When I first saw the notice for the 2011 Ice Cream Cupcake Contest  (also here, at Scoopalicious), I knew exactly what kind of cupcake I wanted to make for it. I even knew how I wanted to do it! I’m not a great photographer, and I don’t even own a camera (the above is a cell phone shot), but I knew that I could make a great cupcake. All I needed was a few recipes, and I’d be set. Except it turned out that there were no root beer cake recipes online, unless you wanted root beer bundt with a lot of chocolate and actual root beer in the batter. I wasn’t ready for that. It wasn’t going to be enough. The root beer flavor really needed to be front and center for this to work.

So I started thinking. What would it take to make root beer cake? Wikipedia says that there’s cloves and sassafras and nutmeg and cinnamon and a lot of other things that can flavor root beer, but I decided that I’d stick to what I knew (and had on hand). I’ve made the vanilla cake recipe I adapted from The Way The Cookie Crumbles in both cupcake and cake form, and I knew that I liked the flavor and texture of Bridget’s recipe (and those who brought it to her), so I decided to adapt that to my own root beer needs. A little cocoa powder for color, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, and root beer extract that I found at my local grocery store (a sure sign anyone can find it anywhere). Cinnamon frosting was a great way to get the fizzy-like top of a root beer float while sticking to the theme of the cupcake. Vanilla ice cream is classic, so I couldn’t change that (but I imagine that if you want to be rebellious, cinnamon ice cream, or your own special homemade kind, would be delicious in these).

So here we have it: the first post to my cooking blog, my entry for the 2011 Ice Cream Cupcake Contest, and root beer cupcakes!

Root Beer Cake (adapted from The Way The Cookie Crumbles, to make her vanilla bean cupcakes into root beer cupcakes!)

3 cups cake flour
½ cup cocoa powder
1 T baking powder
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter)
2 vanilla beans (use only 1 if preferred)
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
¼ cup molasses
1 T root beer extract
2 tsp. vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease your cupcake pan (I use Baker’s Joy to great satisfaction) and set aside.

2. Combine the cake flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and cocoa powder in a bowl. Once largely homogenous, set this aside as well.

3. Add the butter and salt (again, omit this if you’re using salted butter!) to a bowl. Split the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the bowl with the butter. Beat with a hand mixer, unless you have a stand mixer, until creamy and smooth (the seeds should be well-mixed in with the butter). Scrape the sides so you incorporate all the butter and beat a minute longer.

4. Add the sugar in ¼ cup increments, beating the butter mixture well between additions.

5. Beat in the eggs one at a time until egg is fully mixed in and your mixture is fluffy. Again, make sure you scrape your bowl to keep your mixture uniform.

6. Add the buttermilk, vanilla and root beer extracts, and molasses to a liquid measuring cup and stir to mix.

7. Add a third of the flour mixture and half of the buttermilk mixture to the butter-egg mixture while beating at low speed until all the flour has just been incorporated. Add another third of the flour, followed by the rest of the buttermilk mixture, and repeat. Finally, add the last of the flour and beat for a few seconds longer, careful not to overmix the batter.

8. Carefully measure out batter into the cupcake pan, filling each cup approximately 2/3 full to avoid doming. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cupcake. Allow to cool in the pan for a few minutes and then remove to a rack to cool.

Makes approximately 30 cupcakes.

Cinnamon Buttercream

2 sticks unsalted butter
½ tsp. salt (omit if using salted butter)
4 cups powdered sugar
1 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 – 3 T milk

1. Beat the butter and salt (if using) in a bowl until smooth and creamy.

2. Add cinnamon, vanilla extract, powdered sugar, and two of the tablespoons of milk. Beat until all the sugar has been incorporated, adding milk to bring to the desired consistency. It should be stiff enough to hold shape.

Cupcake Assembly

1. Cut cupcakes in half horizontally. Gently spoon small scoops of  your favorite vanilla ice cream (I used Breyers, but feel free to make your own if you have time, ambition, and an ice cream machine) between the halves (use a pastry bag to pipe the ice cream if you’re feeling fancy or neat) and replace cap on bottom half of cupcake.

2. Using a pastry bag and the tip of your choice, or a knife and your hands (I don’t have a pastry bag lying around, being new to this, so this is what I did), frost your cupcakes quickly to avoid an ice cream mess, recreating the “cloud” of fizz on a regular root beer float with the cinnamon frosting.

3. Decorate with straws, or leave plain.

4. Place cupcakes in freezer to keep cold until serving, or serve immediately.