Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Vanilla is Nice Nice, Baby

Vanilla Bean Buttermilk Cupcakes with Brown Butter Vanilla Bean Frosting
For the past three years I have had this really cool directing gig. I get to fly out to St. Louis and direct a play with an awesome theatre company, the St. Louis Actors' Studio. It's a great opportunity. And while I miss my home and sweetie very much, I enjoy my time in the city immensely. I get to see the sights, work with talented professionals, and show off my baking skills to a new audience. Cupcakes seem to be a universal morale-booster. This year's work on Suzan-Lori Parks' profoundly moving Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Topdog/Underdog, has been an incredible experience for me. Because of the nature of the material, however, it is very emotionally-demanding of the actors. What better way to keep people engaged and positive than a tasty sugar rush? My only real responsibility when I'm here in St. Louis is directing the play, leaving hours of free time during the day to explore, go on runs, visit museums, and bake treats. I've whipped up banana bread, brownies, and the ever-popular Red Velvet Cupcakes (stage manager Amy's choice). When I asked Chauncy, who is playing Booth, what his favorite cupcake flavor was, he said "Just vanilla." Well, there's no such thing as "just" vanilla. I happen to adore vanilla and so put together this recipe with the remaining buttermilk from the Red Velvet Cupcakes. Plain old "boring" vanilla gets a tasty twist with the rich flavor of vanilla bean paste and a brown butter frosting. Enjoy!


- 2 c. flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 1/4 c. sugar
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 1 1/4 c. buttermilk
- paste from 2 vanilla beans, divided
- 3 eggs
- 3 c. (or more) powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp. good quality vanilla extract, divided
- 2 sticks butter

Preheat oven to 350˚ F. Line standard-sized muffin tin with 24 paper liners and spritz lightly with cooking spray. Set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl blend together room temperature butter, half the vanilla paste, 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract, and sugar with an electric mixer until well combined. Slowly pour in buttermilk and blend together (mixture may be slightly curdled looking). Alternating between portions of the flour mixture and eggs, add remaining ingredients to buttermilk mixture and blend together. The batter will be smooth and fairly thick.

Fill prepared cupcake liners with portions of batter to 2/3 of the way full. Bake in heated oven for 12-15 minutes until the cupcakes are cooked through and slightly springy. Turn out on a wire rack and allow to cool completely before frosting.

Place remaining sticks of butter in a small sauce pan and melt over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon until the butter has completely melted. It will begin to foam and bubble, stir gently to keep from burning. After about 5 minutes the foam will subside and small brown bits will form at the bottom of the pan. Remove immediately from heat and pour melted browned butter into a medium bowl to cool. Allow the butter to cool and return to a semi-solid state. You can place it in the refrigerator to help it cool more quickly.

After butter has cooled add remaining vanilla and vanilla paste to bowl with about 2 cups of powdered sugar. Blend together on high speed with a hand mixer. The frosting may be too thick or thin, continue to add powdered sugar by the 1/4 cupful until it reaches the desired consistency. It it becomes too dry and flaky, try lightening it up with a splash of milk.

Once the frosting is spreadable and the cupcakes are cooled, frost and serve. Store in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for up to 3 days before serving.

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