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Small Acts of Sweetness

(by Jessie Oleson Moore)

If my mother had been born a little later, she would have been the Queen of Portlandia. She could sew, she could garden, she could cook, and she could bake. Like a BOSS. Later on, when my youngest sister went to school and Mom's days were free, she went on to make quite a name for herself as a children's book illustrator. But during our early years, she was a homemaker who doubled as an artistic jack of all trades. Among her many skills was expert cake decorator. My sisters and I weren't served ordinary birthday cakes; they were elaborate, sometimes even tiered confections worthy of weddings, with pink frosting and copious buttercream roses, that made our parties among the most desirable in town.

Such creations required quite a bit of production time. The preparations frequently began a day or two before the event, with the roses prepared on a mysterious "decorator's nail," then placed on sheets of waxed paper in the freezer in advance of assembling the birthday masterpiece.

Honestly, it was all too much for me, my sisters, and my dad to wait. We were jonesing for a taste. Luckily, my mom was well aware of the clear and present danger to the cake, so she always reserved a little bit of batter for a few cupcakes to tide us over. The cupcakes were always frosted slightly roughly—this wasn't the moment for her decorating skills to shine. But to pretty them up a little, she'd put a candied cherry on top.

Those cupcakes were everything to me; I actually loved them more than the cake—partly because of the superior frosting-to-cake ratio, but in a bigger way, because they were a symbol of love and a sign of good times to come. When you had one of these cupcakes in your hand, you couldn't be sad about anything in the world because, after all, there was even more cake coming.

With this small gesture, my mother inadvertently provided a huge life lesson. She taught me how small acts of sweetness can have an incredible impact on others. As I grew up and began to find my own way in the world, this idea of making the world slightly sweeter began to be one of my key guiding principles in life.

Eventually, I founded a business dedicated to writing about, drawing, and baking cake, offering virtual sweetness to the world. My mascot for the site? A simple, sweet, pink frosted cupcake with a cherry on top.

And it all started with Mom.


Jessie Oleson Moore is a freelance writer and illustrator. Her website is Unicorn Love; her cookbooks and all-age coloring books can be found at Amazon.

Vanilla Cupcakes

2 1/4 c. sifted cake flour

2 t. baking powder

1/2 t. salt

4 large eggs, separated

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 1/2 c. granulated sugar

1/2 c. brown sugar

2 t. vanilla extract

1 c. buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line two 12-cup cupcake tins with liners.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Transfer to another bowl and set aside.

With the paddle attachment of the mixer, cream butter until fluffy and light, 2 - 3 minutes on medium-high speed.

Add white and brown sugars, and mix until smooth, about 2 minutes on medium-high speed.

Add egg yolks, one at a time, incorporating with a rubber spatula.

Stir in vanilla.

Add the buttermilk and flour mixtures alternately, in 2 - 3 additions each, mixing until the batter is smooth and fairly thick.

By hand, fold the egg whites into the batter, stirring gently and only until no streaks of white remain.

Fill each cupcake liner about 2/3 full.

Bake for 17 - 20 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through.

When done, a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center of a cupcake should come out mostly clean.

Remove to wire racks to cool completely before frosting.

Makes 2 dozen.

Buttercream Frosting

1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

6 to 8 c. confectioners' sugar

1/2 c. milk or cream

2 t. vanilla extract

several drops red food coloring

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter until light, about 3 minutes on medium speed.

Add 4 cups of the sugar, milk, and vanilla.

On medium speed, beat until smooth and creamy, 3 - 5 minutes.

Gradually add remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the frosting is thick enough to spread. (You may not need all of the sugar.)

Add a few drops of red food coloring, and mix to a desired shade of pink.

Keep at room temperature until frosting the cupcakes.


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