Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spring Fling (Lavender Vanilla Bean Cupcakes)

This post is also available as an article in the 3/28/2012 Williamsport Sun Gazette.

Now that it's finally, officially, spring, I have to celebrate. I think these lavender vanilla bean cupcakes with lavender lemon buttercream icing do just the trick. Some say the cupcake is a passing fad, soon to be abandoned and forgotten, but I think it is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. If cupcakes are to be my personal anachronistic eccentricity, there are certainly more dire fates.

Love at first sight

I know it's really a summer bloom, but I dare you to taste these and not feel a rush of spring-like freshness. It also helps that Wegmans has begun stocking edible flowers in the produce department, so I had no shortage of pansies, marigolds, and snapdragons to serve as seasonal cake toppers. As the weather grows warmer, I imagine your garden can help in that department, too.

Time for a garden party
To ensure moist cake with the lightest, fluffiest, and most tender crumb possible, I broke my typical baking rules and brought out the white sugar and the whitest flour possible: cake flour. It really does make a difference; cake flour is subjected to a more vigorous bleaching, resulting in the lowest possible protein content and high acidity. Said proteins are cake-toughening gluten and acidity helps attract and retain water, so it's the perfect storm of flour qualities when you really want a super-refined wedding cake or birthday cake.

White as snow
The lavender in these cupcakes gives them a subtle, exotic flavor and, mingled with vanilla bean, results in a dreamy swoon of gentle fragrance. Sour cream and canola oil add moisture and tenderness and a few bright splashes of fresh lemon juice cut through the sweetness. They're the perfect little treat for spring.

Yay, Spring!
Lavender vanilla bean cupcakes with lavender lemon buttercream

Dried lavender blossoms may be purchased locally at Fresh Life market in Williamsport, or ordered online. For a slightly lighter treat, the sour cream may be replaced with buttermilk and achieve similar results.

2 c sugar
1 heaping tbs dried lavender blossoms
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 c sour cream, at room temperature
Seeds from two vanilla pods
1 c canola oil
2 1/2 c cake flour (such as Swans Down or Softasilk)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbs fresh lemon juice (or distilled white vinegar)

For the lavender lemon buttercream icing

1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 c powdered sugar
1 tbs finely ground lavender blossoms
2 tbs fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and butter 24 cupcake tins or fill with paper or silicon liners.

Pulse the sugar and lavender in a food processor or blender until the blossoms have been mostly pulverized. The sugar should be lightly speckled with bits of ground flowers, take on the faintest hint of lavender color, and be extremely fragrant.

Smells like victory

In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, vanilla seeds, and eggs (one at a time) until homogenized to a silky consistency, about 2 minutes.

Add the oil and mix at low speed until fully blended. Slowly blend in the sour cream and set the wet ingredients aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

A delicate dance

Pour the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and mix until smooth. Quickly fold in the lemon juice until mixed completely.

Just about done
Fill the prepared cupcake tins about 2/3 of the way, there may be a small amount of batter leftover. Bake for 18-23 minutes, until golden, fragrant, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with just a few damp crumbs.

As tempting as it may be, cool completely or the icing melts right off (not that I know from experience...)

Cool the cupcakes in the tin on wire racks for about ten minutes, then remove directly onto the rack to cool completely.

About all there is to it

To make the icing, mix the lavender blossoms (I ground mine with a mortar and pestle) with the butter until fluffy. Then beat the powdered sugar into the butter in four additions, adding a tablespoon of lemon juice between 1st and 2nd and 3rd and 4th additions. For thicker icing, add more sugar; for thinner icing, add some milk or more lemon juice.


Ice the cupcakes as desired and garnish with edible flowers, fresh lavender sprigs, or decorating sugar. Makes 24 cupcakes.

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