Cupcake Friday: Vanilla Sponge Cake with Swiss Buttercream

Source: Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes & Jill’s mom
Serves: 12


I’m thinking maybe I need to change this category to “Fattening Friday.” It has that charming alliterative ring to it, and I’m pretty sure you’re going to agree when you see the buttercream recipe below, which calls for approximately one million sticks of butter. But it’s that fancy Swiss meringue buttercream, the kind you find smoothly frosted over wedding cake, all beautiful and alluring and buttery delicious.

For years, I was unaware of the awesomeness of homemade cakes and frostings. When I was growing up, my mom made from-scratch brownies and cookies in regular rotation, but usually our cakes were from a mix. And since we didn’t have cake all that often, I didn’t give it much thought. My brother’s favorite cake, the one he requested for his birthday every year, was a coronary conglomeration of yellow cake soaked with red jello and frosted with vanilla pudding and Cool Whip. My mom always kind of marveled at how gross it was, but out of love, she made it every year.

So it wasn’t until I got older and started going to weddings that I really knew what fancy cake tasted like. And the cake Terwilliger and I had for our wedding? The best cake of my LIFE. Of course, since I was too wired and excited to eat much during our reception, I was more than famished by the time we took the top tier back to the hotel with us.

Anyway, when my mom was visiting a few weeks ago, we both lit up at the idea of making our very own butter-rich cake icing. After deciding on the frosting, we pored over cookbooks looking for the perfect cupcake recipe that could be easily halved, so that we didn’t end up with an army’s worth of cupcakes. Because we would eat them. Terwilliger would eat one, and mom and I would eat the rest. It’s just what we do.

So after much whining on my part (where was my perfect, halveable recipe?) and much searching on my mom’s part, we settled on a family recipe: my great-grandmother’s hot milk sponge cake. This is one from-scratch cake that made frequent appearances in our household when I was a kid, but I always kind of disregarded it because 1) I didn’t care much for the batter, and 2) there was no chocolate involved.

Imagine my pleasure when we baked these and they turned out to be the lightest, tastiest little vanilla cakes ever. When they came out of the oven, I was unsure — they were a little crunchy on top, and we had overfilled the muffin cups, so the tops were a little flat and U.F.O.-like. I whined some more.

But then we each frosted and ate one. And, um, wow. Hello, buttery vanilla deliciousness. You will be accompanying my lunch for the next few days. Oh yes, yes, you will. And it’s gonna be great.

And you know what, you guys? It was.


For the sponge cake:

2 eggs
1 C. sugar
1 C. flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 C. milk
1 T. butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 325. Place 12 paper muffin liners in muffin tins.

In a mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs with the sugar until thick and pale yellow, about 10 minutes. In a small bowl, sift together the flour and baking powder.

In the meantime, place the milk and the butter in a glass measuring cup. Microwave until hot but not boiling, about 40 seconds. Set aside.

Gradually add flour/baking powder to egg/sugar mixture on low speed. Gently stir in milk, then vanilla. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups, filling about 2/3 full. (If you have additional batter, move on to muffin pan #2.)

Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the cake is just golden on top and springy to the touch.


For the frosting:

1 C. plus 2 T. sugar
5 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
4 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 & 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Place sugar, egg whites, and salt in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, and whisk until sugar has dissolved and egg whites are warm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Test by rubbing the mixture between your fingers; it should feel completely smooth.

Transfer bowl to mixer stand. Using the whisk attachment, beat on high speed until mixture has cooled completely and formed stiff and glossy peaks, about 10 minutes.

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat until incorporated after each addition. The buttercream will appear curdled after all the butter has been added, but don’t worry; it will become smooth again with continued beating.* Add vanilla, and whisk until combined.

Switch to the paddle attachment, and beat on the lowest speed to eliminate any air pockets, about 5 minutes. Buttercream can be kept, covered, at room temperature for a few hours if you’re planning on using it that day, but if you’re not, transfer it to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to one month. Before using, bring buttercream to room temperature, and beat on the lowest speed with the paddle attachment until smooth, about 5 minutes.

Makes about 5** cups, enough for about 18 cupcakes

*Okay, this part was almost disastrous for mom and me. The buttercream was incredibly curdled, even after we added the vanilla and switched the paddle attachment. I declared it a disaster and went to the internet to investigate troubleshooting methods, and my mom just kept on beating the damn frosting until it all came together again. Like magic. So if you make this, just keep beating. For as long as necessary. It might feel like a really long time. But it will work.

**I actually halved the recipe (and used three egg whites minus a tablespoon) and still ended up with a ton of frosting, enough that I froze the leftovers. So if you don’t mind wasting a tablespoon of egg white, I’d suggest halving the recipe.


11 responses to “Cupcake Friday: Vanilla Sponge Cake with Swiss Buttercream

  1. That is a fascinating frosting recipe. I’m used to more traditional buttercream, and that certainly looks like it falls pretty close to the meringue camp. Going to have to give that a try…

  2. I failed at swiss buttercream 3 times before it worked. My problem was that the egg whites started cooking. The site is awesome!

  3. Thanks Jill! I beg you to keep reading and commenting. 🙂

  4. Hello – if I use this to frost cupcakes, will they keep at room temperature, or should I refrigerate the cupcakes?

    Secondly, is there any risk to salmonella since the egg whites are not completely cooked?


  5. Hi Jill – thank you for your quick reply, much appreciated. I have some more questions please.
    1. Your cake is a sponge cake, so it would have a different texture than regular cake. Is that right?
    2. How does the buttercream hold up to decorating with tips?

    Thanks so much again and Happy New Year!

  6. Pingback: Why do I not have an apple corer? « An Erudite Slacker’s Thoughts on Humanity

  7. Do you have recipe for Apple Sponge cake ?

  8. So far this morning, I’ve made 3 batches! This recipe is very easy and quick to throw together. I enjoy the texture of the cupcake- it’s the perfect sponge cake for sure. I’ve cut the sugar volume by 25% which still resulted in a sweet cupcake. I used 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1/4 cup of Splenda Sugar Blend. On my second round, I doubled the recipe and ended up with 2- 6 inch round cakes as well as 12 perfect cupcakes. Fantastic recipe and I thank you for sharing!

  9. How do you modify to make it a cake and not cupcakes?

  10. Mine didnt work out. My first batch came out with the middles all hollowed. The sides overflowed the cupcake liners and came out like pie crust.

  11. Hi Jill,
    Your cupcakes look delectable. I tried making them according to your directions but they did not come out as airy and spongy as yours in the picture above. Usually when i make sponge cake i fold in the flour, can you let me know if I should do that with this recipe? or maybe i did something wrong that affected the expected texture of the cupcakes? Any insight will be greatly appreciated. Thank you

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