Go-to cakes and frostings
When I make cake and cupcakes, I have 4 recipes that I always use for vanilla and chocolate cake and frosting. They are reliable and tasty, and people always like them. I love a complicated cupcake (say, a pumpkin spice cupcake with white chocolate cream cheese frosting), but there’s a lot to be said for a vanilla cupcake with really good vanilla frosting. You know? That’s what I always make for my birthday, anyway.
Vanilla cake: I like Deb Smitten’s Best Birthday Cake, even though it’s technically a yellow cake, but whatever. It’s a buttermilk-based cake, so it is really moist, even after it’s been sitting for a day. I’ve made it in almost every pan size possible — cupcakes, sheet cake (that flag cake), 9-inch rounds, 8-inch square, and bundt — and it always comes out well. Deb Smitten is not kidding when she says that it’s the best. One word of caution: I always get way more than 24 cupcakes out of this recipe. My notes indicate that I’ve ended up with 34 regular cupcakes and 24 regular cupcakes plus 18 minis.
Vanilla frosting: My favorite is the Easy Vanilla Frosting from the America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which you should all buy and love. A friend told me once that it tastes like “the best whipped cream ever.” By some voodoo, it doesn’t fall apart when you pipe it, and it doesn’t harden into crunchy peaks. It’s probably not the best choice if you are frosting a multi-layer cake that needs to support lots of weight, but for cupcake swirls, it’s perfect.
Chocolate cake: My go-to chocolate cupcake is this recipe from Annie’s Eats, and yeah, I’m cheating again slightly because it’s a devil’s food cake recipe, but whatever, I like it. It’s a cocoa-based cake that is nice and fluffy and tastes super chocolate-y, but you don’t need to go and blow $18 on fancy chocolate. Just note that you will get about 3 dozen cupcakes out of this recipe.
Chocolate frosting: Surprise! My favorite chocolate frosting is the Sour Cream Chocolate Frosting from that very same vanilla cake recipe above. It’s smooth and creamy, and the sour cream gives it a nice tang. One of my co-workers thought I used really fancy chocolate because of that tang, but no! I use generic semisweet chocolate chips, and the sour cream is a clever disguise. It spreads nicely over layer cakes and pipes well into rosettes. Make it, love it.