I know. Let’s just get right into it, shall we?
I love baking. I have since I was a kid. Every time my mom needed to make a box cake, she would let me take care of the mixing, baking, and frosting. It kept me quiet and gave me something to focus on besides the television or my latest issue of Tiger Beat magazine. I liked getting out the big mixing bowl and measuring cups, greasing and flouring the baking pans, mixing up the batter, and frosting the final product as prettily as possible (not all that pretty, actually). There was also the added bonus of getting to lick the batter remnants off the beaters. Mmm. Cake batter. It’s the holy grail of girl food.
Even though back then they were “only” box cakes and I’ve since moved on to baking mostly from scratch, I loved those cakes. They were tender, moist, and perfect.
So it was a bit upsetting when I started baking from scratch that my cakes were…just okay. To me, anyway. Adequate. Not as moist or as tender, no matter how I baked them. There was something missing, some key to making the perfect (in my eyes) cake.
Not flavor wise so much, if I must say myself I’ve come up with some great combinations — Pumpkin cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting and banana ‘cakes with salted caramel buttercream have been my favorites. But when I bake the scratch cakes, even when the flavors are great, there’s something about the texture of the cake that seems…off. They get dry, the cake just isn’t as tender, and I am disappoint.
I worked out that (duh) it’s because box cakes use oil, instead of the butter that’s in most (okay, all) scratch cakes. Now don’t get me wrong, I love using butter in anything and everything. The flavor it imparts in baked goods is second to none. But I’ve noticed that the things I bake with butter are a bit…drier than those that I’ve used oil or shortening in.
(Side note: This is why my chocolate chip cookies are made with butter flavored shortening [Gah, yes, shortening, the root of all evil. Whatever. My chocolate chip cookies are AH MAH ZING and have gotten me everything from money to marriage proposals], because they have the flavor of butter and the soft, gooey moistness from shortening. Mmm, cookies. ::Homer Simpson noise::)
ANYWAY. I wanted to make cupcakes today for a coworker who’s been out on medical leave for a while and finally came back to work this week. He’s a huge fan of anything blueberry, so I searched and searched on the web for a blueberry cupcake recipe. I wanted one that was a yellow cake, not too dense, not too muffin-like. I wanted a box cake texture with scratch made flavor. Unfortunately I couldn’t find a recipe that used both oil and butter in which to achieve this. Being the OCD rule follower I am, I was a little nervous at the prospect of fooling with a recipe but it soon seemed as if I had no other choice.
A quick Google search for baking substitutions later and away we go. I used this recipe for the cupcakes from the Martha Stewart Cupcakes book, just substituting a small amount of vegetable oil for some of the butter. Instead of the whipped cream frosting I made a basic cream cheese frosting with lemon. The tang of the cream cheese and the sourness of the lemon balances nicely with the sweetness of the blueberries.
The butter/oil substitution worked out nicely, by the way. The cakes have a great flavor and are soft and moist, just like I was hoping for. I might mess around with the butter/oil ratio in the future in the search for “perfection”, but these were close. I hate to toot my own horn, but these cupcakes are pretty fantastic.
And I’m not all that crazy about blueberries.
Blueberry Cupcakes (Adapted from Martha Stewart Cupcakes)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 TB baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups milk, room temperature
Zest of one lemon.
2 cups fresh blue berries, tossed with an additional 2-3 TB flour
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line cupcakes tin with paper liners, and spray the top lightly with cooking spray (so the tops of your cupcakes don’t stick!!). Sift together both flours, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.
Cream butter and sugar together with mixer until pale and fluffy. Add oil and beat again. Add eggs one at a time and beat until each is incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in vanilla.
Working in alternating batches, add flour mixture and milk to batter, beating until combined after each addition. Beat in lemon zest. Add blueberries to the batter (toss the blueberries with flour so they don’t sink in the batter while baking!) and fold in gently by hand.
Scoop batter into cupcake liners using an ice cream scoop. Bake until pale golden brown, approximately 25 minutes. Check after 20 minutes so the cakes don’t over cook. You can rotate pans at the halfway point to ensure even baking. Remove from oven and cool completely before frosting. Makes approx. 30 cupcakes.
Cream Cheese Frosting
(Note: I make cream cheese frosting so often that I don’t really use a recipe, I just kind of throw it together, so if you have a cream cheese frosting recipe you prefer, feel free to use that instead and just add lemon for these cupcakes.)
2 12 oz bricks of cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 sticks of butter, softened
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
Beat together cream cheese and butter. Add powdered sugar, 1/3 cup at a time, until fluffy and desired consistency. (You might not use the full 4 cups of sugar, you might use more. Just roll with it.) Beat in vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice (I used about 1/2 of the juice that I had, add it sparingly until you achieve the flavor you want). Chill in refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Frost or pipe onto cooled cupcakes and garnish as desired. (I used colored decorating sugar and fresh blueberries)