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Mar 27, 2010 03:49 PM

How subjective are cupcakes?

As a 53 year old who is really just starting to try to cook and bake I have of course run into the subectiveness of what is great and what is not. So when looking for recipes I'm not getting a bit cynical and frustrated as one person 5 star recipe rating is another persons 1.
Looking at recipe's for (allegedly) Magnolia's and other famous cupcakes I find both raves and critics.
What is going on here? What are the big differences in what people are looking for? I can only think of a couple (besides flavor and ingredients)
moist and dense
drier and...and...spongy?
a crumbly crumb vs. a not so crumbly crumb?
Yea I don't even know.

I have mostly been a pie person not a cake person but would like to try cupcakes from scratch. I tend to find the kind of box made and grocery store cupcakes people bring in to work somewhat flavorless though their texture is ok?
And I really am not into that deli type cake frosting.. is that confectionars sugar stuff?
So....any opinions on cupcakes? Recipes (describe type it makes)


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  1. The Home Cooking board will give you a lot of recipes and opinions... and yes, it IS subjective! ;)

    3 Replies
    1. re: visciole

      Well I'm interested in hearing what makes a cupcake a good cupcake

      1. re: marys1000

        Magnolia's cupcakes are ridiculously overpriced and IMHO not even edible, let alone GOOD. You'll find some things are ridiculously overhyped simply because the resto/bakery is trendy to eat/buy at.

        I think what makes something good or great is very subjective, but in my opinion what makes a cupcake good are some of the following factors:

        1. Moistness. If a cupcake is dry or overbaked, it's a loser out of the gate, no matter how great the recipe is or how much frosting you top it with.

        2. Sweetness. Cupcakes shouldn't be overly sweet. They're not muffins, but they should be balanced in their sweetness so you don't just get a giant sugar rush by eating them. I find a lot of good cupcakes ruined by an overly sweet frosting also.

        3. Frosting : Cupcake Ratio. I get that prettier cupcakes are made with a nearly equal ratio of frosting and cake, so that you have a lovely little tower of fluffy sugar on top, but it's way too much sugar for practically any person.

        4. Texture. Cupcakes, IMO, should be relatively light, not heavy. Frosting texture is also really important; the frosting should be fluffy and soft and not grainy.

        5. Flavor. no matter what the flavor, it should be discernible and appealing. Great chocolate makes better chocolate cupcakes. A bit of espresso makes even BETTER chocolate cupcakes. :)

        Keep in mind that people are individuals, so it's only natural that some people will hate, and some people will LOVE, any recipe you try. Find someone whose palate is similar to yours and use their recommendations for cupcakes. You can also take a cake recipe you really love and adapt it for cupcakes simply by pouring it into cupcake tins.

        As far as the frosting you dislike, yes it is confectioner's sugar. Don't knock it though, you can make much better frostings than the standard sugar/shortening stuff they make at grocery bakeries. If you really prefer a less sugary frosting, you can always top your cupcakes with a dollop of fresh whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon or cocoa powder.

        1. re: KosherHound

          This x10 ... Unless tasting nothing but sugar is your thing.

    2. Cupcakes shouldn't have a dry crumb, which indicates they're over beaten, over baked, or old and improperly stored. If the recipe is butter based, and many are, there is no excuse for dry cake. It's simply unpleasant to eat. Cupcakes shouldn't have tunnels or big air pockets, just like any baked good. The texture should be relatively uniform, moist, and taste of fresh butter and eggs. They shouldn't be so sweet that you get an acid aftertaste in the mouth, IMO, but that's subjective. Many Southern recipes are sweeter, and have their own charms if accompanied by milk or coffee. But, personally, I can't deal with the tooth achingly sweet recipes, though they have their fans.

      If you want a good primer on cake baking, Rose Levy Beranbum's Cake Bible is a good place to start. Her yellow cake can be halved to make 9 cupcakes, and the chocolate buttercream (not the confectioner's sugar stuff) are a divine combo with yellow cake. The method isn't common, but it is foolproof and reliable, especially for beginning bakers with a stand mixer. Follow her instructions and you can't go wrong.

      Whether there is a crust on a cupcake is largely dependent on whether or not you use liners, or the baking medium. If you bake in aluminum, which is common, you'll get a crust, but the interior should be moist and soft. If you don't want a crust, stick with silicone on a sheet pan for support, or line you aluminum tins with muffin papers. I am not a fan of papers, as I feel they waste precious cake you peel off with the paper, but that's a personal thing. Many people prefer the no crust, all tender, soft cake a muffin papers gives cupcakes.

      If there's any flavor in particular you'd like, give us your thoughts. There are lots of good recipes out there, but it can be tricky to decipher what will turn out a good result without experience. Hopefully some of the more experienced bakers here can help you sort that out. There are particular tricks to different flavors. For instance, making chocolate cake moist and light requires a few extra steps, and different techniques render different results. Hence, the differences between devil's food, flourless chocolate, german chocolate, and a chocolate poundcake. All good, but all very different in flavor and texture. What particularly are you looking for, marys1000?

      3 Replies
      1. re: amyzan

        Good discussion there. The comments re chocolate cake are blowing my mind as they are definately illustrating that cake is more complicated than I thought. Didn't know there was a choice of crust or no crust lol. I have 1 large cupcake size? non stick and 1 mini mini cupcake non stick. I don't even own a cake pan. I suppose buying one presents its own choice challenges. I have Levy's Pie Bible but not the Cake bible. I am going to the library today and will see if they have it. I have Cookwise which seems to have a small section on cakes so will read that.
        I guess I got started down this path because I was at the Drs and Woman's Day had a cupcake article with a recipe for boston creme cupcakes with a chocolate ganache frosting. They looked good as did some others. When I was looking at the recipe's, some of which seemed to be based on similar yellow cake/vanilla bases - I saw the recipe's varied wildly when it seemed you would be able to just change or add different flavorings.
        I am still thinking to try the boston creme thing with a plain yellow cake or vanilla cupcake. A good chocolate cupcake would be second, but there seem to be so many choices:) Not flourless....don't know the differences between devil's and german....
        And if from reading there are light and airy and moist and dense - I don't know which I prefer since I don't know that I've had good examples of either. Although I suspect I would gravitate to moist, silky, somewhat dense (I like mouth feel and texture) although that probably wouldn't be a good choice for boston creme cupcakes

        1. re: marys1000

          It sounds like you're leaning toward homemade cake over boxed, then. It's not a hard and fast rule, of course, but boxed cakes tend to be super light and fluffy, and homemade/recipe cakes are more dense (and often moist, though not always!).

          I grew up with homemade cake, so I really prefer a dense, moist cake, and if there's going to be any icing, it had better be *real* buttercream, not that awful gunk they call icing from grocery stores! Rich's a bucket...shudder. But I know *plenty* of people who grew up with grocery store cakes, and that *is* cake to them. That's what the want and what they like. That's fine, it's just very different. As mentioned above, you'll just need to find where you are on the spectrum, and find someone who agrees with your particular tastes to look to for advice.

          If you want an icing lighter than a traditional American buttercream (powdered sugar and butter and vanilla and a pinch of salt--it can be quite good though very sweet if you stay away from shortening) look up an Italian meringue buttercream. They're light as air and absolutely divine, though the recipe is much fussier and you'll definitely want a stand mixer to attempt making it.

          1. re: marys1000

            The difference between devil's food and german chocolate cake is akin to the difference between dark and milk chocolate. Devil's food usually turns out a bit drier than german chocolate does, as well. I've never made a boston cream cupcake, but Martha's recipe looks good. I've never had a bad result from one of her recipes, as I think her kitchen actually tests and writes recipes carefully. If you use all purpose bleached flour rather than cake flour, your cupcakes will be a bit denser. You might actually like that better than ones made with cake flour, by your description. Just be sure not to over beat the batter, especially if you use the alternating milk/flour method rather than Beranbaum's mixing method.

        2. Martha Stewart has a cupcake cookbook that came out a couple of years ago. I haven't seen it, but I believe it has something like 100 recipes. The show had a continuing cupcake feature for a while and I think they had a contest for submissions to the cookbook.

          As far as the "to line or not to line" question, I'll add that it saves aggravation to use liners for cupcakes with chunks of candy or fruit, since these are prone to sticking in the pan, even if you'd ordinarily prefer a crusty cupcake.

          2 Replies
          1. re: greygarious

            I saw that Martha Stewart had a lot of cupcake recipes online last time I was looking for a recipe. Many different kinds of cake and frostings.

            1. re: greygarious

              Here's a link to some Martha Stewart cupcake recipes. If you click on the "get the recipes" link you'll see different clumps of recipes with beautiful pictures (classic cupcakes, holiday cupcakes, fancy cupcakes . . . .)


              Here's a boston cream cupcake:


            2. I don't really know what the big deal is with cupcakes. Like you, I am more a pie girl than a cake girl. I've wanted to go to Magnolia's or BabyCakes or wherever and walked right by them and didn't go in. I can't see spending on something so small but then, that's just me, I'd rather spend it on something I really want to eat, something I'm craving.

              It is subjective though, like all else in this forum type web site regarding food, some love this or that place, while others say don't bother. Just read the PL's thread, we can't agree on something as simple as steak. ;(

              1. I agree this whole cupcake thing must be subjective, look at the recent cupcake mania explosion. I swear they are paying more attention to decorating cupcakes and giving it a theme rather than just focusing on perfecting the different tastes.

                I'm probably one of the odd ones here who actually doesnt bother to make frosting for cupcakes! I just make them instead of cake since its simpler to not overeat (lol since i'm the only one eating what I make!)