But I may change my position on that. Because making cupcakes from scratch is fun, and not very hard, and you really can taste a difference. The only trick I've ever found for making good cake is to never short yourself on the amount of time you beat the butter, then add the sugar slowly and beat until it is nice and fluffy. This provides the structure. Also, you should be scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl frequently, to make sure everything is getting mixed.
Vanilla bean + orange cupcakes (makes 12 - 14, original recipe from Martha)Martha suggests using her swiss meringue buttercream recipe, which is wonderful, one of my favorites. For no real reason, I opted to use my other favorite recipe, the Magnolia Bakery creamy vanilla frosting. It has a flour base, which makes it slightly unusual, but the texture is amazing. It is light and fluffy and perfect for people who might not be completely sold on buttercream frosting.
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
2 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
**Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Cream butter for about 3 minutes, then slowly add the sugar, vanilla seeds, and orange zest and continue to beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy. With mixer running, add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl.
**Combine cream, orange juice, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with cream mixture, ending with flour; beat until just combined. Make sure you are scraping down the sides of the bowl between additions.
**Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until testers inserted in the centers come out clean, about 25 minutes.
Magnolia Bakery creamy vanilla frosting (makes enough for 3 dozen generously frosted cupcakes, slightly modified, original recipe from this book)
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped (my addition)
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar (I only use superfine baker's sugar for this recipe)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of one orange (my addition for this particular cupcake)
**In a medium-size saucepan, whisk the flour into the milk until smooth. Do this by adding a tiny bit of milk to the flour, whisking it into a thick paste and then slowly adding a bit more and stirring until it is all incorporated. This takes a bit of time, but if you try to do it too quickly you will end up with a lumpy mixture that is even more of a hassle. If using vanilla beans, add them here. Place over medium heat and, stirring constantly, cook until the mixture becomes very thick and begins to bubble, 10-15 minutes. Cover with waxed paper placed directly on the surface and cool to room temperature.
**In a large bowl, on the medium high speed of an electric mixer, beat the butter for 3 minutes, until smooth and creamy. Gradually add the sugar, beating continuously for 3 minutes until fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat well. Add orange zest if desired.
**Add the cooled milk mixture, and continue to beat on the medium high speed for 5 minutes, until very smooth and noticeably whiter in color. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes before using. I always pipe my frosting on because it is much faster and less messy than any other method I've found. No pastry bags or tips? Just load your frosting into a ziploc bag, cut off one corner and you have an instant solution.