High Country Baking column: Cupcakes in bloom
High Country Baking
Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
Yes, the pretty blossoms decorating these cupcakes add to their appeal, but their tender, moist texture and sweet lemon taste define their real bloom. Think Mother’s Day, bridal showers or any event at which you want to serve a pleasing, eye-catching dessert and you’ll know when to turn to this recipe.
The cupcake batter comes together quickly and easily without the need to cream the butter and sugar. Just be sure to follow the times specified for mixing and beating the ingredients; less or more time than the recipe states will alter the texture and structure of the cakes.
Brushing the cooled cakes with a vanilla-flavored sugar syrup is an optional step, but one that assures a rich taste and moist texture that is often missing in cupcakes baked in our high, dry climate.
The decorative blossoms and leaves that top the cupcakes are commercially made by Wilton and available on Wilton’s website.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cupcakes in Bloom
Adjusted for altitudes of 8,000-10,000 feet. Makes 12 standard cupcakes.
3 large eggs at room temperature
1/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons bleached all-purpose flour (spoon into measuring cup and level; don’t scoop or compress.)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
13 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into small pieces
Sugar Syrup, optional
3/4 cup superfine sugar
3/4 cup plus two tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons lemon juice
About 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
Wilton icing flowers and leaves
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the middle. Line the cupcake pan with lightly greased paper liners; Gently whisk the eggs, milk and vanilla in a small bowl until combined.
Place flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl and, using an electric mixer on low speed, blend for a minute. Add the cut butter and half the egg mixture. Mix on low until the dry ingredients are moist. Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat for 90 seconds. In three additions, add the rest of the egg mixture. Beat for 30 to 40 seconds after each addition and scrape the bowl.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, filling the liners three-fourths of the way. Place the pan in the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees. Bake until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Check at about 29 minutes. Remove from oven when done. Let them rest for ten minutes, then remove and cool completely on the rack. Once cooled, the cakes can be frozen for month.
Optional: Make the syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan, bringing to a boil while stirring constantly and simmering until it thickens (4-8 minutes). Remove pan from heat, cool until the syrup is lukewarm. Stir in the vanilla. When close to room temperature, brush a thin layer over the cool cupcakes. Don’t overdo; too much will make soggy cakes. Set aside until the syrup sets and is barely sticky.
Make the glaze: Pour lemon juice in a mixing bowl and gradually stir in confectioners’ sugar (you may not use it all) until the mixture is opaque and smooth. Spoon glaze on cupcakes. Place a flower on each cake and set aside for the glaze to set. Once set, store the cupcakes in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a day. Serve at room temperature.
The cupcake recipe is inspired by one in “The Cake Bible,” by Rose Levy Berenbaum.