I have a fondness for cupcakes. I like them. A lot. Out of all the things that one could possibly bake, cupcakes are my favourite. I don’t know what it is about them but I get a really pleasure out of producing a batch of pretty cupcakes. They don’t take very long to make so you can whip them up in half an hour and they are perfect for satisfying a sweet craving without feeling like you have over indulged.
In Melbourne there are several specialised cupcakes stores popping up around the CBD. Little Cupcakes on Degraves Street is probably the most infamous, but there is also Joy Cupcakes and the Cupcake Bakery. While the cupcakes in these stores look delicious and come in marid of tantalising flavours, I have sampled cupcakes from each and I have to say I have been disappointed every time. I am often presented with a dry, tasteless cupcake. For this reason, I think you can’t beat a homemade cupcake. There is something really special about eating a homemade cupcake. You can often taste the real butter and vanilla and I think there is no substitute for a handmade creation.
I have been baking for a while now, and this vanilla cupcake recipe is something that I have perfected over the last three years ( mainly by following the tips below). While cupcakes appear easy, like any cake (or baking recipe) for that matter, you need to get the technique right to avoid an end product that disappoints. (Take note, cupcakeries).
I have detailed here what I think are the common mistakes that result in a dry tasteless cupcake. If you are someone who bakes regularly you will probably already be familiar with these tips.
Firstly have all ingredients at room temperature. This will help all the ingredients blend properly and stop the eggs becoming curdled. A quick tip for bringing butter to room temperature is to grate it. To bring eggs to room temperature, follow this tip.
Secondly, don’t over mix the batter. Over mixing causes a dry, tough cake. Flour contains two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. They react with liquids and join together to form long strands of gluten – which provides structure in baked goods. When gluten becomes tough, it results in a chewy texture. Liquids, salt and mixing all toughen gluten, therefore your cake batter should be mixed as little as possible to prevent toughening the gluten.
If when you bite into your cupcakes you notice holes throughout the cake crumb (referred to as tunnels), this is an indication of over mixing. To avoid over mixing, when adding the flour and milk to the creamed ingredients, add it in batches and only stir or mix the batter for 3 seconds or until the ingredients are just incorporated. My recipe calls for adding the flour and milk alternatively in two batches. I have also tried adding it in three batches, beginning and ending with flour. Adding it in three batches works better. However I usually add it in two as I find separating the ingredients in two batches is easier.
Thirdly, cook only one pan of cupcakes at a time. Having made over 50 cupcakes for a birthday party, I found that to have prefect cupcakes, you need to bake one pan at a time. I’m not sure how the science of ovens works so just take my word for it!
A few more tips that I have found help:
- Beat the butter and sugar until the butter is pale and almost an ivory colour. Compare it with butter that is not creamed and make sure it is a few shades lighter than the yellow of the non creamed butter. Rub the mixture between your fingers and it should feel slightly grainy.
- Beat the eggs for at least a minute to ensure they are incorporated properly
- Use an ice cream scoop or a 1/3 measuring cup to fill the cupcake cases to ensure even cakes.
When it comes to decorating cupcakes, this is the fun part. While I create a slight mess when I make the cupcakes, preparing the icing often results in me, the kitchen and every appliance in it covered in icing also.
I like to use a simple butter cream frosting. I flavour it with vanilla but you can use a dye to tint it any shade you like. Being a buttercream, it results in icing that has a slightly yellow tinge. If you are after an icing that is whiter, you can use this recipe, for mock cream from the Australian Women’s Weekly.
This is a white chocolate cupcake recipe and I have to admit this is my signature recipe. While the frosting does not contain white chocolate, I simple sprinkle shards of white chocolate over the top. The combination of vanilla, butter and white chocolate is pure heaven.
- 120g butter - chopped
- 150g caster( superfine) sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 180g self raising flour
- 125ml ( ½ cup) milk
- 125g butter softened
- 1½ cups icing sugar ( confectioners sugar)
- 2 tablespoons of milk
- ½ - 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract ( depending on taste)
- 1 block of white eating chocolate
- Preheat oven to 160 degrees celsius ( if fan forced) and 180 degrees if not fan forced.
- Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffly.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition ( approx 1 minute)
- Add half the flour (94g) and mix on lowest possible speed for 3 seconds or until flour is just incorporated
- Add half the milk, mix again on lowest speed until just incorporated.
- Repeat this process with the remaining flour and milk
- Spoon batter into cupcakes cases until ⅔ full
- Cook in oven for 20 mins or until cooked. A skewer inserted should come out clean and the cakes should spring back when lightly touched. if not cooked, cook for a further 5 mins and check again.
- When cooked, remove from oven and let cool in pan for 5 mins.
- Transfer cakes to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.
- Beat the butter and vanilla until as white as possible
- Add half the icing sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk and beat this until incorporated
- Repeat the process with remaining icing sugar and milk and continue beating until icing is smooth and fluffy.
- Chop the blocks of white chocolate on an angle with a sharp knife to create shards of white chocolate. Sprinkle crumbs of chocolate and arrange longer shards on top of cupcake in a peak.