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.