Monthly Archives: July 2013

Best-Ever Vanilla Bean Cake (Or Cupcake)

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See this cake?  I consider this one of greatest achievements.  My daughter is a self-proclaimed vanilla girl.  If it’s vanilla, she’ll like it.  If it’s chocolate, not a chance.  So it has been my personal goal to come up with the perfect vanilla cake recipe that meets her standards.  And, I am happy to say that I have finally achieved this crowning glory.  Every time I make these, she tells me how yummy they are and that it is her favorite cake EVER.  I know she’s being genuine because she actually eats it (not the chocolate frosting, so that’s really more for my husband and me. C’mon, you gotta have some chocolate). 🙂

I have to diverge for just one moment…  I have a new favorite ingredient: vanilla bean paste.  And I find any and every opportunity to use it.  It is like vanilla extract on steroids – more flavorful plus you can see the tiny flecks of vanilla bean throughout without having to break the bank or hassle with a whole vanilla bean.  It’s thick and syrupy, not really a paste but adds a true vanilla bean flavor.  I am addicted.  🙂  And it makes desserts beautiful.

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Now, back to this perfect little cake.  It’s somehow light, fluffy, and moist all at the same time.  And very vanilla-y (okay, another made up word, I know, but it’s the only way to accurately describe the flavor).

While my daughter won’t eat chocolate, it is my husband’s favorite, so I cover the cake in a really decadent chocolate buttercream.  I consider this to be the compromise between the child and the husband.   The frosting is chocolatey but really light and fluffy.  I use a touch of heavy cream and beat for a while to give the frosting nice fluffiness.  Yum.

I’ve made this recipe as a cake and cupcakes and it works both ways.  A word of caution, if you are making cupcakes, HALVE the recipe unless you are making these for a large crowd.

Make 1 very large, two layer cake OR 36 cupcakes.

  • 2 C. sugar
  • 1 C. butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 C. buttermilk
  • 1/2 C. sour cream
  • 6 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 4 C. flour + 1 T.
  • 1 C. boiling water
  • Flour for pan

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and sugar.  Add eggs, one at a time.  Add sour cream and combine thoroughly.  Scrape down sides.  Add buttermilk slowly and combine.  Add vanilla bean paste, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Add flour and boiling water alternately, roughly 1 C. of flour and 1/4 C. water each time.  Be careful of splatter.  (you may want to take a kitchen towel and drape it over it the mixer to block the splatter).

Butter and flour two 9 inch round cake pans.  Divide batter evenly amongst the pans.

Bake for 25-35 minutes.  I start checking the cakes at 25 minutes.  If the middle is still jiggly, wait 5 minutes and then check again by taking a toothpick in the center and remove. If it’s still gooey, give it a little more time.  (note: if there is only a little wet batter on the toothpick, it will probably only be another 3 minutes or so — it will be very fast and you don’t want to over bake).

Cool for 10 minutes and then turn on onto a cooling rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

  • 1 stick of unsalted, room temperature butter
  • 3 C. confectioners sugar
  • 3/4 C. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste (or extract)
  • 2 T. heavy cream (to start with, add more to make sure the frosting is the right consistency)

Beat the butter for a minute.  Add sugar one cup at a time.  Ad 1 T. heavy cream and whip for 1 minute.  Add cocoa powder and vanilla bean paste, combine thoroughly and scrape down sides.  Add 1 T. heavy cream.  Beat on medium for for 2-3 minutes.  Add more cream one T. at a time until it’s the right consistency.

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Tips:

  • If you’re making cupcakes, halve the recipe.  Use an ice cream scoop to put the batter in the cupcake liners.  Only fill 2/3 of the way up to allow for rising.  This will make the perfect size cupcake.

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Summer Orzo Salad with Green Beans, Peas, Carrots, Tomatoes and Feta

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I love this salad on hot summer days.  To me, it is the quintessential summer harvest dish.  It’s light and fresh and loaded with fresh veggies.  Blanching the green beans and peas keeps their crunch while taking away the rawness.  The carrots and tomatoes add a refreshing pop of sweet flavor.  And the feta adds some much needed salty cheesy goodness.  The salad is mixed with a very light vinaigrette that adds subtle flavor while still letting you taste all the vegetables.  It’s perfect served at room temperature  and can be made in small or large quantities.  Plus, it’s easy.  🙂

  • 1 C. Orzo
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T. red wine vinegar
  • 4 T. olive oil, divided in half
  • 1 C. green beans
  • 1 C. peas
  • 1 C. cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 carrot (or 4 small if they’re from the garden), chopped small
  • 2 T. fresh parsley
  • 2 T. basil
  • 1 C. feta, cubed or crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste

Fill a 5 quart stockpot with water and bring to boil.  Fill a large bowl with ice water.  Add beans and peas and blanch for 2 minutes.  With a spider to skimmer, remove the beans and peas and immediately shock in ice water to stop the cooking and keep the vibrant green color.

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Prep tomatoes and carrots – halve cherry tomatoes and chop carrots.  Chop parsley and basil.  Set aside.

Add the orzo to the pot of water that cooked the peas and beans.  Cook until al dente (about 5 minutes depending on size of orzo…  It will cook really quickly).  Drain and rinse with cool water and set aside.

In a small saucepan, add 2 T. of olive oil and sauté onions and garlic.  Season with salt and pepper and cook until just translucent but not brown. Turn off heat and add red wine vinegar and remaining olive oil.  Pour mixture over orzo.  Drain the peas and beans.  Add all veggies, herbs, and feta to the orzo.  Combine thoroughly.

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