Making Artful, Delectable Cupcakes
To make artful cupcakes, apply the same guiding principles you follow when cake baking. Use only the freshest ingredients, the correct tools, and create an organized work space. Follow the advice of experts and show off your creations for everyone to enjoy. Here are additional tips applicable to both cupcakes and regular-sized cakes:
- Fresh ingredients not only pertain to liquid ingredients, but to all dry ingredients as well. Check the dates, usually on the lid. Toss after one year. It's a good idea to mark your cans and baking ingredients with the date of purchase.
- Before starting to bake, all ingredients should be brought to room temperature.
- Butter should be soft enough to slice easily. To hasten the process, slice each stick into eight portions.
- Current recipes usually indicate the ounces of butter required. But what if this is a beloved handed down family recipe with butter measurements in cups or pounds? Here is a chart to help you solve that problem:
Butter Equivalents 2 oz = 1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons, or 1/4 cup, or 1/8 pound
4 oz = 1 stick or 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup or 1/4 pound 8 oz = 2 sticks or 16 tablespoons or 1 cup or 1/2 pound
2 oz = 1/2 stick or 4 tablespoons, or 1/4 cup, or 1/8 pound
4 oz = 1 stick or 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup or 1/4 pound
4 oz = 1 stick or 8 tablespoons or 1/2 cup or 1/4 pound
8 oz = 2 sticks or 16 tablespoons or 1 cup or 1/2 pound
- It's best to use stick butter. Whipped or tub butter affects the way the butter mixes with other ingredients. It's okay to use margarine, but you give up the luscious taste of real butter.
- Use exactly the kind of flour specified in the recipe (wheat, all-purpose, or cake flour).
- If you use anything other than the traditional medium-weight shiny metal muffin pans, remember non-stick pans have dark metal which browns the edges faster. In this case, lower the baking temperature by 25 degrees, or lower the baking time by a few minutes (all ovens heat differently).
- Spray cooling racks with non-stick cooking spray to keep cupcakes from sticking.
- Keep your cooking tools meticulous, and sterilize tweezers used to hold small decorations.
Presentation is everything. How many times have we heard that? In the sense of cupcakes, that's always the case. With their small size and often playful appearance, cupcakes should be showcased. Make the bottoms pretty in fluted baking cups. Display them on a beautiful plate or in a basket lined with a coordinating napkin. Always give the baking cupcakes room to grow. Fill the tin or baking cups about two-thirds full or according to directions on the package or recipe.
Recipes should give a range of time for baking, usually 15 to 20 minutes. The best way to test for doneness is the old fashioned way: Stick a toothpick in the center of the cake. If it comes out clean, without raw batter on it, the cake is done.
Once you frost your cupcakes using a pastry bag, you may turn your nose up at the spatula method. The pastry bag is a fun and enriching way to frost a cake.
Basic Cupcakes Recipes
The two basic cupcake recipes and ingredients you should have on hand are for white and chocolate cupcakes. Of course, you can use a box mix, but nothing tastes better than a homemade cupcake (remember Brownies and Scouts)?
Ingredients (makes 24 cupcakes)
1-3/4 cups sifted cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1-1/4 cups sugar
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 egg whites, room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare the muffin pans with nonstick spray and flour, or paper baking cups.
- Re-sift the sifted cake flour with baking powder and salt. Sifting breaks up lumps.
- Combine milk and vanilla.
- Cream sugar and butter until fluffy.
- Alternating the flour mixture with the milk mixture, blend half of one, then the other into the butter mixture. Mix well and repeat until well-blended.
- In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry. Fold them into the batter.
- Pour the batter into the muffin pans 1/3 full.
- Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the cakes test done.
- Remove the pans and turn out the cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool.
After cooling, you may use the classic buttercream recipe or any cream cheese frosting. If you feel confidant with a piping bag, royal icing may be used to frost the cakes in a more decorative way.
Let's face it. There are times when nothing will satisfy us more than a chocolate chip cookie and a cold glass of milk. Try the next recipe to cure your craving ─ a rich, satisfying chocolate chip cupcake.
Chocolate Chip Cupcakes
Ingredients (about 24 cupcakes)
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-1/3 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare muffin pans with nonstick spray or paper cups.
- Combine in the bowl of an electric mixer (or a large bowl with hand mixer) butter, sugars, and eggs. Mix on high speed for 10 minutes and add the vanilla.
- Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt. Stir into butter mixture.
- Stir in chocolate chips.
- Add milk and stir just until combined.
- Pour batter into pans, filling 1/3 of the cup.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.
- Turn cupcakes onto a wire rack to cool.
You may use either white buttercream icing or the chocolate sour cream frosting below.
Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
1 cup milk chocolate chips
1/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup sour cream
- Place the chips and salt in a glass bowl or the top of a double boiler set over simmering (not boiling water. Melt. The glass bowl should be large enough to not touch the bottom of the pan.
- Mix briefly until lumps are melted.
- Whisk the sour cream into the mixture until smooth.
- Remove frosting from heat and allow it to cool and thicken
You may use any kind of frosting for your cupcakes. These are suggestions if you don't have suitable recipes. You can showcase your cupcakes by sprinkling colored sugar, coconut, or whatever is pleasing to the eye, on the display dish or tray.
If you are talented at creating napkin art, you can serve your cupcake in the well of a folded napkin that compliments your table setting and the cupcake. A doily on a pretty plate works well.
Any icing you apply on a cake can be applied on a cupcake including fondant, ganache, and marzipan.
The decorated cake you see is truly a masterpiece of chocolate fans, roses, and lace work. Obviously, an experienced professional has created this superb version of chocolate art.
Chocolate curls are a delicious, eye-catching garnish for cakes and cupcakes. It takes a little patience and practice, but anything worthwhile requires some work. Have you ever seen desserts in restaurants topped by dramatic curls of chocolate? You can create the same effects at home for a similar look on a simple custard, cake, or cupcakes. You'll need a high quality molding chocolate (regular chocolate will not produce good results, particularly since several chocolate manufacturers are adding extra ingredients to make the chocolate stretch further). White chocolate is the most difficult to work with. Felchlin Ultra Gloss Dark Chocolate is one recommendation; however, other options are available in cake-decorating shops and shops that sell block chocolate.
You will also need a cake or loaf pan, a cheese slicer and an oven. Your chocolate should be in a solid, smooth block for curling. Melt it carefully (a double boiler is best) and pour it into a cake or loaf pan. This is called tempering, a fancy name for melting.
About a pound of chocolate will make a sizable block. Allow the chocolate to cool and harden in a cool, dry place, preferably overnight. Remove the chocolate by running a knife around the edges of the pan and invert the block onto sturdy cardboard. You are now ready to create stunning chocolate curls.
1. Warm the chocolate in the oven until just moldable, but not melting around the edges. Keep a close eye.
2. With a firm grip on the cheese slicer, employ steady pressure and slowly draw the slicer in a straight line down the block of chocolate. Use your free hand to tease the chocolate into a well-formed curl.
3. Once the curl is at the desired size, remove it and place it on your cake or on parchment for use later.
4. If you plan on making a large number of curls, you may need to re-warm the chocolate briefly if it starts to chip or break apart.
Note: It is not widely discussed, but it is common knowledge that inferior, or broken chocolate cake decorations, seem to strangely disappear and are never found.
Artificial Sweeteners and Wheat Substitutes
When it comes to baking or cake decorating, sugar performs many important roles:
- Provides moisture and tenderness
- Liquefies when it bakes
- Increases the shelf life of finished products
- Adds sweetness
- Caramelizes at high temperatures
Because of certain critical functions, bakers cannot simply replace sugar with one of today's manufactured sweeteners. For example, refined sugar, whether from sugar beets or sugar cane, helps sugar spread during baking to give cookies their crisp texture.
In many recipes, the amount of sugar can be replaced by simply reducing the sugar by one-third without affecting the quality of the product.
There are many artificial sweeteners on the market today ranging from Equal to Sweet 'N Low. For now, Splenda is recommended for baking. Other sweeteners may work well in colas and sodas, but not so well in baking and icing.
Many people are on special diets that don't include wheat. They may still enjoy cupcakes or cake if substitutions are used. For each cup of wheat flour in a recipe, make one of the following substitutions:
- 1 cup corn flour
- 1/2 cup ground seeds or nuts
- 7/8 cup rice flour (brown or white)
- 5/8 cup potato starch flour
If you're having difficulty deciding which cupcake is your favorite, perhaps the only answer to that is to try each one.