Recipe: Vanilla bean cupcakes

Makes 24, exactly.

(This is a lie. You know how you’ll make a recipe and the quantity is never what they say? Ugh. Cookbooks always make ridiculous claims.)


  • 1 delicious, wonderfully scented vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out
  • 2 cups self-raising flour
  • 3/4 cup olive oil (added a splash of lime-infused avocado oil, too!)
  • 3 eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup sugar (approx. 1/3 of this (so 1/4 cup if you can’t do maths) was raw sugar as bigger sugar crystals don’t completely dissolve into the mixture, which makes a bigger cake crumb which I like – I’m a crummy person)
  • For the butter icing: (so I initially tried to make Italian meringue butter cream but that didn’t work – I’ll explain in the methods)
  • 1 egg white
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 1/2 cups icing sugar
  • 100g butter, softened
  • The remainder of the vanilla seeds


  1. Preheat oven to 180°C. Line 24 1/3 cup muffin moulds with paper cupcake cases.
  2. Beat eggs, olive oil, 1/2 the vanilla seeds and sugar with electric mixer. I added a dash of lime-infused avocado oil because it adds a nice citrus kick to the olfactory and taste receptors. It won’t get super fluffy like it will with butter – don’t freak out. Just enjoy the fact that everything should be smelling lovely from the vanilla (in hindsight, I would use the seeds from two vanilla beans).
  3. Add eggs one at a time, until just combined.
  4. Fold in flour and milk in alternate batches until just combined, again. Don’t overwork the mixture at this stage as you want lovely, spongy cupcakes – not heavy rocks to throw at people.
  5. Spoon mixture into paper cases until 3/4 full (about 2 tablespoons for me).
  6. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until golden on top. When done, the cakes should spring back when lightly pressed.
  7. Remove from oven. Transfer to wire rack to cool. This makes the kitchen smell lovely (I could even detect the scent of lime which was exciting) and caused me to feel giddy with success. Top with butter icing and decorate as you wish.

For the failed italian meringue butter cream turned butter icing: 

  1. Place water and sugar in a saucepan, bring to the boil. Realistically you should use a sugar thermometer but I didn’t.
  2. Whisk egg white with electric mixer until firm peaks form (now, because I had used one egg white, it wasn’t going far in the bowl, plus I was impatient – so I got fairly depressed-looking froth).
  3. Turn down to lowest speed (by now, the sugar should be at the right temperature of 120°C) and add a thin, steady stream of hot, sugar syrup. Once added, turn up the speed to medium and beat until the bowl is body temperature (37°C)/about 15 minutes. Touch the side of the bowl to test this, should be neither cool or hot. Whilst beating, add small chunks of softened butter.
  4. At this stage, it got a bit of body but was definitely not what butter cream should look like. I admitted defeat and decided to add enough icing sugar and the remainder of vanilla seeds (plus, a dash of vanilla essence because I didn’t use enough vanilla pod) to make a standard butter icing.


Okay, so despite some issues with the butter icing (of which, I mean, as long as there’s butter it’s going to taste delicious) – these cupcakes were pretty successful and were gobbled up pretty well by the other lab members for our Wednesday lab meeting.

This is the first time I’ve substituted olive oil for butter. For reference, 3/4 cup olive oil is equivalent to 1 cup butter. It definitely makes the cake a lot denser as you don’t get the same fluffiness/lightness as you would with butter. For this reason, I think it was a good decision to use part raw sugar to make a bigger cake crumb and make it appear less dense. Olive oil is better for you, in the sense it contains monounsaturated fat – as opposed to the saturated fats in butter. BUT, it doesn’t mean you can start drinking it and butter does taste so, so good…

Anyway, this was also the first time I’ve used fresh vanilla beans! I was too scared of using too much, but definitely next time, I’d use either all of the one bean in either the cupcake or the icing. Seeing the tiny, black dots of seeds in the mixtures was quite exciting though!

It’s always fun trying new ingredients and methods, even though they may not always work out! This batch was gone within about 2 days. Prepare to hear requests for more cupcakes.

*copied from original post on Tumblr here. This is one of my most popular Tumblr posts I’ve ever made I think.


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