You’re probably wondering what has happened to the girl who used to have lukewarm feelings at best towards citrus, what with all the citrus-based desserts I’ve been sharing lately.  No worries, my heart will always belong to chocolate, but I’m glad that I’ve seen the error of my ways and have come to appreciate citrus in all its sweet-tartness.

These orange vanilla bean cupcakes were a recent coworker birthday selection.  Given my own hesitations about citrus desserts, I wasn’t sure how well they would go over.  But, by the end of the day I had received several emails from people raving about them, and was stopped by multiple people in the halls asking when I would be posting the recipe.  The cake is moist and tender with plenty of orange flavor, and perfectly pairs with the light, fluffy vanilla buttercream.

As you well know, I’m a big believer in garnishes and how quickly they can elevate a cupcake from good to great, so take my advice and don’t skip the candied orange slices.  They are beautiful, fully edible, and deceptively impressive – people would never guess how simple they are to make.  With the vivid colors and fresh, bright flavors, I’m sure these cupcakes would be a welcome contribution at any Easter or spring get-together.  Enjoy!

  • Yield about 24-28 cupcakes


For the cupcakes:

  • 1 cup (16 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 vanilla beans, split lengthwise
  • 2 tbsp. finely grated orange zest
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1½ cups heavy cream (or whole milk)
  • ½ cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt

For the candied oranges:

  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1½ cups water
  • About 30 small, thin orange slices

For the frosting:

  • 1½ cups plus 2 tbsp. (3 sticks plus 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp. heavy cream


  • 01

    To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 350˚ F.  Line cupcake pans with paper liners.  In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the butter and sugar.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pods and add to the bowl.  (Save pods for another use, or discard.)  Add in the orange zest.  Beat the mixture on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.  Blend in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition.

  • 02

    In a liquid measuring cup, combine the cream, orange juice, and vanilla.  In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  In three additions, add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl, alternating with the cream mixture.  Mix each addition on low speed just until incorporated, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.  Divide the mixture between the prepared cupcake liners, filling each about ¾ full.  Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-22 minutes.

  • 03

    To make the candied orange slices, combine the sugar and water in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat.  Heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves.  Add the orange slices to the mixture so that they are in a single layer (none overlapping), reduce the heat to medium-low and let simmer about 20 minutes, turning the slices at least once so both sides are candied.  Remove from the heat.  Store in a container with the syrup until ready to use.  (You can repeat using the same syrup for additional batches if pan does not accommodate all the slices in a single layer.)

    *Note: I found the little clementine oranges to be just the right size for garnishing cupcakes, but you can use any type of orange you like.

  • 04

    To make the frosting, add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1 minute.  Add the confectioners’ sugar to the bowl and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated.  Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean pod into the bowl and add in the salt.  Continue to beat on medium-high speed until smooth, about 1-2 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract and heavy cream on low speed just until incorporated.  Increase the mixer speed and whip on high speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as needed, about 4 minutes.

  • 05

    Transfer the frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a decorative tip (I used a large, unlabeled closed star tip).  Pipe a swirl of frosting on top of each cupcake and garnish with a candied orange slice.

  • 06

    *These cupcake liners are from Layer Cake Shop.