For whatever reason, cupcake preferences in America are an explosive subject. I admit to loving my country possibly only for this reason — where else is there 1,300+ comments that range from enjoying a cupcake or WANTING THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THEM TO DIE IN A FIERY PLANE CRASH? The passion! The indignant righteousness! I love it, I can’t deny it.
I myself am an equal opportunity cupcake lover. It’s the truth, and my shame is assuaged only by liberal applications of buttercream. Grocery store chain cupcakes with primary-color airbrushed frosting? Sure, I’ll take one. Or Los Angeles’ beloved Sprinkles cupcakes, who I described as sort of mediocre and subsequently received an concerned email from the company? What they don’t seem to understand is that I’d buy them again in a second, if I found myself suddenly inside their store. They’re not my favorite, but in the realm of cupcakery they remain leagues from a deal-breaker. How about Crumbs, whose offensive heaps of toppings I consider to be the epitome of amateur hour? I’d like to eat one right now, thank you very much.
The question is, given the choice, which cupcake would I pick? Most of the time, the answer is a Magnolia vanilla cupcake. Let me be clear: Magnolia is not the best bakery in town. But the simplicity of their vanilla cupcake – petite as a bake-sale cupcake and topped with just a little too much frosting – is an inarguable pleasure. Sure 50% of humanity disagrees with me, but I don’t mind. The cake itself is soft and tender, and their classic butter frosting is whipped until any trace of sugar grain is obliterated. They got the basics down pat, and that is an impressive feat.
Of course I tried to make them at home and was disappointed, but let me explain why.
The cake itself is excellent. The recipe makes for sturdy, reliable little cupcakes that dome nicely and age well — in fact, I highly encourage anyone making a mess of these to make them a day ahead of time, allowing the cake time to mellow and the frosting time to crust over. As basic vanilla cupcake recipes go, it’s a good one. BUT. As a full cake I think it would be disappointing; the cake intentionally borders on blandness, and the sturdiness that works for a cupcake would quickly become tedious in large slab of cake. (For my favorite yellow cake recipe, I can’t say enough good things about Shirley Corriher’s “Magnificent Moist Yellow Cake” found in her book BakeWise, but also online at blogs like this one.)
But then there is the small matter of the frosting. You see, you can’t put enough on. You really can’t. And you nearly can’t put enough sugar in it. Which means that if you hesitate at all it will just not be the same, and this is what happened to me.
The frosting recipe is curious, placing all of the butter and milk in with half of the sugar and beating the thin resulting product until smooth, which at 5 minutes is probably 4 minutes longer than people would normally beat their frosting. Sugar is then added in small batches (a total of eight cups – eight! – to frost only 24 cupcakes), with subsequent long beat times, until the texture is as creamy as though it were straight butter. HOWEVER. I chickened out and stopped adding sugar shy of what it needed, and though plenty sweet, didn’t have that sugary heart-palpitation inducing hit that I love about it.
AND THEN. I didn’t put nearly enough frosting on the cupcakes. To give you an idea of the horror that is the quantity of frosting I’m talking about, watch this video with the sound off so you don’t actually have to hear Hoda and Kathie Lee’s harpy screeches. But I swear to god, my cupcakes just weren’t the same. They were good, but they weren’t that 5 Year-Old’s Birthday Party perfect that I love about Magnolia’s vanilla cupcakes.
Hopefully you can learn from my mistakes. Someone should, because I sure don’t.April 11th, 2011 | Food Rant