I learned too many things this week. The first was that even an old, tired oven will hang on for a few more bakes if you talk to it sweetly and give it a nice pat now and then. The second is that Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar, despite taking all sorts of blasphemous liberties with her cakes (IMITATION VANILLA? REALLY?), actually kind of knows what the hell she is talking about when it comes to making a delicious baked thing. I'm speaking, of course, of the birthday cupcakes I made this week, in homage (if homage means I basically just made her recipe) to her legendary rainbow sprinkle-filled birthday cake. Yes it's a bit fiddly. Yes you have to use a few ingredients you can only get from Amazon and then you probably won't use them again. And yes when you're following all of these recipe steps you may feel like you've been taken on something of a goose chase and you're not all that sure that this weird sour thing (citric acid) should go in your frosting, but hang in there. I was giving these cupcakes major side eye even as I took their glamour photos and posted them to Instagram. I handed one to my husband (the best taste tester ever) with halfhearted enthusiasm, sure I had wasted all of these fiddly steps and special ingredients on one turkey of a cupcake. I was so wrong. So, so wrong. These little babies are 100% worth the extra effort, as unusual as they are. Every texture, every flavor, every bit of them has a reason to be there, and they all work together to make a cupcake experience I've been a little obssessed with lately, if I'm being honest.
The last thing I learned, this time the hard way, is that it's simply not enough, when you're trying to start a baking business, to set up a website and hope the customers will come. The Unicorn site went live on Thursday night and...crickets. I added a shopping cart and discounted delivery on Saturday and got one wonderful order and then...nothing. It's such a weird moment, to be all TADAAA with a thing and then nothing happens. My instinct is to pretend it is all going perfectly well. So many orders! Whee! But nah, the truth of the matter is whatever I'm doing is not quite right or simply not enough. And that's business, baby! Sometimes the things you try just don't work. Back to the drawing board. How can I get these delicious treats into the hands of the people? I've found I really like delivering assorted boxes of treats to friends all over town, so I'm keeping the Discovery Boxes. If at any time you want to buy yourself some Unicorn treats, just go to the site and stake your claim on one of the week's boxes and I'll deliver them right to you on the weekend. As always, if you've got an upcoming event that might be improved with some cupcakes or other treats, contact me via the site and we'll put together a plan.
It isn't all bad. Like I said, this is part of business. I learned a ton of little things just by thinking through what I want to do and how I want to do it, and if that weren't enough, I got to eat Momofuku birthday cupcakes ALL WEEK because nobody bought them. Don't cry for me, Argentina.
Momofuku Birthday Cake Cupcakes
(adapted from Brown Eyed Baker) Makes 30 cupcakes
Step 1: The crumbs
½ cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1½ tablespoons light brown sugar
¾ cup (90 grams) cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
¼ cup (40 grams) grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon clear vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 300 and line a cookie sheet with parchment or silpat or whatever.
Combine all the dry ingredients (that's sugar, brown sugar, cake flour, baking powder, salt and sprinkles) in a mixing bowl and mix on low until combined.
Add the oil and vanilla and mix on low again until it looks kind of clumpy and pebbly.
Spread the mixture out on your baking sheet and stick it in the oven for 20 minutes or so, then pull it out and stir with a fork, breaking up any big chunks into smaller bits.
When they're the size you want, leave them to sit and cool on the pan. They'll start out soft and become crunchy as they dry. Try not to eat them all before the cupcakes are done.
Step 2: The cupcakes
4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
⅓ cup (60 grams) vegetable shortening
1¼ cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons (50 grams) light brown sugar
½ cup (110 grams) buttermilk
⅓ cup (65 grams) grapeseed oil
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
2 cups (245 grams) cake flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup (50 grams) + 2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles, divided
Turn your oven up to 350. Paper or grease your cupcake tins.
In a measuring cup, combine the buttermilk, grapeseed oil and vanilla extract.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and 1/4 cup of the sprinkles.
Put the butter, shortening and sugars in a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until it's all creamed together (2-3 minutes).
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs.
Mix on medium high for 2-3 more minutes and scrape the sides again.
On low speed, pour in the buttermilk mixture. This may make your batter look like it has split or is weird and clumpy (mine did) but don't fear! It will still work.
Increase your mixer speed to medium high and beat for 4-6 minutes. This will fluff up the whole mixture to about twice the size so don't skimp on this part.
Turn the mixer back down to low and add the flour mixture gradually.
Mix until the batter just comes together and looks impossibly creamy (45-60 seconds).
Dollop into your cupcake cups, being careful not to overfill (1/2-2/3 full is generally good), and stick them in the oven.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of one comes out clean.
Let them cool completely before frosting.
Step 3: The frosting
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
4 ounces cream cheese
2 tablespoons glucose
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons clear vanilla extract
2.5 cups powdered sugar, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch baking powder
Pinch citric acid
Whisk together the glucose, corn syrup and vanilla extract.
Combine the butter, shortening and cream cheese in a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment until the mixture is smooth and fluffy (2-3 minutes). Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
With the mixer on low, add in the glucose mixture.
Increase to medium high speed and beat for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is silky smooth and glossy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Add the powdered sugar, salt, baking powder and citric acid, and mix on low speed just to incorporate them into the batter.
Increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 2 to 3 minutes, until the frosting is completely smooth.
Step 4: The cake soak
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
Put the milk and extract in a bowl or measuring cup and brush it over the tops of your cupcakes. Use it all. Maybe make more if you want and brush them again. The moist sticky texture this makes is a big part of the overall yumminess of these cupcakes.
Step 5: Assembly
You can do whatever you want here, as long as you end up with all components combined somehow. I chose to spread a thin layer of frosting on the cupcakes, then top them with crumbs, then do another little dollop in the center of the cupcake and top that with sprinkles. But experiment, do what works for you. I recommend you use less frosting than you normally would, even if you're a frosting lover like me. The right balance here is essential.
Now eat! Throw yourself a birthday party and serve these to your friends. Or brighten up an average Tuesday with a plate of cupcakes that's all yours! Trust me, a beautiful cupcake (or a plate of them!) can be a hell of a mood booster.
And if all of this sounds like too much work, I would love to make you a dozen or two! Just pop over to the menu page at unicornbakeshop.com and tell me how I can make your sweet dreams come true <3 ✦