July 16, 2011

The BEST Vanilla Cupcake + the BEST Coffee Buttercream



Happy birthday to my wonderful Mom!!  Yes, today is her birthday, and I just got back from visiting her for her special day.  When I asked her what kind of birthday cake she wanted she replied, "It has to be something small."  See, our hips and thighs are still recovering from all the goodies she made for her wine tasting party last month.  So she didn't want a big cake that left her with leftovers to eat!

The perfect treat??  Her favorite cupcakes! ... Soft, fluffy-textured vanilla cupcakes with coffee buttercream frosting.  Yum.

Okay, I have a confession.  These are her almost favorite cupcakes.  She actually likes it better when I do these as chocolate cupcakes with coffee buttercream frosting ... she loves that mocha combination.  But I was at the very end of my quest for the BEST vanilla cupcake recipe, with just one tiny little tweak to make to the front-runner recipe.  And I've been working on this quest for a looonnng time ... longer than I'd like to admit.  (How can it be so difficult to find a simple vanilla cupcake that I'm happy with?)    So Mom made a concession and went with vanilla cupcakes to allow me the opportunity to test this final version.  She's sweet like that.

My quest for the best vanilla cupcake has been quite an involved and fun process of testing and tweaking.  I like a vanilla cupcake that has a fairly fluffy texture, light-&-airy crumb, and a good flavor of vanilla.  Dense, gummy, and tasting of slightly-sweet flour is not for me.  I believe I've tested ten different recipes, along with testing several rounds of tweaks to the front-runner recipes of those ten.  I've tried cake flour, all-purpose flour, and self-rising flour recipes.  I've tried buttermilk, whole milk, skim milk, and 2% milk as the moistener.  I've tried a cold-oven pound cake cupcake.  I've tried a box mix.  I've tried, I've tried, I've tried ...  And now I'm pleased to say that I finally have a result I am happy with! 

Before we look at that winning recipe, I'll share a little glimpse into my process.  I start by choosing three or four recipes of whatever I'm questing for - in this case, vanilla cupcakes.  I bake up a small batch of each one, typically 1/2 the recipe of each so I don't end up with cupcakes (or cookies, or whatevers) flowing out of every window in my house.  In the case of cupcakes, I use a different color paper liner for each one so I can easily tell them apart and don't get them mixed up in the tasting step.  Here are the four from my last testing round, all lined up and ready for tasting:  

Testing, testing, testing ...

Next, I put them through a blind tasting with my husband and me (well, it's not blind for me, since I know which recipe went into which paper liner ... but it's close enough!).  Then I involve a friend or two, or my parents, or in some cases - both.  I take all that feedback and decide which recipes need to be scrapped all-together, which are worthy of another try with a tweak or two, or if there's one that's spot-on just as it is.  And my friends involved in this process know that I don't just want them to say, "Oh, that's good."  They have to tell me what exactly they like - the flavor?  The texture?  How it looks?  Then they have to compare, saying things like, "I like the flavor of this one, but I like how light and fluffy this one is."  Then it's back to baking more batches and re-tasting until there's a clear winner! 

So, here it is ... the clear winner of the quest for the BEST vanilla cupcake ... ever-so-slightly-modified Vanilla Cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook.

I was actually very skeptical of The Hummingbird Bakery's recipe, and considered not even testing it.  Why?  Well, it uses much less sugar and much less butter than most of the cupcake recipes out there.  And doesn't sugar and butter make everything good??  And their mixing method wasn't the traditional creaming method.  Instead, you first combine all the dry ingredients with the butter and mix it until you get a crumb mixture ... then add the wet ingredients.  The ever-so-slight modification I made was to increase the vanilla, as the original recipe called for only 1/4 teaspoon, resulting in a too-faint vanilla flavor for me.  With this one small change, these cupcakes were vanilla cupcake perfection!

Now ... on to the coffee buttercream frosting.
This buttercream is so light-and-fluffy, with a fantastic coffee flavor.  It's from my all-time absolute favorite cookbook, The Best Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine.  Beating it the full time called for in each step of the recipe is the key.  It makes it soooo smooth and light ... which is exactly how I love my frosting.  Add the coffee mixture into a butter & confectioners' sugar mixture, and then keep on beating it until it's a beautiful light tan color.
Adding the coffee mixture ...

... and beating until it's a gorgeous light-and-fluffy frosting

Pipe the coffee buttercream onto the cupcakes, top with a chocolate-covered espresso bean, and there you have it!  The BEST vanilla cupcake with the BEST coffee buttercream ever.  Happy birthday, Mom!!
Yummy for my tummy

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Vanilla Cupcakes with Coffee Buttercream Frosting
Source:  Cupcakes adapted from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, frosting adapted from The Best Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine

Ingredients
Cupcakes:
1 c. all-purpose flour
A scant 3/4 c. sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 T. butter, at room temperature
1/2 c. whole milk (I also tried it with 2% milk, and it worked fine)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Coffee Buttercream Frosting:
1 1/2 T. instant coffee granules
1 1/2 T. water
1 1/2 T. vanilla extract
3/4 lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 c. confectioners' sugar
3 T. milk


Directions
Prepare the Cupcakes:
1.  Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and butter in mixing bowl.  Beat on slow speed until everything is combined and you have a crumb mixture with a sandy consistency.  Gradually pour in half of the milk; beat until the milk is just incorporated.

2.  Whisk together the remaining milk (1/4 cup), egg, and vanilla.  Pour into the flour mixture and beat until all ingredients are just incorporated.  Beat for about another 30 seconds to one minute until the batter is smooth.  Do not over mix.

3.  Spoon batter into muffin pan cups lined with paper cupcake liners, filling cups 1/2 full.  Bake at 325 degrees for 20 - 25 minutes, or until light golden and the cake springs back when lightly touched.  Cool slightly in the pan before removing cupcakes to a wire rack.  Cool completely before frosting.

NOTE:  This recipe makes 12 cupcakes.  And it really does make 12!  Fill your cups only 1/2 full, as this batter rises quite a bit.  When I divided the batter between only 10 muffin cups, I had several that rose over the sides of the cups way too much.  If you're like me, you'll feel like there's not enough batter to stretch to 12 cupcakes ... but there really is.


Prepare the Coffee Buttercream Frosting:
4.  Combine water, coffee granules, and vanilla extract in a small bowl; stir to dissolve coffee.  Set aside.

5.  Beat butter in bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute.  Reduce mixer speed to low.  Add confectioners' sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating for a few seconds between each addition.  Increase mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes.

6.  Add the coffee mixture and milk; beat on low speed to combine.  Scrape down sides and bottom of the bowl.  Increase mixer speed to medium and beat until fluffy, about 4 minutes.  Frosts 18 cupcakes.




This post is linked with Sweets for a Saturday hosted by Sweet As Sugar Cookies, Muffin Monday hosted by Talking Dollars and Cents, Totally Tasty Tuesdays hosted by Mandy's Recipe Box, These Chicks Cooked hosted by This Chick Cooks, Cast Party Wednesday hosted by Lady Behind the Curtain, Sweet Treats Thursday hosted by Something Swanky, Sweet Indulgences Sunday hosted by A Well-Seasoned Life, The Month Long Cupcake Party hosted by Screaming Sardine, Friday Favorites hosted by Simply Sweet Home, Savvy HomeMade Monday hosted by Home Savvy A to Z, Recipe Sharing Monday hosted by Jam Hands, Cure for the Common Monday hosted by Lines Across My Face, Sharing Sundays hosted by Everyday Sisters, and Tuesday Tutorials hosted by The Kurtz Corner, 12 Days of Christmas Goodies hosted by Mom's Crazy Cooking, This Week's Cravings hosted by Mom's Crazy Cooking, Think Pink Sundays hosted by Flamingo Toes, Sundae Scoop hosted by I {heart} Nap Time, Scrumptious Sunday hosted by Addicted to Recipes, Nifty Thrifty Sunday hosted by Nifty Thrifty Things.

73 comments:

  1. Your cupcakes are beautiful. I love that the recipe makes 12 cupcakes instead of 24, as I never know what to do with that many cupcakes!

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  2. Those cupcakes look super-delicious and really cute, too! :)

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  3. Thanks for doing all the research on the best cupcake. I would have thought more butter and sugar would be the winner, too, but I remember some cupcakes I got from one of the trendy cupcakes shops in NYC last year that were toooo buttery and toooo sweet. They left my mouth greasy. I think this recipe would be perfect for me. Happy B-day to your mom!

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  4. This looks yummy! Would you come by my Cast Party Wednesday Link Party tomorrow and share some of your recipes with us?
    Thanks,
    I hope to see you there!

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  5. These look amazing! As a self-proclaimed slave to the bean these are right up my alley!! :)

    I'm so happy that I found your blog via the Cast Party at Lady Behind the Curtain. :) I look forward to checking out more of your recipes. Stop by my blog if you have a chance.

    Laurie
    www.thebakingbookworm.blogspot.com

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  6. Yum! These look delicious! I can't wait to give them a try!

    http://imitationbydesign.blogspot.com

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  7. These look fantastic.

    I firmly believe anything is better with coffee. And bacon.

    Although maybe not in the same dish!

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  8. Thanks for making my birthday special...and the cupcakes were fabulous even if they weren't chocolate...Love Ya..Mom

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  9. You had me at coffee! I need to put these at the top of my things to make list! :)

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  10. These look amazing! I'm hosting a Cake, Cupcake and Icing Linky Party, and would love for you to share these!
    Jo-Anna
    http://aprettylifeinthesuburbs.blogspot.com

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  11. sounds awesome and look beautiful yummy come see me what I shared at http://shopannies.blogspot.com

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  12. Can I please lick the frosting off of all your cupcakes!!!! They sound heavenly! I'm a new follower - check out my blog and follow back if you're interested http://eatcakefordinner.blogspot.com/

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  13. Absolutely stunning! That frosting is to die for. I could dive right in!!! SO glad I found your blog today - looking forward to seeing more! :)

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  14. These are beautiful and sound delicious! Thanks so much for linking them up at Muffin (and Cupcake) Monday!

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  15. These are gorgeous. I love your frosting. I'm hoping to improve my frosting skills soon. Thanks for sharing on A Well-Seasoned Life's Sweet Indulgences Sunday.

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  16. These look fabulous! I love the flavour combo of vanilla and coffee!

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  17. Thank you so much for stopping by Cast Party Wednesday last week. I really appreciate you sharing your recipes with us. I hope you will join us again for another awesome party filled with yummy recipes.
    Thanks Again!

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  18. YUM! These look to pretty to eat! I am your newest follower! I am loving your blog! I would love it if you would check out my blog and follow me back!?

    Have a great day!

    Kirsten
    www.mushkiloves.blogspot.com

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  19. This looks amazing. I've had a hard time finding a vanilla cupcake I like too, so I might have to give yours a try!
    Visiting from Saavy Homemade Monday and now I'm your newest follower! :)

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  20. These look awesome! I love your testing process - a lot like America's Test Kitchen :) I am your newest follower, and a fellow cupcake lover!

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  21. Wow these look delicious! I would love it if you would stop by and share at the link party going on right now at Lines Across My Face.
    :)Rachel
    http://linesacrossmyface.blogspot.com/2011/08/cure-for-common-monday-3-craft-link.html

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  22. YUM!!!! I am visiting from Lines Across My Face and I am a new follower!!! Hope you are having a great day and I see you around soon!!
    Michelle
    www.delicateconstruction.blogspot.com

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  23. These look amazing! I'd love for you to link up a my Tuesday tutorials link party!

    http://www.thekurtzcorner.com/2011/08/tuesday-tutorials-link-party-1.html

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  24. Wow, these look FABulous! Bookmarking them now!

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  25. Hi Tracey! Your cupcakes were the number one "liked" post at my Savvy HomeMade Monday blog party! Feel free to pick up a feature button and I hope you will link up again!

    http://www.homesavvyatoz.com/buttons/

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  26. Was googling and came upon this by chance!
    I would really love to try this, just a little clarification bout the baking time.

    325 degree celsius for 20 min. Its that too long if I were to use a microwave instead of oven.

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    Replies
    1. The baking temperature is 325 degrees Farenheit. I think these cupcakes are best baked in the oven ...I'm not sure how the batter would react to microwave cooking.

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  27. This frosting...WOW! I am hosting a 30th birthday party filled with CUPCAKES and this will be one of them. I would love a way to make the frosting just more whipped than a buttercream. Do you have any recipes you can share for something like that?

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    1. ENJOY the party!! I'm working on some whipped cream frostings, but don't have them perfected yet. This buttercream frosting does come out really light and fluffy ... so hopefully it's close to what you're looking for. I'm not a lover of traditional buttercream, but I LOVE this frosting!

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  28. I just began baking and love it, so this might be a silly question, but it says 3 T, and I'm afraid to try the recipe until I know...Does T stand for tablespoon, it teaspoon? Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Welcome to the world of baking! It's soooo much fun!! The capital T. stands for tablespoon. Teaspoon is usually lowercase t or tsp. Enjoy!

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  29. Hi! Love the look of these!

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  30. Hi! Question: do you use salted butter in your cupcakes? And....does three sticks of butter in the frosting make it greasy? Ive always only used two when making frosting. Cant wait to make these this weekend!! Thanks :)

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    Replies
    1. Hi there! I use unsalted butter in the cupcakes (and in the frosting). I was with ya on thinking 3 sticks of butter would be nasty-greasy in the frosting ... when I found the recipe, I was thinkining 'THREE sticks of butter????' But, it's absolutely delicious, and NOT greasy. The whipping method makes it really light and fluffy ... so do be sure to whip it for the times indicated. Enjoy!!!

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  31. Mercy these look awesome! I just love my coffee so these little gems would be perfect for me! I will make these soon...maybe after 10-15 km of hardcore walking first? thanks for sharing theses beauties!
    ~Becki

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    Replies
    1. Or perhaps 20 km!! :-) Yes, this is one of those treats that you just have to forget about calories.

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  32. I couldnt wait till the weekend...i made em tonight!! You are right...three sticks does not make the frosting greasy...the cakes and frosting are sooooo yummy! :)

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    Replies
    1. I'm so glad you liked them!! And thanks so much for stopping back by to let me know how the recipes went for you!

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  33. Hi! I would really like to add champagne to this vanilla cupcake......any thoughts?? Ive made them as is and loved em! I would then like to top them with a blueberry buttercream.....would u use champagne instead of milk???

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    1. So glad you loved the cupcakes! Blueberry buttercream sounds DE-LISH. Hmmmm ... on the champagne ... my only worry about replacing the milk with champagne is that it would be removing the bit of fat content of the milk ... liquid-for-liquid would be just fine, but the crumb of the cupcake may suffer a bit without the fat. But I'm all for trying!!! I always figure the worst that's going to happen is I waste a few ingredients and a little bit of time. :-) If it was me I'd go ahead and try it, making just a 1/2 or 1/4 batch as my test. If you do, please let me know how it goes!!

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  34. Hi, I can't wait to make these today! But just want to ask, might be a silly question, do I need to sift the flour? And what difference does it make? Thanks :)

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    1. Okay ... 'true' bakers & pastry chefs everywhere are going to cringe when I type this ... I have NEVER gone through the extra step of sifting my flour. Ever. Except when I was getting my cooking badge back in Girl Scouts, and the mom teaching us was *I think* trying to show us the PROPER way to do things. I believe sifting serves a few purposes when baking:
      1. Breaks up any clumps
      2. Adds a teeny bit of air to the flour which helps to produce lighter baked goods
      3. Helps make sure your measurements are accurate

      So, no, you don't need to sift your flour. I'm sure baking 'purists' would disagree ... but I'm not a 'purist!' :-)

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  35. OMG Tracy!!! The coffee buttercream is to die for!!! I made it with my mocha cupcakes last night and my family just loved it sooooo much!!!! Thank you sooooo much for sharing this amazing recipe!!:D

    You are the BEST! xXx

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  36. Thank you so much!!!!!!
    I just made this and it was delicious!!!!
    5 star rating:)
    I used butter and oil and only 1/2 cup of sugar!
    SOOOOGOOOOD!!!

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    Replies
    1. Yay!!! Thank you so much for stopping back by and letting me know how these worked for you. So glad you loved them!!

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  37. I tried your coffee buttercream frosting in my chocolate expresso cupcakes and they turned out amazing!!!!! thank you so much for sharing this recipe. It is featured on my blog.

    http://krumblecakesandsweets.blogspot.com/2012/09/chocolate-expresso-cupcakes.html

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  38. The frosting is so, so delish! Much thanks for sharing! ^^

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  39. I would love to try these vanilla cupcakes with the coffee buttercream frosting but is there any chance you could give me the metric measurements as I'm not sure how many grams the cups and sticks would be. Thanks very much.

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  40. Hello, went looking for a good recipe for 12 cupcakes and found your blog :) just a couple of questions:
    > is there really no baking soda?
    > also is it 3 tablespoons of butter or 3 sticks of butter?
    cant wait to try this, your cupcakes look amazing!

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    Replies
    1. Hi, Ling! Yes, there really is NO baking soda! And the cupcakes still come out nice and light and fluffy. And it's truly just 3 tablespoons of butter ... which I LOVE that these cupcakes have such a small amount of butter. I know the method and ingredient proportions sound 'strange,' but it really works and makes up a GREAT cupake.
      Enjoy!!

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  41. Hi, I wrote to you in September hoping to clarify some of your measurements but unfortunately you never replied. I have managed to get the all the measurements except "A scant 3/4 c. sugar". Could you please put me out of my misery as I have no idea what this means and would still love to try them.

    Thanks :-)

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    Replies
    1. 'Scant' means a little teeny-tiny bit less, or JUST barely the measurement ... in other words, don't pack the sugar or go over the line on the measuring cup. Be just shy of it. You can check out this link for an official definition. Enjoy!
      http://recipes.howstuffworks.com/tools-and-techniques/what-does-scant-mean.htm

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  42. Hello Tracey! Thanks for going to the extent of finding the perfect vanilla cupcake recipe. So excited to try this out, though I have one question. Is it possible to replace the vanilla extract with vanilla pod seeds - if so, how many seeds should I put in?(2 pods? 1 pod?)

    Thank you!!! :-)

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    Replies
    1. I've never tried the recipe with vanilla pod seeds ... but I don't see why it wouldn't work. I'm guessing start with the seeds from 1 pod?? Or even just 1/2 a pod??? (the pods are pretty strong, right?) That's just a guess ... I'm sure if you give it a quick 'Google,' someone out there has shared how to convert vanilla extract to vanilla bean seeds. Let me know how it turns out!

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  43. This is my new favorite vanilla cupcake recipe!
    Can this easily be transformed to make a normal say 8 inch round cake?

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    Replies
    1. I haven't tried this batter for a cake, Annie. But I think it could be used for cake. Just up the baking time, and watch it closely to determine how much time it needs. {PS - sorry I didn't see this question sooner!}

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  44. Hi,

    Is whole milk = full cream milk?

    Thanks!

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    Replies
    1. Whole milk is "regular" milk ... not a reduced-fat type like 2%, 1%, or skim. Enjoy!

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  45. Hey, Thanks for sharing this yummy blog... I love coffee and these cupcake too... Nice blog.
    professional coffee machines

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  46. Hi, i can't take whole milk. Is soy milk fine?

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    Replies
    1. I haven't tried the recipe with soy milk, so the only thing I can say is ... give it a try! I'm thinking it may just change the texture a bit since you'd be missing the fat content of the whole milk.

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  47. Hey Tracey! I tried out this recipe and it turned out perfect I LOVE IT!!!!!! I made a blog post about it, do check it out :-) THANKS so much for the recipe, I super appreciate it :-DDD

    http://forgetthosecalories.blogspot.sg/2013/04/the-best-vanilla-cupcakes.html

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  48. P/S. I was the one who asked about the vanilla beans haha!

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    Replies
    1. Hi, so did you use vanilla pods instead of the essence? if so...how much of it? Thanks :)

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    2. Oh ok, just saw your post on your blog :) 1 pod! great.

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  49. There is very little butter in this recipe. Were the cupcakes moist?

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    Replies
    1. YES! ... the cupcakes are indeed moist. I was surprised by how little butter there is in this recipe, too, but it's one of the things that drew me to this recipe. They're fabulous. Enjoy!

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  50. Hi Tracey,

    How many cups does this recipe yield? I need to make a 12 x 18 inch cake and will need 14 cups.

    Thanks :o)

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    Replies
    1. Approximately 4 to 5 cups. I'm making an 'educated calculation' based on a cake I frosted yesterday, so it's not exact, but should get you close! Enjoy your cake!!

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  51. Those look quite tasty! Would they work using vanilla flavored coffee pods??

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I love your comments. I read and appreciate each and every one. Thank you so much for visiting The Kitchen is My Playground! {NOTE: Captcha word verification is on to turn away the 'spambots' ... I apologize for the commenting inconvenience!}

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