Best Ever Chocolate Cupcakes

One of my favorite things to do is bake and I love making cakes. I like the freedom and creativity that baking gives you. You can take simple ingredients and make something beautiful and absolutely delicious.  We recently celebrated my daughter’s birthday so in honor of her special day I made her favorite chocolate cupcakes. Some serious pastry chefs turn their nose up at cupcakes but I like them because they are a great way to get younger children involved in baking and decorating. Cupcakes are just the right size to get frosted easily and let little hands add sprinkles and decorations.

My daughter loves going to the aquarium so this is not the first nor do I think it will be the last ocean themed cake that I plan. When we celebrated Gabby’s first birthday I went all out with a larger fish themed cake.

Amy McCauley Cakes

This year we were having a small dinner to celebrate after a trip to the aquarium so I decided to make white chocolate seashells to decorate the cupcakes.

Amy McCauley Cakes

My absolute favorite recipe for chocolate cake comes from Pastry Chef Rebecca Rather. Years ago I had eaten at the Rather Street Bakery and Cafe in Fredericksburg, Texas and the food was so delicious that I purchased her cookbook.

I have since taken a baking class with her and Chef Rather is a very genuine person and a good teacher. You can tell that she loves to bake and her focus is on creating great flavors. This chocolate cake is particularly moist and light because the batter has both butter and oil in in, but the cake is still sturdy enough that you can stack and carve multiple layers without an issue. Her original recipe calls for a different frosting with whip cream and a chocolate ganache, but with these cupcakes I used my own buttercream icing.

Cake Ingredients:

1 cup (2 sticks) butter

2 cups water

1 cup canola oil

4 cups sugar

1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

4 cups of flour

4 large eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1 TBSP baking soda

1/2 TSP salt

1 TBSP Vanilla

This recipe makes a three layer 9 inch cake. I cut the recipe in half when making cupcakes and the halved recipe makes approximately 14 to 16 cupcakes depending on the size you make and how many taste testers you have in your kitchen. Preheat to oven to 350 degrees. Prepare your cupcake pans by using a liner of your choice and lightly spraying inside the cup with cooking spray. I used the Reynolds aluminum liners since I like the look and they hold their shape well. One note when making chocolate cupcakes is that some of the lighter colored cupcake liners may not show up as well with chocolate so you may want to have an extra to liner for the outside when you are done baking.

In a heavy saucepan combine the butter, water and canola oil and set over medium heat until the butter is just melted. Meanwhile in a large bowl of your mixer add together the sugar, cocoa and flour. Then pour the butter mixture into the sugar and flour mixture and beat until smooth. Whisk in the eggs one at a time then whisk in the buttermilk. Next add the baking soda, salt and vanilla all at once. For cupcakes I use a cookie scoop to measure the same amount of batter in each cup, so they bake evenly. Bake for approximately 20 minutes for cupcakes and 35 to 40 minutes if making the 9 inch cake rounds.

Amy’s Buttercream Frosting


1 stick butter of room temperature

4 cups powdered sugar

2 Tsp Vanilla

1/4 cup Milk

1 small pinch of Salt

Gel food coloring in your desired color

In a stand mixer cream the butter for about 1 minute until light on medium speed. Then add in the powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and salt. Beat at medium speed until butter and sugar are blended and scrape the sides down with a rubber spatula to make sure everything is incorporated well. Then increase the mixer speed to to high until buttercream is smooth and light. You can add a little extra milk or sugar to adjust the consistency if needed. Then if coloring your icing add a small amount of gel food coloring. The gel coloring mixes much better than the old watery kind. It is becoming easier to find at the grocery store and it comes in lots of colors. I would start with a small amount and slowly add more if needed since usually a tiny amount of color goes a long way. Make sure the color is fully mixed in before icing the cupcakes.

For a professional look I like to pipe my icing on the cupcakes using a very large star tip and a pastry bag. You can find pastry bags at Michaels, Hobby Lobby or your favorite baking store. The larger star tip (Ateco tip size 828) is something I found a Sur La Table. I love this larger size and I use it to pipe whip cream as well. I frost the cupcakes starting at the outside making a spiral all the way into the inside center. Then add desired sprinkles and decorations. I used a chocolate mold and white chocolate candy melts to make these seashell toppers. I loving decorating with chocolate so I will post more on these and other chocolate decorations in the future.

Since this buttercream contains milk you are going to want to refrigerate the cupcakes if you are not eating them soon. I would allow the cupcakes to come to room temperature before serving because the frosting will be softer.

Just keeping it real. Here is my fridge packed and ready for a party. I used a cake stand here to add an extra layer of room for the all cupcakes. Happy Baking!

The Chemistry of Art

Image from House Beautiful Designer Jeffery Bilhuber

I was working on a project for our house and looking at modern art prints, when I began to think about how art can be key in striking the right balance in a room. Some of my favorite designs are ones where at first glance the art and the room appear to be opposites. Opposites can create an intense chemistry. Great designers know how to confidently punctuate a room with art. In her Book Decorate Fearlessly Susanna Salk explains that the key element in great rooms is whimsy. It’s those “personal touches where there is no fear, only confidence.” It’s that moment where you begin to see the personality in a room, and some of my favorite rooms create that whimsy with art. By playing with the level of formality between the furnishings and art, you can create a personal and very memorable room.

Traditional Design with Modern Art

Color plays a significant role in pulling these elements together. In some cases it is clear that the artwork has inspired the color palate. The fabrics and furniture lines may be traditional, but the artwork and its colors are what drive the room.

Image from Designer Eileen Katherine Boyd
Ethan Allen

Other times the artwork is the focal point of the room. It may relate to the color in the room, but the art is what draws you in. It commands your attention and begs you to stay.

Traditional Home Magazine
Image from Artist Amanda Stone Talley

Modern Design and Formal Art.

Art can also create that same friction and interest in a more contemporary room. In some modern designs colors might be repeated in accents, but it’s the art that grounds the space and gives it weight.

Image from Designer Geoffrey De Sousa the artwork is Seven Horses by Jean de Merry

Other times modern groupings of these formal pieces keeps the eyes moving and interested. The clean lines of contemporary furniture let the art shine and stand on its own. Arranging the paintings in a contemporary manner catches the eye and plays with expectations.

Image from
Image via Style Blueprint from Little Green Notebook

So the next time a space feels a little flat or you want to give a room a refresh, think about the difference that a piece of art could make.

A New Door Opens

Alexander Graham Bell once said, “When one door closes another opens, but we often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” New doors hold great possibilities but ours needed some new paint before I could step into it as my own. Our house has these great double doors, which are one of my favorite things about the exterior. The only issue was they were hunter green and the hardware had seen better days. So an update was definitely needed, but sometimes it’s easier to identify what you don’t love than to find the perfect new shade.

     The façade of our home has mixed material finishes with orange toned brick and siding. We plan to update the golden beige siding color later this year, but since my husband isn’t crazy about painting the brick, I had to work with the orange.  I knew I wanted to paint the door something other than green and I wanted to go with a brighter color. Something that would stand out a bit. I loved the colorful Georgian doors I had seen on a trip to Ireland years ago, but given the very traditional style of our home I didn’t want to go too bold. In the end I decided to go with blue but a shade that had some green in it to complement the orange brick . There are so many great blue front doors out there.

Durrow House in Ireland. This door is a favorite photograph from my trip.

Links to other great photos and front door ideas:

I just love this Southern Living collection of doors from Charleston, SC
 Better Homes and Gardens
Has a great collection of blue doors at this link.

Armed with sample paint pots and lots of inspiration from pictures I began painting sample boards to try out various shades of blue green.  When I looked at the first set of colors I chose nothing looked quite right so, I took to mixing my own. A little Benjamin Moore Hale Navy with some Van Courtland Blue and a touch of Wythe Blue and voila I was finally able to get more of the shade I was looking for. I took pictures in different lights and got opinions from family and friends.

Testing the final color choices.

 I was feeling confident about my choice until the afternoon before the painter arrived when I got brave enough to paint the actual front door. The painter had taken a while to get to us and I didn’t want to be the house of many colors for months on end. Then as the paint was drying I began to have visions of 1980’s country goose blue. I texted my sister and sister in law who tried to allay my fears via long distance text messaging and I decided to stick with my choice.

Last minute paint testing
Image via
1980s country goose This just wasn’t the look I wanted for my front doors

The painter came on Friday afternoon and painted just the front doors which gave me all weekend to worry about the country goose problem; by Sunday I was still concerned but I had come to the conclusion that it was the trim color and not the shade of blue that was the issue. So in a crazy effort to fix the mess and assure myself that we were not paying to have the house painted a color I would later regret, I painted the trim and sidelights with some leftover white dove paint. My husband thought I was nuts and you should have seen the confused look on the painters face when he saw all the new trim paint. After I explained to the painter that he had not been replaced and he was not seeing things he smiled with approval. We went with the blue paint on the doors and the shutters as well. In the end I think my husband has forgiven me for my drop everything paint crisis and I like the view from my new blue doors.

My new blue doors

There is No Place Like Home

     Home is not just a residence or a location. I have come to learn that it’s more of a feeling. I certainly never expected that I would leave the city I grew up and lived in for over thirty years. I loved living in Houston. We had friends and a cute little ranch style home that I had spent the last eight years loving, painting and decorating. I had big plans for that house. But sometimes life throws you an unexpected curve ball. Mine came in the form of a job change for my husband. After years of training he was offered a fantastic job as a medical professor. The only problem was it was in Chicago. Suddenly my familiar life changed as our family moved 1,000 miles away. Everything happen so quickly it was hard to catch my breath and take it all in. The house I loved sold in days. I left my job and soon everything I owned was boxed and in a moving van.

Moving Van

          The whirlwind weekend we spent finding a home in Chicago was exciting but once I was there the house that looked like it had so much potential suddenly seemed overwhelming. The avocado kitchen and the sea of green and gold walls made me feel like I was living in the Emerald City. Like Dorothy I longed to clicked my heels and go home. Here I was with my two tiny girls and everything we owned in boxes. We had moved before but it was nothing like this. Even as we began to unpack the new house didn’t feel like ours. My oldest daughter who was two at the time cried and asked to go back home and it was hard to explain that this was our house because I knew exactly how she felt. It takes time for a place to begin to feel like you belong there. Now over a year and countless gallons of paint later I must admit this house is beginning to feel more like home.

Bienvenue to Maison McCauley

Hello and thank you for visiting Maison McCauley!

I started this blog after our family made a cross country move to Chicago. I left my career as an attorney after we moved in order to spend more time with my two young daughters. The change gave me the opportunity to pursue my love of writing about food and home. I am at my happiest when I am lost in a creative project or when am sharing what I love with others.

Erma Bombeck once said that when she reached the end of her life and was before God she would like to “not have a single bit of talent left” because she used everything she was given. This blog is my outlet and way to share my talents and every bit of what I truly love with others. My recipes and writing have appeared in Life in the Woodlands Magazine, Pioneer Woman’s Tasty Kitchen and I am a contributing columnist for The Hinsdalean Newspaper. So join me as I dish on the latest recipes and projects from my home.