Thursday, January 10, 2013

Vanilla Bean & Cardamom Cupcakes with Lemon Pistachio Buttercream

When All Is Quiet by Michael Gettel
When New Age music hit the charts I was already a "believer."  There was no adjustment to this "new" genre.  I understood music to be a huge mood enhancer/influencer - even before I acknowledged food in this category!  My mother used music to guide our "cleaning tempo" as kids.  No swaying love songs on cleaning day, no sir!  It was tunes with a marching beat or, to my own preference, rock and roll!  But, at this time of the year, when the holiday rush is over and everyone is introspective, I like songs like When All Is Quiet.  It is pensive while inspiring.  It leads me to thoughts of gratitude and feelings of quiet confidence.  If you haven't already, start a new playlist with songs that take you to a "place."

Christmas decorations have been taken down for almost two weeks now.  The only visible reminders being a stack of received Christmas cards and the remains of the day out in my back yard. 
We were blessed with significant snow exactly on Christmas day this year.  It was a heavy, wet snow.  As people came to call and partake of the traditional Steamed Old Bay Shrimp, the children would not be contained inside with such wonderment going on outside!  Scarves and gloves were found and all headed outside with my daughter, who is 24 going on 8 when there is precipitation outside.  Snow or rain, she has to be out there dancing around in it.  Or building snowmen!  These were gigantic "hairy" snowmen as they were filled with the flying debris of the latest windstorm.  They were "exhausted" by the next morning, throwing in their scarf with the burden of staying upright.  But that lone scarf laying out there in the back yard reminds me of the excitement of the day - the visit with friends and family - the memory of happiness amid the gloomy coat nature puts on in January.

I find myself gazing out the window often in January - impatiently checking sunrise and sunset times - longing for signs of the arrival of Spring and rebirth and longer days than nights.  Signs such as this in my herb containers on the patio!
Tender leaves of chervil making a stand among the spent stems of chives.  Hope and promise.  Bright green life among the browns and grays!

Today I wanted to come up with a recipe that mirrored my surroundings.  And I wanted it to be a cake or cupcake - no special reason that I can think of other than that's what persisted in my musings.  And there would be cardamom because cardamom is "special" in my spice world.  It adds a degree of sophistication AND comfort - all at the same time.  I wanted the cake and frosting to be white in memory of that beautiful Christmas day - but I wanted there to be fleeting flecks of color to signal the presence of special "guests" in the cake.  Cardamom could announce itself but I thought vanilla beans would also add beauty and flavor.  

The frosting would be a vanilla bean buttercream, of course, but that's where I wanted to reflect the green and hope of the year ahead.  Winter brings us beautiful citrus! I have pistachios left over from Christmas.  It wasn't a long journey to come up with the final frosting composition.  

Vanilla, pistachio, lemon, cardamom - all present in hints and rumors - nobody headlines.  Fluffy white cake with light, teeth-yielding buttercream.  Happy New Year, indeed!

Vanilla Bean & Cardamom Cake
makes 22 cupcakes or 2 - 8" cake layers
1/2 c. butter, softened (114 g)
1 1/2 c. sugar (300 g)
1/2 vanilla bean
2 c. cake flour (223 g)
1 1/2 t. cardamom
1 t. baking powder 
1/2 t. baking soda
pinch of kosher salt
1 c. buttermilk
3 egg whites, beaten stiff

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place cupcake liners into a muffin pan and set aside.  If making a cake, coat the insides of the cake pans with baking spray and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar, and the beans scraped from half of a vanilla bean together until light and fluffy - about 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cardamom, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

With the mixer on low, add half of the dry ingredients to the butter/sugar mixture and mix just until it starts to combine.  Add half of the buttermilk and mix just until it starts to combine.  Add half of the remaining dry ingredients and lightly mix.  Add the remaining buttermilk and lightly mix.  Add the remaining dry ingredients and lightly mix.  With a spatula, fold in the stiffly beaten egg whites.

Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 full with the cake batter - or divide the batter evenly among the two pans.  Bake cupcakes for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center.  Bake a cake for 25 - 30 minutes or until it passes the toothpick test as well.  Cool completely.

Lemon Pistachio Buttercream Frosting
3 1/2 c. powdered sugar (410 g)
1 c. butter, softened (227 g)
1/2 vanilla bean
1/2 t. cardamom
1/3 c. cream
zest from one lemon
1 c. raw pistachios, chopped

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the powdered sugar and the butter until light and fluffy, about 3 - 5 minutes.  Add the beans scraped from the vanilla bean and the cardamom and mix to distribute evenly.  Add the cream and beat to combine.  Add more, if needed, to create a very light consistency.  Add the lemon zest and 2/3 of the chopped pistachios and mix well.  Frost the cake or cupcakes, sprinkling the remaining pistachios across the top.


  1. Yes, it is that boring time of year isn't it. I like when spring comes and shows all that beautiful life in abundance. These look so yummy and I'll just whiff, as diet is on my list this year.
    I'm glad for you to take time for yourself too.
    Aunt Linda

    1. Thanks, Linda. Every now and then you just have to assess and rearrange, right? Happy New Year!

  2. Does T mean Teaspoon or Tablespoon here? the recipie looks good and I can't wait to try it!

    1. A capital "T" indicates a Tablespoon whereas a lower case "t" indicates a teaspoon. Hope that helps! Thanks for stopping by!

    2. Thank you so much!!

    3. one more thing - it says 1/2 vanilla bean. Does this literally mean half of a vanilla bean?

    4. In the instructions is states to scrape the beans from half of a vanilla bean. You wouldn't use the whole pod. You'd simply slit the vanilla bean open lengthwise, lay it open, then, using the tip of a sharp knife, scrape the beans from the pod. I have a post that shows some pictures on how to do this at

      You can use the scraped pod to flavor sugar if you like. Put some sugar in an airtight container and pop the scraped bean pod in with it. Put the lid on and give it a shake. Use the sugar for drinks or cereal or whatever. The vanilla bean scents the sugar and really adds a lovely flavor to whatever you're sprinkling that sugar over! Thanks for helping me be more clear!

    5. I have just now gotten around to making these even tho they have been on my mind for the past 2 months!

      These are delish and I can't believe I waited this long to make it!

      Thank you so much for sharing this!

    6. Oh, thank you! I'm so glad when others enjoy the goodies as much as I do! Bake on!

  3. This is a great recipe. I just tried this recipe for my kids principal. The cake came out wonderful & the cupcakes as well. Thank you for sharing this recipe. And I made mine gluten free. Thanks again it taste so good!

  4. I made this and it was amazing - the citrus in the buttercream really lifted the whole thing and the cupcake itself was so soft, light, and moist. Id love to use this recipe as a base to making some other flavoured cupcakes. I feel some experimentation coming on! :)