Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes with Vanilla Bean Frosting

I decided to make these because I have a friend who owns a company in our town called Southern Flavoring.  The company makes many different types of flavorings and extracts, food dyes, spices, etc.  He approached me on Tuesday (knowing that I have a blog and love to cook) and asked me if I have ever used Vanilla Bean Paste.  To be honest not only had I never used it but never really heard about it before.  Well his company was in the process of making a Vanilla Bean Paste and wanted my opinion about it.  My kitchen sort of became a test kitchen.  I was given a popular brand of Vanilla Bean Paste and a bottle of the paste that they are developing.  I needed to make something that I could test out each and give a review of each.

When I got home I started to do some research on the Internet about Vanilla Bean Paste.  I found that a lot of people prefer it over Vanilla Extract.  Whatever the recipe calls for in extract you would use the same amount of paste.  The paste actually contains the vanilla bean seeds (the inside of a vanilla bean).  So you would only want to use the paste in instances where you don't mind seeing the brown flakes/seeds.

While I was digging I found a recipe for cupcakes with frosting.  To test both types of the paste I had to make 2 batches of cupcakes and frosting so that it could be a fair test. I will post the reviews at the bottom under the recipe.

I found this recipe on the blog The Sisters Cafe who found the frosting at Mel's Kitchen Cafe.

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes
1-1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons Vanilla Bean Paste
1/2 cup buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit for light aluminum or silicone muffin pans or 325 degrees Fahrenheit for dark, nonstick muffin pans.  Line about 16 - 24 muffin cups and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients.  In a large bowl, bear butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed.  Mix in eggs and egg yolk one at a time and then mix in the vanilla.  Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients.  Combine, add 1/2 of the buttermilk.  Mix.  Add another 1/3 of the dry ingredients.  Mix. Add the final 1/2 of the buttermilk.  Mix and then add the final 1/3 of flour mixture.  Mix until combined and the batter is smooth.  Spoon out batter into lined cupcakes pan, filling only half way or just barley over half way.
Bake for about 15-18 minutes (depending on the heat of your oven based on the type of muffin pan you have), until a toothpick inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out with moist crumbs.  Don't overbake!
Remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.

Vanilla Bean Frosting
1-1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons of cornstarch (I use Arrowroot instead of cornstarch - it does the same thing but better)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups milk
2 teaspoons Vanilla Bean Paste
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter, cut into 24 pieces and softened at room temperature
In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, cornstarch and salt.  Slowly whisk in the milk until the mixture is smooth.  Place a fine mesh strainer over a medium saucepan and pour the milk mixture thoroughly the strainer into the saucepan.  Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture boils and is thick enough to become difficult to easily whisk.  This could take anywhere between 5-10 minutes, depending on your stove, heat, etc. It should bubble quit a bit at the end (be careful of the splatters) and thicken considerably.
Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl and cool to room temperature (this is extremely important!).
Once hte frosting is completely cooled to room temperature beat the mixture with the vanilla on low speed until it is well combined, about 30 seconds.  Add the butter, one piece at a time, and beat the frosting until all the butter has been incorporated fully, about 2 minutes.  Increase the speed to medium/high and let the mixer work its magic.  Beat the frosting for 5 minutes, until it is light and fluffy.  Let the frosting sit at room temperature until it is a bit more stiff, about 1 hour.  Chill 30 to 60 minutes before pipping.

Now for the review part:
Just looking at the difference between the 2 products I found that the popular brand (I will call it subject A) was thicker (more paste like) than the test brand (I will call it subject B), which was more like a syrup.  Subject A being thicker had the seeds almost suspended in the paste.
Subject B being more like a syrup than a paste and did not suspend the seeds as much.
Upon baking with each I found that Subject A the vanilla seeds were well incorporated into the mixture and was easy to distribute.  Subject B the vanilla seeds stuck together (even after shaking the bottle) and was harder to get incorporated into the mixture.
Subject A had a slightly sweeter taste.  Subject B had a sweet taste but I found that it left an aftertaste.
My tasters comments:
Myself:  I found that Subject A had more of a vanilla taste than Subject B.  The texture of the cupcake was also slightly different.  I attribute this to the fact that Subject B made the batter slightly more fluid.
Tester 1: Subject A had a more distinct vanilla flavor, the texture of the cupcake was better then Subject B.
Tester 2: Seemed to like both cupcakes equally and couldn't really tell a difference but had a preference to Subject B.
Tester 3: Liked Subject A much better due to a stronger vanilla flavor.  Did not like Subject B as much because a notice of a slight aftertaste.
Testers 4 and 5: Both favored Subject A better because it seemed slightly sweeter and the icing flavor seemed more defined (almost a slight lemon zestiness to it).  Could not tell any difference in the cake part.
Based on these comments I think it might be back to the drawing board.  I will let you know what he says.

Subject A

Subject B

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