Putting the “Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake” to the test

I think it is my duty as someone who loves making (and eating!) cupcakes to find a go-to recipe for the following flavors: chocolate and vanilla. In my mind, once you’ve found the best version of these cupcake bases, you’re set. You can tweak them, fill them in the middle with all sorts of deliciousness and top them with the classic or crazy frostings, and it’s unlikely you’ll go wrong.

So this is my search for that vanilla cupcake recipe.

Vanilla beans

I’ve always wanted to do this, use an actual vanilla bean in whatever I was making. It just seems so… fancy. And professional-looking. Like the person who made whatever vanilla seed-speckled confection REALLY knows what they’re doing in the kitchen. Yes, I’m a nerd.

So when I started on this whole crazy baking adventure, one of the first things I bought was vanilla beans. I didn’t have a recipe to use them with yet, I just wanted to have them on hand to feel fancy. Plus, I was so excited that they were even readily available in Manila, that I snapped up a pack of three.

I finally found a recipe to use them for, one  so boldly named “The Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake”. I’m a sucker for anything called “the best ever” so this recipe caught my attention. Stef from the Cupcake Project put in a lot of work into coming up with the recipe, testing it and tweaking it so it struck me that she wasn’t kidding around with the word “ultimate”.  The recipe was also tested by more than 50 bakers and commenters on the blog who gave it raving reviews, so I was convinced.

Stef recommended her Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting to go with the cupcake for the full vanilla experience. And, what the heck. I might as well go big or go home, right? (also, I was loathe to leave two vanilla beans in an open package and risk them drying out)

And, well, here’s how they turned out:

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I mean. How pretty is that frosting? Just for the prettiness factor, going through the trouble of using vanilla beans makes it worth it, no? The sight of those tiny, tiny seeds just make me so happy, and that was even before I bit into the cupcake.

So was the cupcake the “ultimate” cupcake? Did I make the right decision on going vanilla on vanilla?

YES. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!

The cupcake (the bread) itself is wonderful. It was moist, with a tender, soft, black seed-speckled crumb. I haven’t had a vanilla cupcake that was texturally better. I was worried that it would be too sweet, since the recipe called for both vanilla been AND extract, but that wasn’t the case. There was just enough vanilla flavor to make this cupcake a distinctly vanilla one (versus just being a regular, yellow cake one) but not too much that it was sickly sweet.

And that frosting? I love the balance of flavors in this frosting. For one thing, it doesn’t use as much confectioner’s sugar as other frosting recipes I’ve seen. The star of this frosting is undisputably the vanilla: subtly sweet, smooth and light. Both the Stef and my sister say that it tastes like melted vanilla ice cream, I would agree but would say that the frosting tastes lighter, I suppose because it doesn’t have the richness of custard.

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Things called the “best ever” or the “ultimate” don’t always meet the lofty expectations their names raise, but, thankfully, the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake lives up to its name. The cupcake with the vanilla bean buttercream really is the perfect showcase for the subtle and surprisingly interesting flavors of vanilla. Whoever said vanilla was boring obviously never had this cupcake and this frosting.

Note: The frosting recipe calls for vanilla bean paste, which I don’t have, so I used two vanilla beans instead.  The Vanilla Company’s Tahitian (which I used for this recipe) and Bourbon Vanilla beans are available at Gourdo’s and Cook’s Exchange in packs of one or three.

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