I have another cake recipe that works here in Denver! Yay!
I typically prefer to make cake (and just about anything else) from scratch, but altitude seriously interferes with my baking. While I’ve had some from-scratch success (these most recently), I know the one thing I can really count on in a bind is cake mix. Yes, I said it. For me, cake mix is kind of like cheating, but it’s never let me down the way that some of my from-scratch experiments have.
Recently, I was looking for a margarita cupcake recipe to use for a little fiesta I’m having in a few weeks. There are plenty of recipes, but I couldn’t find anything geared specifically towards the high-altitude baker. I did find one, though, that used trusty cake mix as a base. It had enough “extra” ingredients to be fairly original; plus, the icing recipe looked absolutely amazing. I decided to give it a go.
To make the cake batter, I combined 1 package (18.25 ounces) of white cake mix, 1 can (10 ounces, thawed, undiluted) of frozen margarita mix (I used Bacardi), 3 egg whites (room temperature), and 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, I beat the mixture on low speed for 30 seconds and on medium speed for 2 minutes. Next, I stirred in 1 loosely-packed tablespoon of lime zest (from 1 lime).
I wanted to try this recipe as full-size cupcakes and as minis, so I made the full-size ones first. I put cupcake liners in a standard muffin pan, filled the cups 2/3 full of batter, and baked them at 350°F. The recipe suggested they’d be done in 22 – 24 minutes; my toothpick test was clean at 18 minutes. While they initially puffed up really nicely in the oven, the full-size cupcakes did end up falling quite a bit. The minis, on the other hand, turned out pretty well. I put liners in a 24-cup mini muffin pan, filled them 2/3 full, and baked them at 350°F for 12 minutes this time around. They had much smoother tops than the full-size cupcakes and actually retained a bit of crown.
While the cupcakes cooled, I whipped up the frosting. Swiss meringue buttercream definitely takes more effort than a standard buttercream, but it was so smooth, fluffy, and delicious that it was absolutely worth it. I put 5 egg whites (room temperature), 1 1/4 cups of granulated sugar, and a pinch of table salt in a heatproof bowl. I then set it over (not touching) a pot of simmering water to create my own double boiler. (Read my Chocolate Pisatchio Torte post if you can’t quite visualize how this works.) Whisking constantly, I cooked the mixture until the sugar had dissolved and the mixture had reached 160°F. (I used an instant-read thermometer to check the temperature, and it took me about 10 minutes to get to 160°F.)
I poured the heated mixture into the bowl of my stand mixer (fitted with the whisk attachment) and beat it on high speed until it formed stiff (but not dry) peaks (about 2 – 3 minutes). I lowered the speed to medium and continued beating until the mixture was fluffy and cooled (about 7 minutes).
Once the mixture had cooled, I switched out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment. With the mixer on medium speed, I added 2 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (room temperature), 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition. With all the butter added, I increased the speed to medium-high and continued beating until the frosting appeared thick (3 minutes). Finally, I reduced the speed to low and added 2 tablespoons of tequila, the zest of half a lime (about 1 or 1 1/2 teaspoons), and the juice of half a lime (about 1 tablespoon). After a moment of terror – the frosting initially became flat and slick when the last ingredients were added! – I continued mixing until everything was incorporated. I piped the frosting onto the cupcakes and garnished them with sanding sugar (like margarita salt!) and jelly lime slices.
I was really pleasantly surprised by how these turned out! They’re absolutely adorable, and the amount of zest in the cake and the icing gives them a strong lime flavor. The cake is just box cake, yes, but the light and fluffy texture goes well with the texture of the icing (which is so amazing I could happily eat it straight from the mixing bowl). I thought there might be a slight burn from the uncooked booze in the buttercream, but I could hardly taste it.
I do think this recipe is best suited for minis; the cake bakes up better in the smaller cups and I think the flavor could be overwhelming for some in the full-size version. These two-bite minis are going to be absolutely perfect for my party, though.
TIPS: The original recipe said to use a cake mix that didn’t have pudding in the mix. I realized that the Betty Crocker mix I had purchased actually did have pudding in it (after I got home, of course), but everything worked out fine. I’m going to try a pudding-free Duncan Hines mix when I make my next batch just to see if there’s really a difference. If there are any high-altitude modifications on the box, I’ll follow them. (The Betty Crocker mix didn’t require any changes, but I think the Duncan Hines mix has high-altitude bakers add 2 tablespoons of flour or something.)
Also, since the icing has cooked egg and butter in it, I would recommend refrigerating these cupcakes if you plan to store them overnight. Bring them to room temperature (about 20 minutes on the counter) before serving.
Recipe link: Margarita Cupcakes