Orange-Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

Martha Stewart lured me in. I saw her cupcake book at the grocery store and was compelled to purchase it. She's not one of my go-to people for food ideas but hey, worth a shot. I selected this recipe for its summer-feel. I was skeptical by oranges + vanilla but vanilla goes with everything.

The actual cupcake is simple and tasty. It's moist but not super fluffy. You could taste the orange and vanilla perfectly. It's a yummy marriage of flavor! I encourage using this cake. If orange is not your thing, I think you could substitute it with another fruit. I have visions of pomegranate dancing in my head already.

Be careful with the meringue frosting. If you let the heat rise too much, you're looking at cooked eggs in the double boiler. I have yet to perfect a meringue recipe in my kitchen. Until I do, I cannot really comment. For some reason it never looks 100%.

As for the candied oranges... They're optional. I was not feeling a whole slice of orange on top of the cupcake. I think I'd like it better cut into pieces or buy some candy to garnish. Sure, it looks cute. But is it practical? You cannot chomp into the cupcake as easily. You can pick it off and eat it separately but I want a union of flavor. Plus- you need to keep on eye on the water level when they're cooking. If it gets too low- you'll have caramelized oranges. No good.

Note: Making candied oranges this way... time consuming. Pick your battles.

Cake

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped, pods reserved for another use
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
2 large eggs
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
5 large egg whites, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened, cut into pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Topping

2 Naval Oranges
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Makes 12 to 14 cupcakes. Line standard muffin tins with paper liners.

Cream butter, sugar, vanilla seeds, and orange zest until pale and fluffy. With mixer running, add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl.

Combine cream, orange juice, and vanilla extract in a small bowl. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture to butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with cream mixture, ending with flour; beat until just combined.

Divide batter among muffin cups, filling each 3/4 full. Bake, rotating tins halfway through, until testers inserted in the centers come out clean, about 25 minutes. Let cool in tins on wire racks. Undecorated cupcakes will keep, covered, for up to 1 day (or frozen for up to 2 months).

For the frosting...Place sugar, whites, and salt in a heatproof mixer bowl set over a pot of simmering water (double boiler style). Whisk until sugar dissolves and mixture registers 160 degrees on a candy thermometer.... which I don't have.

Attach bowl to mixer. Whisk on medium speed for 5 minutes. Increase speed to medium-high, and whisk until stiff, glossy peaks form, about 6 minutes. Reduce speed to medium, and add butter, 1 piece at a time, whisking well after each addition.Whisk in vanilla. Use immediately, or cover, and refrigerate for up to 3 days. (Bring to room temperature, and beat on low speed until smooth before using.)

For the candied oranges.... Clean 2 naval oranges and slice thinly (about 12 slices total). In a wide/shallow pan, dissolve the sugar in boiling water. Add some orange slices- enough to cover the surface comfortably. Lower the heat a little. Flip the oranges every now and then so they coat evenly. This takes about 20-40 minutes. Once the slice is almost transparent but still has that orange color to it, remove and let cool on a wire rack.

Put it all together! Using a serrated knife, trim tops of each cupcake to make level. Frost tops of each cupcake with some frosting. Place a candied citrus slice on each cupcake. Fit a pastry bag with a small plain tip, and fill with remaining buttercream. Pipe dots around edges of orange slices. Cupcakes will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before serving.