Friday, January 14, 2011

Orange-Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

I have had a major case of the winter blues pretty much since, oh... the day after Christmas.  I really and truly hate the cold weather.  I love spring and summer, allergies, steaming hot days, and all.  Give me 110 degree temperatures over 20 degrees any day.  And I am even more inclined to feel this way considering the fact that we've been snowed and iced in since Monday.

So last week when I had the urge to bake some cupcakes last week, I opted to go with something that felt light and fresh - citrus!  I was intrigued by the orange-vanilla bean combination, and I thought it might be similar to a creamsicle.  The cake itself was much more dense than I expected, but not necessarily in a bad way - it reminded me more of a poundcake than a cupcake.  So if you want a light and fluffy cupcake, maybe try a simple yellow cake recipe and add vanilla beans and orange zest to the batter.  However, the icing was spectacular.  The original recipe is for a simple vanilla Swiss Meringue buttercream, but I added orange zest to give it more citrus flavor.

I also changed up the presentation.  Each cupcake was to be garnished with an entire candied orange slice, but for one thing, I prefer a big swirl of frosting, and I also thought a sticky orange slice would be messy and overkill.  So I quartered each slice and then dipped them in sugar.  The garnish was actually one of the best parts about this cupcake - it reminded me of gummy oranges, but with real orange flavor - none of the fake, artificial flavors you'll find in candy shops.

Finally, I'd like to share a tip about meringue-based buttercream.  I beat the frosting for over 30 minutes, and it was not setting up.  It was a curdled, soupy mess, and I was ready to throw it out and start over.  I have made Swiss Meringue buttercream many times, so I didn't know what was going on - the only change I had made was adding orange zest to the sugar, but I couldn't see how that would mess up the frosting.  So I did a little research, and found the suggestions to refrigerate for 30 minutes, then try again, or to melt a portion of the frosting and add it back to the mixer.  I tried the refrigeration trick with no success, and I had low expectations for the melting trick.  But lo and behold, it worked!  I melted maybe a quarter of the frosting, and when I added it back to the rest, the frosting came together within seconds.  It was seriously like magic!

Joey really liked these cupcakes, and it was fun to make something out of the ordinary.  I for one, could have eaten the entire batch of frosting and been happy, but hey - if you're into cake, it was delicious as well ;-)

One Year Ago:  Chile-Cheese Bread

Orange-Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes

Candied Orange Slices
  • 1 small navel orange
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
  • 1 cup water
Wash the oranges trim off the tops and bottoms and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices.  Remove seeds.

Bring 1 cup of the sugar and the water to a boil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat.  Boil, stirring, until clear, about 5 minutes.  Add enough orange slices to fit in one layer; simmer, turning oranges occasionally, 20-40 minutes, or until translucent but still orange in color.  Use a slotted spoon of tranfer the slices to a heatproof container.  Repeat with remaining slices and pour the syrup into the container with oranges. Let cool completely.

Spread the remaining 1/2-cup of sugar in a shallow dish.  Using a sharp knife, quarter each orange slice and coat well with the sugar, turning several times.  Lay flat on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet until dry.

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 Tbs orange zest
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1 Tbs vanilla extract
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans, halved lengthwise, seeds scraped and reserved
  • 2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line muffin tins with paper liners.

Sift together the flour, baing soda, baking powder, and salt.  In another bowl, combine the cream, orange juice, and vanilla extract.

Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, and zest in a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until pale and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Reduce speed to low, and alternate adding the flour and cream mixtures, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat until just combined.

Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups, filling each one 3/4 full.  Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until a cake-tester comes out clean, about 25 minutes.  Transfer tins to a wire rack to cool completely.

Orange Swiss-Meringue Buttercream 
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • zest of 1/2 orange
  • 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine the sugar and orange zest in a medium bowl.  Using your fingertips, work the zest into the sugar, rubbing between your fingers, until it is orange-ish in color and very fragrant.

Mix the sugar with the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer set over a pan of simmering water.  Whisk constantly by hand until mixture is warm to the touch and the sugar has dissolved (the mixture should feel completely smooth when rubbed between your fingertips).

Attach the bowl to a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Starting on low and gradually increasing to medium-high speed, whisk until stiff (but not dry) peaks form.  Continue mixing until the mixture is light and fluffy, glossy, and completely cool, about 10 minutes (you can test by touching the bottom of the bowl).

With the mixer on medium-low speed, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Once all the butter has been added, whisk in the vanilla.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until frosting forms (this can take several minutes).

Switch to the paddle attachment and beat on low speed until all air bubbles are eliminated, about 2 minutes.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat until the frosting is completely smooth.

Pipe or spread the frosting onto the cupcakes, and garnish with the candied orange slice.  The cupcakes are best the day they are made, but can be stored overnight in an airtight container.


Blog is the New Black said...

So weird- I was lookng for a recipe for something like this, and got everything to make it BUT I forgot the orange extract! I'm so glad that happened, because now I will make these instead. :)

Keeley said...

Beautiful cupcakes! I'm with you... winter gives me the blues. Between driving both directions to work in the dark, the snow and ice, and the freezing temperatures, I always suffer through this time of year.

Heather @ Side of Sneakers said...

I love the whole combo here, but boy do those candied oranges make the whole thing sound magnificent!

Annie said...

I keep hoping someone will choose these off the birthday cupcake list, but no one ever does. I will just have to make them anyway. Glad to hear your thoughts on the candied orange slices. They look beautiful as Martha does them but I agree with your assessment. Yummy!

Joanne said...

Fellow winter hater! Right here! I need something that reminds of a tropical location to get me through. These sound perfect!

Carrie said...

Those look amazing. I love the flavor of vanilla bean.

Elizabeth said...

Those look delicious. I also have had problems with Swiss Buttercream - but I have had luck with refrigerating and then whipping. Can you explain a bit more about the melting - did you put it in the microwave or on the stove? How could you tell when you should add it back to the rest of the frosting? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful cupcakes! I'm definitely ready for some spring weather as well!

Josie said...

I melted it in the microwave - maybe 15-30 seconds or so? Only until it had completely melted. Then I just added it back to the mixer.

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