- ¾ cup (1½ sticks)
- unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1½ cups granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- Seeds from 1 vanilla bean
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 2½ cups unbleached
- 1⅓ cups whole milk
- Red food coloring
- 10 bite-sized pieces strawberry taffy
- » 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 12 pieces Sweetheart candy
- To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350°F, use a nontoxic marker to make a small dot on the edge of 12 paper liners and place them in one standard muffin tin, with all the dots facing the same direction. Use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer on medium speed to combine the butter and sugar for 90 seconds, until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in each egg completely before adding the next. With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the vanilla seeds, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl, then turn the mixer up to medium-high speed and mix for another 30 seconds, until all the ingredients are well combined. Finally, add the flour, ½ cup at a time, alternately with the milk, ⅓ cup at a time, mixing until each addition is fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl one more time and continue to mix the batter on medium-high speed another 30 seconds. It should be smooth and creamy.
- Pour approximately 1½ cups of the batter into a smaller bowl. This will be for the hearts. Use a spoon to stir in red food coloring, 2 or 3 drops at a time, until you get your desired shade of red or pink. Keep in mind the color will lighten a little while baking. Pour the pink batter into a nonstick or lightly greased 8-inch square baking pan and bake for about 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool completely. (It’s okay to stick it in the fridge to speed it up—I’m impatient too.)
- Once the sheet cake is cool, loosen the cake from the pan by running a knife around the edges of the cake. Carefully invert the pan onto a cutting board. Use a 2-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out 12 hearts. If you can’t find a small heart-shaped cookie cutter, draw a heart on some clean cardboard and use that as a stencil to cut the hearts out with a small knife.
- Spoon 2 heaping tablespoons of the remaining plain batter into the prepared tins. Place a heart in each cup, with the bottom of the heart pointing down and the front of the heart facing the dot on the cupcake paper. Press the heart gently into the batter. Cover the top of the heart with another teaspoon of batter. Bake for 24 minutes, or until the edges of the cupcakes have started to turn golden brown and the cake springs back when you gently press your finger into the top of it. Allow the cupcakes to rest in the tins for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool while you make the frosting.
- To make the frosting, melt the taffy and cream together in a microwave in a small, microwave-safe bowl for 20 seconds on high. Stir and microwave for another 20 seconds, repeating until the mixture has melted. When the taffy mixture is smooth, put the bowl in the fridge so it cools a bit before being added to the frosting (the cream will keep the taffy from hardening). Meanwhile, using a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or a hand mixer, whip the butter for 30 seconds at medium speed until creamy. Add the powdered sugar ½ cup at a time, whipping at medium speed until fluffy. With the mixer on medium-low, drizzle in the cooled taffy cream. Finally, turn the mixer to high and whip the frosting for 30 seconds, until it is pale pink and fluffy. If you’d like the frosting to be a darker shade of pink, add a couple drops of red food coloring. Pipe or spread the frosting on top of the cupcakes. Place a candy heart on top of each cupcake, point down, facing in the same direction as the dot on the cupcake wrapper so people will know which way to bite into the cupcake to see the heart. Love! Tip: Don’t know how to use vanilla bean? It’s easy. The vanilla bean has a wonderful, clean vanilla flavor, and it can replace vanilla extract in almost any cake recipe. To get the seeds from the vanilla bean, use a sharp knife to cut the bean in half lengthwise. Scrape the blade of the knife along both sides of the inside of the bean, scooping out all the seeds. The black seeds are very small, and they’ll stick together. Use a spatula or spoon to get the scrape the seeds off the knife, then mix them into your batter.