I'm not entirely sure what I love most about cupcakes....is it their portion controlled compactness, vibrant colour schemes or favourable icing to cake ratio? I don't know probably all of the above but just the mention of these little pockets of heaven gets me excited. I'm not alone in my love, cupcake love spreads wide, and so it should.
But I have recently been alarmed by the degree of animosity that can be leveled at these bakery delights. It would seem that the anti-cupcake movement's biggest gripe is that cupcakes are given their own subcategory when they are essentially just small cakes. So what makes a cupcake a cupcake and not a cake in a cup?
It's a good question really and I would agree that there is in fact a high degree of cake in a cup infiltration into the cupcake world..and don't get me started on the sneakiness of muffin like bake good masquerading as cupcakes! For me a cupcake must have the following attributes to have the honour of this illustrious title:
1. It must be a beautiful little work of art that mesmerises the beholder, forcing one to stand back in admiration before devouring it.
2. It has to be about the cake AND the icing working in harmony, that means the cake can't be too showy or too plain and the icing needs to brings it's own personality besides just *sugar*
3. It's cuppy form must enhance the cakey experience. (it is for this reason that chocolate cup-cakes often fail in my option...an enormous oozy chocolate cake is just so much better than a humble little cake!)
So as I have alluded icing plays a huge role in making the ideal cupcake and I would like to share with you my extensively tested, extra special cupcake icing recipe. It's kind of an Italian buttercream-cream cheese icing hybrid that can be flavored however you like.You can even forgive average cake with this icing, yes it takes a little more effort than you might usually take but life's too short for bad cupcakes.
Ms Cupcake's Extra Special Perfect Cupcake Icing
1/4 cup water
1 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup eggwhites (2-3 eggs dependant on size)
250g cream cheese
Like always with baking make sure all ingredients are at room temperature before you start
Chop the butter and cream cheese into cubes and combine in mixer until the mixture is quite fluffy, that takes about 5 minutes. transfer this mix to another bowl and stand it aside for later
In either a small pot or medium sized frying pan combine the water and sugar. Mix well while on a low heat ensuring that all sugar crystals are dissolved, if any remain around the sides use a wet pastry brush to remove them. Then ramp up the heat until it's at a rapid boil and then turn down so that it's simmering actively. The idea is to get this mixture to softball stage which is 120C as quickly as possible so it doesn't colour. You need to stand in front of the mix the whole time, making sure it's not boiling to furiously and that there are no crystals forming on the sides (pastry brush treatment if there are). If you have a sugar thermometer then great keep it in there and heat until the mix gets to 120 C, if not what I did before I bought one (they're about $5...worth the investment!) I would time the mix for 5 minutes after it got to the boil and stayed there.
Meanwhile...make sure you clean the bowl and beaters really well now with hot soap water. When there is about 2 minutes left to go on your sugar syrup, start beating the egg whites and slowly at first and then faster until they're starting to clump ( don't let them get to the dry grainy stage though!) at which point turn the mixer up as high as you can and start pouring in the sugar syrup very slowly in a continuous stream. The egg should be getting really glossy, if it starts to look like soup don't panic! Just keep on beating, as the sugar cool it will firm up and it'll be fine! So you need to keep beating it for 10 minutes, set a timer and commit to it... the mixture needs to cool down trapping the air in there (haha yes the icing takes longer to make than the cakes do!) go on eat some of that fluffy mix, soo good
Next start adding the cream cheese butter mix, small bits at a time letting it get absorbed by the meringue, you ca also add what ever flavour you like now: lemon rind and a bit of juice, vanilla or raspberry puree all work well. Once all the cream cheese mix is added you should have delightfully fluffy icing that can be used straight away. if it's looking a little sad put it in the fridge let it cool a bit then beat it some more... I've found that fixes most problems!
The icing should be well covered and refrigerated but it doesn't keep as well a pure buttercream so use it with a few days. This much icing should do 24 or more cupcakes! If you've left it for a few days pull it our of the fridge and let it warm a little before whipping it for a few minutes and then using! Oh happy cupcakey days!