bean there done that

In these cupcake crazed times, more and more outrageous and unique flavors have made their way onto our tables. The last thing you’ll see these days is a plain old vanilla cupcake. A classic, this recipe amps up the flavor with real vanilla bean and an unmatched smooth, fluffy texture. I enjoyed splitting my first vanilla bean and scraping out the hundreds of little black beans–if ever you were able to say “made from scratch” this would be it. But don’t worry, its a pretty simple recipe and makes the most beautiful consistency of batter (I wouldn’t know about the batter flavor or anything since you’re not supposed to eat it or whatever but I bet it’s really stinkin’ awesome…or something). I also tried the two-toned icing technique for the first time, and will include whatever helpful hints I can offer if you would like to try it out. Enjoy!

vanilla bean cupcakes with vanilla buttercream


3 cups cake flour
1 tbs baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
16 tbs unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature
cups buttermilk, room temperature
1 tbs vanilla extract
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Line two cupcake pans with paper 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.  Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the bowl of the mixer with the butter and discard the pod (or reserve for another use).  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, ¼ cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition.  Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
  • Combine the buttermilk and the 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 for 15 seconds longer.
  • Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full (you will likely have batter left over after filling 24 wells).  Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  Replace paper liners and bake remaining batter if desired.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

quick vanilla buttercream

1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
2 tbs water
1 tbs vanilla extract

*this buttercream is quick, simple, and versatile. It comes out nice and thick for great piping on cupcakes, and if you need it thicker for more detailed piping, add more powdered sugar (so as you can guess, this icing can get SWEET quick). Substitute lemon juice or another extract in place of the vanilla extract for different flavors. For an Irish cream buttercream, the only liquid you need is 2 tbs Bailey’s to replace the water and extract.

  • Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Mix with electric mixer until smooth, scraping down the sides frequently.

Two-toned icing technique

  • After making (or buying) your white icing, split into two roughly even parts. Dye each a color of your choice (two colors with high contrast will really pop, and two more similar colors will make a more subtle look like the one pictured).
  • In your piping bag, add your tip (I use ziploc bags because they are easy and accessible) and then tilt your bag to add the first color on one side of the bag, making sure to get it down into the bag near the tip.
  • Tilt your bag the other way, so the second color of icing will go opposite the first, and gravity will help it fall into place. Use a spoon to shove the second icing color down into the bag near the tip as well. Make sure both colors are even in volume down near the tip.
  • Pipe a practice dollop or two on a spare dish to get it started. The first couple may be more one color than the other, but it should even out. I was surprised that I was able to pipe about 50 minis and they all came out identical with the split of the swirl colors. Top with sprinkles of a third color if desired. Good luck!

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