"Cinderella, dressed in yella, went up stairs to kiss a fella. Made a mistake and kissed a snake! How many doctors did it take?"
It all started two months ago. I was picking the kids up from school on an icy February afternoon. The kind of day when the wind whips in biting gusts between the buildings and razor-sharp bits of snow sting your face. I can't even call them "snowflakes" because "knives" are a much more accurate description. I wrapped my scarf around my chin as I walked the block and a half from where I'd parked the car to their schoolhouse. I was eager to get home, turn on the stove and start a pot of mushroom risotto for dinner. As we drove home, she told me that she wanted to have her birthday party at a certain pizza place. You, no doubt, know the one - singing robots, silly music, flashing lights & the electronic hum of enough arcade games to make you half crazy, and mediocre pizza at best. I think every town must have one and there's nothing wrong with this restaurant, once or twice in a blue moon. But we've celebrated more than our fair share of birthdays there. And in any case, I had other plans in mind.
And so over the next few weeks the plans developed, growing from that tiny seed she planted on that cold February afternoon, until the morning of the party arrived. In a swirl of tulle and satin, the girls began knocking at our door, all dressed in their very best springtime dresses and straw hats. Eve led them up the stairs to the garden in the kitchen, skirts rustling, sequins sparkling.
We crafted garden flowers out of tissue paper in every colour of the rainbow (here's how), drank pot after pot of blueberry tea with sugar which turned our dainty cups a beautiful shade of sapphire on the inside, and skipped rope in the cool sunshine, singing:
Dressed in yella,
Went up stairs to kiss a fella.
Made a mistake and kissed a snake.
How many doctors did it take...?
You remember that old jump rope rhyme?
But the star of the show, aside from the birthday girl herself, were these vanilla bean cupcakes with fresh strawberry buttercream. They looked like a bouquet of little roses picked from the garden (if only the roses were blooming!)
I've been playing with this strawberry buttercream for a while. All the recipes I've seen require the strawberry purée be reduced down on the stove beforehand. Quite frankly, I wanted something easier. Something that uses fresh strawberry puree, is all-natural (no food colouring, no artificial flavours), and most importantly, is just the right shade of pink! Because these things matter! Something I can whip up at midnight the next time Eve needs a safe dessert. Because when you have kids with food allergies you end up making A LOT of cupcakes at midnight - for birthday parties, school parties, dinner parties, I could go on. This recipe is it! And it's so simple! Just purée the strawberries and strain out the seeds, then everything gets creamed together like a regular buttercream! No cooking required! This frosting pipes beautifully, as long as you've strained it first. But you could certainly skip that step if you'd rather spread the frosting on the cupcakes instead. So simple!
The day was beautiful. Something I know she'll remember for years to come, and I feel a tinge of sadness now that it's behind us. But I'm already looking forward to the next birthday party in August. I have a few ideas up my sleeve, and you can be quite certain that this buttercream will play a staring role in that one, as well!
Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp aluminum-free baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1/2 cup (8 Tbsp) butter, very soft
1 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
2 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat your oven to 400 F (200 C). Line 15 cupcake molds with paper liners.
Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together into a large mixing bowl. With and electric mixer, slowly beat in the butter until just incorporated. Beat in the sugar and vanilla beans. Then the eggs, one at a time. Mix the vanilla and milk and slowly beat this in until everything is just combined.
Pour the patter into the prepared pans, filling the cupcake molds 2/3 of the way full. Bake for 18 - 20 minutes. Test for doneness with a toothpick or wooden skewer. Cool completely before unmolding and icing.
Fresh Strawberry Buttercream
4-5 medium size, fresh organic strawberries
1 stick (8 TBSP) of butter, room temp
2 3/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt
Wash and hull the strawberries. Purée in a food processor until smooth. Press the strawberry purée through a fine mesh sieve and set aside.
Cream the butter with an electric mixer until fluffy. Add 1 cup of the sugar and beat until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla extract, salt and 2 1/2 TBSP of the strawberry purée. Slowly add the remaining 1 3/4 cups sugar and beat until fluffy. Frost cupcakes.
To make the rosettes, transfer the frosting to a piping bag, fit with a 2D piping tip. Starting in the centre of the cupcake, hold the bag at a 90 degree angle and pipe a mound of frosting in the middle of the cupcake, then swirl the frosting around the mound, once around for an open rose and twice for a rose that is tighter.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
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