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An ultimate recipe can reward you with a signature dish

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People wonder how pastry chefs do it: they go to a cupcake shop, for instance, and the vanilla cupcakes taste so much better than anything they ever had before. Well, for one thing, that's why they go to culinary school: they learn how to cook! The contrast between making a cupcake recipe and making cupcakes out of a cake mix is quite apparent once you have had the opportunity to compare the two.

In fact, you can do it for yourself. Next time you have the opportunity, go ahead and invite some friends to a cake-tasting and make a cake mix and a scratch cake. Bake both recipes into cakes or cupcakes and see what your taster jury says.

Meanwhile, I adapted this recipe to organics. It comes from the world of trendy cupcakes and the shops that open to sell them and close when something else comes along, like pretzels or whatever. But I can't see why you wouldn't want a really superb cupcake/cake recipe in any case; keep this one and impress anyone lucky enough to taste it at your house.

VANILLA CAKE OR CUPCAKES

Ingredients:

1 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1-3/4 cups organic pastry flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick organic unsalted butter at room temperature
2 large eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
1 tablespoon pure (not imitation) vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine sugar and seeds from the vanilla bean.

Using the back of a spoon, move the spoon around the bowl and apply pressure to break up any clumps of seeds and to infuse the vanilla flavor into the sugar. Set aside.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

Add the vanilla bean sugar and whisk until well combined.

Place the mixing bowl in position on the stand mixer, add the butter and mix on medium-low speed for three minutes.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and vanilla extract until smooth. Lower the mixer speed to Fold and add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat until just combined. Slowly add the milk and fold until just combined. The batter will be liquid.

Fill the cupcake liners just over 1/2 full.

Bake for 14 minutes and then test to see if they are done, or when a toothpick comes out dry when you insert it into the top of a cupcake.

When the cupcakes are done, leave them on a cooling rack in the baking tins to cool. When the cupcakes are cool, remove them from the baking tin and frost them as you wish.

For your taste testing, I'd advise a simple vanilla butter-cream frosting this time; later you can go with fluffy vanilla frosting, chocolate or whatever.

If you want to make a cake--and this recipe would be ideal for a coconut cake if you substitute a cup of coconut milk (light) for the dairy milk--turn the batter into two cake pans, either 8 or 9 inches across. Make sure you don't fill them higher than just over halfway to avoid having the batter rise and spill.

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