Vanilla Bean & Buttermilk Cupcakes

Can you put into words what vanilla tastes like? Can you describe the smell of vanilla?  To me it’s a warm soothing aroma, sweet like caramel and with hints of  floral … like an expensive perfume.  It’s the sugary smell when you walk past Cinnabon, or the smell in the air that tells your the Kettlecorn cart is somewhere close.  What is it about smell of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven that feels so comforting?  It’s simply vanilla. I think we all take vanilla for granted.  It’s always there making it’s friends look good. For instance what would Rocky Road , Fudge, or Dulce de Leche be without vanilla there to make them shine?  There is always some new inventive creative flavor making it’s way onto the scene and poor vanilla is the kid who gets chosen last.  Vanilla is to the pastry kitchen what salt is to the hot kitchen, indispensable.  But today I decided to make vanilla the star. 

For these cupcakes I used a simple buttermilk batter and loaded it with fresh vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract.  As if that weren’t enough, I then soaked each little cake with a vanilla bean infused simple syrup.  You wouldn’t believe how much vanilla comes out of the scraped beans, leaving speckles of flavor in beautiful clear syrup.  Lastly I topped them with a simple vanilla frosting and sanding sugar for a little crunch.  These are anything but plain vanilla…

Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cupcakes
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

2  cups granulated sugar
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Â¼ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sanding sugar

  •  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, place oven rack in the middle- line 24 muffin cups
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment cream the butter and 2 cups granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
  • With the mixer on medium speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time adding the next after each egg is incorporated
  • Add the scraped vanilla bean – reserve empty beans for simple syrup
  • In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt
  • In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon juice, and vanilla extract.
  • Add the flour and buttermilk mixtures alternately to the mixing bowl, beginning and ending with the flour.
  • Divide batter evenly to make 24 cupcakes
  • Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick poked in comes out clean
  • Once cupcakes are slightly cooled- poke each cupcakes 5-6 times with a toothpick
  • With a pastry brush- soak each cupcake with simple syrup
  • Frost cupcakes and decorate with sanding sugar

Simple Syrup
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/8 orange or lemon
1 cinnamon stick
reserved scraped vanilla beans

  • Melt sugar and water in a small sauce pot over medium heat
  • Add in orange or lemon, cinnamon stick and vanilla beans
  • Remove from heat and set aside
  • Strain before soaking cupcakes

Vanilla Bean Frosting
6 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 vanilla bean scraped
pinch of salt
16 oz unsalted butter- softened to room temperature
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
1 to 2 tablespoons milk

  • In a standing mixer fitted with a whisk, mix together the scraped vanilla bean,salt and butter.
  • Slowly add in sugar until completely combined
  • Mix on low speed until well blended and then increase speed to medium and beat for another 3 minutes.
  • Add vanilla and milk and continue to beat on medium speed for 1 minute more, adding more milk if needed for spreading consistency.
5 comments… add one
  • Nicole Schwartz June 17, 2010, 12:42 pm

    Yummy!!! I love vanilla anything! Does that make me boring??? Great idea about adding the syrup Love the photos. Thanks for posting.

  • 12th Man Training Table June 17, 2010, 12:56 pm

    There's an apocryphal story about a baseball player back in the '50s who talked the whole team into taking a bus on their day off to the middle of nowhere, because he knew of this ice cream shop that carried a hundred flavors. They ride the bus all day, and everyone's hot and stir-crazy, and when the bus finally gets there, the trip organizer runs off the bus, into the store, barges up to the front of the line … and orders a scoop of vanilla.

    But there's a world of difference between real vanilla and what passes for vanilla in most mass-produced products. (Is a "produced product" redundant?)

    If anyone's looking for a good vanilla extract, look for Rodelle. It's available in conventional or organic, is made in a wind-powered facility (in Ft Fun, Ft Collins, CO), and they reinvest in vanilla-growing communities.

    Someone needs to invent an app so i can bookmark all of everyone else's recipes into one convenient, searchable format. I know, I could just bookmark them on my browser, but it needs to be searchable.

  • 12th Man Training Table June 17, 2010, 2:01 pm

    And you'll hear this every day from me, but your photography is to die for.

  • Cooking with Kait June 17, 2010, 4:27 pm

    I am in vanilla heaven. WOW!! I really wish I could have one of these cupcakes right now.

  • Amanda Stuckey June 20, 2010, 3:16 pm

    Wow, these look gorgeous! I agree that poor vanilla gets ignored too much. I really want to try these soon.

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