Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla Buttercream

This is where it all began people! I developed my baking bug via these little paper cases full of yum and icing. The beauty of these little cakes is you can make them as simple or as complex as you like, in this recipe I will just be showing you how to make a very simple vanilla cupcake then you can go nuts when it comes to decorating.

cupcakes 8
Plain cupcakes, look at al the pretty vanilla beans!

I am also going to be sharing my vanilla buttercream recipe, now that may not sound very special but when I went to secondary school and would bring in cakes I got bribes for this recipe. I would just smile sweetly and shake my head but that’s not because it is a closely guarded family secret, no it was because the recipe is so painfully simple that I’m sure people wouldn’t have believed me. Also, it was nice to have them believe I was some sort of baking wizard and could only create this icing with a magic ingredient… Maybe they were right, there is one ingredient that I use that transforms the buttercream from an ordinary one into a very special one that everyone will be dying to get their hands on. That ingredient is *drum roll please* Chocolate essence. Yes, you read that correctly there is such a thing as chocolate essence. Go ahead and Google it, I’ll wait. I find it adds another layer of flavour, you wouldn’t notice it was chocolate unless you were told but it cuts through some of the extreme sweetness of icing sugar.

cupcakes 2
Mmm, vanilla buttercream

There are a few things you need to keep in mind when you are making cupcakes. Firstly, you need to know that air is everything. Have you ever made cupcakes to end up with little hockey pucks of dense cake? Yeah, it’s happened to me too the texture leaves a lot to be desired and they are tricky to decorate, all in all it not a pleasant cupcake experience. This can happen two ways, number one is that you haven’t incorporated enough air into the batter and number two is that you have over whisked the batter. So in short if you under whisk the cakes they aren’t going to be nice but don’t try to avoid under whisking by beating the life out of your mixture. You are looking for a nice pale colour in your cupcake batter and you will know if you have over whisked because your thick mixture will gradually become thinner and thinner. It is quite difficult to over whisk if you are using a machine such as a Kenwood or a Kitchen Aid.

cupcakes 7
Here they all are un-iced

Another important thing to keep in mind when baking cakes is the oven temperature. Do not be tempted to put your oven temperature up so your cakes cook quicker. If your oven is even a little too hot you will get what I call volcano cakes, these are cakes that rise significantly more in the middle than on the outside, they will taste fine and the texture is usually good but they are a real pain to decorate nicely. Keep in mind that if your oven is a fan oven then it will be a touch hotter than conventional ovens so just turn the heat down a little and that should fix the problem.

Ingredients
Makes 12 cupcakes
-150g Caster sugar
-150g Butter or Margarine
-3 eggs
-150g Self raising flour
-1 tsp vanilla bean paste

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
2. Beat your sugar and butter or margarine together until pale.
3. Whisk your eggs into a jug and slowly combine them into the sugar and butter mixture, it is important to add the egg slowly so the mixture doesn’t split but don’t panic if it does. Just add a spoonful of the flour and mix it in until the mixture comes back together
4. Beat in the vanilla bean paste
5. Sieve the flour into the egg mixture and fold it in.
6. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases
7. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into one of the cupcakes comes out clean.
8. Let cool before you decorate them.
Makes enough icing to decorate 12 cupcakes or 1 medium cake
– 250g softened unsalted butter
– 500g icing sugar
– 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
– 1 tsp chocolate essence

1. Whisk the butter until it has gone pale in colour
2. Sieve in the icing sugar
3. Continue to beat for at least 5 minutes, this may seem excessive but it really does give the best texture
4. Add the vanilla bean paste and chocolate essence then beat again.
5. If the mixture is too thick to pipe, then gradually add milk until the icing is the right consistency
6. Fit a piping bag with a star nozzle
7. Pipe on top of the cupcakes in a slow circular motion from the outside in towards the middle.
8. Finish the cupcakes with whatever you would like. I favour chocolate dipped strawberries, sprinkles or m&m’s although there is a lot to be said for just a plain cupcake.

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