“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler”- Albert Einstein
This is Michele of Cakewalk Baking, and I have been on the quest for the perfect vanilla cupcake and frosting for years. It seems like every recipe I tested was somehow lacking – too dry, bland, inconsistent. I couldn’t find a satisfying vanilla frosting either – too sweet, too buttery, too shorteningy...
When I made my “to do list” for the year, perfecting my vanilla cupcake & frosting recipes was high on my priority list. I’ve tried Magnolia and Billy’s and countless others, but I was never completely thrilled with the results.
When I came across Amy Sedaris’ (one of my favorite actresses) recipe, I thought it was worth a shot. To my surprise, they were pretty much perfect. My only complaint was that they were a little too dense for my liking. With a couple of tweaks, including substituting the all-purpose flour for cake flour, I got the results I was looking for – tender, moist, and flavorful!
For the frosting, my go-to has always been Swiss Meringue buttercream which I love because it’s light, has the perfect texture and tastes great – as long as you are adding some other flavor (like lemon, espresso, chocolate) to it. When just adding vanilla extract, it was a little blah and overly buttery tasting. After lots of experimentation, I found that by simply including either crème fraiche or sour cream and vanilla bean, it retained the characteristics that I love and added new depth and interest to the flavor.
I’m not sure that Albert Einstein would appreciate his words being used to describe something as trivial as cupcakes, but I found them to resonate in my search for vanilla perfection!
The Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. Bring the eggs, milk & butter to room temperature (don’t skip this step, it’s very important!)
3. In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar until light and pale.
4. Add in the eggs one at a time and mix until combined
5. Sift (yes, sift!) together flour, salt and baking powder together
6. Stir together vanilla and milk
7. Alternately add dry ingredients and milk to mixing bowl, scraping down after each addition. Start and end with dry ingredients
8. Fill paper-lined muffin tins with batter 2/3 full.
9. Bake at 350° for 18- 20 minute
Swiss Meringue Buttercream
1 lb unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
8 egg whites
1 cup crème friache or sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Seeds from 2 vanilla beans
1. Combine sugar & egg whites in mixer bowl and whisk together over simmering water until hot to the touch and all of the sugar has melted and no longer grainy
2. Transfer bowl to mixer stand and whip on high until fluffy & cool – about 10 minutes
3. With the mixer on low, add the softened butter 1 tablespoon at a time until incorporated. Add in vanilla, crème fraiche or sour cream, and vanilla beans. Beat until smooth (it may look curdled, but just continue to mix & it will be fine!).