Or, first, let's talk about how buttercream and I don't get along. I've never been a huge fan. Most recipes I've tasted are too sweet, too buttery, too heavy, too melty, and the Buttercream Gods have retaliated by giving me horrible, horrible luck with the frosting. The last time I tried making it was in April of last year. Things went so badly that I swore off buttercream, both making it and tasting it. The batch was absolutely disgusting; it literally tasted like I had whipped sugar into butter and spread it on my cupcakes. Though I know some people think that sounds great, I just can't stand the thought of something so overtly sweet and fatty. Besides, the recipe had been for an Italian Meringue Buttercream, so I was expecting a lighter, though still decadent, taste.
So buttercream and I weren't getting along. Which was unfortunate, because everybody else seemed to love it. And then I met this recipe, and everything changed.
I came across the recipe at The Repressed Pastry Chef, who adapted it from Culinary Concoctions by Peabody. It caught my eye because the instructions call for boiling the cream with a bit of the total butter before any whipping starts. It also didn't call for too much butter, which I hoped would make for that lighter, less obvious taste I was going for. I was right; it is so, so good. I took these cupcakes to class today and they were a huge hit. Someone offered to pay me to bring in another batch tomorrow. I definitely would, except that the teacher of the class assigned us a backbreaking paper. So no luck there.
I decided to spiff up the buttercream a bit by using a vanilla bean. The frosting itself is already outstanding, and the real vanilla flavor just went that much further. It's heavenly. The cupcakes are really mostly to showcase the buttercream, though they are moist and quite good by themselves (the recipe is from an old and trusted Penzeys mail-out). They look gorgeous with the light, lovely colored frosting, sprinkled throughout with vanilla pod seeds.
However, as tasty as the frosting was and how cute the finished cupcakes looked, the Buttercream Gods decided to keep me humble. Another thing that terrified me about making buttercream? Piping. I tried it last April, and it kicked my butt. But this time I was feeling so good about my perfect-tasting, perfect-consistency buttercream that I thought I might actually get away with some good piping.
It was not to be.
My attempts at producing that lovely little cupcake swirl I so crave were laughable at best. These two gems were the closest I came to piping perfection, so you can imagine how the rest of the experiment went. I don't know if it's really just me who is no good at it, if I just need a lot more practice, or if my canvas piping bag is actually a piece of crap and I should get a new one. Whatever the cause, I scraped the sad little mounds of icing back into my mixing bowl and spread the cream on with a knife.
It's okay, though. The taste more than made up for the lack of fancy swirls.
2/3 cup butter
1 3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cups milk
Line two muffin tins with paper liners.
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy in the bowl of an electric mixer, on medium speed. Add the eggs and vanilla extract and mix until combined. Set aside.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
Alternate adding the dry ingredients and the milk to the butter mixture, mixing on low speed after each addition just until combined.
Fill each tin 1/2 way with batter - these rise like crazy.
Bake on separate racks for 20-25 minutes at 375F, until golden.
Immediately remove from muffin tins.
Brown Sugar and Vanilla Bean Buttercream
3/4 cup - 1 cup tightly packed brown sugar (I don't like my buttercream very sweet, so I'm going to use the 3/4 next time I make this)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, cut into 4 1-ounce pieces
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
1 vanilla bean
Pour the cream into a saucepan. Split and scrape the vanilla bean into the cream, tossing in the pod as well as the seeds.
Add one of the 1-ounce pieces of butter and the cream of tartar and place over medium-high heat.
Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil for two minutes, still stirring.
Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer and allow to cool more or less to room temperature. Refrigerate it for thirty minutes.
Once the mixture is good and cold, pick out the vanilla pod and fit the bowl into an electric mixer fitted with a paddle.
Beat on low for thirty seconds.
Then beat on medium for two minutes, adding the remaining 1-ounce pieces of butter one at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Beat on high for two minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Beat on high for 1 minute until light and fluffy.
If it's not fluffing up, your mixture was too warm. Pop it in the fridge for a while and then beat it on high until it becomes light.
Refrigerate until needed. Pipe onto your goods if you're talented like that, or just use a knife.