Two weeks ago, my friend had her bridal shower. (D’aww, she’s all grown up!) It turns out one of her favorite flavors of cupcakes is vanilla. So, I saw this as a great opportunity to help make her bridal shower special. I also saw it as an opportunity to buy a questionable number of whole vanilla beans on Amazon and make Pinterest-worthy cupcakes.
Isn’t that the goal in life, to have Pinterest-worth desserts? To make these vanilla bean cupcakes really special, I obviously have to make gum paste flowers too. So, I’ll just order vanilla beans, get some gum paste from Michael’s, and I’ll be done in a few days tops.
Let’s start with the cupcake debacle.
I wanted a soft and moist vanilla bean cupcake. Now, I saw scary things in the comments of many popular recipes about how the cupcakes were too soft and crumbly to hold up buttercream. What is this, a piece of architecture? Buttercream isn’t exactly heavy people, but nevertheless, I don’t want them falling apart.
I also noticed a lot of comments about how dry they were. We definitely want MOIST cupcakes, so how do we do that? Fat. Lots of fat. If you want a low calorie moist cupcake, don’t eat it. You get fat by using whole eggs or egg yolks and by adding vegetable or canola oil. If you see a recipe with just egg whites, run away. Run far away.
I started with a recipe found in the depths of the internet that used egg yolks. One person suggested it would be great as a cupcake, but really it was intended as an all purpose light yellow cake. And it was just that, an all purpose light yellow cake. (In unrelated news, I found this great all purpose light yellow cake recipe if you ever want one!) I paired it with an easy vanilla American buttercream to see how well the combination worked. Meh. It was passable.
So, I did what I always do with imperfect but edible leftovers, I brought it to work and let my coworkers fight over them. (Seriously, they’re like starving college students.)
American Buttercream has butter and powdered sugar. It pretty much tasted like it sounds. It certainly wasn’t anything special and it was too sweet. I looked onward and forward to a Swiss Buttercream. Well, it sounds better at least, but is it?
Round two: a vanilla bean cupcake recipe with whole eggs (moisture!) and canola oil (moisture!), paired with a lighter Swiss Buttercream that isn’t overpoweringly sweet.
This recipe also has cake flour instead of all purpose flour. Cake flour has less gluten so the cupcake will be light and crumbly instead of chewy like bread. It’s also packed with leaveners. Baking powder and baking soda are chemical leaveners and water evaporation in the whole eggs acts as a natural leavener. This means they will double in size and have an airy texture. Sounds like a winning combination, right?
Right. Winner winner chicken dinner.
Onto the Swiss Buttercream. It may seem a bit intimidating, but I invite you to get out of your comfort zone because it’s truly worth the little extra effort. People described it as light and airy, which means it won’t overpower the effervescent vanilla bean flavor. American buttercream would really be too sweet here. This recipe makes enough to give each cupcake a hefty portion of beautifully piped frosting on each cupcake with some left over to lick a little bit off the spoon. And a little off of the KitchenAid paddle. And a little out of the mixing bowl. Don’t judge. I work out so I can eat cake, goddammit.
- Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
- 1¼ cups cake flour
- 1¼ tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- ½ tsp table salt (dissolves better)
- 1 and ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 5 large egg whites, fresh and cold
- ½ cup canola oil
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 lb unsalted butter, cut into one inch cubes, room temperature (important!)
- ½ tsp white vinegar
- ¼ cup water
- 2 vanilla beans, scraped
- Cut the unsalted butter into cubes. Set aside to warm it to room temperature. (Do not microwave!)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a muffin tin with paper muffin wrappers then spray the inside with pan spray.
- Sift the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together. Sifting reduces clumps and makes a finer crumb texture.
- Combine the whole milk and white vinegar. Set it aside and let it curdle into buttermilk.
- Using the whisk attachment, mix 2 whole eggs on medium speed for 1 minute.
- Add ¾ cup granulated sugar and continue to mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl with a spatula to make sure it’s evenly mixed.
- Add 1 scraped vanilla bean and canola oil and mix on medium speed for 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl again.
- Add roughly half of the dry ingredients and use a spatula or bench scraper to gently fold it in. Once the dry ingredients are mostly mixed in, add roughly half of the milk. Repeat for the remaining dry ingredients then the remaining milk.
- If you use a KitchenAid to mix it, you risk overworking the dough and creating a tough cupcake. Don’t worry, folding it by hand is quick and easy!
- Pour or pipe the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling them halfway. If you fill them more, they will overflow. I recommend portioning out the cupcakes using a large pastry bag. Use your left hand to close the bag tip in between muffin tins to prevent drips.
- Bake for 12 minutes at 350 F or until the middle is set. The tops will still be bubbling, but don't worry, after 12 minutes they’ll be set but still moist which is what we want. They'll continue cooking even after you take it out of the oven. After 12 minutes, take them out and let them cool until they reach room temperature.
- While the cupcakes are cooking, start the Swiss Buttercream by whipping 5 cold egg whites on LOW speed.
- Meanwhile, sprinkle ¾ cup sugar evenly over ¼ cup (hot) water in a small saucepan. By evenly distributing the sugar, you'll reduce the risk of clumps. Adding the water first helps start dissolving the sugar instead of having the sugar stick to the bottom.
- Heat the sugar over medium heat and monitor the temperature with a digital thermometer. When it starts to get close to 200 F, add ¼ cup sugar. Bring the mixer up to high and whip the egg whites until it reaches soft peak. (If you remove the whisk and hold it up, the egg whites will form a peak that slumps over.)
- Once the egg whites are at a soft peak, stop the mixer to prevent it from overmixing. Bring the sugar to 240 F, then start the mixer again on LOW speed. Drizzle the sugar down the sides of the mixing bowl into the egg whites, then bring the mixer back up to medium high speed and whisk until the bottom of the mixing bowl is room temperature.
- Reduce to low speed and add ROOM TEMPERATURE softened butter one piece at a time, waiting at least 5 seconds in between pieces. You want to give the mixer time to work the butter in or you'll risk curdling it.
- Bring the mixer to medium speed and continue to whisk for 15 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy. the buttercream should hold a stiff peak and be smooth and glossy at this point. This may take less or more time depending on your mixer and your kitchen temperature.
- Switch the whisk to a paddle attachment and beat the buttercream for a few more minutes at medium speed. This removes the air that we introduced while we were emulsifying the butter, which results in a more stable, pipeable buttercream.
- Add the remaining scraped vanilla bean and mix for another 15 seconds.
- Pipe the Swiss Buttercream onto the cupcakes and serve same-day. (I used a Size 808 round pastry tip.)
- Store the cupcakes at room temperature wrapped in plastic wrap. Store the buttercream at room temperature in a pastry bag with the air removed. The cupcakes are really moist if you serve them the same day. We noticed a significant difference even after 1 day. You've been warned! The buttercream can be stored at room temperature for a week. Paddle for a few minutes to smooth it out before use.
If your buttercream looks oily and doesn't stick to the sides of the mixing bowl, the buttercream may be too warm. Continue mixing for a few more minutes to let it cool down. If your kitchen is really warm, hold a kitchen towel that was soaked in iced water under the mixing bowl while it's still mixing to cool it back down.