So I’m a firm believer in the idea that God puts certain people in your life for a reason. When I met Jamie through mutual friends at a happy hour on the Hill 3 years ago, I never would have guessed that she would be one of the most instrumental people in making Politics to Pastries actually happen. I also wouldn’t have guessed that we’d each reach the point where we actually enjoy staying in on the
usual occasional Friday night to relax and be productive, or that we’d opt for wine and dinner instead of an all-night dance party when planning an evening out, but, hey, things evolve (just to clarify, that’s not to say that there’s not a place for all-night dance parties, but y’all this girl is NOT 22 anymore).
Jamie is an amazing artist. Like a-maz-ing. So when she started taking her painting more seriously and I started taking my baking more seriously, a new facet of our friendship naturally blossomed. We became partners in crime in the whole “pursue your passion” game, and she has been beyond encouraging and motivational. I mean, the girl has legit started her own business in addition to her full-time job on the Hill – how can that not be inspiring? It’s also super convenient to have a friend that “gets” this stuff and is always there to obsess over every little detail with you, and even enthusiastically spend hours on a Sunday neurotically styling and photographing your respective creations for website and blog content. Yes, that happened.
When Jamie and I were brainstorming a few months ago about new avenues to explore with our painting and baking, we thought it would be fun to do a collaboration whenever we both had our websites up and running. Well, that day finally came, so I planned a cupcake concept to coordinate with a few of her paintings, and we scheduled a little photo shoot to capture the cuteness. She does this great series of funky elephants, so, given the theme of this blog, they were an obvious choice (#teamGOP, baby). Since the focus for this project would be on how the cupcake looked and the decorating would be more demanding than usual, I wanted to stick to simple recipe-wise. I needed to make an understated cupcake that would still yield an over-the-top “ohmygod” reaction. There’s something to be said for simplicity, and you know you’ve made it as a baker if you can get just as much “wow” out of a basic vanilla cupcake as you can for something fancy and complex with lots of flavor distractions in every bite. Challenge accepted.
I took the opportunity to get back to basics and decided on a classic: vanilla cupcakes with vanilla cream cheese frosting. Since the cake would have to speak for itself, I picked a recipe that would provide both great texture and flavor. To give a little bit of a twist, I went with a cream cheese frosting instead of buttercream, but, admittedly, that’s pretty much because I’m just obsessed with cream cheese frosting. As for the decorating, I decided to cross into some uncharted baking territory yet again – this time with fondant. Now, the fondant didn’t make me nearly as nervous as the curd (we all remember the curd), but it was still a first for me, so I was crossing my fingers that I’d be able to make my vision come to life. Attempting fondant toppers has been on my list for a while, so I made the trip across the bridge to Virginia and went on a mini-shopping spree at Michael’s stocking up on tools and supplies. It’s a miracle I only spent $65 because I could’ve bought out the whole baking section of that place. I
want need ALL THE BAKING THINGS. I should really buy stock in Wilton…
I woke up the morning of our little photo shoot and whipped up the cupcakes and frosting, and then turned to the decorating task at hand. When Jamie arrived with the art, I used my new gel food coloring to tint the icing to the perfect hues of pink and teal to match the paintings. I decided to do two-toned “swirl” icing, and tried out this little technique for an easy, no-mess swirl effect.
Once those were done, I moved on to Mission: Fondant. I ended up going with Wilton’s Decorator Preferred white fondant, and it was really easy to work with. I broke off a big piece and divided it in half, leaving one half white and using gel food coloring to tint the other pink to match the icing. I rolled out the fondant to 1/8 inch thickness with a fondant roller, and then used fondant cutters to cut out little circles and stars to make the toppers. They came out just as I had pictured and it was much easier than expected! Stick that flag in the ground, ladies and gentlemen – another successful conquest of uncharted territory.
I popped those bad boys on top of the frosted cupcakes, and these little beauties were ready for their close-ups. Needless to say, we went.to.town with our cameras and got some really cute pictures. I even got some new Jamie Corley Designs room decor out of the deal! Not too shabby for a Sunday afternoon and our first attempt at a little art-cupcake collabo. Check out a few of our favorites, and then go whip up some of these Very Vanilla Cupcakes. They’ve gotten glowing reviews thus far.
Very Vanilla Cupcakes
Very Vanilla Cupcakes (from Life, Love and Sugar):
1 2/3 cups all purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
3 egg whites
3 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting (adapted from Get Sweet Smart):
5 1/2 T butter
5 1/2 cups powdered sugar
8 oz. cream cheese
1/2 tsp vanilla
1. For the cupcakes, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk together flour, sugar, baking soda and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the butter, egg whites, vanilla, sour cream and milk and mix on medium speed until smooth. The batter might be lumpy from the butter – that’s ok! I promise it melts during baking. Fill each liner about 3/4 of the way full and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes, then move them to cooling rack to finish cooling.
2. Now onto the frosting. In a large mixing bowl, beat together butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Add the powdered sugar gradually, about a cup at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. Add vanilla, and beat until light and fluffy for at least 3 minutes. The ample beating time will give you that fluffy texture you want for these cupcakes!
3. Pipe frosting onto cupcakes using your decorating tip of choice, and enjoy!