I still make my cakes by hand, with a bowl and a good heavy duty fork. I know, I'm a total luddite. But I actually like making cakes and cookies this way, there's something so first-hand about the process. Besides, as I told a friend the other day when he asked why I didn't have a stand mixer; I have to have something left to register for if I ever get married! Joking aside, I think that making cake by hand gives you a much better understanding of each step of the process: creaming together butter and sugar you can feel when the texture lightens under your finger tips, beating in the eggs one by one (important!) you can feel each one emulsify and thicken as it combines with the sugar. If you let a machine do all that, you'd have a much diminished understanding of the cake-making process.
I've gotten into the habit of bringing cupcakes to work fairly often (every other Friday, to be precise) and each time I make them I'm reminded how much I enjoy the process, and also how good homemade cake is. There's nothing special about this cake recipe, in fact, it's your completely classic 1234 cake. I'm not one for the fancy-cupcake trend that is taking over America, but one cannot make the same cake all the time, so I often take the basic recipe and spice it up with whatever suits my mood. In this case (courtesy a brainstorming session with a colleague over what flavor cupcakes to make this week, ahem, what do you mean "work-related" emails?), I made earl grey tea cupcakes with a lemon buttercream.
I made a standard back-of-the-box American buttercream because people love the stuff, but to my taste it's a tad too sweet, even with the addition of plenty of lemon. Mind you, I still licked the frosting spatula, but I might play with a lemon-meringue or lemon-cream cheese frosting in the future. Whatever you choose, I like this so much I'd even make it as a layer cake.
The hardest part is taking all those cupcakes on my 25 minute train ride to work. The solution: pack the cupcakes, unfrosted, in several flat plastic containers. Place the frosting in a piping bag or Ziplock bag and place in a plastic cup or other container. Transport to work, then snip the edge of the frosting bag and frost the cupcakes at your destination- super easy and little mess!
Earl Grey Cupcakes with Lemon Buttercream
I know you'll be tempted to make this using whatever variety of tea is sitting in your pantry. Please use earl grey, its floral citrus note is wonderful in these cakes. For extra oomph you can even add a tablespoon of earl grey tea leaves to the frosting. Makes 24 cupcakes, easily halved.
1 cup (1/2 lb) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
3 cups self-rising flour
1 cup milk
2 bags or 2 tablespoons earl grey tea
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F, fill 2 cupcake pans with paper liners or grease well. In a bowl (or with a stand mixer), beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar and cream the butter with the sugar until it is light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each egg very well so that it is thoroughly combined before adding the next egg. Beat in half of the flour along with the tea. Then add the milk and the remaining flour, stirring until just combined.
2. Fill the cupcake pans 2/3 full. Bake 20-25 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through to ensure even baking. Cool thoroughly before frosting.
1 cup (1/2 lb, 2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 lb (4 cups) powdered sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons limoncello or lemon juice
1. Cream the butter until smooth, gradually beat in the powdered sugar until the mixture is very fluffy. Zest the lemon over the bowl into the frosting, add the lemon or limoncello, stir until smooth. Spread or pipe the frosting on cooled cupcakes. Please remember buttercream should be served at room temp.