Mad for Cupcakes

My girls are growing up too fast, and it seems that all they want requires the use of batteries and possibly an iPad.  So I am glad and relieved when, on occasion, they instead request some old-fashioned fun.  When it came time to plan a party for my now 7-year-old, it would have been easier to go to one of those party factory type places with inflatable jumpy-houses, but I was much happier when my little one requested a tea party at home with just a few friends.  We decided to have a Mad Hatter tea party.  The birthday girl dressed up as an ebony-haired version of Alice, and we decorated hats with gossamer and satin ribbons, bling, and feathers.

We wore long strands of “pearls.” And for some off-theme but equally anachronistic fun, we threw in a game of pin-the-tail on the donkey.  For tail-pinning novices, the birthday guests showed remarkable accuracy, despite being (supposedly) blindfolded.

For the refreshments, I made tea sandwiches (crustless, of course), filled with the birthday girl’s requested peanut butter and jelly, egg salad, cucumbers and cream cheese, smoked salmon, and Irish cheddar.  They washed it down with sparkling pink lemonade, and I enjoyed my fantasy of what a little girl’s birthday should be.

We lit a candle on a platter of chocolate-frosted vanilla cupcakes, topped with sparkling pink sugar.   I’ve made this same recipe for at least half of my girls’ birthday parties, and was glad to make them again for last weekend’s celebration.  They’re becoming a family recipe, but I can’t take credit for the cupcake batter or the chocolate buttercream (though I tweaked that a little).   They’re the recipe from New York’s Magnolia bakery.  My brother-in-law, Patrick, introduced us to Magnolia’s old-fashioned decadent cakes and cupcakes, and I take credit for identifying their vanilla cupcakes with chocolate buttercream frosting as the ideal of all cupcakes, and the recipe I wanted to make my family’s birthday tradition.  After the party, my friend, Heather, whose daughter Gillie is that rare breed of child who does not like most sweets,  emailed me to tell me that Gillie loved the cupcakes, and could she have the recipe? Well, of course.   To be truly old-fashioned, I should write out the recipes on some index cards, but I’ll allow us some modern conveniences and post them here instead.

*     *     *

Old-Fashioned Birthday Cupcakes

Recipes adapted from The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook.

For 24 cupcakes:


2 sticks best quality unsalted butter, very soft, at room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs at room temperature

11/2 cups self-rising flour

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

1 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract


1.  Place paper cupcake liner in two standard muffin pans and preheat oven to 350.

2.  Cream butter until fluffy, then add in sugar and continue mixing until fluffy.

3.  Add eggs one at a time.

4.  Sift together flours, then add to the batter in four parts, alternating with the milk.

5.  Add vanilla extract.

6.  Add batter to muffin tin, filling each about 3/4 of the way full.

7.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until cake springs back to the touch of your finger, or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Cupcakes will be barely golden on top when done.  Cook completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Chocolate Buttercream

I adapted this from the original Magnolia recipe, which even my kids found too sweet, by reducing the amount of confectioners’ sugar and substituting half of the chocolate with dark chocolate.  Next time I might use all dark chocolate.


2 sticks best quality unsalted butter, very soft

1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp. milk

3 oz semisweet or milk chocolate

3 oz dark chocolate (the very best; I use Valrhona)

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar


1.  coarsely chop and then melt together two types of chocolate (in the microwave at 50% power or in a double boiler), combine until smooth and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes.

2.  beat butter until creamy

3.  add milk and beat until smooth

4.  add cooled, melted chocolate

5.  add vanilla

6.  when above is well combined, gradually add sifted sugar

7.  Keep away from direct sunlight at room temperature and frost cupcakes shortly before serving.

© 2011 Linda Shiue

6 responses

  1. Gillie and I are so happy to have this recipe – we’re actually going to make them tomorrow!!! Thank you so much Linda for posting these delicious recipes!

  2. It sounds like a delightful birthday party. I’m sure everyone had a great time. Nice to know that children still like to do some things that don’t require electronics. The cupcakes sound very good.

  3. I need a basic cupcake recipe and will give this a try. I’ve yet to encounter a truly easy cupcake that looks and tastes as good as a regular cake. And this buttercream, oh my, tdf. Happy Birthday, Linda’s little one!

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