Vanilla latte cupcakes are designed to mimic the subtle but intricate array of flavours of the sophisticated vanilla latte, and they really do. They consist of a vanilla latte cupcake base that is iced in both vanilla and espresso Swiss meringue buttercream. The flavour is complex, rather than being merely sweet, and is much more mellow than a mocha cupcake; and while I am a die-hard lover of chocolate, there is something quite seductive about these beauties.
If ever I have been surprised by a recipe, this is the one. I found the texture of the cupcake base to be incredibly moist. However, the taste was boring – pleasant, mildly sweet, but boring. Likewise, the Swiss meringue buttercream has an amazingly smooth, creamy, thick texture – Swiss meringue buttercream has a stellar reputation for a reason – but the flavour was a pretty subtle play of vanilla and espresso flavours, which made me think that the finished cupcake would be a very dull cupcake indeed. I couldn’t have been more wrong, as some sort of esoteric magic occurred when the cupcake base was paired with the two buttercream flavours, elevating the “pleasant but boring” taste into something wicked. These cupcakes rank amongst my all-time favourites. See what I mean about a surprising recipe?
I love the delicate brown colouring of the espresso buttercream paired with the creamy off-white of the vanilla buttercream. The specks of vanilla bean seeds in the icing are very pretty, and while I am normally quite neutral about the sight of vanilla bean seeds in desserts, I urge that you use a vanilla bean in this recipe. The beauty of the buttercream is augmented by those tiny black specks.
A few notes on Swiss meringue buttercream:
Swiss meringue buttercream is not as in-your-face sweet as classic American buttercream, having as it does a higher ratio of butter to sugar. I love the depth of flavour you can get with Swiss meringue buttercream, and I also prefer the texture to that of American buttercream. As the butter flavour is fairly prominent in the Swiss version, it is best that you use the best unsalted butter you can get your paws on. (Margarine is NOT a substitute for butter here.) Kerry Gold butter, an amazing, rich, full-bodied butter imported from Ireland, is the best butter in the world. I can’t always find it, but when I do, rainbows appear in the skies!
During the stage at which butter is added to the buttercream, the mixture can look curdled, separated, and / or soupy. This is normal. Swiss meringue buttercream is notoriously temperamental at this stage, but its fits of temper are easily remedied by continuing to beat the buttercream, for upwards of thirty minutes or more (sometimes it even takes an hour), until it is smooth and completely blended. Because of the potential for long blending times, it is best to make this buttercream with a stand mixer.
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Vanilla Latte Cupcakes
Yield: Makes about 18 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 TBS espresso powder
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 TBS coffee-flavored liqueur OR 2 TBS additional buttermilk
For the icing:
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, OR 2 tsp vanilla extract
3 sticks (1 1/2 cups) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1 TBS pieces
2 tsp brewed espresso; OR 2 tsp very strong coffee; OR 2 tsp instant espresso powder, dissolved in 2 tsp very hot water
For the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line muffin tins with paper liners.
In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and espresso powder. Whisk to blend. In a separate bowl, combine the coffee, buttermilk, and coffee liqueur. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the dry and liquid ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition just until incorporated.
Divide the batter between the prepared cupcake liners, filling each liner 3/4 full. Bake 18 – 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pans 5 – 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
For the icing:
To make the icing, combine the egg whites and the sugar in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. (I use the mixing bowl for my stand mixer, because I’m just going to beat the egg mixture anyway.) Scrape in the seeds from the vanilla bean pods. (If using vanilla extract, beat extract into the buttercream before dividing the buttercream – see below.) Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160°F on a candy thermometer and the sugar has dissolved. If the mixture is not already in the bowl for a stand mixer, transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes. (The bowl should be cool to the touch.)
Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated. If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3 – 5 minutes more or upwards of thirty minutes. Fear not; the mixture will eventually blend together! If using vanilla extract, blend extract into icing until completely incorporated. Remove half of the frosting to a bowl and set aside. Blend the coffee into the icing remaining in the mixing bowl until smooth and completely incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
To ice, fill one side of an icing bag with the vanilla buttercream and the other side of the bag with the espresso buttercream, so that when the icing is piped onto the cupcakes, both flavours of icing make it onto the cupcake. You may need to pipe a so-called “test streak” to ensure that both flavours are being piped out of the bag. Note: I found the amount of icing produced by this recipe to be just enough to ice 16 of the 18 cupcakes the recipe yielded. You may want to increase the amount of icing by 1/4 or 1/2 (you’ll have to look up conversions) in order to ice all of the cupcakes with a pretty bakery swirl.
Source: Slightly adapted from Annie’s Eats