie-dough-cannolis/

There are so many great options out there. What’s your favorite way to eat a chocolate chip cookie?

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