Vanilla Bean Cupcakes (alternate title: “Plain Muffins”)

Sometimes, I think my culinary genius is wasted on my family. My kids would just as soon eat boxed mac and cheese or cereal for every meal, and my husband has a great affinity for spaghetti and meatloaf (but not together). It’s easy to get in a funk, especially this time of year, when the winter recipes seem tired and stale, and spring seems so, so far away. I bought seeds last week to start some vegetable and herb plants inside, and the clerk at the store asked me incredulously, “You’re not planting these NOW, are you?” Uh, I don’t know. I have a bored 5-year-old at home. I might go hog wild and start a garden in the bathtub at this point. It’s this type of weather that must have inspired the first seed art, and it’s certainly what prompted¬†Garrison Keillor to say that God invented March “to show people who don’t drink what a hangover feels like.”

So, when my preschooler asked me to make muffins last week, I jumped at the chance. What kind should we make? Banana? Blueberry? Chocolate, even? “No, plain.”

“What do you mean, like vanilla?”

“No, plain,” he answered. “Just plain muffins.”

Do you see what I’m working with here?

I suppose I could have revamped a healthy recipe to squeeze some nutrients into the kids. Or whatever.

Instead, I tweaked Ina’s coconut cupcake recipe to make vanilla bean cupcakes plain muffins. I omitted the almond extract, doubled the vanilla extract, omitted coconut, and added vanilla seeds.

3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
5 extra-large eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup buttermilk

The seeds of 2 vanilla beans, scraped from the bean (add the discarded beans to your homemade vanilla extract brew)

For the frosting:
1 pound cream cheese at room temperature
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 pounds confectioners’ sugar, sifted
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on high speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla extract and mix well.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In 3 parts, alternately add the dry ingredients and the buttermilk to the batter, beginning and ending with the dry. Mix until just combined. Fold in vanilla seeds.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners. Fill each liner to the top with batter. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, until the tops are brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes. Remove to a baking rack and cool completely.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on low speed, cream together the cream cheese, butter, and vanilla extract. Add the confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.

Frost the cupcakes (or not).


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