Welcome to the Cupcake Clinic
Don't homemade cupcakes look great? They also taste divine.
Recipes such as Red Velvet Cupcakes and Classic Butter Vanilla Cupcakes are sure pleasers. Check my Complete Recipe Index for more great cupcake recipes.
What makes great cupcakes are five things:
1. Great recipe to begin with (that is the foundation)
2. Do not overfill cupcakes
3. Simple Syrup
4. Great Icing
5. Pastry Bag Finish
So let's start. Great recipes? Covered. Check the BB Complete Recipe Index.
Great recipes aside, they won't be great if you use artificial vanilla, margarine instead of superb, pure, unsalted butter and chlorinated flour (always used unbleached).Don't forget fresh eggs and whole milk and any other pure, scratch ingredient perfectly made cupcakes ask for. It is that old baking lesson which says: great baking is a series of little things done right. Do the little things right. They add up to greatness. How many times have you bought expensive, pretty cupcakes and found they tasted terrible or bland, at the least? That is because the recipe might not have been wonderful to begin with and the ingredient choices, inferior. You can create magnificence so easily.
As for: do not overfill cupcakes molds?
This is a simple detail but important. You want to fill cupcake molds just 2/3 full allowing them to rise and made a mounded top without going over too much or cupcake batter overflowing the sides. The whole point is to have a nice surface to ice.
Which brings us to the step before the frosting.
That is Simple Syrup.
Simple syrup is a pastry chef's basic. It is equal parts water and sugar. You simmer both to a syrup (5-10 minutes) and then add in a bit of flavor if you like (such as vanilla) or not. This syrup is brushed on the cupcake surface BEFORE icing them. It ensures your cupcakes are moist and tender, versus a dry, hard surface that the icing just sits on. This is the biggest difference in homemade cupcakes (which have marvellous scratch ingredients) versus commercial or professional ones. No pastry chef I know would ever think of icing a cake or cupcake without first applying this syrup. No, it doesn't make things too sweet. It makes them stay fresh and perfectly moist. It's, as they say, simply how it is done.
You can't dump shortening and confectioners' sugar in a bowl and whip it and expect wonderful frosting. So do check for unique frostings such as whipped ganache, or cream cheese frosting, or fudge or the pastry chef frosting. Pastry chef buttercream or frosting is in my two last cookbooks but it is essentially fondant (bakery supply places have it) and equal parts of butter. You whip fondant and butter, with a bit of flavor and tint to your preference. But this is that wonderful, soft, fluffy, silky frosting that adorns pedigree cupcakes. What you don't want is that too-sweet, crusty, artificial sort of frosting. Sillly to make stupendous homemade cupcakes and then slather canned icing on them. Better to simply dust with with confectioners' sugar or drizzle melted chocolate on them.
Pastry Bag Finish?
You can do it. Even messy pastry bag workmanship makes for a pretty cupcake. Practise on a piece of parchment paper and recoup the icing. Of course, if you don't do the pastry bag route, you can always douse your cupcakes in tons of extra sprinkles. Even a squirt from a pastry bag looks better then slathering on icing. BUT slathered on icing can be homey and you also apply it thinly and then roll the cupcake top gently in sprinkles or chocolate jimmies or chocolate shavings (white or dark chocolate).
Cupcake Bakeware, Packaging, etc.
Cupcake pans vary and they are essentially muffin tins. But there are so many shapes and sizes; you can also use cups (real cups as cupcakes once did - hence their name), popover pans, mini Bundt pan thingies (check Nordicware), and bakery places like King Arthur, Sweet Celebrations and local restaurant and bakery supply places, and kitchen shops.
Experiment with any sort of oven proof mold you want. Even mini tuna cans.
There are also tons of cupcake or muffin liners to choose from. Wilton is a good bet for this or Paris Cake Supply.
For packing your cupcakes - choose bakery boxes (online or local places, paper suppliers, party places) or in tins. I semi-freeze cupcakes, and then pack them with wax paper between them, if toting a load of cupcakes as a gift. Cupcakes that look professional and oh-so-pretty should get packaging preferential treatment. But in the end, if you have to stuff them on an aluminum pie plate and gently cover with Saran wrap - well - hey - you'll still have fans.
Did I mention candy? Cupcakes can feature any sort of candy on them from those hearts with sentimental words, to red candy hearts, chocolate, sprinkles, gumballs and gummy bears. Or swirl on fudge icing and plunk a chocolate cherry heart in the middle and dust with confectioners' sugar. Cupcakes can be cute and fanciful or dainty cakes, as decadent and stately as miniature Sachertortes. Whatever can be a big cake - can be an awesome cupcake. Next time, (one day?), we'll discuss gourmet flavors and more cupcake possibilities.
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