Friday, April 15
These are sexy cupcakes. And after you read about the amazing vanilla bean, I think you'll see why.
Did you know that the flowers of a vanilla bean plant can only be naturally pollinated by only one specific bee found in Mexico? When Europeans discovered vanilla, they transplanted the vines to their overseas homes, only to discover that the vines wouldn't grow or fruit without the bees. Then in 1836, while enjoying a cup of coffee in Mexico, a Belgian botanist named Charles François Antoine Morren began observing the Melipona bees as they pollinated the vanilla flowers. Thus began the experimenting with various methods of artificial pollination. Just a few years later, a brilliant 12 year old slave named Edmond Albius developed a technique that uses a sliver of bamboo to transfer the pollen from anther to stigma. This is the same intricate method that is used today. And since vanilla flowers only last one day, it makes the process even more difficult. Imagine having to gently pry open each flower, transfer the pollen using a thin sliver of bamboo, and only having a day (sometimes less) to do this to as many plants as possible.
I love finding out about the history of food and spices, it's like learning the back-story of a favourite book or movie character. Once you know where they're coming from and where they have been, you fall in love with them, and have a greater appreciation for why they are who they are. Vanilla has a fascinating, exotic history. I'll never use 'vanilla' as an derogatory adjective again, it's anything but plain. And aside from lemon zest infused sugar, there is nothing as seductive as the scent of pure vanilla bean. If you have never had the pleasure of scrapping the pulp of a vanilla bean into sugar or an awaiting stick of butter (equally seductive), I highly recommend that you try it, very soon.
These cupcake are fabulously moist, with a healthy dose of lavish vanilla bean. Feel free to use your favourite frosting, the cupcakes are kind enough to compliment just about any topping you can think of. Soft, rich, flavourful...sexy.
Vanilla Bean Cupcakes (adapted from Annie's Eats)
Yields 24 cupcakes (and maybe a few minis)
3 cups of cake flour
1 Tablespoon of baking Powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 cup (that's 2 sticks) of unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups of sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups of buttermilk, at room temperature
1 Tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line two cupcake pans (24 in all) with paper liners. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk and set aside.
Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, place the scraped out vanilla bean seeds and the butter. Beat on medium-high speed until light and creamy in color (about 4 minutes.) Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Add the sugar to the butter mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Add the eggs one by one, beating each for about one minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition.
In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract.
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 just a few seconds longer.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cupcake pans, filling each about 2/3 of the way full. *Note: You might have some batter leftover that you could use to make mini-cupcakes.)
Bake for 17-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center cupcake comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and after about 8 minutes, remove the cupcakes from the pans and place on a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.
Chocolate-almond buttercream frosting (adapted from Williams-Sonoma)
8 oz. of unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 cups of confectioners' sugar
1 cup ( that's 2 sticks), of unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 Tablespoons of whole milk, plus more, if needed
1 teaspoon of pure almond extract
1/2 teaspoon of salt (I like my chocolate to be salty, use 1/4 tsp. if you prefer.)
Using a double boiler, melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally until smooth.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth. Gradually add the sugar (don't add it all at once or it will explode all over your kitchen). Add the 6 Tbs. milk, almond extract, and salt. Beat on low speed until combined, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes, then reduce the speed to low. Add the chocolate and beat until combined, then increase the speed to medium and beat for 1 minute more.
If the frosting is dry, add more milk, 1 tsp. at a time, until it is creamy but still holds peaks.
Makes about 4 1/2 cups.