The Cupcake Taste Test

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Words and photos by Lee Elkins
from Foodie Plus 4

http://www.flickr.com/ photos/pittcaleb/

I DON’T VISIT THE CITY WITHOUT consuming at least one of its famous cupcakes. My habit started off with Crumbs, a cupcake chain that has a variety of convenient locations sprinkled throughout Manhattan. But then I bit into a Magnolia Bakery classic yellow cupcake with vanilla frosting and I was torn.

Which one was better?

I didn’t really know until this week.

Words and photos by Lee Elkins
from Foodie Plus 4

 


 

I DON’T VISIT THE CITY WITHOUT consuming at least one of its famous cupcakes. My habit started off with Crumbs, a cupcake chain that has a variety of convenient locations sprinkled throughout Manhattan. But then I bit into a Magnolia Bakery classic yellow cupcake with vanilla frosting and I was torn. Which one was better? I didn’t really know until this week.

On a jaunt into New York to see my friend who recently abandoned the northeast for her hometown of Houston (just in time to avoid this snow-covered winter, I might add), we decided to figure out which cupcake we like best. So with cupcakes and coffee in hand, we headed to the hotel to have a serious sit-down tasting session.

On the menu were one Crumbs classic yellow cake with vanilla frosting and three flavors from Magnolia, including red velvet, yellow cake with chocolate frosting and the hummingbird, which had banana and pecans.

Although we only had one cupcake from Crumbs, its size was equal to two of Magnolia’s. We tried to get the classic chocolate at Crumbs to go head-to-head with the chocolate we’d already purchased at Magnolia, but the shop was out of those.

So armed with some plastic forks and my cell phone camera, we commenced eating.

 

 

And eating…

 

 

Until we finally agreed on a verdict.

Although we all still like Crumbs and would never pass the shop by without going in, we determined that Magnolia’s cupcakes, especially, the chocolate frosting, had more flavor. The big vanilla cupcake was good but the frosting was too sweet and merely tasted like sugar, whereas the smaller cupcakes from Magnolia had good cake flavor and delightfully flavored frosting that was not overly sweet.

So that’s our completely unscientific study on cupcakes. It brought out some good conversation between bites. Such as meals we remember and why some meals can be incredible, then when you return it’s not so good. We acknowledged that so many factors determine whether you enjoy a meal, or a treat in this case, such as with whom you are sharing it, where you are, if you’re tired or stressed, and whether or not you’re really hungry.

And as you can see, those cupcakes were thoroughly enjoyed and buoyed our night o’ fun on the almost-balmy streets of New York this week.

If you’d like to try to replicate Magnolia’s vanilla cupcake, try this recipe. We’ve used it several times and never have a crumb left over.

 

 

Magnolia’s Vanilla Cupcake
Recipe courtesy Allysa Torey, More From Magnolia: Recipes from the World-Famous Bakery and Allysa Torey’s Home Kitchen, Simon and Schuster, 2004

 

Ingredients

Cupcakes:

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

Icing:

Vanilla Buttercream, recipe follows

 

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Line 2 (1/2 cup-12 capacity) muffin tins with cupcake papers.

In a small bowl, combine the flours. Set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla. With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not over beat. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Vanilla Buttercream

The vanilla buttercream we use at the bakery is technically not a buttercream but actually an old-fashioned confectioners’ sugar and butter frosting. Be sure to beat the icing for the amount of time called for in the recipe to achieve the desired creamy texture.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

6 to 8 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the sugar and then the milk and vanilla. On the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the remaining sugar, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition (about 2 minutes), until the icing is thick enough to be of good spreading consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. (Use and store the icing at room temperature because icing will set if chilled.) Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Yield: enough for 2 dozen cupcakes or 1 (9-inch) layer cake.



In addition to being a foodie, Alethea Elkins is a wife, mother of four, sister to four brothers, daughter of a foodie father, and friend to many. On any given day you will find her either at the grocery store, planning to go to the grocery store, or wishing she had. Feeding a houseful of six has proved daunting, exhausting, but oh-so rewarding as she watches her four foodies flourishing in the kitchen. By posting their adventures, Elkins hopes to connect with others who are loving life with lots of flavor.

foodieplus4@earthlink.net

 

by & filed under Appetizers, Food.