You know what I love?!



I mean of course there are other things like my husband and my boys and chocolate, but vanilla is really something to admire.

I love the way the thousands of little black seeds disperse in a pot of simmering cream while I’m preparing a custard. I love the vivid scenes from childhood – baking cookies with my mom, each of us taking a prolonged inhale of vanilla before pouring it into the dough. And I love the way it perfumes anything it touches with a richness and complexity that makes an ordinary recipe fit for fine dining.


Take these cupcakes for example. Nothing seemingly extraordinary with a banana cupcake – except of course the dark chocolate that I dumped in at the end – but when you mash fragrant, ripened bananas with vanilla seeds you will begin to question whether or not you plan to share these cupcakes once they are removed from the oven.

The final vanilla flavor won’t slap you in the face with its abrupt personality but rather a subtle and intriguing aroma will leave you longing for more – as any good thing will.

If my budget allows I go for the bean. If not, I buy the best quality vanilla extract I can afford that isn’t flooded with additives (beware of the word vanillin, a.k.a. fake vanilla).

It is also a matter of personal taste. My vanilla of choice is Tahitian. I love the well rounded rich flavor it provides.

The least expensive (notice I didn’t say cheap – there is nothing cheap about vanilla) way to buy vanilla beans is to purchase in bulk. I’ve used Singing Dog Tahitian beans before and have been very happy with the flavor. You can order online. While you are buying your beans add extract to your order. Storing your beans in extract helps to retain a plump, fresh bean while at the same time infusing your extract with even more vanilla goodness.


I’ve managed to incorporate vanilla beans in both the frosting and the cupcake. If you don’t have a vanilla bean I still want you to make these. The cake is rich and packed with banana flavor. The addition of the dark chocolate adds a grown up taste that balances the sweetness and rounds out the cake.

The frosting is not very sweet because I love the tang of cream cheese – feel free to add more sugar if you think I’m crazy.

Banana Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate and Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting

For cake
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, softened

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg

3/4 cup well-mashed very ripe bananas (about 2 bananas)

1/2 vanilla bean

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped dark chocolate

Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

Cream the butter (1 stick) and dark brown sugar in a large bowl with a mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy. You can also do this by hand. Begin with a wooden spoon until the butter is incorporated with the sugar then switch to a whisk. Beat in egg and vanilla extract until combined. In a small bowl combine the bananas and the seeds from half a vanilla bean. (To remove the seeds, carefully slice the bean in half using a sharp paring knife or kitchen shears. With a paring knife scrape out all the seeds). Add the sour cream to the bananas then combine this mixture with the butter mixture. Carefully add the dry ingredients mixing until just incorporated. Stir in the chocolate if using.

You can bake these in a 9″ round or make cupcakes as I have done.

Bake in the middle of your oven at 350* for about 20 minutes or until a cake tester (toothpick or skewer) comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes then move to a rack to completely cool before frosting.

This recipe makes about 18 cupcakes.

Cream Cheese Frosting

8 oz. Cream Cheese (softened)

1 tbl. Sour Cream

4 oz. Butter (softened)

1/4 tsp. Salt

1 tsp Vanilla

1/2 vanilla bean

1 cup Powdered Sugar

Combine all ingredients and beat until smooth. To avoid lumps make sure the butter and cream cheese are very soft.

WAIT! Don’t throw out your vanilla pod! Sure, the seeds are removed but every part of the bean is edible. You’ve paid good money for those so use it all.

You have a couple of options. You could simply throw it into a container with sugar and let it scent the sugar which is great in your morning cup of coffee. OR for an even more vanilla flavored sugar – let the pods completely dry then pulverize in a well-cleaned spice grinder. Add the vanilla dust to sugar and use anywhere you deem worthy.

Be sure to read David Lebovitz’s insightful post on vanilla.


53 Responses to “Chocolate Banana Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting”

  1. tara

    I don’t think you’re crazy. Not one bit. In fact, I think you’re very, very smart.

    I am predisposed to swooning over these, I’ll admit. I was known to wear vanilla-scented perfume durind my university years.

  2. Rachelino

    After using up bananas with banana bread three times in a row, it’s nice to switch it up with cupcakes! These look beautiful, and I love the photo of a single spear of vanilla at the top.
    The “Vanilla Queen” David Lebowitz mentioned in his vanilla post Patricia Rain (, also wrote on a book on vanilla if anyone is REALLY interested in vanilla. If you get the beans in bulk, you can also make your own vanilla extract.
    Or just stick a vanilla bean in a bottle of vanilla extract to make it even more intense.

  3. arugulove

    These look delicious and the photography is gorgeous too. I didn’t realize you could dry the pods and use them, though I usually just toss them in some sugar whole. Thanks for the tip!

  4. nina

    I love the vanilla pod shots… the creamcheese frosting is such a clever idea to cut through the sweetness of the banana muffin!!!!

  5. Daytona @ Outside Oslo

    Thanks for the tip on storing the beans in the extract. In the past I’ve tried savoring every last bit of vanilla by putting the shell in sugar, but this is a new trick I may have to try!

  6. Kate at Serendipity

    I love vanilla as well. Whenever I see those teenytiny seeds in something I know I’m in for a real treat! I leave the pods to dry in my kitchen after I use them and the whole house has a subtle, wonderful smell. Thanks for the tip about grinding them. I have a big stash of dried pods, waiting for inspiration. I KNEW I’d find something some day!

  7. Dana

    I’m a chocolate girl myself, but truly good vanilla is a special thing indeed. Have you tried the Costco vanilla beans? Not a sexy place to buy them, but they are cheap and I think the quality is terrific. Stay away from their extract though because it contains sugar.

  8. Jennifer

    Whenever I see a surface flecked with vanilla bean seeds, I know I’m in for a treat I cannot resist. These scrumptious cupcakes are fitting the bill.

  9. Allison

    I recently discovered incredibly inexpensive vanilla beans at Cost Plus. Two vanilla beans for $2.99! They normally cost $6 bucks for one bean at the grocery store. I haven’t made anything using these beans yet, so I cannot atest to their flavor, but they were inexepnsive enough for me to buy four!

  10. Nida

    These look amazing. What if I don’t have vanilla beans and want to use vanilla extract instead? How much should I add?

  11. Laura

    Beautiful picture and synthesis! Vanilla is an amazing ingredient and it is totally worth the extra price for the pure extract. And banana cupcakes? Lovely!

  12. Emily

    Oh Ashley, I completely agree! When I was growing up and my sister and I would bake together we were notorious for doing that whole inhale thing as soon as the Vanilla extract bottle was open. We would always go “1 tsp? really? Um, I say 1 tablespoon!” We were such rebels in the kitchen.

    Anyway, these look delicious. And your photos are as beautiful as always. Thanks for putting together such a great site, truly.

  13. Natalie

    Hi Ashley – I wandered over here from another blog and wanted to tell you hello. I enjoyed browsing through your beautiful blog, and appreciate your infatuation with food. I share that same passion and it’s fun to see others with it also. 🙂 Cheers, Natalie P.S. I don’t like bananas that much, but these cupcakes look amazing!

  14. eM

    while we were leaving the potluck, my friend mentioned she’d snagged a cupcake, “Did you try these”? she asked. I groaned and mumbled something about a double helping of porky polenta and not loving banana cake. “Oh, Ashley made these”, she said, as she held out the cupcake. I grabbed it and bit off half of it. THAT was a sublime banana cake. I almost went back upstairs to grab another, but well…oink. (and the frosting was perfect)

  15. Megan Gordon

    Oh boy. These look dangerous. I’ve been known to take vanilla shortcuts in my life, but I’m going to have to try these…beautiful photos.

  16. Kristin

    Just stumbled across your site and though I’ve just looked at this one post, I am so glad I did! You’re bookmarked, girl. 🙂 Thanks for the tips about using the leftover vanilla bean pod. I only purchased actual beans one time and I cringed when I threw away the pod, but I just didn’t know what else to do with it. I think vanilla sugar will be perfect to have on hand for our homemade hot chocolate. ~K

  17. Jessica

    These were fantastic, thank you! I made these last night as a thank you gift for a workmate and they went down a storm — will definitely make these again.

    This recipe was my intro to your blog and I’m looking forward to going through your archives. Cheers!

  18. Julie

    Thank you, I had forgotten to stop and smell the vanilla before I splashed it in. As a child, I always did and the smell always amazed me. There was nothing like it. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t drink it and have the flavor do the same thing to my tastebuds as the smell did to my nose. 🙂 Chocolate and banana are about my favorite combo too. That ice cream place up in B-ham that makes the chocolate banana ice cream – oh I miss it! These cupcakes will be on The City’s treat menu within a week.

    Oh and I found vanilla beans on sale at Costco – 10 for $12. Ive bought ONE for that much before!

  19. Jenn

    These were simple and delicious. The vanilla bean makes all the difference. I always have bananas that I let go a little bit too far, and I was getting tired of the old banana bread so I searched for something new and found this. They were over the top, one of the best cupcakes I have ever had, let alone made myself. yum and yum

  20. Jazzmin

    Instead of using the bananas, I substituted applesauce and added about a tablespoon of grapeseed oil to maintain the moisture, but avoid the taste of banana. This is my go-to recipe for cupcakes!

  21. Alison

    In the recipe list for the cake I see 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say anything about adding that in the instructions. I just threw it in at the end… they’re baking now and I’m sure they will be delicious. Just wanted to point that out though


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