I like to think of myself as being in the business of making people happy. Except, I’m not actually in business. Or if I am, it must be some kind of volunteer gig, coz I am so not making any money from it. I get paid in happy. Which is enough for me, really. Although happy doesn’t buy shoes… And I do love shoes.
Where was I? Oh yes…
My best friend in the whole world happens to quite like vanilla Kahlua. Then one day she couldn’t find it any more. My Dad hunted for it at duty-free on his way back from Oz, but no cigar. Actually I don’t know if they had cigars, I don’t smoke. But they definitely had no vanilla Kahlua.
Then one night as we were texting in the middle of the night (what’s worse than one insomniac? Er, two), Katie said to me “surely we could make it ourselves somehow?”
Well duh, didn’t I feel like an idiot. I’ve got three bottles of vodka in the cupboard, stuffed with vanilla beans to make vanilla extract, don’t I? Why on earth didn’t it occur to me to put some beans in Kahlua? A quick Google the following day told me that a million other people have done it. Or was it a million and one? Google isn’t always exact.
So off I went to put some Kahlua in a little bottle with a few scraped vanilla beans stuffed into it, and a slug of vanilla extract for good measure.
But wait, there’s more…
I am not a patient person. It could be weeks til the Kahlua is vanilla-y enough. So while we wait, I figured, why not make vanilla bean Kahlua cupcakes?
I didn’t want to go full-on coffee, since Katie isn’t a coffee drinker, so instead of making coffee flavoured cupcakes, I went with a vanilla cupcake with some of the regular sugar replaced with brown sugar to make them a little richer, and topped them with Kahlua and vanilla laced French buttercream.
As a regular Italian buttercream maker, I’ve been wanting to try French buttercream for a while, and when opportunity comes knocking, I invite her inside and put her on a cupcake. The buttercream recipe is from BraveTart, and with 15 egg yolks makes a huge amount of buttercream, way more than you will need for these cupcakes. I did 2/3 of the recipe and still had some left over to put in the freezer, so you could probably halve the full recipe if you prefer not to have leftovers. I don’t mind having lots of egg whites left over, I’ll use them for a batch of Italian meringue buttercream, or if I’m in the mood to feel like a terrible baker, I’ll make another batch of only semi-successful macarons. (I swear I’m not getting any better at those little buggers.) In fact, after making this buttercream I was glad to have egg whites leftover for a change instead of egg yolks that sit in the fridge for a week before being thrown out. I know what I’ll be doing with my spare yolks from now on.
If you’re not keen on making French buttercream, you could just add some extra vanilla and the Kahlua to your favourite buttercream recipe. And if you’re making them in hot weather, I would suggest an Italian meringue or American-style icing sugar buttercream as the French turned out to be a little droopy and soft in the warm weather we’ve been having.
I removed about 1/3 of the buttercream to leave plain (so I could ice some cupcakes with alcohol-less buttercream for my best girl – Katie’s seven year-old daughter) and added about 4-5 tablespoons of Kahlua to the remaining buttercream. I’ll admit, I lost count.
The Kahlua sugar syrup is optional, but helps keep the cupcakes moist. And that’s never a bad thing.
I delivered the cupcakes to Katie and her family, and the verdict? Well, let’s just say there were a few expletives used, so I won’t repeat it here. But trust me, they were positive expletives. When I asked them if there was anything I needed to change before I shared the recipe, Katie’s fiance’s reply was “make them somehow make me lose weight by eating them”.
Unfortunately, I’m in the business of making people happy, not skinny…
For the syrup:
- 125g caster sugar
- 125ml water
- 1 tablespoon Kahlua
For the brown sugar vanilla cupcakes:
- 425g gluten free flour*
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoons Xanthan gum
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 150g caster sugar
- 150g soft brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 eggs
- 200ml milk
- 75g sour cream
For the buttercream:
- 200g caster sugar
- 200g egg yolks (approx. 10 egg yolks)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 600g unsalted butter, cut into 1" cubes and softened but not melted
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Kahlua, to taste
For the syrup:
Combine the sugar, water and Kahlua in a small pot and bring to a boil over a medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer for a couple of minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave to cool.
For the cupcakes:
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Line two and a half standard muffin pans with paper cupcake cases.
- Sift together the gluten free flours, Xanthan gum, baking powder and salt.
- Place the caster sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract and vanilla paste in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low speed with the paddle attachment until any lumps of brown sugar disappear, and the vanilla seeds are evenly distributed and smelling gorgeous. Add the softened butter, and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy (the fluffier the better.)
- Whisk the eggs lightly together, and then add them gradually to the butter mixture, beating on medium speed until combined between additions. When all the egg is added, scrape down the bowl and briefly beat again.
- Alternately add the flour and milk, starting and ending with the flour. Scrape down the bowl and add in the sour cream and Xanthan gum, beating again to combine. Finish with a quick mix by hand, making sure to get right down to the bottom of the bowl.
- Use an ice cream scoop or two spoons to divide the mixture between the cupcake papers. The papers should be approximately 2/3 full. Gently jiggle the muffin pans to settle the mixture.
- Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly golden and a skewer inserted into a cupcake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins for a few minutes, then move then to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.
For the buttercream:
- Place about an inch or so of water in a pot and bring it to a very (very!) gentle simmer over a low heat. The pot should be just big enough for the bowl of your mixer to sit in, and the bottom of the mixer bowl must not touch the water.
- In a stainless steel mixer bowl, whisk together the caster sugar, egg yolks, vanilla paste and salt. Place the mixer bowl over the pan of water, and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved. Clip your sugar thermometer into the bowl, and keep stirring and scraping down the sides of the bowl, until the egg mixture reaches 65°C (150°F). You’ll have to move the thermometer around a bit as you stir. When the eggs reach the correct temperature, remove the bowl from the pot and place it on your mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
- Whisk on medium speed until the eggs and bowl cool to room temperature. With the mixer still on medium speed, add the butter a couple of cubes at a time until it’s all combined. Scrape down the bowl and add the vanilla extract, and Kahlua to taste. Beat on low speed to combine.
Brush the cooled cupcakes lightly with the Kahlua syrup. Fit piping bag with a large star tip (I used the classic Wilton 1M) and fill it with the buttercream. Pipe a generous swirl on each cupcake. Cupcakes are best eaten the day they are made, but will keep for a day or so in an airtight container.
*Gluten free flours - I used:
200g tapioca flour
170g brown rice flour
55g potato starch