Car Seats and Butter Cakes

A few days ago, I was presented with the task of installing a new car seat for Kate. I figured this would be challenging; I often think dealing with these pieces of equipment, fitted with belts, buckles, harnesses, and clips, requires one to have a special degree of some sort. I’m not a complete idiot when it comes to things mechanical, but I’ve learned over the past year that cribs, high-chairs, strollers, and the like are just really tricky and demanding. Oh, and, of course, if you fail to properly put these things together, the result could be catastrophic. Talk about stressful.

Once I finally decided to remove the smaller seat from the car, I was committed to the new one. I went to the store hoping that the owner would assist me with installing it. I should have known better. For liability reasons, he could not. He left me in the parking lot on a 95-degree day with a kind but, nonetheless, frustrating, “Spend some time reading the directions before you start, and I’ll be happy to look at it when you’ve finished.” Okay. Not what I really wanted, but I thought I’d give it a go. After 10 minutes of wrestling with the box that was as big as I am, not to mention trying to locate the English-language section of the directions, I threw the seat in the back of the car and returned home.

I then tried calling another store for help, but only got through to the voicemail. I had to face the fact that I was on my own. So back outside I went, really, really frustrated, hot, and bothered with this task that had already taken hours too long. Pulling and tugging, and muttering to myself, I had flashes of fighting with the Rubix’s cube that was so popular when I was a kid. I hated that stupid thing, trying to get all the same colored squares on each side. I never got it right and usually just ended up chucking it aside for my needlepoint. This was way worse, and I couldn’t just give up the task. Kate needed a car seat! After about 30 minutes on my knees wrestling with the seat in the back of my small Jetta, I finally subdued it. Hearing the last click of the latch that attached out of sight under the back seat, I was elated to have succeeded in forcing it to submit to my will and physical labor.

I’m sure we all have experiences like this. Seemingly simple or straightforward tasks become overwhelming and have a way of making us feel inept or less than capable. I decided I needed to get my self-esteem back on track, and so, of course, I headed for the kitchen.

Cupcakes seemed the best way for me to reboot my ego, so I set about baking my favorite golden butter cakes. The recipe is really a slight variation of a traditional 1-2-3-4 cake. The batter comes together in minutes and bakes into cakes that are firm, buttery, and sweet and also have a tender, soft crumb.

I spooned dollops of the smooth, light golden batter into paper-lined mini-cupcake tins, and in less than 15 minutes, the house was filled with vanilla-scented cakey goodness. After allowing the cupcakes to cool, I piped some Italian buttercream on top, just to make them even more festive. You could just as easily use a quick butter and confectioners’ sugar frosting, or even leave the little blond beauties plain.

As Kate and I shared these prettily decorated sweet treats, I not only felt slightly better about my mommy capabilities, but I also thought rosily that my car seat adventure wasn’t that challenging after all. I’ve already told my husband, though, that if he wants to move the blasted thing, he can reinstall it himself.

My Favorite Butter Cakes

As with most cakes, this recipe performs best when all of the ingredients are at room temperature.

Makes 32 to 36 mini-cupcakes or two 8- or 9-inch round cakes

3 1/3 cups cake flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature

2 cups sugar

4 large eggs

1 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Buttercream or frosting (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line 32 to 36 mini-cupcake/muffin tins with paper liners.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until smooth. Add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Drop in the eggs, one at a time, beating until each one is fully incorporated. Stir together the milk and the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixing speed to medium low. Alternately incorporate the flour mixture and milk, beginning and ending with the flour and stopping several times to scrape the sides of the bowl, until the batter is thick and smooth. Resist overbeating.

Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake tins and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean. Cool the cakes on wire racks in the pans for about 5 minutes before lifting them out to cool completely.

Frost the cooled cupcakes with buttercream or frosting, if desired.

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