Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

For another Hirata family birthday potluck celebration last month, I made a birthday cake using my new go-to chocolate layer cake recipe, this time, with a classic vanilla buttercream that I stumble upon browsing Add A Pinch.  It was a triple celebration for Kevin, his mom, and his uncle:

Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Classic Vanilla Buttercream Frosting

The great thing about buttercream is you can totally customize it to whatever consistency you want it to be – stiffer, creamier, the frosting world is your oyster!

Here’s the recipe:

  • 1 C butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 3-4 C confectioner’s sugar, sifted
  • 2 t vanilla
  • Pinch of salt (sea salt is my preference)
  • 2-3 tablespoons milk, heavy cream, or half-and-half
  1. Place softened butter into the bowl of a stand mixer that has been fitted with the paddle attachment. Turn the mixer on a medium setting and cream the butter until it is smooth and has lightened in color, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add confectioner’s sugar, half a cup at a time. After each cup has been incorporated, turn the mixer onto the highest speed setting and for about 10 seconds to lighten the frosting.
  3. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt and combine until well-incorporated.
  4. Add milk, heavy cream or half-and-half until the frosting has reached the preferred consistency. For a firmer frosting, add more confectioner’s sugar, 1/4 cup at a time. For a softer frosting, add more milk or cream, a tablespoon at a time.

I took a wee bit of the leftover frosting and added a few drops of red food coloring to make it pink.  I didn’t have a small enough piping tip, so I put the pink frosting into a ziploc baggie and snipped a corner to write the happy birthday, and then created the “flowers” using a closed star tip.  And yes, I am aware that I have had better cake decorating days.


The frosting was sweet, but not too sweet.  If you want your frosting to be a little less sweet, add a little bit more salt (another small pinch or two).  The salt really balances out sweetness in frosting, but doesn’t necessarily make the frosting salty by any means…unless you over do it.

Birthday Candle Blowout!
Birthday Candle Blowout!

I made a batch of strawberry ice cream to go with the cake too.  Yup – I get things done! The ice cream recipe will follow soon!

Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting

I’m still terribly backlogged on posts, but thought I’d throw a more recent baking project into the mix. I’m going to be 30 this year and have really noticed my body’s growing inability to process sugar and junk food in the last year.  I’ve been forced to be more selective about what I consume now, both in quantity and quality. Maybe eating seven tacos at our annual Cinco de Mayo lunch at work isn’t the best approach to a healthy life, or finishing Kevin’s food and along with the extra food we were hoping to use as leftovers for lunch the next day won’t help my cause either even if it’s healthy food. My skinny jeans just aren’t as easy to put on or get off anymore, though I suppose they never were thanks to these God-given giant calves of mine. But there are certain homemade-type sweets – ice cream, ice cream sandwiches, anything with a good pie crust, or a good cake – just get me every time. One of those things is this chocolate cupcake recipe.

My contribution to Kevin‘s family’s Mother’s Day celebration was a chocolate cupcake with espresso buttercream frosting. The chocolate cupcake recipe is a reliable recipe that I first fell in love with when making my Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes for St. Patty’s a couple of years ago, and it’s still my favorite.  There is something about the Guinness and sour cream in it that just adds an extra special chocolatey decadence without making the cake feel overly rich and heavy.  Here is the recipe for this fantastic duo, as adapted from two different Brown Eyed Baker recipes (cupcake and frosting).


  • 1 C Guinness stout
  • 1 C unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¾ C Dutch-process cocoa powder  (MUST be dutch-process!!!)
  • 2 C all-purpose flour
  • 2 C granulated sugar
  • 1½ tsp baking soda (use fresh baking soda less than 6 months old to get a good rise from your cupcakes)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 2/3 C sour cream


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 24 cupcake cups with liners. Bring the Guinness and butter to a simmer in a heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the cocoa powder and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Set aside to cool. Original recipe says cool slightly, but definitely cool it down til you can touch the pot with your bare hand.
  2. Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl to combine. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sour cream on medium speed until combined.

    Always Sift Your Dry Ingredients Together
    Always Sift Your Dry Ingredients Together
  3. Add the Guinness-chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and beat just to combine. Reduce the speed to low, add the flour mixture and beat briefly. Don’t overmix!!!  Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter until completely combined. Divide the batter among the cupcake liners.
  4. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 16-17 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on a rack.


  • 1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2½ C powdered sugar
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 1½ tsp espresso powder (use more if you want a stronger coffee flavor)


  1. Mix the espresso powder into the vanilla until dissolved; set aside.
  2. Using the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, whip the butter on medium-high speed for 5 minutes, stopping once to scrape the sides of the bowl. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the powdered sugar a little at a time, waiting until it is mostly incorporated before adding more. Once all of the powdered sugar has been added, scrape the sides of the bowl and increase the speed to medium-high and whip until fluffy, about a minute or two.
  3. Add the espresso and vanilla mixture and continue to mix at medium-high until it is completely incorporated, scraping the sides as necessary.

    Espresso Swirl - Mix All the Way In
    Espresso Swirl – Mix All the Way In

It’s been a while since I’ve actually baked anything, so it was nice to get back into it. The frosting is a lighter buttercream and I think could be somewhat volatile in hot weather, hence some aggressive driving getting to the valley on a HOT Sunday afternoon.

Time to Frost
Time to Frost

It’s definitely not the thick Sprinkles style frosting. Just add more powdered sugar or subtract a little of the butter if you do like it that way.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting
Chocolate Cupcakes with Espresso Buttercream Frosting

I was definitely keeping tabs on Kevin’s family members to see if they were into the combo since Kevin told me last minute that no one really drinks coffee in his family, but it went over well and a couple people went back for seconds. RELIEVED.


Happy New Year (Cake)!

Happy 2013, everyone!  Hope everyone had a lot of fun and made lots of mistakes last night!

I decorated this cake during another class I took at the Gourmandise School of Sweets and Savories, which is where I took my Intro to Macarons and French Macaron 201 classes.  I really love that place!

There were many options for what to write on my cake, but I thought this was an appropriate one to practice my cake-writing with…

Cake Decorating Basics
Cake Decorating Basics

The cakes were pre-made, but we made the buttercream and frosted the cakes ourselves.  They had a huge array of different types of food gels, but no corals so I tried to make one myself.  It turned out really orange in the photos for some reason, but it’s a pretty normal coral.  The color for the writing turned out much greener than I had hoped, as I was aiming for a robin’s egg blue.

I also tried doing dots along the side of the cake, but they ended up looking more like spikes.

Coral Edging Using an Open Star Pastry Tip
Coral Edging Using an Open Star Pastry Tip

Hopefully some prettier pastries will come your way this year, with my newfound set of decorating skills!  For now, enjoy!

Happy New Year Cake!
Happy New Year Cake!

French Macaron 201

I took an intermediate macaron class as a follow-up to the intro class I took Thanksgiving weekend.

In the class, we made three different types of macarons and fillings: pistachio with a lemon curd filling, hazelnut with a chocolate ganache filling and candied crushed hazelnuts, and vanilla with a ispahan buttercream filling (however, the photo below is showing the vanilla with a rose buttercream filling).  My favorite was the ispahan flavored filling, but I actually liked it best with the pistachio cookie.

Pistachio, Hazelnut, and Vanilla Macarons
Pistachio, Hazelnut, and Vanilla Macarons

What is ispahan?

Oh, well you gon’ LEARN today.

It’s one of the signature flavor creations developed by Pierre Hermé, which includes a surprisingly awe-inspiring combination of raspberry, lychee, and a wee touch of rose that blends together to form a delicately complex flavor trifecta that is just plum to die for.  The ispahan is the name for a type of rose, although it doesn’t look the ones you get on Valentine’s Day along with other random sweet nothings.

Pierre Hermé actually came up with the flavor combination when he was young, producing an early version of the Ispahan for Ladurée (which is still sold in their boutiques).

All in all, I think I’m going to try to make the macarons on my own at home in the very near future.  I love macarons far too much not to give it a go.  Just need to focus!

Basic Macarons

I’m a Macaronaholic. Part of why I love these cookies so much is because I respect the fact that it’s really easy to make bad ones.  Different factors come in to play when making these chewy little clouds of heaven – humidity, room temperature, sifting, distribution of heat in your oven, etc. I’ve been too intimidated to make them on my own out of fear of having new content to contribute to my list of crafting/baking disasters.  If only there was some sort of alert to let you know when you’re about to over mix, over (or under) dry, or over bake your macarons…

I braved the Black Friday madness once again, this time to take an Intro to French Macarons class at the mall in Santa Monica with the goal of quelling said fears.  We made a basic vanilla macaron with four different fillings – raspberry buttercream, passion fruit buttercream, coffee buttercream, and a very buttery salted caramel.  The salted caramel was made from scratch, and we made an Italian meringue buttercream, split it three ways, and then added the secondary flavor for the other fillings.  The raspberry filling just had freeze-dried raspberries added to it, and concentrates were added to the buttercream for the passion fruit and coffee fillings. Pretty straightforward.

Basic Vanilla Macaron

The class was really informational and fun, with the exception the one student in my class who also happened to be named Allison. She referred to me throughout the class as “Other Allison”, probably because her macaron cookies came out cracked and in any shape but round. She didn’t like this, and made comments like “Leave it to Other Allison to show the class up.”  However, once the cookie sheets came out of the oven, she “accidentally” took one of mine and started applying the filling to those.  I would have blamed it on a mix-up with the name, but she had written “Allie” on her cookie sheet.  Really?  I was already annoyed with her for being obnoxious, but as I looked at the sad “Allie” misshapen macaron cookies I was left with, I was just about ready to stab her with my offset spatula.  Luckily, as a test of my learnings, I got asked to make a second batch and those turned out great. Suck it, Allie. #notbitter

Basic Vanilla Macaron with Raspberry Buttercream Filling

I’m taking an intermediate class next week to learn how to make different types of macaron fillings (custards, ganaches, etc.), as well as different flavored cookies (rose petal, pistachio, hazelnut, etc.).  Really exciting!  After that, I think I may try them on my own.  Eek!