Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Perfect Fluffy & Moist Vanilla Cupcakes

I hate the word "moist." But I had to use it here, because no other word would convey the correct description of these tasty little cakes. I guess I could have called it "Perfect Fluffy & Not Dry Vanilla Cupcakes," but that just doesn't quite capture the texture of these beauties.

I love cakes and cupcakes that have a tender and moist crumb, while still being light and fluffy. That's a hard standard to live up to. But here they are: perfectly moist from-scratch basic vanilla cupcakes. It's the best, Jerry, the best! They have a great vanilla-y sweet flavor. And look how beautifully these babies rise and dome ever so slightly, just like a good cupcake should behave.
Small crumb that is light, while still being moist and tender

I won't tell you how many cupcakes I made and ate (and my family ate) in the attempt to create this recipe, mostly because I lost count. But I will tell you that I have eaten a lot of vanilla cupcakes. A lot, people.

The process of finding the perfect combination took a lot of tweaking of ingredients: amounts of sugar, amounts of liquid, whether or not to use butter, how to mix the ingredients, etc. Little variations changed the texture: from too moist, to rubbery, to too sweet,  to too large of a crumb, to a fine crumb, to finally: a moist and tender crumb with the right amount of sweetness, counterbalanced with the perfect amount of saltiness. I am finally satisfied.

Even though these little cakes don't have butter in them, they taste nice and buttery. Mmmm.

Today is my Grandma and Grandpa's 69th wedding anniversary. Sixty-nine years! Can you believe that? To help celebrate I made some of these vanilla cupcakes to share with them, family, and the staff and residents of their retirement home. Happy Anniversary Grandma and Grandpa!

Perfect Fluffy & Moist Vanilla Cupcakes

(makes 24 cupcakes)

3 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt

3/4 cup whole milk
1 Tb. pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup sour cream

2 eggs
1/2 cup oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place rack in lower third of oven. Prepare 2, 12-each cupcake baking trays by lining them with cupcake liners (24).

2. In bowl of stand mixer (or regular medium bowl if you don't have a stand mixer), place the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together. Mix together on low speed for a minute or two until all the ingredients are well combined and the flour mixture is well aerated. 

3. Mix the milk and vanilla together in a liquid measuring cup or bowl.

4. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and oil together for a minute or two until the mixture is light yellow and thick. Gently whisk the sour cream into the eggs/oil. Gently pour in the vanilla/milk into the egg and sour cream mixture. Mix gently with whisk.

5. With the mixer on low speed, pour the liquid ingredients (they should all be combined now) slowly into the dry ingredients until well combined and smooth (about a minute or two).

6. Pour batter into cupcake liners in the baking trays until the liners are about 2/3 of the way full. Place baking trays in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (or almost clean-maybe a moist crumb or two). Don't overbake.

7. Remove from oven and allow to cool on rack for a minute before removing cupcakes (in their liners) to fully cool on a cooling rack. Frost as desired when they are fully cool. Enjoy!!

UPDATE: If you want a cupcake with an even finer crumb and even more velvet texture....try this post here!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

putting your ragdoll/softie together part 3: sewing limbs, stuffing and finishing

This post has been a long-time coming. My apologies! Today we are going to finish up making our rag dolls or giraffe; well later I'll post on making the yarn hair for the basic doll. We have already made a pattern (pattern making), cut out our pieces and sewed the head to the torso (part 1), and embroidered the face of the doll (part 2).

Now we're ready to sew the arms and legs, stuff them, attach them to the body and finish our doll!
we'll add some yarn hair to this doll in the next post
For the limbs of the basic doll above, you fold over your fabric (RST) so that it is doubled. Then trace the limbs on the folded fabric with a disappearing marker (I used pencil for the pictures here). Then I pin the fabric together and sew with a small stitch (1.6 on my machine) directly on the traced lines, leaving the base of the limbs unsewn so I can turn and stuff them later.
trace limb pattern on folded fabric

pin the fabric together

sew directly on traced lines with a tight stitch (I used 1.6 length)

limbs sewn
For the giraffe, we have to sew the felt (for the hooves) to the fabric for the rest of the limbs. I cut an 11 x 11 inch piece of cotton fabric for the arms/legs, and 2 pieces of felt measuring 2.75 x 11 inches. Then I pin the felt pieces to the fabric (one on top and one on bottom of arm fabric) like the picture below. I sew the felt on to the fabric where I've pinned, using 1/4 inch seam. Then press the seam and fold the fabric over in half (RST). Now I can trace my limb pattern pieces directly on the fabric and sew along my traced lines, leaving the base unsewn to turn and stuff.
for giraffe, pin felt strips to fabric to create the limb fabric
press the seams

fold the fabric in half, right sides together

line up the seams
trace pattern pieces on fabric

pin the fabric together

sew on traced lines, leaving base unsewn

sewn on the traced lines

cut out with pinking shears

Turn them right side out

After the limbs are sewn, cut them out with pinking shears, or make little notches close to the stitches on the curves. Then turn and press them with an iron. I stuff them firmly then with small tufts of poly-fil stuffing, leaving about an inch unstuffed at the base. Leaving the base unstuffed will make it easier to sew it on with the machine later.
leave about 1/8th inch seam allowance and cut out notches with pinking shears

turn the limbs right-side-out and press them with iron

stuff the limbs with stuffing, leaving an inch unstuffed at base
With the limbs stuffed, we can now add them to the body. We're almost done. Exciting! Attach/pin the limbs to the front of your doll (with limbs going towards center of body) as shown in the photo below, then baste stitch them on to the front of the doll. I start with the arms and then attach the legs.
pin and sew the arms on to the front of body with the limbs toward the center of the doll

attach the legs in the same manner, with the legs going up towards the head
Here are some pics of the same procedure for the giraffe doll (attach the horns and ears to the head as shown):

With the limbs now attached to the doll, we can sew the back of the body on. On the wrong side of the back piece of the doll, I like to draw my seam allowance (1/4 inch) all the way around. This helps me sew more accurately around the curves. It comes in handy when sewing the more curvy giraffe pattern.
optional: draw a line for your seam allowance on the back of the doll piece. I leave a little more than 1/4 inch on the bottom where the legs will be attached. 
Now I pin the back of the body to the front (right sides together). I leave the legs out at first and don't sew that portion yet. If I pinned it all together at once, the fabric would get all distorted and would be difficult to sew. I stick one of the arms out of the little hole in the back to make the fabric lay more flat to sew. Then I sew from the base (near the legs) on one side--with my stitch length at 1.6--to the base of the other side near the other leg. I sew over again the portions where the arms are attached to make sure they are attached securely.
pin the front and back of doll together (RST) as shown
After that part is sewn, I stuff the arm back in the body, and fold the legs up inside the body (one is sticking out the back hole) and sew the base of the doll. I sew over the legs again as I did with the arms to make sure the legs stay securely attached.
sew the legs up inside the doll
BEFORE turning the doll right side out, it is very important to clip the curves and take a notch out at the neck close to the stitch so that it will lay right once it is right-side-out. I use sharp scissors for the triangle portion taken out of the neck, and use the pinking shears on the rest.
cut a triangle out of the seam at the neck. Use pinking shears to clip close to the stitches on rest of doll (see picture above).

With the curves notched and clipped, you can turn your doll right-side-out through the hole in the back. Ta-da!
doll turned right-side out
Now using tufts of poly-fil, stuff the head of the doll fairly firmly and work your way down to stuffing the body. Once the body is stuffed as firm as you'd like, you will hand sew the back of the doll using an "invisible" stitch (also known as the ladder stitch). This helps the seam lay nice and flat and it's hard to tell that you've hand-sewn the back shut. You can use a whip-stitch if you'd like, but that will show more. 
Pin the fabric together where you will hand stitch

the back all sewn up using the invisible ladder stitch
For the basic doll, you are all done (except the hair)!

For the giraffe, you will hand-sew in the tail (see how to make the pom-pom tail in this earlier post: pom pom tail for giraffe) at the base of the hole you are sewing up in the back. Now add a small amount of stuffing to the nose and hand stitch that up. And the giraffe is done!!
pom pom sewn in the base of the hole at the back of doll
Congratulations! Now go make another or two. Or experiment with making more patterns of your own. It's fun.
Ta da!