Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes

I am a vanillaholic. And when it comes to cupcakes and what I think the classic cupcake ought to be, it's vanilla all the way. Like I mentioned in my last post, there's all these cupcake shops popping up everywhere, and the way I judge which ones I would revisit is by the quality of their vanilla cupcake with vanilla frosting. I guess it's because I feel like a place can cover a lot of mistakes (cheap ingredients, "meh" textures, grainy buttercream) with bolder flavors like chocolate or fruit or whatever. When you're dealing with vanilla as the flavor, everything needs to be on point, you know? So this is why I am forever experimenting with vanilla cupcakes and vanilla buttercream. And this time I really think I've arrived at my best results yet. Ironically, after all this vanilla grandstanding, I should tell you that a few chocolate frosted cupcakes made their way into the mix, but I'll get to that in a second.

For this cupcake experiment, I decided to use the recipe loved by baking bloggers everywhere--Billy's Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes. It's a good, basic recipe for both the cakes and the frosting:

Billy's Vanilla Vanilla Cupcakes Makes about 30 cupcakes

  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
  • 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk (I only had skim on hand, so I added 2 teaspoons of melted butter to it--genius!)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a muffin pan with paper liners.

  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, and salt, and mix on low until combined. Add butter, mixing until just coated with flour.
  2. In a large measuring cup, whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla. With the mixer on medium, add liquid ingredients in three parts, scraping down sides of bowl before each addition. Beat until ingredients are incorporated, but do not overbeat.
  3. Divide batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling them about two-thirds full. Bake, rotating pan halfway through, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 17 to 20 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool. When cool to the touch, remove the cupcakes from the pan and return them to the rack to cool completely before frosting. Repeat process with remaining batter.

Billy’s Vanilla Frosting Makes enough to frost 30 cupcakes, and then some, in my opinion.

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  2. With mixer on low, add 6 cups of the sugar, milk, and vanilla. Mix until light and fluffy. If necessary, gradually add remaining sugar to reach desired consistency.

As I am wont to do, I've been playing around with the ingredients of this recipe to see if I could get a lighter, more delicate cake out of it. I got great results this time by sifting all the dry ingredients for the cakes, and throwing the sugar into my clean coffee grinder to make it nice and fine. It's always important to have room temperature butter for baking, but with this recipe it's even more crucial because you are using a two-stage method (butter right into all the dry ingredients first, followed by all the liquids together) rather than the creaming method (butter and sugar creamed together first, followed by eggs, then alternating flour and liquids). If your butter isn't nice and malleable when you add it, you'll end up with tiny pockets of butter in your cakes and an uneven, rough texture. Blech. But look how lovely and fine textured these turned out: As for the frosting, I sifted the powdered sugar and used half and half instead of milk. I could definitely taste the difference. I always like to add half the sugar first, then the vanilla and milk, whip it for a while, then add the rest of the sugar. Never underestimate the amount of time you should whip buttercream, taking the extra time makes a big difference in making it smooth and light. Next time I might add a bit of shortening to make the finished buttercream a little more stable and pillowy-looking. I used some of the plain vanilla frosting to fill the cakes, colored some of it pink, and added a few tablespoons of Valhrona cocoa to some to make chocolate frosting. I know, I know, I am a total hypocrite...but the husband loves chocolate frosting, and just look at the lovely resulting cupcake tableau:

Vanilla, CakeShauna Sever