“ANYTHING SIMPLE ALWAYS INTERESTS ME.” David Hockney
In the culinary world, we speak so often to ‘depth of flavor’ and layering of seasoning and spices. Honestly, to me, sometimes keeping it extremely simple is best. I love to experiment with some over the top flavor combinations. But there are those times when I just want to enjoy a basic sugar cookie, or a piece of buttery shortbread, or a spongy madeleine. And for the first snowfall of the season, I always bake a “snowcake”; a simple bundt cake lavishly dusted with powdered sugar. The common ingredient in all of these treats? . . . . .
If you are a purist at heart like me, you will truly enjoy the simple pleasure of these sweet vanilla cupcakes. No matter what I am baking, I always add more vanilla than the recipe originally calls for. I particularly like using vanilla beans from Penzey’s. They package them in tubes which really help them to stay fresh and pliable. And though I like experimenting with different brands of pure vanilla extract, I’ve found that I really love Vanilla Bean Extract Crush from Sonoma Syrup Company. It’s a Madagascar Bourbon & Tahitian Vanilla with vanilla bean seeds.
Here are the plain and simple basics:
Yields: 1 dozen cupcakes
Level of Difficulty: Easy
- 1 1/4 cups of all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- 6 Tablespoons of unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 large eggs
- 1 Tablespoon of pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup of whole milk
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Line your standard 12 cup muffin pan with some pretty papers.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar and butter together with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy; about 3 minutes. With the mixer now on low, beat in the eggs, one at a time. Add the vanilla. Alternate the flour mix (in 3 additions) with the milk (in 2 editions); beginning and ending with the flour. Beat on low until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue beating on medium-high until no traces of flour remain.
Divide the batter evenly into the muffin cups, filling about three-fourths full. Bake until the tops are lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean; about 18-20 minutes. Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Transfer the cupcakes to the wire rack and cool completely, about an hour.
WHITE CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
- 3 large egg whites at room temperature
- 3/4 cup of sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature and cut into about 16 pieces
- 6 ounces of good quality white chocolate, melted.
Combine the egg whites and sugar in a glass bowl. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and heat the mixture, whisking constantly until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture reaches a temperature of about 160 degrees F. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and with an electric mixer on high speed, beat until fluffy and cooled to room temperature. This should take about 6 minutes, and the egg whites should hold stiff peaks.
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the salt and butter, a few pieces at a time. Beat well after each addition. Add the melted chocolate and beat until combined. Use right away.
NOTE: Sometimes I feel that when offering vanilla cupcakes, what attracts someone’s attention to them is the color of the icing. I first made these cupcakes in winter, and really loved the sky blue coloring I added to the buttercream. I made these again a few months later, and decided to use a basic vanilla glaze, which I also flavored with strawberry.
- 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar, sifted
- 2 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract
- 1 Tablespoon of room temperature butter
- 2-3 Tablespoons of milk
In a medium bowl, mix together the sugar and the butter. Add in the vanilla extract. And then add in the milk, 1 Tablespoon at a time until you get the desired consistency. Dip the tops of the cupcakes into the glaze and return the cupcakes to the wire rack until the glaze sets.
I added a little strawberry sugar and used strawberry milk with this glaze to make some of the icing strawberry flavored.