Fanciful peaks in a spectrum of shades crown cupcakes with a motif inspired by a vintage Russian cookbook. You could also opt to use just one color of frosting, or leave it untinted. White cupcakes, made with egg whites only (instead of whole eggs), are very light and delicate. For a stronger vanilla flavor, scrape the seeds of one vanilla bean (halved lengthwise) into the milk in step one, and omit vanilla extract.
- Yield: 24
- 3¼ cups sifted cake flour (not self-rising)
- 1½ tablespoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
- ½ cup plus 6 tablespoons (1¾ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1¾ cups sugar
- 5 large egg whites, room temperature
- Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- Gel-paste food colors
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners. Sift together cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir vanilla into milk.
- With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, cream butter until smooth. Gradually add sugar, beating until pale and fluffy. Reduce speed to low. Add flour mixture in three batches, alternating with two additions of milk, and beating until just combined after each.
- In another bowl, with electric mixer on medium speed, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form (do not overmix). Fold one third of the egg whites into batter to lighten. Gently fold in remaining whites in two batches.
- Divide batter evenly among lined cups, filling each three-quarters full. Firmly tap the tins once on countertop to release any air bubbles. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in centers comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer tins to wire racks to cool 10 minutes; turn out cupcakes onto racks and let cool completely. Cupcakes can be stored overnight at room temperature, or frozen up to 2 months, in airtight containers.
- Divide buttercream into four portions; leave one untinted and tint remaining three to desired colors. Place each portion in a pastry bag fitted with a coupler. Using a small open-star tip, pipe peaks: Squeeze gently while lifting the tip, then release at the halfway point, and draw up tip until icing forms a point. Starting with untinted buttercream, pipe a single peak in the center of each cupcake, then pipe more peaks in a ring around it. Switch to tinted buttercream; pipe rings of peaks around the plain, until you reach the edge. Refrigerate 30 minutes to allow frosting to set. Cupcakes can be refrigerated up to 3 days in airtight containers; bring to room temperature before serving.