It's not just about hearts and flowers, you know. It's also about love and cupcakes. What would Valentine's day be without them? I shudder to think.
I associate Valentine's Day with cupcakes more than any other holiday. Must be a carryover from all of those Feb. 14th parties in elementary school. Cupcakes were plentiful at those events, along with an endless supply of conversation hearts. Deep vats of Hawaiian Punch stood at the ready to slake our pre-adolescent thirst. I recall how the perkiest Moms, who faithfully materialized to run the show, would ladle the weak red libation into little cups and place them carefully into our hands. The classrooms were always a flurry of red and pink, with cut-out hearts and cupids spinning on strings that had been taped to the ceiling.
And do you remember being required to give a valentine card to every single kid in your class, without any regard to your feelings about those kids--you know, the ones with a dark reputation for hooliganism? They were always the troublemakers who failed to bring in an empty milk-carton to transform into a mail-box.
While the rest of us were busy pasting construction-paper hearts onto our mailboxes, those few children stood morosely behind the teacher as she excavated the supply closet, hoping against hope that she'd find a few extra milk cartons. Valentine's Day, at that tender age, was an equal opportunity holiday.
About these cupcakes . . .
The recipe I used for today's cupcakes comes from the book, Great Cakes, by Carole Walter. This cake batter is somewhere on the spectrum between a sponge cake and a regular yellow butter cake. (You could use this recipe, in the same proportions listed, for a standard two-layer cake.) It has a satisfying crumb and a full vanilla flavor. It's not too eggy, and it's sturdy without being dense.
Though one might typically frost a cupcake like this with a good chocolate buttercream, or a fluffy white icing, I decided to opt for the subdued sweetness you get from flavored whipped cream. The raspberry aspect is provided by about a tablespoon or so of seedless preserves that you mix in after the cream has been whipped to firm peaks.
A bit of sifted powdered sugar helps to stabilize the whipped cream and adds a touch of additional sweetness. The ultra-softness of whipped cream is a nice surprise when it appears on the top of a cupcake, especially a Valentine cupcake.
Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Whipped Cream
Makes 24 regular size cupcakes.
(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 12-cup muffin pans with paper liners. (You may have a little batter leftover, perhaps enough for one large cupcake. I just baked that one extra cupcake in a Pyrex glass custard cup.)
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup butter, unsalted (The recipe doesn't specify, but I'd suggest the butter be at cool room temperature, not too soft.)
2 cups superfine sugar
4 eggs, large
1 and 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract (I also added in about three drops of almond extract; it doesn't add in any obvious almond taste, but I think it gives the vanilla more dimension.)
1 cup milk (I used whole)
Sift together the salt, flour, and baking powder. Set aside.
Cut the butter into 1" pieces and put them in the large bowl of your mixer; using the paddle attachment, soften them on low speed. Then, increase the speed to medium-high and cream until smooth and light in color, about 1 and 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Still at medium-high speed, add in the sugar, 1 Tbsp. at a time over a period of 8 to 10 minutes to blend it in well, scraping the bowl occasionally. (Not kidding--she really says to do this that slowly!)
Add the eggs in one at a time at one minute intervals, scraping as needed. Blend in the vanilla.
Reduce the mixer speed to medium-low. Add in the dry ingredients alternately with the milk, starting and ending with flour; do four additions of flour and three additions of milk. Mix just until incorporated for each addition. Scrape the bowl, and then mix 10 seconds longer.
Spoon the batter into your muffin cups, filling each one about 2/3 full.
Bake the cupcakes for about 10 to 12 minutes, then check them with a toothpick inserted into the center. If it comes out clean, they're done. They should be just a little golden on top.
Let the cupcakes cool in the pan, set on a rack, for just a few minutes, then take them out of the pan to cool completely on a rack.
For the raspberry whipped cream:
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 to 2 Tbsp. seedless raspberry jam, or regular raspberry jam that have been well strained
2/3 cup sifted confectioners' sugar
Chill a small or medium-sized metal mixer bowl in your freezer for five minutes or in your fridge for ten minutes. Attach the bowl to your mixer and pour in 1 and 1/2 cups of very cold heavy cream. Beat on low speed for the first 30 seconds or so, then increase the speed to medium and beat until soft peaks just begin to form. Slowly add in about 2/3 of a cup of sifted confectioners' sugar. Beat until the peaks become obviously firm but not over-whipped and stiff.
Turn off the mixer and, using a flexible spatula, gently fold in 1 to 2 Tbsp. of seedless raspberry jam. The jam alone won't make the whipped cream very pink. If you want the whipped cream to be more pink, add in a tiny bit of gel food coloring; gel coloring is moist enough to mix in easily and its color is very potent so you need need a dab. Don't use liquid food coloring if you can help it, because it may add too much moisture to the cream.
Wait until the cupcakes are completely cool to frost them. Once you've frosted them, serve them soon. Store any extra frosted cupcakes in the fridge to prevent the whipped cream from separating.
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