As far as I’m concerned there is no such thing as “plain vanilla.” This is especially true when you can take vanilla cupcakes to a whole other level by grinding up a 1/2 of a vanilla bean pod from India, with unrefined cane sugar, and then top them with a fluffy vanilla marshmallow-y frosting.
Double vanilla cupcakes, i.e., a vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting and blue sprinkles, is what a special birthday girl requested when I asked her mom, Rue (author of the fabulous blog Outdoor Afro), what Arwen’s favorite flavors were for cupcakes. A girl that knows what she likes is my kinda gal
Adding that extra oomph of vanilla flavor to these cupcakes couldn’t be simpler. All you need to do is take a 1/2 of a vanilla bean pod and place it in a coffee or spice grinder (or even a food processor or blender), and grind it up with unrefined cane sugar. The grinding serves the dual purpose of not only getting that succulent vanilla flavor in the cupcakes, but also making the larger granules of cane sugar smaller, which then makes the cupcake texture turn out lighter and fluffier. The vanilla sugar can also be used in all other sorts of ways as well, such as sprinkling it on lemon hand pies.
The cupcakes are then topped with a fluffy vanilla marshmallow-y frosting. This marshmallow texture is achieved by combining tapioca syrup (or, corn syrup, etc.) with egg whites, vanilla extract, and sugar, and then heating them up in a double boiler fashion until the sugar dissolves, and the mixture reaches a temperature of 160′F.
The mixture is then whipped to its fluffy marshmallow state (as you can see in the picture below).
Then you can fill a piping bag fitted with a star tip with the frosting, and pipe it onto the cupcakes, and sprinkle them with the requested blue sparkles, or any other kind of sparkles your heart desires. You could even take out the seeds from the other half of the vanilla bean pod, and mix them with the ingredients so that you get an extra whammy of vanilla flavor replete with those lovely dark speckles in the frosting.
Happy 10th birthday, Arwen!!
You are as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside!
May all of your birthday wishes and dreams come true.
Recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes
Slightly adapted from One Girl Cookies
Makes 18 Cupcakes
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 a vanilla bean (optional)
1 tsp of vanilla extract (or, 2 to 3 tsp of vanilla extract if you don’t use the 1/2 a vanilla bean)
2 large egg whites
2/4 cup whole milk
Pinch of Kosher salt
12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups of cane sugar* (or vanilla sugar, i.e., the 1/2 vanilla bean ground up with the cane sugar)
1) I ground up a whole 1/2 of a vanilla bean, i.e., pod and seeds, in a coffee/spice grinder with the cane sugar. If you don’t plan on using a 1/2 of a vanilla bean, you can just use 2 to 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract–depending on your ideal level of vanilla flavor.
2) I prefer to use as many natural and unrefined ingredients as possible when baking. Cane sugar tends to have larger granules, which can effect the texture of baked goods. The way I compensate for this when I want to ensure a lighter, more airy crumb in cakes, is to grind up the sugar in either a food processor, blender, or spice/coffee grinder. In this case, I was able to get a more vanilla bean flavor oomph, by also grinding up a 1/2 of a vanilla bean pod and seeds with the sugar.
1) Arrange oven racks on top and bottom third of oven. Preheat the oven to 350′ F. Line one 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners and line 6 more cups in a second muffin tin.
2) In a medium bowl, whisk together the four, baking powder, and 1 1/2 tsp of Kosher salt.
3) In a large bowl, combine the 1 tsp of vanilla (or more if not using the vanilla bean), with egg whites, milk and pinch of Kosher salt. Whisk vigorously (preferably with a balloon whisk if you have one) for 3o seconds.
4) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and vanilla sugar. Start out on slow speed, especially if you are using ground up cane sugar, and then once the ingredients have been somewhat incorporated increase the speed to medium. Stop the mixer periodically in order to scrape down the sides when the butter and sugar stick to the side of the bowl. Do this until the mixture is light yellow in color and fluffy.
5) Turn the mixer speed down to low and mix in a third of the flour mixture and half of the egg white mixture. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl. With the mixer back on low, add another third of the flour mixture and all the remaining egg white mixture. Stop the mixer again and scrape the sides of the bowl. Turn the mixer back to low again and put in the rest of the flour mixture. Once the ingredients are almost all incorporated, turn the mixer off and take the bowl out of the stand mixer and fold all the ingredients together until all of the ingredients are fully incorporated.
6) Using an ice cream scooper, or a 1/4 cup measuring cup, divide the batter among the lined muffin cups, filling them only to about 3/4 full.
7) Place muffin tins on top and bottom racks. Bake for 14 minutes, then switch the pans onto the top and bottom rack and rotate them as well and bake for about another 10 to 14 minutes, or until a tooth pick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
8) Place muffin tins on cooling racks and let them cool in the pan for about 20 minutes. Then remove the cupcakes from the pans, place them on the cooling racks, and let them cool completely. Once they are completely cool, frost them with vanilla frosting.
Recipe for Fluffy/Marshmallow-y Vanilla Frosting
Slightly adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook
Makes 3 Cups
2 large egg whites
1 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp of water
1 Tbsp Tapioca syrup (or corn syrup)*
1 Tsp vanilla extract
Note: Again, I prefer to use as many natural and unrefined ingredients as possible when baking. As such, rather than using corn syrup, I used tapioca syrup, which functions very similarly to corn syrup, i.e., the prevention of sugar crystals which can mess with desired textures. However, tapioca syrup can be hard to find (for my Bay Area people, I got it at Berkeley Bowl). So, if you cannot find it at a natural grocery store, feel free to use corn syrup, or Lyle’s golden syrup, or even brown rice syrup in its place.
1) Combine all of the ingredients in bowl of a stand mixer and set the bowl over a medium saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water (do not let the bottom of the bowl touch the water).
2) Cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture registers 160 degrees on an instant read or other thermometer. This can take about 5 to 10 minutes. Once it reaches the temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and reconnect it to the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment,
3) Whip mixture on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 5 minutes. Then, increase the speed to medium-high and continue to whip until the mixture has cooled to room temperature and stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes longer.
4) If you have a piping bag, fit it with a star tip and fill it with the frosting and then pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes. Or, you can simply spoon a few tablespoons of frosting onto a cupcake, and then use a spoon to shape the frosting as you desire, e.g., you can make it billowy, or smooth, etc.