Sunday, October 2, 2011

Vanilla Cupcakes with Tangy Orange Frosting

Kristin had a bad day at work one day this week.  These things happen when you work with underprivileged kids - the good times are good, and the rough days can be really, really rough.  I like to try to do a little extra something for her on bad days - nothing huge, but sometimes a favorite dinner or a pint of Ben and Jerry's can be helpful.  Unfortunately, her bad day was the same day that I had an evening seminar, and so wouldn't see her until well after 9 PM.  This didn't give me much opportunity to do anything before she had to get to bed for the next day of work.

The next day, a windfall: my afternoon seminar was canceled.  My original plan had just been to come home and get some extra work done preparing to teach my own classes for the week.  Instead, somehow, the idea of baking popped into my head, so I stopped by the store for a couple of ingredients, and set about inventing a cupcake recipe.  Kristin definitely approved when she got home - they ended up pretty tasty!

This recipe is a hybrid of various others I've used in the past.  The cake itself is a fairly simple vanilla cake.  The real star, in my opinion, is the frosting.  Again, it's quite simple, but the orange zest adds a fantastic, tangy flavor to balance out the sweetness of the buttercream.  All in all, it's a refreshing little cupcake, and can be a great pick-me-up after a bad day, or an equally good just-because treat.

Here's what you'll need for the cake: flour, sugar, eggs, butter, salt, baking powder, sour cream, and vanilla extract.  Nothing too shocking here.  The sour cream takes the place of some of what would otherwise be oil or butter, and helps to keep things moist and smooth.

First, soften or partially melt the butter.  No need for it to be liquid, just mixable.

Now add all of the dry ingredients straight to the melted butter.  Mix well until the texture is that of a boxed cake mix.

Now add the wet ingredients, and mix again until smooth.  This is a quite thick batter - you'll want a mixer of some sort.

Fill cupcake liners in a pair of muffin tins, and you're all set to bake.  Easy cake, no?  Bake at 350 for 22-25 minutes, until tops have just begun to turn golden-brown.

We'll see the finished cakes later, when it's time to frost them.  In the meantime, take advantage of the baking time to make your frosting.

The frosting is as easy as can be: just five ingredients: powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, orange juice, and orange zest.  The orange keeps it from being purely sweet, and adds some interest to what would otherwise be too "vanilla."

Yeah, I groaned too.

First, zest the oranges thoroughly - more zest is more flavor, here!  A microplane does the job nicely.  Melt the butter, too.

Next, just add everything to a large bowl and mix it together until it's smooth.  It's that easy.  You can add a bit more sugar to thicken things up if needed, or a bit more orange juice if it's too thick already.  In any case, throw it in the fridge for a short while until you're ready to cover the cakes - it'll be easier to spread without making a mess.

Speaking of those cupcakes, they should be done shortly after you've finished the frosting.  Pull them out, savor the aroma, and then let them cool completely.  Give them an hour or so.

Once they're cool, get to frosting!  Cover the cakes liberally with the frosting, and then find somebody to share them with.  Cupcakes are meant to be shared, you know.  Otherwise, you'll eat too many and end up with a bellyache.  Bring some to somebody who's had a tough day, or just ensure that their day goes better regardless.  Enjoy!

Recipe: Vanilla Cupcakes with Tangy Orange Frosting
Prep Time: 15 minutes | Cook Time: 25 Minutes | Difficulty: Easy | Servings: 2-dozen Cupcakes


  • 3 cups All-Purpose Flour
  • 2 cups White Sugar
  • 1 cup unsalted Butter
  • 1 cup Sour Cream
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tbsp Baking Powder
  • 1 tsp Salt
  • 3 cups Confectioner's Sugar
  • 1/4 cup Orange Juice
  • Zest of two Oranges (approx. 2-4 tbsp)
  • 1 tbsp Vanilla Extract
  • 1/2 cup Butter


Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tins with baking cups.

Heat butter in a large bowl until well softened.

Add flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix until texture resembles a boxed cake mix.

Add sugar, sour cream, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla, and mix until well combined.  Batter will be thick.

Add batter to baking cups approximately 2/3 full.

Bake at 350 degrees 22-25 minutes until cupcake tops have just begun to turn golden.  

Cool cupcakes completely (1 hour minimum) before frosting.


In a large mixing bowl, melt butter completely.

Zest oranges with a microplane or grater.

Add powdered sugar, orange juice, orange zest, and vanilla to melted butter.  Mix well 1-2 minutes until smooth.

Add additional sugar to thicken, or juice to thin as needed.

Refrigerate frosting until cupcakes are cooled to ease spreading.

Frost cupcakes when completely cooled.

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