Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes and Meringue Buttercream Frosting

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes
I’ve spent ages trying to find the right recipe to make delicious vanilla cupcakes – light and moist with nicely risen domed tops – no volcano effects here.  Something like this should be simple to do and it is – as long as you use the right recipe.

This post also includes the recipe for the absolute best cupcake topping in the world – meringue buttercream frosting – I can eat this straight off the spoon!  It’s definitely worth the effort and once you’ve tried it you’ll never go back to ‘normal’ buttercream!
Vanilla Cupcakes
Makes:12
Ingredients:100g butter, softened 225g caster sugar
100ml milk
210g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
3 eggs
2tsp vanilla extract or 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste.

Preheat the oven to 160c Fan/180c/Gas mark 4.

Cream together the butter and sugar.

Add in the vanilla, eggs, milk, flour and baking powder and mix till fully combined.

See it was easy, once you have the magic recipe!  Now you have some choices – what kind of cupcake look you’re after.  I have two different types of tins.  One is silicone which holds the cupcake case tight for a straighter cupcake and the other is a large metal tray which gives a more open cupcake.  You will see in the pictures what  I mean:-

Add the paper cases to your tray  and spoon the mixture into the cake cases 2/3rds full.

I like to use a metal sprung ice cream scoop which gets the mixture into the cases really neatly.  It also makes it far easier to get equal amounts into each.

I have added some links to the equipment I use to the bottom of the page in case you’re looking to invest in any of them!

Into the oven they go, middle shelf for 18 – 20minutes until the tops are golden brown and the cakes are risen.

So now comes the troubleshooting bit,  if your cakes have the volcano effect and have erupted on the top it is an indication that the oven is too hot.  Oven thermostats are notorious for being incorrect.  I use a removable thermostat which I use to preheat the oven (that’s nothing to do with the fact that during a vicious cleaning blitz I ‘cleaned’ the temperature numbers off the dial!)  If you invest in one thing, this would be what I recommend.  Test your oven – you’ll probably be surprised.

Remove from the trays and allow to cool thoroughly on a wire cooling rack.

Meringue Buttercream

This is to die for!  Seriously you need to taste it to believe it!  It’s a bit of a faff and you do need a sugar thermometer – but so so worth it!

Makes: Enough to pipe swirls onto 24 large cupcakes.

Ingredients:
5 large egg whites
50g caster sugar
250g caster sugar
100ml water
500g butter, softened

You will also need a sugar thermometer and electric mixer, preferably a stand mixer which makes life a lot easier but if you don’t have one an electric mixer will work fine.

In a large clean bowl place the egg whites, using the electric mixer whip the egg whites.  When they reach the soft peak stage ie. foamy but won’t hold their own shape add in the 50g sugar a spoonful at a time.  Continue whipping until they reach the firm peak stage – they will hold the peaks when you take out the mixer.  Leave to one side.

In a pan place the 250g caster sugar and 100ml water.  Heat over a low heat swilling the pan around gently to encourage the sugar to melt to a syrup.  When the sugar has melted and the syrup has turned clear turn the heat up to medium.  Boil the sugar syrup to 121c, this will take about ten minutes.

I used to use a digital thermometer but as I have now ruined two of the blighters by dropping them in to whatever it is I am heating up I have now switched to one of these.

When the syrup reaches temperature remove from the heat.  Turn the mixer back on, at a slow slow speed, in the whipped egg whites and pour the sugar syrup in gently in a steady stream.  Please be very careful it is very very hot!

When the sugar syrup is fully combined keep the mixer running whilst the meringue mixture cools.  This will be about 8 minutes.

When the bowl is cool to the touch you can start adding the butter.

I pinch off small pieces and throw them into the meringue.  You need to do this slowly, a bit at a time.  As you get about half way through adding the butter the mixture will have lost volume and will be slightly liquidy but don’t worry, keep adding the butter, still with the mixer running.  When all the butter is added whip until the buttercream looks like whipped double cream.

At this stage you can add flavouring if you wish – 2 tsp vanilla extract, 2tsp lemon oil, whatever takes your fancy but it is just as good plain!

Spread on the top of your cupcakes with a knife, or pipe swirls if you so wish!  A how to pipe frosting onto cupcakes is here.

This buttercream doesn’t keep well and certainly doesn’t like it in the fridge so use it straight away.  The theory behind the sugar syrup is that it cooks the egg white sufficiently for it to be safe and any harmful bacteria killed off.  That said, it’s really not worth the risk of giving it to the very elderly or pregnant women.

Equipment Links:

Sugar Thermometer – John Lewis
Oven Thermometer – John Lewis
Tala Cupcake Piping Set – John Lewis
Silicone Cupcake Tray – Sainsburys
Sainsburys

Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes and Meringue Buttercream

Ruth Clemens, Baker Extraordinaire

Finalist on BBC2 The Great British Bake Off

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