HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >

Discussion

The Cupcake Working Group - JOIN US!!

Friends,

These days whenever a community of interest wants to formulate solutions to a problem, they often form "working groups" to pool knowledge, opinion, and innovative approaches. I would like to put forth a working group of my own in this Chowhound forum, to address what I see as a very persistent problem - bad cupcake.

By "bad cupcakes", I don't just mean stores that sell bad-tasting cupcakes. I mean every aspect of bad cupcakes - the texture, the color, the flavor combinations, the price, etc.

I'm wondering if we can put aside the opinions about the businesses that make the cupcakes (because I know of none that do it perfectly) and concentrate on what constitutes a good...nay...a GREAT cupcake. I'm proposing that we discuss our opinions on the attributes that make a great cupcake, truly great. I know that there are a lot of talented foodies who much have great ideas. I want to hear them!

Yes, I know that this seems like a subject that is "an inch deep and a mile wide", but I'd like to see where it goes....so here it goes.

Opening Question: What constitutes good cake in a cupcake?

I'll offer my opinion here. Too many places try to capitalize on the concept of "made from scratch". My response is "So, what?!" Mixing raw ingredients doesn't necessarily make cake any fresher, tastier, or texturally better. One of the things that drives me crazy about places like CakeLove is the this type of claim. I've had many "scratch" cupcakes that were obviously over-mixed, resulting in gummy, glutinous, chewy cake.

My idea of good cake is a soft, delicate, fine-to-medium crumb. A cake that shows big bubbles shows the formation of gluten and can never achieve delicate crumb. For all of the flack that box mixes take, they are often formulated to produce this type of texture. (Taste is another issue.)

In my opinion, if a cupcake fails the texture test there is nothing that can salvage it.

OK, folks...let's see if this working group idea has legs! Pour forth!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. Sean, great point about the "scratch." I had a sweet old lady make my wedding cake - lemon flavored at $1.00 a slice thank you - and when I asked her if I could have a "tasting" she said - honey, go to the grocery store and get some lemon flavored duncan hines cake mix. HA! The cake was moist and beautiful. :)

    Back to cupcakes, we have a new cupcake bakery in my area that specializes in toppings/frosting while only offering either chocolate or vanilla cupcakes. I think keeping the two flavors only would keep their core competency in check (CAKE, afterall). We'll see what happens...
    Conversely, we have a traditional cupcake bakery that is all price and not much show. DRY cupcakes and lardy- frosting. Way too many flavors and not enough talent, in my opinion.
    I am a fudge freak, so I tend to like a really moist cupcake - dense, - NOt overmixed dense, but just cross your eyes rich with a skim of frosting. As you can imagine, I love brownies, too.
    I love the idea of frosting, the art and beauty - even making it. But, I kind of want to scrape it off. I Love a whipped, very light frosting - almost liked whipped cream. I would love a recipe if anyone has it!
    Also on "boxed" cupcake topic - I secretly love funfetti and would be interested in a homemade recipe for that - what ARE those little nubby things? or do I want to know?

    One more topic to raise - wrapper or no wrapper? I'e done both w/ mixed results...
    One tip to class it up if all y ou have is the multi colored cups is to try to just section out one color and use it for the display..ex, pick out all the blue for this batch.
    Never bought the "foil" wrappers? Anyone?

    20 Replies
    1. re: stellamystar

      Hey Stella. Thanks for being the first (hopefully not the last) contributor to this burning social topic. :)

      For Christmas this year, my girlfriend and I we given the task of making dessert for the family get-together. We decided to have an adult dessert (an expensive cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory) and a kiddie dessert (red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing). Things got so busy that week that I only shopped for ingredients at 10:00 on Christmas Eve. By that point, I was so tired I didn't even want to think about making anything from scratch. So, I copped out and bought a box of Duncan Hines red velvet cake mix. My girlfriend ended up mixing and baking the cupcakes. She added a bit more cocoa to the mix, but that's all. We were both overwhelmed by the result. The cake was moist, delicate, and deeply flavorful. The color was exquisite. Moreover, the quality of this boxed cakemix product was far better than locally made, scratch red velvet cakes that we've had. The final chapter of this story is that on Christmas Day, the cupcakes were more popular than the fufu cheesecake. (This is saying a lot, with regard to my foodie family.) This experience has made me re-evaluate box mixes.

      I must admit that I've never made a cupcake without a wrapper. In general, I think the wrapper is a good thing. It keeps the cake from drying out and makes handling it a bit neater. The foil wrapper cups are good because they eliminate the need for muffin tins. (They generally hold the shape of the cupcake while its baking.)

      Recently, I've been giving some thought to squirting fillings into my cupcakes. I've never done this, but I can imagine how it would add a new dimension of texture and taste. Anyone have any ideas on this?

      1. re: Sean D

        I bake from scratch plenty, and was embarassed when I asked a friend for her cupcake recipe and found out it was from a box. She is also an excellent scratch baker. I have recently resorted to box mix when making large numbers of cupcakes for my three year olds' birthday parties (several dozen cupcakes between daycare and home parties - half the kids only eat the icing anyway). They are probably better received than my scratch attempts, by young and old. But I don't like the way cake mix smells baking in my house - chemically.
        Haven't found a bakery cupcake that had me going for seconds yet, but I shudder at the markup on what I know is so cheap to produce, and generally buy sweets I can't/won't make at home - croissants and other pastries, yeasty sweets, etc.

        1. re: julesrules

          I know what you mean, Jules. My girlfriend and I calculated that the total cost (ingredients, utilities, expendables) for producing the excellent Duncan Hines red velvet cupcakes was about 35 cents, each. Most designer cupcake places charge about $3.50. Starbucks charges about $1.85. Even grocery store bakery cupcakes tend to be at least $1.50. Being a businessman myself, I don't have any qualms with someone taking low cost materials, adding some value, and charging a premium. I just want the end result to be worth spending my money on.

          One of the things I learned from my earlier experiences in food service is that baking is truly a science. (As opposed to cooking, which is far less precise.) Baking is chemistry in edible form. Your comment about the smell makes so much sense. I'm sure that the process of boxing cake mix may require chemical ingredients (including preservatives) that may not be as present in scratch baking.

          The question I have is whether these ingredients are a net gain, or net loss for the end product.

          1. re: julesrules

            When I have volume to make and have to resort to a mix, I use the ones from King Arthur Flour, which don't have that chemical taste that I find in supermarket boxed mixes.

            1. re: julesrules

              Don't worry about it. I think there was a thread some time ago about how so many people prefer boxed cake mixes than from scratch. I remember a friend of mine bringing in cupcakes once. Even though I didn't ask her, I'm pretty sure it came from a box and it was frosted with Betty Crocker frosting as it had that "chemical" type of taste. But so many people proclaimed that it was the best cupcake they had. And even though it really wasn't my thing, I'd rather have a box cupcake than cupcakes from some places like Magnolia Bakery or Cupcake Cafe in NYC because it really tastes better.

              Overall, I prefer cakes over cupcakes because cakes tend to be more moist. But cupcakes are a lot easier to eat walking on the street (which is generally where I tend to eat them). And it does make portion control a lot easier.

              The thing that I hate most about a lot of cupcakes is dryness. It's a huge pet peeve of mine. I guess because it is smaller, it's easier to dry out a cupcake. Probably the most famous cupcake in NYC (Magnolia) is also one of the driest. I think the only reason they're popular is because of Sex and the City. It is so sad to see the huge throng of people lining outside of Magnolia Bakery while Batch bakery (which is clearly superior) around the corner remained relatively empty (and closed down recently). And I also hate sugary sweet icing, especially when it forms a crust on the top. I love the yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting at Mitchel London (NYC) because they use a smooth dark chocolate ganache over super sweet icing. And having made cupcakes at home, I find cake flour yields a superior, more tender crumb.

              ETA: Just found out that Batch hasn't closed down as of yet. Hope that it stays open.

            2. re: Sean D

              Red Velvet - yum! Did you see that Bobby Flay challenge - cupcake challenge - the challenger made Red Velvet with wayyyy too much frosting! It was like an ice cream cone. yuck.

              1. re: stellamystar

                I saw that Stella. Bobby never had a chance! There's just no way to inject that amount of love that his opponent had in his red velvet.

              2. re: Sean D

                <<giving some thought to squirting fillings into my cupcakes. I've never done this, but I can imagine how it would add a new dimension of texture and taste. Anyone have any ideas on this?>>

                The only 2 techniques I'm aware of are to cut a plug out of the top, put in the filling, and replace just the top bit of the plug, or to just stick the piping bag nozzle into the top or bottom and squeeze until it starts to overflow. Cream cheese mixed with jam would complement many cupcakes. Also, there's cheesecake-flavored cream cheese and the cool-whip sized tubs of "cheesecake" filling sold in the dairy aisle - it's light and fluffy but definitely loaded with chemistry. I wonder about putting a whole or halved chocolate truffle atop the batter before baking. Chips and fruits tend to sink to the bottom but perhaps the truffle wouldn't sink in that far. It might remain largely a filling or might meld with the batter and spread throughout.

                1. re: greygarious

                  I use an apple corer to take a plug out and don't bother replacing it, I just frost over the hole. Everyone likes to snack on the cake bits, so no cake is wasted.

                2. re: Sean D

                  For really creative ideas about combinations of cake, filling, and frosting flavors, you might want to check out http://cupcakeblog.com/ She's no longer adding to the blog, but there are a gazillion cupcakes in her archive, all with photos and recipes and some words about how she came up with each flavor idea.

                  1. re: Sean D

                    lemon curd is my favorite filling for my cupcakes, which I promptly top with a raspberry buttercream

                  2. re: stellamystar

                    Ah, the foil.....learned about these the hard way. They allow you to make a whole bunch on a sheet pan rather than rotating muffin tins in and out of the oven. They come with a regular paper liner between each foil one. Initially I thought this was to make them easier to handle, and I saved the paper ones to line my tins. But I discovered that the foil is very hard to removed from the baked cupcake, tearing off in a bunch of little pieces. Then I saw Jacques Pepin using them, with the paper liner left inside the foil. AHA! Guess that's why they were there in the first place.

                    My favorite semi-homemade cupcake is Trader Joe's Meyer Lemon Cake mix, which is seasonal. Its hint of orange flavor is great for folks who find standard lemon unappealing. I make it with melted butter instead of oil, and add a cup of shredded sweetened coconut. My cream cheese frosting is just whipped cream cheese mixed into marshmallow fluff. Cuts the overly-sweet fluff and is lighter than typical cream cheese frosting. Sprinkling with more coconut is optinal.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      I always wondered about the metal ones! I have a 6-muffin pan, but I never want to use it because of the rotation. Now, I have to go out and buy them! My husband has been craving Independent Brownies and I have most of the ingredients anyway.

                      1. re: greygarious

                        Grey - thanks for the foil review. Also, can you switch out melted butter for oil in all semi homemade "mixes?"

                        1. re: stellamystar

                          As far as I know, you can sub melted butter for oil in any baked goods that suit your fancy, whether mix or scratch. I've never had a problem doing this. I would not use melted butter in a cake recipe that called for creaming the butter and sugar, as that would change the texture. But if the recipe calls for oil and I think butter would make it better, I melt it. Sometimes it seems appropriate, other times not - for example, I prefer butter ON my cornbread, not IN it. I also use melted butter in cookies, which I prefer to be flat and crispy, which is achieved by melting rather than creaming it.

                          1. re: greygarious

                            Grey- when melting your butter to sub for oil do you clarify the butter to reach an all fat state as the oil is or just melt the same quantity of butter? I am curious because I did some research using the epicurious double chocolate layer cake made 6 different ways mostly concentrating on the method in which the fat was delivered and found each method produced a different texture and taste. Funny enough the one rated highest during the taste test was when I creamed butter and sugar as opposed to introducing the fat in liquid form.

                            1. re: kayEx

                              I just melt the same quantity -- a stick for a half-cup of oil. Let it cool down a little. No scientific reason - just taste and laziness. Butter is better than oil in most baked goods, and if I melt it I don't have to drag out the mixer. If it's possible to bake with a single bowl and a whisk or wooden spoon, that's the method I'll choose.

                              1. re: greygarious

                                Oil doesn't taste as good as butter, however, if you want to refrigerate the cake, the consistency will change if you use butter, whereas it will remain soft with oil. This might not be an issue for you, but I think that sometimes what we perceive as "dryness" in a cake is really the hardness caused by cold butter.

                                (my friend Dan, who owns Taste of Heaven bakery in Chicago taught me this trick.)

                      2. re: stellamystar

                        "I Love a whipped, very light frosting - almost liked whipped cream. I would love a recipe if anyone has it!"

                        I like a good shortening or lard frosting OK, but I prefer whipped cream frostings, as they are less dense, and seem a bit less sugary. All I do is add a bit more gelatin (maybe a third again as much) than I would normally add for a batch of regular stabilized whipped cream. I also play chicken with the cream as it's whipping, trying to get close to but not into the "whipped butter" stage.

                        1. re: stellamystar

                          Stellamystar: Have you tried a flour icing?

                          Mix 5 tablespoons flour into 1 cup milk with a wisk (or shake in a jar). Cook for a bit until thickened, like gravy. Allow to cool completely.
                          Beat till fluffy (6 min): 1 c granulated (not powdered) sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 1/2 lb butter
                          Add flour mixture to sugar. Beat until incorporated.
                          This is an OLD FASHIONED frosting, traditionally used on Red Velvet Cake.
                          You can substitute part of the milk with fruit puree or part of the butter with cream cheese.
                          I use superfine sugar normally, but I've used regular granulated and it is NOT grainy. Very fluffy and not too sweet. It also holds it's shape if piped.

                           
                        2. Hi Sean -- I'm not enough of a cook to be of much help here, but I did finally figure out that what was really bothering me about a lot of the fancy expensive cupcake places is that they seem to be all frosting and hardly any cake. I guess sort of like stella's saying, but with more detail and knowledge. Really, I'd prefer a slice of cake to a cupcake anyway.

                          Since I believe you're in the DC area, have you ever tried Sticky Fingers cupcakes (and cake)? They're my favorite, and I *think* may fit your crumb criteria (just up the road and a million miles from CakeLove).

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: mselectra

                            You know Mselectra, I just heard about Sticky Fingers in another forum. I've never tried them, but now I've got to.

                            I'm with you and Stella on the slice-of-cake thing. The reason why I ultimately see cupcakes as something of interest is the individual nature of them. For kids, there is always a sort of magic in having your own, special thing - separate from what others have. Even for adults, the individual cake achieves the same thing. On a practical level, for the people providing the cake, it solves problems of perishability, clean-up, and portion control. When you add up all of these factors, a cupcake has the potential to be something rather special - even individualistic.

                            1. re: Sean D

                              Cupcakes are good for sharing - no plates or utensils required. I brought some for my pub quiz team this week and we ended up passing them around all the tables next to us. It's easy to make friends when you have free cupcakes.

                              How do y'all feel about the slightly-crispy top? I love this in muffins, but in cupcakes it just seems wrong.

                              My other pet peeve is too-sweet frosting that just shocks the taste buds to the point where you can't even taste the cake. That chemically stuff you get at grocery store bakeries and caterers is the worst, but some of the fancy cupcake joints also go too heavy on the sugar.

                              1. re: mordacity

                                Hey Mordacity,

                                During the Christmas holiday, I discovered something about the slightly crispy top of the cupcake. My girlfriend and I were baking for the family get together and we had bought a little cupcake tree. (It's a tiered, wire rack that holds about 24 cupcakes.) We decided to try to make the cupcakes uniform, so I took the unprecedented step of cutting off the tops, just above the wrapper line. After frosting the cupcakes, we had two dozen of this cupcake-tops leftover. Then, it came to me. I squeezed some frosting from the piping bag onto one and pressed another top onto it. The result: A classic Amish "whoopie pie". It was delicious!

                                So my answer to your question is: Yes, I like the crispy tops...after you lop them off the cupcakes and sandwich some frosting between them. lol

                                As for the frosting question, I feel that it depends on the cake. Some cakes require more sweetness and richness, in my opinion. While others seem to do better with a lighter, less-sweet frosting.

                          2. Hi Sean D!

                            Sounds like my kind of work group! I love cupcakes. I agree with your assessment of good cake. I live near Los Angeles where there are many high end cupcake shops. I wouldn't mind having one of my own. I do a lot of baking, mostly from scratch. I make cakes for my friends for their parties. I don't think it's a big secret that most of these cupcake shops charge a large price due to the cost of rent and marketing, i.e., advertising, packaging, shop ambience, etc. There are also health department issues, various forms of business insurance, and legal fees for such things as trademark prosecution and defense. The bulk of the ingredients are not that costly. Employees are offered part time work for $8.50 to $12.50 per hour, usually no benefits.

                            From my taste tests of the various shops in the L.A. area, I have concluded that if I need a cupcake, I will bake it myself. Besides the price, the peculiar flavors, the frostings are too sophisticated to taste good.

                            As for the Duncan Hines red velvet mix, I used one for a cake I made for my cake decorating class. I used Italian meringue buttercream which is not too sweet. I have tried all sorts of red velvet cake and cupcake and none were better than the Duncan Hines.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Kate is always hungry

                              Hey Kate,

                              I know what you mean about the overhead costs of having a bake shop. Here, in the D.C. metro area, it is difficult to find decent retail property for less than $4,000 per month. (That's on the low end, too!) You have to sell a lot of cupcakes to break even! If I ever went into business for myself, I'd have to find a way to overcome this problem.

                              Right now, we have a couple of popular cupcake shops in the D.C. metro area, but both are considered over-rated, in one way or another. Personally, I don't think that this is a good thing, from the business perspective. I'd want a business that seems less fad-like and more of an everyday necessity.

                              1. re: Sean D

                                DC has at least 4 cupcake places now - Georgetown Cupcake, CakeLove, Red Velvet and Hello Cupcake.

                                1. re: mordacity

                                  Yes -- but if you include CakeLove then you're also listing bakeries that make cupcakes in addition to other stuff and need to add further to the list (Baked and Wired and Sticky Fingers, for example -- I like both of their cupcakes a lot). I think Sean was probably talking about places that exclusively make and sell cupcakes, which do seem vulnerable to the fading of faddishness.

                                  I actually don't have the impression that Georgetown or Hello are considered overrated, they get a lot of praise for the cupcakes (don't they?), but rather get criticized by people who just don't get spending that much on a cupcake no matter how good it is.

                            2. I think my best "creative" cupcake was the sushi cupcakes - fruit roll up, swedish fish, jellied candies, and coconut. But they were sooo heavy. I would recommend making mini cupcakes for this if I did it again.
                              I attached some pics from 2005. I couldn't find green fruit roll up for the nori, so I had to improvise!

                               
                              2 Replies
                              1. re: stellamystar

                                Stella,

                                That is WAY cool! Sure...I can see where its a bit impractical. But, bless the heart of the person who pushed the envelope to make it!

                                By the way, as a possible substitute for the green fruit roll-up/nori, perhaps a thin layer of green cake crumbs? (After a quick dunk in some like glaze, a quick roll in the crumbs?)

                                Rock on, Stella!

                                1. re: Sean D

                                  Thanks, Sean! Love the idea of the green cake crumbs or cookie crumbs.... I certainly have enough food coloring around my house to try it out.

                              2. Since I am not a fan of the cupcake, I guess I must decline the invitation to join the workgroup and continue to advocate for overthrow of the regime.

                                Let's face it: cake is much more tasty than cupcakes. The cupcake maximizes the worst aspects of cake (the crust) while only offering portion control in its favor.

                                Why not learn to make full flavored, full-sized true cakes? Leave the cupcakes to the vendors hoping to score a killing from the perpetually dieting, yet sweets-craving horde.

                                As we have been told, true power derives from a mandate from the masses. How do they feel about the cupcake?

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: 512window

                                  Help! Help! I'm being repressed! ;-)

                                  1. re: 512window

                                    Yet another Chow-schism....out of your beds, Pro-crust-eans, grab your torches and pitchforks, and unite against the tyranny of the Crustcutters! Leave them to their mired-in-childhood, trimmed bologna-Wonder bread sandwiches and sheet cakes. Down with sissified watercress finger sandwiches! Bring on the rustic loaves and those brownies baked in the maze-shaped pan designed so that every bar has crust on at least one side! Save the cupcake! ;-D

                                    1. re: greygarious

                                      Your reply made me laugh out load!! I love it!! And I agree with you wholeheartedly :^) Save the cupcake!!

                                    2. re: 512window

                                      I prefer cake to cupcakes, too, but I think the masses have spoken: the cupake craze, and all-cupcake stores, wouldn't be flourishing if the masses didn't vote with their dining dollars.

                                      1. re: 512window

                                        I'm not a partisan. I love the idea of cupcakes, which appeal to the 10-year-old in me who likes "mini" things, but they do always seem to fall short of their promise because full-sized cakes just taste better.

                                        For me I don't think it's the all-crust issue so much as that they're so often bland, like they usually try to be the types of cake (chocolate, vanilla) that are just vehicles for frosting. I always prefer cakes that are moist (carrot) or dense (flourless) or complex (layer), which can partner with a great frosting (e.g. carrot cake plus cream cheese frosting) but don't rely on it, and cupcakes aren't usually made from those kinds of cake.

                                        I'd like to find a cupcake recipe that's interesting but not very complicated to make, and that has a great frosting but isn't just an excuse to eat a mountain of it.

                                        1. re: 512window

                                          512window...my friend,

                                          I invite you to consider an alternative opinion. :)

                                          The choice between cake and cupcake is a false choice. Small cakes are nothing new. Nor, are individually baked cakes. At the same time, I've tasted plenty of full-sized cakes that have been hideous. In the end, it is a matter of quality for both types of cakes. To postulate that all cakes are created equal, but some cakes are more equal than others (as you do) would be a truly Orwellian tragedy for mankind.

                                          The cupcake, at its best, is an expression of the individual over the collective; the creative over the conformative.

                                          I take issue with your pronouncement that these positive attributes can not be reconciled with portion control. If crust is your issue, cut it away, moisten it, or utilize it to produce a creative and tasty outcome. As for portion, there are at least three major commercial sizes for cupcakes. (Most people use only the middle size.)

                                          Also, your claim of "full flavored" qualities of "full-sized true cakes" simply doesn't hold up to the chemical truth that there is no necessary difference large cake batter and small cake batter. I've tasted large cakes that were bland and small cakes that were fragrant and delicious. The same principle applies to color and texture in both kinds of cake.

                                          However, if all of this isn't sufficient to sway you from your otherwise intransigent point of view, consider the fact that cupcake provides the vehicle to bring cake to masses of people who otherwise could not afford it. No kidding here. I have lots of friends in the restaurant business, who tell me that they tend to stay away from selling cake. Once cut, a large cake becomes more perishable. Part of the premium that goes into pricing cake slices has to account for this waste. Even for those who choose to buy a whole cake, perishability becomes an issue. A cupcake is resistant to this, since the paper and the frosting hold moisture in. The perishability is reduced, as is the cost.

                                          The enjoyment of cake should not be an elitist activity. Nor, should quality be relegated to elite forms of cake.

                                          In closing, I quote George Bernard Shaw: "The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man."

                                          Let progress reign supreme! Quality cupcake for the masses!

                                        2. OK, call me crazy and childlike, but I love evrything about cupcakes. Making them, eating them, frosting them, and trying out different combos of toppings, cake and filling. I have used a bunch of cupcake recipes from the cupcake blog. We loved the lavender filled, pink grapefruit topped, Key lime cheesecake cupcakes with macademia nut sprinkles, chocolate mint cupcakes, and my ultimate favorite, mint filled raspeberry whipped cream topped cakes. They were so great. A light slightly sweet topping that balanced on top of a firm cake with a hint of mint in the middle. Now I am craving them.

                                          1. Oh yeah...anyone who thinks that cupcakes are inherently crusty:

                                            - Try the Black-Bottomed Cupcake at any Starbucks. This thing doesn't even have frosting and its cap is incredible moist and delicious.

                                            - I wish you could try my own Carrot Spice cupcake. I've had requests to make them both with, and without frosting. Their moistness is unbelievable.

                                            Again, its chemistry. :)

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: Sean D

                                              The carrot spice cupcake sounds delicious! Would you share the recipe and any other pertinent baking notes, size of the tin, etc?

                                              1. re: heidip732

                                                If you wish to share recipes, please start a new thread on the Home Cooking boars, where recipes are discussed. You may post a link here to direct posters to the new thread.

                                                Please also note Chowhound.com's rules for posting recipes from other sources: If the recipe is online, please provide a link to the recipe rather than posting the recipe here. If the recipe is not online, you may copy the ingredient list exactly, but you must state the instructions in your own words. Please state the source of the recipe, and note that you have paraphrased it so we know. If the recipe is original, please state that it's your own recipe.

                                                Thanks for keeping the boards on topic!

                                                1. re: heidip732

                                                  Hey Heidip,

                                                  Unfortunately, its a family recipe that I've been sworn to secrecy on. However, any good carrot cake recipe will do. (Insider Hint: Applesauce.)

                                                  The standard baking cup size is (I believe) 3.5 oz. I have a larger set of muffin tins that are rectangular. Whenever I back with them, I get extra howls of approval.

                                                  There's also another big factor that I think goes un-noticed. When you pull cakes out of the oven and cool them, you are allowing an enormous amount of moisture to escape. Over the years, I've seen how certain ingredients help to retain moisture in the cake during the cooling period. (Ex. raisins, dates, carrots, etc.) I've also developed the habit of putting a foil tent over my cakes when I cool them. I always remove them from the tins, put them on racks, and I try to balance the covering (on/off) to retain the moisture, without making the top overly soggy.

                                                  1. re: Sean D

                                                    I know those family secrets, but thanks for the hint! I'm going to incorporate that secret.

                                                    The covering while cooling really makes sense. I never thought of that.. Let's see, applesauce, raisens, cover while cooling, look out super duper cup cakes, here I come! I've sometimes resorted to applying simple syrup for extra moisture, but I like your ideas much better.

                                                    1. re: heidip732

                                                      One cupcake recipe I made had you cool the cupcakes half in-half out of the pan, kind of tilted, and loosely covered with plastic

                                                      1. re: cheesecake17

                                                        You know Cheesecake17, I was just thinking about that approach. I saw an episode of Good Eats that featured the Tres Leches cake. That makes so much sense! I'm trying that this weekend.

                                                        1. re: Sean D

                                                          It worked out pretty well. Only problem was the my husband figured out that the cupcakes were baked and not waiting to go into the oven... so he ate a few :)

                                              2. I'm all for cupcakes -- and standard cakes and even mini cakes. For me, the three key features of a good cupcake are moistness, flavor, and frosting. Appearance is also important, but not quite as high up. I do like that with cupcakes, for ex., you can have a fleet of ladybugs (or whatever) vs. one big bug on a standard cake. The proportions are better.

                                                FWIW, I'm in the DC area too, and given the cupcake options available in stores--and the prices they charge--I'm more than happy to bake my own at home. This way I get to control all the factors I find important and avoid using boxed mixes, Crisco frosting etc. I like playing around with different combinations of flavors, though more trad. kinds are good too, of course. I made carrot cake cupcakes this past weekend ... yum.

                                                1. What a great idea! I'm not usually a fan of sweets, but I love cupcakes. My favorites are yellow cake or lemon cake with just a dab of frosting. Too much frosting can bring down even the most delicious cupcake.

                                                  Not a fan of chocolate, so no opinion there, except that I hate when a chocolate frosting gets a little 'crunch' to the outside. Not sure how else to describe it, other than maybe that texture when the icing is refrigerated. It bothers me so much, that I won't even eat the cupcake underneath the frosting.

                                                  My favorite cupcakes are when the ingredients are showcased on top of the frosting. I love when a strawberry cupcake has a slice of strawberry on the frosting or when a ginger cupcake has shreds of candied ginger on top. A friend of mine makes cherry cupcakes for her kids and always puts a cherry on top. It's kind of a hint of what's inside.

                                                  A question- is a cupcake a cupcake if there's no frosting?

                                                  7 Replies
                                                  1. re: cheesecake17

                                                    "A question- is a cupcake a cupcake if there's no frosting?"

                                                    Absolutely. A cupcake is a cake baked in a cupcake cup (tin). It's differentiated from a muffin by virtue of being cake not quick bread, not by its frosting. In fact, black-bottom cupcakes (cocoa-based chocolate cupcakes with a cream cheese batter, usually with some chocolate chips, baked in) aren't frosted.

                                                    1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                      I was curious. I actually prefer cupcakes without frosting, but I have friends who claim a cupcake must have frosting.

                                                    2. re: cheesecake17

                                                      Cheesecake17,

                                                      I never thought so, until I had Starbucks black bottomed cupcake. It is truly able to stand on its own, without frosting. It has also put me on a search of my own, to develop similar cupcakes without frosting.

                                                      Try one and you'll know what I mean. It's definitely not a muffin.

                                                      1. re: Sean D

                                                        Will check next time I'm at Starbucks. The calorie count posted will prob scare me out of ordering it thought!

                                                        1. re: cheesecake17

                                                          There's not much point in having one if you truly don't care for chocolate.

                                                          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                                            Definitely. The Starbucks black bottomed cupcake is a celebration of chocolate chips, cream cheese (in the cake), and chocolate cake. Your cardiologist would not approve. :)

                                                            1. re: Sean D

                                                              definitely not for me- don't care for chocolate or cream cheese. but i'm going to look it at next time im at $bux

                                                    3. Hey gang,

                                                      What are your feelings on frosting? It seems like a lot of us dislike heavy buttercream frosting. But, is this because its badly made buttercream, or because buttercream frostings are just inherently sweeter and heavier?

                                                      I made real French buttercream for the first time about 5 years ago and I was astonished at the difference between the usual butter-powdered sugar approach.

                                                      I've also noticed that some Asian bakeries use a frosting that seems to have more butter and less sugar. It's very mild and delicate.

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: Sean D

                                                        Most adults outgrow their childhood love of gobs of sugar-packed frosting - a tablespoon or two per cupcake is enough if it's very sweet or very rich. I like the aforementioned quickie cream cheese frosting - whipped cream cheese and marshmallow fluff, because you control the sweet/rich element by your ratio of ingredients. It's easy to include vanilla or other flavorings as desired. I never tried using butter and fluff but who knows?.....

                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                          I have been a lifelong frosting hater and until recently would avoid it all costs. The crust that comes on powdered sugar frosting was my arch enemy. I have recently fallen in love with all the varieties of meringue buttercreams because they are lighter and smooth, including Rose Levy's Mousseline.

                                                        2. re: Sean D

                                                          Raised in a small town with one local bakery, I only knew one frosting I really liked. After the bakery closed, and Id moved to Chicago, I contacted the owner and she "sold" me her recipe. And by sold, I mean she sold me the ingredients and told me what to do.

                                                          Powdered sugar, w4 shortening (still not sure what this is), vanilla-butter flavoring. Color as you wish with gel colors (liquid may water down).
                                                          Its my go to for cookies, cake, etc.
                                                          I've made buttercream, cream cheese, you name it - and they have their place - but for an all purpose, this is my ungourmet go to esp. for kids.

                                                          1. re: stellamystar

                                                            I know what you mean, Stella. The wisdom of kids (in this regard) can't be discounted. No one likes the idea of sugar, lard, and artificial extract as being the stuff of great childhood memories. But, sometimes joy is a simple thing to achieve.

                                                            :)

                                                        3. Sean D.
                                                          I too believe that box cake mixes are a lot lot better than scratch cakes. To me, the scratch cakes are dry, heavy, and unpredictable as far a rising, and texture. I have a cup cake business, and I was ashamed to say I use box cakes. Not that I don't add to the mix, because I do. Some cupcakes I want heavier, moister, or more flavorful, so I add the appropriate ingredient. As far as filling, you can do it with just about anything you can think of. I use the piping method on smooth fillings, like creams, frostings, ect. I use the plug method when stuff won't go through my piping tube. (The other day, I couldn't figure out what was wrong, kept squeezing, and pop - peach perserves all over the place! LOL what a mess!!
                                                          I guess what I am saying is that I haven't liked scratched cakes since I was a kid, and even argued with my mother what was best, they way I make my cupcakes special is the added fillings, ingredients, and the care I put into them.
                                                          Thanks for listenting
                                                          Amaryllis