30 June 2011

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

Let me start by saying thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes and for the positive comments about the site's new look :). Still amazed that anyone reads this stuff :). This recipe is actually a few weeks old, but somewhere between being extremely lazy and being extremely busy, I never got a chance to post it (this is actually true of several things I have yet to write). These cupcakes have been on my mind since I was first handed my cherished bottle of Mexican vanilla, but they ended up being the second recipe to feature it (I tricked you by posting the vanilla ice cream first, I'm a jerk that way :)). The reason for this delay in baking was that I couldn't find a recipe that I felt properly showcased the vanilla.

As I looked for a good vanilla cupcake recipe it seemed to me that there was very little difference between a vanilla cupcake and a standard yellow cake. They both appeared to have similar amounts of vanilla. This just didn't seem right. Sure, some had a little more and some had a little less, but in the end, it didn't really seem like the vanilla was a feature of the vanilla cupcake. I found only one recipe from How Sweet It Is that focussed on vanilla, using two full teaspoons for just two cupcakes. This seemed like a good start. Though up until the last minute I questioned the proportionate use of two tablespoons of vanilla for a dozen cupcakes. But as the intoxicating aroma of Mexican vanilla overwhelmed my senses, entrancing me with its scent, I found myself adding the full amount. As for the frosting, I had decided early on that I wasn't going to use any. I wanted to taste the vanilla cake on its own. I knew that if there was enough vanilla and it did what I knew it was capable of, then frosting would not be necessary and might even detract from the flavour of the cupcake.

I cobbled together the rest of the recipe with a little insanity, some instinct, a lot of finger crossing, a smidge of science and by referencing the two recipes I liked the most; one from How Sweet It Is and the other from Joy the Baker. You might expect that this hodgepodge of a recipe would end up being a problem, but like Frankenstein and his monster before it, the recipe I created wasn't the monster; the real moster was me. My obsessive behaviour makes portioning out the cupcake batter a bit difficult; I cannot seem to simply scoop, drop, scoop, drop, repeat. Instead I obsess on trying to make sure each cupcake has the same amount of batter (which never works). This leads to me spooning a little from here into there and a little from there into here; inevitably causing one of the cupcake wrappers to shift, nearly tipping, and possibly spilling its batter. The entire ordeal lasts a few minutes until I just give up in utter frustration. Now all of this tomfoolery leads to two things: copious amounts of swearing and, far worse, the potential to over-mix the cupcakes.

My brother was the first to try out the cupcakes and his review went something like this: "I dunno, kinda dry, it's just vanilla." What a miserable sod he is. Granted, he wasn't lying about the dryness of the cupcakes, a few of the them were a bit dry and suffered from plenty of tunneling (no doubt due to my idiotic over-mixing). Not all were like this, as there were some that were perfectly moist with a nice even crumb, but the one thing that all of the cupcakes had in common was the rich and fragrant taste of vanilla. Once again the Mexican vanilla shined through with its distinct and wonderful flavour. It really was everything that a vanilla cupcake should be. There would be no mistaking this cupcake with any ol' yellow cake, that's for sure.

The perfectly done cupcakes are proof that this recipe works, so if you want a vanilla cupcake that's actually about the vanilla, I would definitely recommend trying it. And, (surprise surprise) if you have it on hand, I would also recommend using Mexican vanilla. As well, if you're like me and find yourself obsessing over precise batter distribution, take a step back, inhale deeply and remember: disproportionate cupcake batter means a bigger cupcake for you, and a smaller one for your smart-mouthed-overly-opinionated-unappreciative-jerk-of-a-younger-brother :). I kid, he's not at all smart :).

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

Inspired by How Sweet It Is and Joy the Baker

Yields 12 standard cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour (195g)
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup sugar (134g)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (113g)
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp vanilla -- preferably Mexican

Preheat oven to 350F and prepare a standard 12 cup muffin tin with paper liners.

In a medium bowl sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

In a small bowl whisk together milk and vanilla.

In the medium bowl of a stand mixer cream together butter and sugar until pale, light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time beating each egg for approximately one minute and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Reduce mixer speed to low and alternating between flour and milk mixture add flour in three batches, starting and ending with the flour and mixing until just combined.
Good tip from Joy: To avoid over-mixing finish mixing the batter by hand.

Distribute batter evenly into prepared cupcake pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until tops are golden and toothpick comes out clean (this took me 20 minutes).

Allow to cool in pan on rack for 5 minutes before removing and cooling completely.

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