Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

April 15, 2011

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 Fran├žois 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,

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes (adapted from Annie's Eats) Print

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.


  1. Beautiful, Valerie! I'd love one right now! :)

  2. Your cupcakes are gorgeous. And I love their back story!

  3. That is SO interesting! It's funny that I bake all the time and use vanilla all the time, and yet I've never heard that before - thanks for sharing! And those cupcakes...oh man...WANT!

  4. These look so gooooooooood

  5. Magnificent and so delicious looking!



  6. Beautiful cupcakes!! I left an award for you in my blog. Visit me when you want.

  7. Thanks for the history lesson, I'll definitely never look at vanilla the same way again, or take it for granted. It really is a wonderful thing.
    Great cupcakes :)

  8. Vanilla bean truly enhances a dessert! These look really good.

  9. I don't quite get what I am supposed to do with the vanilla bean and seeds. Is it the seeds only I am using? I bake a lot and the two things I rarely measure are vanilla and cinnamon. Did you know cinnamon is a good diuretic? Great excuse for a batch of snickerdoodles with 4x the cinnamon called for and put a teaspoon or so in the dough too. I'm confused. Lisa

  10. These cupcakes sound incredible. I love the flavor combination of almond extract and chocolate and paired with vanilla bean cupcakes - Yum!

  11. Amazing, I never knew that vanilla, which is so common today, has such a special history and pollination process.

  12. Cara Valerie, your cupcakes are absolutely wonderful, why not consider moving to Rome instead of Alaska ? you would have lots of successssssss....

  13. Hi Lisa,
    You can actually use both the seeds and the bean itself (although the seeds are much more potent). To use the seeds, carefully slice the bean (lengthwise) right down the center. Gently split the seed open and, using the dull side of a knife, scrape the seeds into a bowl. The beans themselves can be used to flavour sugar, just place one into an air tight container of sugar and you will have delicious vanilla sugar! I hope that helps.

    Thank you for the cinniman tip! It's good to know that it has health benefits. :D

  14. The story of vanilla beans makes me wonder why people would describe anything as "plain vanilla"! I LOVE vanilla, and love making vanilla sugar- it always adds so much flavor!

  15. Delicious-looking cupcakes, Valerie! I love vanilla and wonder how it could ever be considered plain. And why do things called vanilla bean sound SO much better than those called only vanilla?
    p.s. a friend in Toronto took pity on me and made me a rhubarb crisp yesterday. happy happy mary mary.

  16. Those cupcakes look positively decadent. And I learned something about vanilla! :) Thanks for sharing, beautiful work as always!

  17. A sexy cupcake. Yep. I could go for that! Such a tempting photo, too, Valerie.
    Vanilla is my cream, cake, anything. And if made with the bean? Divine. My kids think I am boring. :)

  18. Such beautiful cupcakes. Seems a shame you have to eat them, but I will if I have to..LOL
    Thanks for sharing..Jackie

  19. These cupcakes look absolutely beauty! gloria

  20. I love reading about the stories behind food or ingredients as well! I had no idea about the vanilla bean, but I had always wondered what it was. I didn't even know it came from a flower! No wonder vanilla beans are so expensive anyway; they are so difficult to produce.

    Your cupcakes look as though they've done justice to the precious vanilla bean :) I love the look of that generous frosting!

  21. The frosting flavor seriously sounds to-die-for! I love how big your pictures are too! I can really appreciate the cupcakes even more! :)

  22. Excellent work. The vanilla bean is a must. I usually just make ice cream with them, but now I really want to bake with them. Thanks for the post.

  23. Love that pic of the cupcake in a teacup - making me crave one right now!

  24. So yummy! Which tip do you use to do a swirl frosting like that?

  25. Hi Tara,
    The tip I used for piping this frosting was an Ateco open star with a 3/8' opening (it's Ateco model number 824.) Ont of my favourite tips!

    Thanks for visiting. :D

  26. Hi Val, That's awesome sweets! I love it! Make sure to use a good food coloring when making these sweets.


Thanks for visiting, and for taking the time to read through my ramblings!
If you have a recipe comment or question, I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Baking!
♥ Valerie


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