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How-To

Cupcakes for Grownups

Ginger, butterscotch, and mocha mean these treats aren’t just for kids

Photo: Scott Phillips
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While growing up in San Francisco, I haunted my neighborhood bakery, which sold all kinds of cupcakes: Chocolate, maple-frosted, banana-nut, and coconut cream were my favorites. The first thing I did with my weekly allowance was buy a cupcake, sometimes two. I loved peeling the paper away slowly, to be sure I didn’t tear the tender cake. Then I’d bite a bit off the top to get a good gob of icing and nibble down to the base of the cupcake. This was my cupcake-eating ritual, and it never varied.  

The recipes here were all inspired by the cupcakes I ate decades ago, although now I’m more interested in exciting flavor combinations and taste and texture harmonies. Butterscotch and caramel are so scrumptious that I decided to put them together in the Caramel Cupcakes with Butterscotch Frosting. Ginger is available in so many forms—fresh, ground, and crystallized—that I wanted to try them together in one cupcake. The flavor of ginger is intense, so I decided on mini cupcakes that can be eaten in one or two bites, and I added a lemon–cream cheese frosting to help balance the ginger. And finally, the combination of coffee and chocolate inspired the Mocha Chip Cupcakes with Chocolate–Sour Cream Frosting.

Follow a few tips for tender cupcakes

When mixing cupcake batter, it’s important to beat the butter and sugar thoroughly. This creates tiny air bubbles that will expand and help the batter rise. When adding dry ingredients, beat only enough to incorporate them; overbeating may toughen the cupcakes.  

I line muffin tins with cupcake liners, which make it easier to remove the cupcakes from the pan and also give the cupcakes a portable casing.   

To prevent overbaking, test the cupcakes for doneness at the minimum baking time. If you’re not sure of your oven’s temperature, check it with an oven thermometer.

Where did cupcakes come from?

In late 19th-century America, a revolutionary shift in home baking took place: Measuring ingredients by cups almost completely replaced measuring by weight. Cup measurement saved time; a housewife could simply dip her cup into the flour or sugar instead of weighing each ingredient on a balance scale. Originally, recipes called “cup cakes” weren’t baked in cupcake pans but referred to the fact that the ingredients were measured in cups rather than on a scale.  

At about the same time, muffin tins began to appear. Bakers soon realized that they could use the pans for more than just muffins, and the cupcake was created. At first, cupcakes were simply ordinary cake batters baked in muffin cups; the finished cupcakes were unadorned. But by 1902, Sarah Tyson Rorer, in Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book, provided the recipe for a true cupcake—“Sponge Cups”—complete with icing, and the cupcake as an independent dessert entity was born.

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