Last year, I spent Valentines Day eating a grocery-store chocolate bar from my then-boyfriend that he picked up at the last minute on his way to my house. This year, I took matters into my own hands. I’d take these home-made buttercream cupcakes over that chocolate bar (or that Valentines date) any February 14th.
Valentines Day Italian Cream Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
I’m not big into baking – I don’t have as much experience with it as I do ‘normal’ cooking, so it’s less of a creative and fun experience for me, plus, it just takes so much damn time. There’s also the issue of actually seeing how much butter and shortening and sugar goes into my favorite treats that makes me feel a little guilty; I’d rather just live ignorantly when it comes to my desserts, to be honest. That being said, every now and then I commit to a few hours in the kitchen so that I can reap some sweet rewards, and I decided to do just that for Valentines Day this year.
Last year, I made this recipe, but as a cake (three tiers, no less), for my girlfriend for her birthday. I had never heard of an Italian Cream Cake before she made her special request, but, let me tell you: it’s a recipe that I have used several times since then and I absolutely love it. The cake itself has a really simple, delicate flavor (it really does taste a lot like cream, imagine that), so it’s not the tasting notes that you’ll fall in love with when you take a bite, it’s the texture. This recipe creates the perfect density for a cake or cupcake. It’s airy (thanks, egg whites), but it also sticks to the back of a fork perfectly (thanks, buttermilk), meaning it hits just the right level of rich decadence without going over the top.
Baking can be a bit intimidating when you first start out and, I won’t lie, this recipe isn’t the easiest thing in the world to make – there are a lot of steps, and you have to get it just right for everything to work out- but if you follow the directions and practice a few times, it’ll get a lot easier, and you might even start looking forward to it. As for me, I still like to do most of my cooking without getting confectioner’s sugar all down the front of my shirt (which WILL happen when you bake, believe me), but I think it’s a great thing to be able to whip up a sweet treat for a special occasion…or whenever the heck you feel like it.
Ingredients (for the cake):
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 stick Crisco, softened
2 cups sugar
5 eggs, separated (whites reserved)
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
optional: 1 cup flaked coconut (I like the pre-toasted kind)
Ingredients (for the frosting):
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1 stick butter, softened
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
16 ounces powdered or confectioner’s sugar
Directions (for the cake):
In a large bowl, beat butter and Crisco together until fluffy (I use a hand mixer, but you can use an electric mixer if you’re fancy). Add the sugar, half a cup at a time, until blended. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, blending well. Add vanilla and blend.
In a separate bowl, combine your dry ingredients (the flour and baking soda) and then add it to the wet mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Begin and end with the flour mixture. So, you’ll add a bit of the dry mixture, blend, then a bit of the wet mixture, blend, and so on and so forth until you blend the last of the dry ingredients. At this point, if you want to add the coconut (which I suggest you do), fold in the flakes.
Lastly, beat the egg whites on high speed until they are bright white and form stiff peaks on the end of your beaters. Fold these in gently. The egg whites are what keep the cake light, so make sure you don’t treat them too roughly. Just gently fold them in until they’re incorporated completely.
Now, you’re ready to get the batter cooking, so put it in whatever pan you’re using (cupcake tin or cake pans – just make sure either one is either lined or sprayed so nothing sticks), and bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees Farenheit for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Directions (for the frosting):
Combine all ingredients.
Finish everything off by icing your cake or cupcakes, and adding fun toppings, if you like. For the cupcakes I made today, I topped the ones that had coconut in them (which was half the batch) with coconut flakes and little “XO’s” and candy hearts for the holiday, and the ones without coconut with chocolate and heart sprinkles. I also added red food dye to both the batter and the frosting so that everything was a perfect shade of pale pink.