When a Cupcake Fails

October 13, 2017



Our oven, I fear, is on her way out.  After nearly twenty years of faithful service (not all to me, but we have definitely collaborated on some delicious things), she has started to act just a little more quirky than usual, like heating one side of the tray and not the other.  Kind of an important deal, especially for a baker's oven.  So while we scour the internet for the best possible oven to fit in our tiny wall oven cutout, let me tell you about the other sadness that happened this week:  the vanilla cupcakes that would not bake.


Okay, so maybe they're related, the oven problems and the cupcake problems.  Whatever it was, this vanilla cupcake recipe I've relied on since day one suddenly decided it was time to give up the ghost.  I had a catering gig this week, providing three dozen mixed vanilla and chocolate cupcakes for the fifth anniversary of Forest Avenue Press (buy their books!), and I love those guys so even more than usual, I wanted to nail it.  And the chocolate cupcakes came out so perfect, so easy, and so delicious I just couldn't understand why vanilla was giving me trouble.  But give me trouble it did.


The first batch was a gluten free one and I made the mistake of mixing the chocolate batter and the vanilla batter at the same time.  Two recipes at once shouldn't mean half the brainpower but somehow that happened and I added twice the sugar to the vanilla ones.  Do you know what happens when you add twice as much sugar to a tried and tested cupcake recipe?  Well I do now.  Sugar, it seems, has a much more important role to the structure of the cupcake than just providing sweetness.  These cupcakes, each filled carefully to the imaginary 2/3 line, bubbled up over the edge and spread until the entire cupcake pan looked like one giant cupcake wad.  Delicious, to be sure, but not at all pretty.


I tried again, this time focusing 100% on the vanilla ones and making sure I got all of the measurements right.  These came out okay, if a little thin on top.  The next day having learned nothing from the previous day's exploits, I tried to make both batters at the same time again, and AGAIN I had a problem with the vanilla ones bubbling over the sides.  That and half of the pan was dark toasty brown while the other half was completely uncooked.  How?  Why?  SCIENCE!  <shakes fist>


I don't know what I did.  But I had to make them again.  For those of you who are counting this would be the fourth batch of vanilla cupcakes I made this week.  And I still don't know entirely why they went so wrong.  All I can think at this point is that I need to go back to the drawing board and test a bunch more vanilla cupcake recipes.  And figure out what to do with a whole bunch of deliciously ugly vanilla cake.  Not a terrible problem to have.


On the upside, like I said earlier, the chocolate ones came out beautifully, maybe the best chocolate cupcake I've ever had.  Go ahead, make them and eat them and then pat yourself on the back.  If you frost them with a good, fluffy vanilla buttercream, you'll swear you're eating those cream-filled cupcakes from your childhood with the curlicue on top (don't sue me, Hostess!)


Meanwhile, I'll be testing vanilla cupcakes over here.  More as it happens.  ✦

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