…And the winner of the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake is…

So many of you know that we have been cupcake explorers for one of my favorite blogs, The Cupcake Project. Stef at The Cupcake Project took on the daunting task of attempting to find the recipe for the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake. You know – the embodiment of perfection. That golden ideal to which all other vanilla cupcakes bow down.

What Stef and the team learned through this process, however, is that finding ONE cupcake which trumps all others may not be as easily accomplished as we might have thought. You can read about the task and results here. And without further ado, the recipe that 50+ bakers chose as the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake is:

The Recipe

Yield: 14 cupcakes

I’ve written the recipe with mixing times for people who own an electric mixer.  If you are mixing by hand, just mix as best you can. Regardless of how you are mixing, be sure to scrape down the sides of your bowl periodically.

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour, not self-rising (If it all possible, please use real cake flour and not a substitute.  Those who used a substitution in the last round seemed to have different results.  If you must substitute, please let me know in the comments on the survey.)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup full-fat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup canola oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure (not imitation) vanilla extract
  • 2/3 cup whole milk 

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean. (For those of you who are new to using vanilla beans, check out this video (http://youtu.be/nD3zH-43duA) to learn how to get the seeds out of the bean.)
  3. Using the back of a spoon, move around the bowl and apply pressure to break up any clumps and to better infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar. Set aside.
  4. In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, mix together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Add the vanilla bean sugar and mix until well combined.
  6. Add butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes.  Because there is so little butter, you’ll end up with a very fine crumb texture.
  7. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract until smooth.
  8. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined.
  9. Slowly add milk and mix on low speed until just combined.  The batter will be liquid.  (Don’t worry, you didn’t do anything wrong.  It’s supposed to be that way.)
  10. Fill cupcake liners 3/4 full.  
  11. Bake for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done. They are done when a toothpick comes out without wet batter stuck to it.  The cupcakes should appear white with specks of vanilla bean.  They should not turn a golden brown.  If they are not done, test again in two minutes.  If they are still not done, test again in another two minutes.  
  12. When the cupcakes are done, remove them immediately from the tins and leave them on a cooling rack (or just on your counter if you don’t own a cooling rack) to cool.
  13. Wait for the cupcakes to completely cool (45 minutes) before providing your review.  Last time around, several people wrote me to say that the cupcakes tasted different when they waited longer and tried them again. 

Here’s a brief summary of our learnings from this project:

1. Vanilla beans are amazing for flavor (I know, obvious, right?) and we LOVED the way the beans looked in the cupcakes.

2. Adding a little salt to vanilla cupcakes is the perfect balance. We went through three rounds of baking and all three had salt. A lot of people think I’m crazy for adding a pinch of salt to a few of my sweet recipes until they try it. That’s why things like salted caramel are so tasty!

3. Expecting 80% of your readers to agree on a single recipe is a lovely dream; but all manner of people enjoy all manner of cupcakes and getting 80% of us to agree was a staggering task!

4. More than flavor, we determined in our small group that density, texture, and crumb were important in developing the Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake. Round two’s recipe fell apart in the papers. The crumbliness of it drove us nuts!

This was so much fun – I look forward to another opportunity for in-depth study of some of my favorite foods…pavlova or boccone dolce, anyone?

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