These Lavender-Buttermilk cupcakes, with their pastel sprinkles and silver leaf bunnies, are my nod to Spring. Well, not just a nod. A great big bear hug and ‘HELLO! Where’ve you been?! So great to have you back!’
The magnolia trees are in fabulous full bloom round these parts, the sun has been shining (mostly), and Ariel now believes me that birds exist because some have actually landed in the garden! Roll on longer days and warmer weather. I am so looking forward to Ariel enjoying some time in the garden.
I wanted to move away from making rib-sticking puddings (as much as I love them), so I made us a batch of these petite, floral cakes with gorgeous Springy/Easter-y decorations. I love these pink, green, blue and yellow dragees on the top of the cupcakes. I also like that they’re a funky triangular shape! They make the bunnies ‘pop’ a bit, don’t you think?
The bunnies are completely edible – I made them myself from edible silver leaf and wafer paper. You can see a tutorial on how I made them HERE. They are super easy and super cute!
I usually like to make lavender cupcakes with fresh lavender, picked from the garden. But there are two issues with that: 1) it’s not lavender flowering time just yet; and 2) I don’t have a lavender bush in my garden. (I used to have one, not any more.) Hmm. So I used dried culinary lavender by Barts Spices, which worked perfectly.
These cupcakes use lavender-infused milk and cream to impart a gentle but unmistakable lavender flavour to the little buttermilk cakes. I paired them with vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream because the vanilla and lavender work beautifully together, but also because I didn’t want the lavender flavour to be overpowering. It’s only a short step from ‘fragrant’ to ‘soap on a rope’. So you need to go easy.
If you haven’t had Swiss meringue buttercream (also referred to as ‘SMBC’) before, pleeeease try it. It’s egg white and sugar, heated until the sugar dissolves. Then you whip it up into a huge meringue cloud, and add softened butter and flavouring. The result is ultra smooth, decadent buttercream that’s not as sweet as ‘normal’ English/American buttercream that’s made with just butter and icing sugar and flavouring. It’s a little more work, but it’s not difficult to do.
I tinted the SMBC with a little gel food colouring. I used Americolors’ ‘Violet’ and ‘Electric Purple’. Just a bit, mind. The SMBC was quite yellowy to begin with (due to the butter) and the result was this really pretty dusky pink/purple. But you don’t need to colour the icing at all – the SMBC will be an off-white if you decide to use it au naturel.
The buttermilk in this recipe gives a really tender, moist crumb to the cupcakes. The recipe doesn’t use a lot of it, but it is important for giving the cupcakes their texture.
This recipe makes 12 cupcakes but just to mention: they’re not great big huge cupcakes. They’re more like fairy cakes in terms of size. Less can sometimes be more with ‘unusual’ flavours like lavender. (I may have got carried away with the SMBC on top of mine, it’s pretty much a 1:1 ratio of cake to icing! Oops. But better than not having enough icing which is just the actual worst.) I used a muffin tin, lined with muffin paper liners, and filled each one half-full. They rose to just under the top of the muffin paper, so plenty of room for icing! You could always use smaller fairy cake paper liners, if you wanted a domed appearance.
Lavender-infused buttermilk cupcakes, with smooth vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream icing. Springy and delicious!
- 1 tbsp culinary lavender (about three large sprigs if using fresh)
- 2 tbsp double cream (heavy cream)
- 2 tbsp milk (whole or semi skimmed)
- 140 grams caster sugar
- 115 grams plain flour
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- About 50 ml buttermilk Have extra in case it's needed
- 2 large eggs
- 75 grams softened unsalted butter
- Small pinch salt
Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 4 egg whites Use whites from large eggs
- 175 grams caster sugar
- 225 grams unsalted butter Butter should be soft, but not melty
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
Pre-heat the oven to 175 degree Celcius. Line a 12 hole muffin pan or fairy cake tin (depending on the aesthetic you are going for) with liners.
Put the lavender in a saucepan and crush gently with a wooden spoon to help the lavender release its oils. Just a few jabs should do, no need to pulverise it. Add the cream and the milk to the saucepan and heat gently. Just when the mixture looks like it's about to start bubbling, turn of the heat. Leave the mixture to cool.
Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl until the mixture is pale and well combined, about 2 minutes in a mixer or with an electric whisk.
Strain the cooled lavender-infused milk and cream into a measuring jug. Top up to the 80ml mark with buttermilk (you'll need about 40-50ml of buttermilk, probably). Crack the eggs into the measuring jug and give the whole lot a brief whisk.
Weigh out the flour and put in a bowl, along with the salt and baking powder. Stir briefly to combine.
With the mixer/electric whisk running slowly, add 1/3 of the egg mixture. Allow it to incorporate. Then add 1/3 of the flour mixture. Again, allow to incorporate. Repeat with the next 1/3 of egg mixture and flour mixture, and then again. The cake batter should be smooth, soft and thick and a 'dropping' consistency (i.e. it should be thick but should slowly plop off a spoon when the spoon is tilted). If it is not dropping consistency, add a little more milk, a teaspoon at a time, until it is the right consistency.
Fill the muffin liners halfway full. If you're using fairy cake liners, you might find the batter comes up 2/3 of the way up the liners. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the tops of the cupcakes are golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the centre of the cupcakes comes out with just a couple of crumbs clinging to it. Allow to cool completely before icing.
Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Put the egg whites and sugar in a bowl suspended over simmering water, and heat, whisking all the time so that none of the egg sets, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture reaches 55 degrees Celcius. (I really recommend using a food thermometer. However, some people just heat it until they can't feel any grittiness from the sugar in the mixture anymore - up to you!)
Pour the egg and sugar mixture into your mixer bowl, or if you're using an electric whisk, into a large mixing bowl. Whisk on a medium-high speed for a couple of minutes, until the meringue mixture is thick and glossy and holds stiff peaks. Then reduce the whisking speed to medium and whisk for about 5-7 minutes, until the meringue is cool (otherwise your butter will melt when you put it in).
If you're using a stand mixer, switch to the paddle attachment. If not, continue with your whisk. With the mixer running on a low speed, drop cubes of the softened butter into the meringue one by one, until they have been blended into the meringue. The meringue will deflate somewhat; this is OK. When all the butter has been added, add the salt and vanilla extract. Then beat for 3 minutes on medium-high until the buttercream is very silky and billowy and smooth. If it's not silky and smooth, keep beating for a couple more minutes.
You can use the buttercream straight away (and it can sit out at room temp for 24 hours), or refrigerate it for up to a week. Before using it, bring it to room temp, then beat it for a couple of minutes to restore it to its smooth consistency. Always make sure it's come back to room temperature before you serve it, because it's not so nice to eat when cold.
If, after adding the butter to the SMBC it goes 'soupy' or too runny, don't panic. Just it in the fridge and wait 10-15 minutes. It is probably soupy because the butter has melted in the meringue too much. Chilling it for a short time will firm up the butter. Then continue mixing it as before.
Make sure your butter is softened though, because if it's too hard, it will not blend in to the meringue well and you will get lumps of butter in your buttercream.
Edible wafer paper (which is what the bunnies are made from) will dissolve in contact with water. However, they won't dissolve on top of the SMBC.