Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Vanilla Cupcakes - Magnolia Bakery's Best Selling Cupcake

These are the cupcakes that supposedly started the whole "Cupcake Craze" by appearing on Sex And The City.  When I go to NYC and visit any one of the numerous Magnolia Bakeries, I always have their Vanilla Cupcake with Vanilla Buttercream.  They have a wonderful Vanilla flavor and the tops get kind of crusty like a sugar cookie. I knew I had to duplicate them, so I bought the cookbook, More From Magnolia: Recipes from the World Famous Bakery.  These are now my favorite vanilla cupcakes to make from scratch and they are the perfect base for any of my yummy frosting recipes.

A note about self rising flour:  if you are baking in high altitude (above 3,000 feet) do not use self rising flour.  Self rising flour already contains baking powder and salt so there is no way to adjust the amount of baking powder you put in the recipe.  To replace self rising flour in any recipe use this formula: replace each cup of self rising flour with a cup of all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. I learned this the hard way with this recipe.  The first batch I made overflowed their baking cases and then fell and sunk in on themselves.  Still tasty but not very attractive.

Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes
Servings:  24


1 ½ cups self-rising flour (see the note above about self rising flour)
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Prep Time: 30 minutes / Total Time: 55 minutes / Line 24 muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, add the flours; stir to combine; set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter using an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat for 3 minutes or until fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla.  With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over mix.

Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling about 3/4 full.  Bake in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes.  Cool the cupcakes in the tin for 10 minutes.  Remove cakes from the tins and cool on a wire rack before icing.  Ice with your favorite Buttercream.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Deliciousness that is Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I don't know why I am afraid of some recipes.  After all I am the daughter of a Home Economics teacher who is an amazing cook and baker.  I grew up watching her make delicious desserts using all kinds of techniques.  Why then was I afraid of making Swiss Meringue Buttercream? Simply because you had to cook the egg whites and sugar and then whip into a meringue before adding the butter?  No more!  I was going to tackle this recipe and make it mine!

Vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream

5 large egg whites
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch of salt
1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

To make the frosting, combine the egg whites, sugar and salt in a heatproof bowl (I used the bowl of my Kitchenaid mixer) set over a pot of simmering water.  Heat, whisking frequently, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F and the sugar has dissolved.  (A candy thermometer is crucial anytime you are cooking sugar.)

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (using the bowl of your mixer makes this step a breeze).  Beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form and the mixture has cooled to room temperature, about 8 minutes.

Reduce the speed to medium and add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time, adding more once each addition has been incorporated.  If the frosting looks soupy or curdled, continue to beat on medium-high speed until thick and smooth again, about 3-5 minutes more (don't worry, it will come together!).  Stir in the vanilla extract and mix until incorporated.  Tint with paste icing color as desired.

Yield: about 5 cups

More photos of these beauties in my Flickr stream

To get my courage up to attempt this recipe I watched the video below on You Tube to see exactly what the steps were in creating this wonderful frosting.  I used the recipe above but I followed her steps.  This Buttercream is light and silky and a dream to pipe onto cupcakes!  This first batch I piped onto some Magnolia Bakery Vanilla Cupcakes and they were divine in their vanilla deliciousness.  I took them to work and they were devoured by 10:30 am.  I can't wait to make different flavors to adorn all my cupcake creations.

Baking at High Altitude - New Challenges

 Photo courtesy of Cake Spy

Growing up in Sacramento, California I learned to bake at an altitude of 25 feet above sea level.  My next baking adventures took place during the 13 years I lived in New York City, New York.  Only 6 feet above sea level.  Baking in Centerville, Utah at just under 5,000 feet above sea level presents an entire new set of challenges in making sure my cupcakes and other baked goods turn out perfect every time. There's nothing worse than spending time and money on a yummy batch of cupcakes to take them out of the oven and they have either overflowed their cases or fallen into a sunken mess.

When I first started baking cupcakes seriously last summer I took a "Cupcakes and Cake Bites Class" at the Viking Cooking School in Salt Lake City.  The most valuable information I took away from this class was this - when baking in this altitude all you need to do is cut the leavening in your recipe by half.  What that means is if the recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of Baking Soda, add 1/2 teaspoon.  If the recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons of Baking Powder, add 3/4 teaspoon.  This was an incredibly easy fix and since doing this I have yet to have any cupcake baking disasters.

Because not everyone who will read this Blog will live in a high altitude I always post the original recipes I use.  No recipes posted here have been adjusted for high altitude baking.  I leave that up to you.

I also found this very helpful article regarding high altitude baking on  Understanding that baking is actually chemical reactions of the ingredients helps understand the importance of following recipes exactly as written.

High Altitude Cake Baking
By: Staff

Ahh, the joys of mountaintop living. Clean fresh air, snow capped peaks, falling cakes . . .

Why is high elevation a problem when baking?

Lower air pressure at high elevations causes air bubbles trapped in the batter to rise at a faster rate. When this happens, cakes rise very fast and high . . . then fall. As a result, you end up with a dense, dry cake--typically, a change in the proportion of ingredients used in leavened foods is needed.
Occasionally, you may even need to adjust the baking temperature in your oven as well, but this can start a chain reaction of additional problems. When you increase your baking temperature, liquids will evaporate faster and the rest of the ingredients become concentrated. Generally, this means you end up with too much sugar in the batter, which will prevent the cake from setting (i.e. you will be left with a gooey mess).

So, how does one solve these problems?
Cooking at high altitudes generally requires two basic adjustments:
1. An increase in time for boiled foods.
2. A change in the proportions of ingredients used in leavened foods such as cakes and yeast breads. In some instances, a change in baking temperatures may also be necessary.

Most cake recipes need no modification for sea level up to the altitude of 3,000 feet. Above that, it is often necessary to adjust recipes slightly. Usually, a decrease in leavening or sugar (or both) and an increase in liquid are needed. Remember, ingredients such as eggs or butter are considered liquids.


For any baked goods that rise (yeast breads, cakes or breads made with baking powder, etc.), it is important to adjust the recipe so that the rapid rise time doesn't make the resulting bread or cake too dry. This can be done as follows:

For yeast cakes:
Yeast cakes rise more quickly at high altitudes, so be sure to watch your dough carefully and judge the rise time by the change in the dough's bulk, not by the amount of time it takes. Proofing time for yeast cakes should be reduced.

For cakes using baking powder:

Don't over beat the eggs. Over beating adds too much air to the cake.

Raise the baking temperature slightly; the faster cooking time will keep the recipe from rising too much. At elevations over 3,500 feet, the oven temperature for batters and doughs should be about 25 degrees F higher than the temperature used at sea level.

Decrease the amount of baking powder slightly; this also prevents the recipe from rising too much.

For foam cakes:

Cakes tend to stick more when they are baked at high altitudes, so be sure to always grease your baking pans well and dust them with flour, or line them with parchment paper. Exceptions are angel food cakes and sponge cakes, which should always be baked in un-greased pans. Also, fill pans only 1/2 full of batter, not the usual 2/3 full, as high altitude cakes may overflow.

Follow the chart below for more specific adjustments. When adapting a recipe for high altitudes, always start out with the smallest adjustment then add more adjustments later and only if necessary. Keep in mind that any or all of these adjustments may be required, for every recipe is different in its balance of ingredients. Only repeated experiments with each different recipe can give the most successful proportions to use. It's a good idea to keep notes of how you adjusted your recipes until you know what works best for your particular location.


Adjustment for 3000 feet:
Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon decrease 1/8 teaspoon.
Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 1 tablespoon.
Increase liquid: for each cup, add 1 to 2 tablespoons.
Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

Adjustment for 5000 feet:
Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon.
Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 0 to 2 tablespoons.
Increase liquid: for each cup, add 2 to 4 tablespoons.
Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.

Adjustment for 7000+ feet:
Reduce baking powder: for each teaspoon, decrease 1/4 teaspoon.
Reduce sugar: for each cup, decrease 1 to 3 tablespoons.
Increase liquid: for each cup, add 3 to 4 tablespoons.
Increase oven temperature by 25 degrees F.