Hummingbird Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes, Sea-Level Style

"Our vanilla cupcakes, topped with candy-colored Vanilla Frosting and sprinkles, are what the Hummingbird Bakery is best known for, and they never fail to please. When you make these at home, don't overbake them -- they should be light golden and spring back when touched. This way you will ensure an airy, moist cake with a subtle vanilla taste."
- The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Hummingbird vanilla cupcakes, as done by the pros (from the Hummingbird Bakery's website)

One of the things that I like the best about the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook is the simplicity of its ingredients and its recipes. Its ingredients are normally the sort of thing that you wouldn't be hard-pressed to find in a regular, run-of-the-mill supermarket. For instance, I remember feeling vaguely annoyed the one time I made the New York Times' chocolate chip cookie recipe. The recipe called for "1 1/4 pounds of bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content." It took me a week to find bittersweet chocolate disks, let alone ones containing the specific cacao content that the recipe demanded. Mind you, when I did find the appropriate chocolate at the ever-so-bourgeois Whole Foods, they were priced at something like 7 or 8 dollars a half pound. I essentially ended up paying over $10 for just the chocolate in my chocolate chip cookies. Fuck that. To add insult to injury, the recipe required you to "chill" the dough overnight! I'm way too impatient for that -- I want my chocolate chip cookie, and I want it now. So I made the cookies once and I have to tell you the truth: they weren't worth it.

But here's something that is. Take a look at the recipe list for a batch of Hummingbird Bakery vanilla cupcakes:
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • a "scant" 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 tspn vanilla extract
As I noted before, the ingredients are simple, attainable, and pretty cheap. Even if you're just an occasional baker, you probably already have most of the ingredients in your pantry. Note that the recipe, similar to its ingredients, is unfussy and straightforward:

The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook's Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe
from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

The cookbook claims that the recipe will yield 12 cupcakes; I've made these cupcakes a bunch of times and it has only ever yielded 10.

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment* and beat on slow speed until you get a sandy consistency and everything is combined.

*A quick note.

I do not have a
KitchenAid mixer. I think it's pretty funny that the cookbook tries to go around saying that you need a KitchenAid mixer. What's this horseshit about a "freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment"?! As if there's any other mixer that fits that description!

Instead, I've been using the rather unsexy, unglamorous, but highly dependable Hamilton Beach hand mixer for the last few years. I bought it my sophomore year in college, but it's still got its full power and has never failed me yet. Okay, so you can really only use the lowest setting to avoid overbeating the dough. And sure, it's not the flat paddle beater of my dreams and I have to use a spatula to scrape the dough off the beaters. And the vibrations kinda make my arthritic wrists hurt. Shrug. It works, it was cheap, and it's lasted.

Back to the recipe.

3. Gradually pour in half the milk and beat until the milk is just incorporated.

4. Whisk the egg, vanilla, and remaining milk together in a separate bowl for a few seconds, then pour into the flour mixture and continue beating until just incorporated. Continue mixing for a couple more minutes until the batter is smooth, but do not overmix.

5. Spoon the batter into cupcake cases until two-thirds full and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until light golden and the cake bounces back when touched.

6. When done (you can test this by inserting a toothpick in the center; if it comes out clean when you pull it out, the cupcakes are ready to go), let the cupcakes cool slightly in the pan before letting cool on a wire rack.

Not bad, eh? Six fairly simple, easy steps yields homemade cupcakes that are almost as attractive as the ones that the pros did in the photos above:

Hummingbird vanilla cupcakes, as done by me
(iPhone Camera)

The photo is of my first EVER batch of Hummingbird vanilla cupcakes. This was taken in San Francisco sometime in late June/early July, when I had just gotten back from London. I made these using the really simple recipe above. The frosting was another Hummingbird recipe -- specifically, their lavender buttercream -- I just modified it with a couple drops of pink food coloring, instead of leaving it its natural cream white color. I also had a giant block of white chocolate that I massacred with a cheap vegetable peeler to produce the white chocolate shavings/rolls that you see in the photo.

Not bad, eh?

So for all you lucky sea-levellers out there, there it is. Take this recipe as a gift. Because it'll be a long time until you see another original Hummingbird Bakery recipe on this blog. Because this is where the fun begins.

The next few posts will be nothing but trial-and-error modifications on this simple vanilla cupcakes recipe. Upcoming posts will document what happens when I try the exact same recipe in Denver's higher altitude (I do believe we saw a sneak preview in my former post), what happens when I tweak certain ingredients and recipe steps, food-sciencey explanations of the subsequent failures, and the ever-so-meticulous process until perfection. If I even attain it.

Again, please be patient with me. As I tell many Coloradans, this is my first time living anywhere with an altitude higher than 72 ft. Or anywhere that even snows.

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