Let me begin by saying that these are, by far, the best vanilla cupcakes I've ever eaten. No bakery cupcake OR homemade cupcake that I know of has ever compared to this recipe! I've already made these twice now within the last month, and am still craving them again.
When it comes to food flavors, I have a fairly simplistic palate. For example, if I go to Baskin Robbins, out of all the "31 flavors" I end up with either vanilla or strawberry ice cream. When I eat potato chips, I eat original Lays. When I go to Yogurtland for frozen yogurt, I get vanilla and strawberry yogurt, with strawberries (and sometimes mochi pieces, if I'm feeling REALLY daring). When I order pizza, my favorite will always be plain cheese. I know it sounds boring, but for certain things, I like to be able to taste each flavor or ingredient, without being muddled up with a bunch of add-ins.
That's why I really appreciate this vanilla cupcake. Sometimes vanilla cupcakes can also be pretty boring and lackluster, but this recipe really emphasizes the smooth flavor of the vanilla. The little flecks of vanilla bean are visible in both the cake and the frosting, and makes them seem so gourmet! The flavor of the vanilla also tastes much stronger in this cupcake than any other vanilla cupcake I've tried. It just tastes...real. No imitation vanilla here!
Before I share this recipe, I urge you to buy a bottle of Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Vanilla Bean Paste. I discovered this product about a year ago, and it has changed my baking dramatically. This paste can be used whenever a recipe calls for vanilla extract. I prefer to keep a bottle of the paste and extract on hand, and save the paste for recipes that will really benefit from its flavor and presentation. Frostings work especially well with this paste, and look very pretty with the specks of vanilla bean.
This recipe is great to make for parties or large gatherings, because pretty much everyone likes vanilla, so you can't go wrong. When they taste this cupcake, they will be impressed by the rich flavor and beautiful presentation. Best of all, swiss meringue buttercream can be safe to eat at room temperature, isn't overly sweet, and has a light, velvety texture similar to whipped cream frosting, so it really is worth the extra effort!
FYI: The original recipe on Annie's Eats yields about 30 cupcakes. I only needed a dozen for a particular event I was baking these for, so I halved the recipe and posted the halved recipe below. If you would like to make the larger batch, either double the ingredients or save time and click here for the 30-count version.
The frosting recipe makes about 5 cups, enough to frost 2 dozen. I ended up using the second half for a batch of a different flavor cupcake, but you can also store the frosting in the fridge for up to a week; just remove from the fridge and rewhip when ready to use (I recommend this over halving the frosting recipe--Swiss meringue buttercream can be very finicky).
Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
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Recipe adapted from Annie's Eats (cupcakes) and Annie's Eats (frosting)
Yield: about 15 cupcakes/5 cups of frosting
For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
half of a vanilla bean OR 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
1/2 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
For the frosting:
5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla bean paste
For the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare cupcake pan with liners. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Whisk together and set aside. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the vanilla bean paste with the butter, and beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.
Add the sugar to the butter mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Mix in the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Combine the buttermilk and vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix 15 seconds longer.
Divide batter between prepared liners, filling about 2/3 of the way full. Bake 18-22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clea. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
For the frosting:
To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar, and salt in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, whisking frequently, until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture reaches 160 F (be patient! This takes a while. Use a thermometer).
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.
Reduce speed to medium and add the butter, 2 Tbsp at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. Stir in the vanilla bean paste and mix just until incorporated. Tint with gel icing color if desired.
- Keep buttercream at room temperature if using the same day, or transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to a week or freeze for up to a month. To use, bring to room temperature and beat until smooth again, about 5 minutes.