Secret of successful cupcake
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 column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful. “Until I moved to the mountains, cupcakes were easy to make. Now, they’re impossible … they fall, stick to the pan, or have an unappealing texture! Do you have a recipe for cupcakes that works here?”I understand this reader’s frustration. Cupcakes are more difficult at altitude. Often, when you attempt them, almost everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. But don’t give up – there are some recipes that, with adjustments, have proven to be successful up here in the rarified air. The one featured in this column is a good example; I’m really quite taken with it.It yields a moist, tender little morsel with a pleasing vanilla flavor and a luscious whipped-cream-cheese topping. Using cream cheese instead of one of the usual heavier and sweeter frostings makes this cupcake a bit more sophisticated than most, thereby gaining the endorsement of adults as well as youngsters. If you aren’t a cream-cheese fan, make the cupcakes without it and frost or glaze them with whatever you like; the basic cake recipe can stand alone. I grated chocolate over the cupcakes in the photo. I also like to dust them with confectioners’ sugar just before serving. However, these additions are primarily to pretty them up. Neither is necessary; the cakes are just as successful with no adornments.If you make the mini-cupcakes, which are my favorites, be sure to use a pan that has cups that are at least an inch deep. I haven’t been pleased with the results when I’ve used pans with a shallower depth. The cakes keep well for several days if stored in an airtight container at low room temperature.
Cream-cheese cupcakesAdjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet.Make in mini cupcake pans with cups that are 2 inches in diameter and 1 inch deep or in standard-size cupcake pans. Makes about 14 small cupcakes or 10 standard-size cupcakes.Cupcakes:34 cup plus 2 tablespoons of cake flour14 teaspoon of salt8 tablespoons of unsalted butter (one stick), at room temperature
12 cup plus 3 teaspoons granulated sugar, preferably superfine2 eggs at room temperature plus 1 egg yolk 1 teaspoon of vanilla34 teaspoon of waterFrosting:23 cup of whipped cream cheese at room temperature3 tablespoons of confectioners’ sugarOptional toppings:Grated chocolateConfectioners’ sugar for dusting
Step One: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees with a rack in the center position. Place paper cupcake liners in the pan you plan to use. Spray the liners with a vegetable oil or vegetable oil-flour spray. (I know you’re thinking this is overkill and wondering if you really need to grease the paper liners. At sea level, you wouldn’t; the paper liners would be sufficient. But, at altitude, I’ve had many a cupcake stick to the paper liners in which they’re baked. So, I strongly recommend greasing the liners.)Step Two: Combine the flour and salt in a small bowl and set aside.Step Three: Cut the room-temperature butter into small pieces and place them in a medium bowl with the granulated sugar. Beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the room temperature eggs and the egg yolk, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and the water and mix until combined.Step Four: With your mixer at low speed or by hand, gradually add the flour-salt mixture and stir until just combined. Spoon the batter into the prepared pans, filling them about two-thirds to three-fourths full. Step Five: Whisk the room temperature whipped cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar until well combined, creamy and smooth. Spoon about one heaping teaspoon onto the middle of each of the mini cupcakes or one tablespoon onto the middle of the standard-sized cupcakes. Bake until the top of each cake is firm and a tester comes out clean. In my oven, this takes about 22 minutes for the mini cupcakes and 25-30 minutes for the standard-sized ones.Step Six: Remove the cakes from the oven to a cooling rack. Leave them in the pan for about 10 minutes and then place them directly on the rack to cool completely. The cream cheese filling sometimes sinks a bit as the cakes cool. You may make more of the cream cheese mixture and fill any sunken spots if you like; the slight irregularity doesn’t bother me so I usually leave them as they are. If you choose, grate your favorite chocolate (milk, semi-sweet or bittersweet) over the cooled cakes and/or dust them with confectioners’ sugar just before serving.This recipe was inspired by one in Martha Stewart’s “Living.”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.
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