High Country Baking in Eagle County: cupcakes
Vail CO, Colorado
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.
Times are hard … shocking gas prices, a devastating invasion of pine beetles, and, if that isn’t enough to send you into a funk, we now face a cupcake crisis in the mountains!
In the last two weeks, at least four readers have contacted me describing cupcake disasters ” rock-hard textures, soggy centers and deflated tops. Each pleaded for immediate help. I doubt FEMA will respond, so I’m doing what I can to mitigate the situation.
I must admit, cupcakes are not easy at altitude. In my opinion, they are one of the hardest cakes to master. It took me numerous tries before I was satisfied with this recipe. And, it’s not like this one results in some fancy, gourmet dessert. On the contrary, this is your birthday party, lunch box, picnic basket cupcake.
It’s a straightforward, sturdy little thing with a firm but tender texture and a pleasing taste of vanilla and butter. Given the difficulties of mountain baking, another one of its assets is its reliability. The recipe works, and, I’m relieved to say, it does so each and every time I make it.
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I am equally impressed with its versatility. Though I chose a chocolate-peanut butter frosting for the cupcakes in the photo, frost it with whatever you like or cover it with berries and whipped cream. It stands up well to any topping you choose.
Make sure the butter and eggs are at room temperature when you mix them. You want a smooth, velvety batter, not one that looks curdled by tiny pieces of butter that firm up after the introduction of the eggs.
Golden Mountain Cupcakes
Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet
1 cup of flour plus 2 tablespoons
3/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
8 tablespoons of butter (one stick) at room temperature
1/2 cup of granulated sugar minus 1 teaspoon
3 eggs at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 tablespoons of plain yogurt
Chocolate Peanut Butter Frosting, optional
3/4 cup of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup of creamy peanut butter (don’t use natural or sugar-free peanut butter)
A pinch of salt
4 ounces of good milk chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the center position. Line a 12-opening cupcake pan with paper liners and spray the paper liners with a vegetable oil spray or one containing flour and vegetable oil. (You can skip this step but your cakes may stick to the paper liners at our altitude.)
If your eggs are not at room temperature, place them in a bowl of hot tap water for several minutes. If your butter is cold, cut it into pieces, place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on the lowest level for a minute or so until softened to room temperature.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and whisk until well combined and the flour is aerated. You may also sift the ingredients to obtain the same results. Set aside.
Cut the eight tablespoons of room-temperature butter into pieces and place them in a medium bowl with the sugar. Beat with an electric mixer until they are fluffy and pale, scraping the sides of the bowl frequently. This takes several minutes. Add the room-temperature eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined after each addition.
Sprinkle the flour combination over the batter and fold it in or mix gently on the lowest speed of your mixer only until combined. Stir in the vanilla and yogurt. Spoon the batter into the lined cupcake pan, filling each opening a little over half full. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees and place the filled pan in it. Bake until the tops are lightly golden and spring back when touched and a toothpick inserted in the middle of one of the cupcakes comes out clean. Start checking at about 20 minutes in the oven.
Cool the cakes in the pan. When cool, remove them from the pan and frost them or wrap them airtight and freeze them if you aren’t going to use them immediately.
Optional: Make the chocolate peanut butter frosting. In a medium pan, heat the whipping cream until bubbles form around the pan’s edges (almost to a boil).
Turn heat to low, add the peanut butter and salt and whisk or stir until fully combined and smooth. Remove from the heat, add the finely chopped milk chocolate and stir gently to submerge it in the hot liquid. Let the combination sit for a minute or two so the chocolate can melt and, then, stir or whisk until well combined, smooth and shiny. Let the frosting cool a little, cover it and refrigerate it until it thickens to a spreadable state. This takes about two and a half to three hours in my refrigerator. Frost the cupcakes and top with chopped peanuts.
Makes a dozen. The frosting recipe is a variation of one in Tish Boyle’s The Cake Book.
Vera Dawson 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 Dawson with your comments about this column and/or your baking questions at email@example.com.