Posts Tagged 'High-Altitude Cupcakes'

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes

My Mexican-themed party is rapidly approaching, so I tried a second dessert recipe yesterday.  After last week’s disappointment with Everyday Food’s Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies (they’re just not made for high-altitude baking!), I was so excited to discover that my Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes were a-ma-zing.  I feel like I cheated a bit because I used box cake mix as a base again (like with the Margarita Cupcakes), but I did add spices and I made my own icing.  I was inspired by The Perfect Pantry’s “Diablo” Cupcakes and Billy Reece’s Chocolate Buttercream; here’s my final recipe for the cake and the icing.

(Note: This recipe has been adjusted for high altitude.  If you want to make it at a lower elevation, just add the spices to the cake mix and follow the instructions on the box.  No adjustments are necessary for the icing.)

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes about 3 dozen regular cupcakes or 6 dozen minis

Cake ingredients:
1 box (18.25 oz.) Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe Devil’s Food cake mix
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon New Mexico red chile powder
Pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon water
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
3 large eggs (room temperature)


Preheat oven to 350°F.  Line a light-colored metal muffin pan (regular size or mini) with cupcake liners.

Pour the dry cake mix into a large mixing bowl.  Whisk in the cinnamon, chile powder, salt, pepper, and flour.  Add the water, oil, and eggs and mix with an electric mixer at low speed until moistened.  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes.

Fill muffin cups 2/3 full with batter.  (Use a cookie scoop to make this easier.) Bake full-size cupcakes for 17 minutes or mini cupcakes for 11 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean).  Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes.  Remove cupcakes from pan and cool completely before icing.

Icing ingredients:
2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled but still liquid (chocolate chips are OK)
3 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons New Mexico red chile powder, plus a pinch for sprinkling
5 cups powdered sugar


In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat butter until smooth and creamy (about 3 minutes).  With mixer on low speed, add chocolate until just combined.  Add milk, vanilla, cinnamon, chile powder, and powdered sugar; mix on medium until well combined, being careful not to overmix.  Ice cooled cupcakes and sprinkle a pinch of chile powder on top.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes

These cupcakes are absolutely heavenly!  I know it seems strange to put chile powder and pepper into baked goods, but the flavor combination really works.  I felt like I could really taste the cinnamon, but the chile powder came through more as a bit of heat in the aftertaste.  The cake was moist, light, and fluffy; the icing was smooth, creamy, and had a rich chocolate flavor.  As much as I enjoyed the Margarita Cupcakes, I think these will be the star of the party.

TIPS:  Technically, you could probably use any boxed cake mix, but I really feel Duncan Hines makes a superior product.  The cupcakes crowned beautifully and the cake texture was fantastic.

Margarita Cupcakes

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.

Mini and Full Cupcakes

Comparison of mini and full-size cupcakes

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.

Margarita Cupcake

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

Chocolate Cupcakes (aka A Cupcake Recipe That Actually Works in Denver)

I have had a major love-hate relationship with cake since we moved back to the Denver area.  I love it, of course, because I love to eat it.  I hate it because most sea-level cake recipes produce cupcakes that either (a) have sunken-in tops or (b) practically explode all over the muffin tin.  I’ve had some moderate success with the “standard” high-altitude recipe adjustments (oh, if only there truly were standard adjustments), but most of my attempts have resulted in failure.

Recently, I inherited a high-altitude baking cookbook – High Altitude Baking (original title, eh?) by Patricia Kendall – from my friend Hilary.  I knew from my experience with Pie in the Sky by Susan Purdy that recipes don’t necessarily work well at altitude just because they’re published under that claim…  While I had great success with her Independence Pass Brownies, the 1-2-3-4 Cake was dry, dense, and practically inedible.  I wanted to make cupcakes for the Super Bowl, though, so it was time to take a chance on a new recipe.  I chose Chocolate Sour Cream Cupcakes as the first recipe I would attempt from High Altitude Baking, mostly because I had all the ingredients except an easy-to-purchase cup of sour cream. My first rumbling of trouble came when I realized that I had purchased light sour cream (habit!) instead of full-fat for the recipe.  I forged ahead with the recipe anyway and ended up with predictably less-than-fantastic cupcakes: while they did have decent crowns, they were exceptionally airy and almost chewy from the lack of fat.

Dr. O had put in a request for a few more Super Bowl snacks and we needed to head back to the store, so I decided I’d pick up some full-fat sour cream and try the recipe again.  This time, I ended up with delicious but ugly results; the cake was far more moist, but the batter had overflowed (even with the cups only half full!) and the tops of the cupcakes were crusty and misshapen.  (Sigh.)  Even with lots of icing, there was no covering that up.

Thankfully, I had also replenished my supply of baking cocoa while we were at the grocery store, which meant I had everything I needed to try one more recipe from the book: Chocolate Cupcakes.  After my two sour cream cake failures, I had higher hopes for this recipe because it had a traditional ingredient: oil.  (The only fat in the sour cream recipe came from two squares of chocolate and the sour cream itself.)  I followed the hand mixer instructions (see below), baked them for 23 minutes (instead of 25) and guess what?  I had beautiful, moist little cupcakes – with crowns!

Unfrosted Chocolate Cupcakes

I frosted them with my favorite icing (see below), topped them with sprinkles, and added them to the Super Bowl spread.  Mmmmm.

Chocolate Cupcakes

I think I might have preferred chocolate icing with these cupcakes, so I’ll try that next time.  I was just so freakin’ excited about finding a high-altitude cupcake recipe that worked, though, that I would have happily eaten them without icing.  I’m looking forward to making these again and again…  Cupcakes, minus the frustration!

Chocolate Cupcakes
Makes 24

2 cups sifted cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup milk (I used whole milk)

Preheat oven to 375F.  Grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans, one 9 x 13-inch baking pan or muffin cups.  Mix and sift flour, cocoa, sugar, and baking powder together into a bowl.  Add oil, vanilla, eggs, and milk; beat for 30 seconds with a mixer at low speed, scraping the bowl frequently.  Beat for 7 1/2 minutes more with a stand mixer at medium speed or 6 minutes with a hand mixer at high speed, scraping the bowl 4 – 5 times.  Pour batter into pans.  Bake for time recommended below, or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.* Remove cakes from oven and cool in pans for about 12 minutes.  Remove cakes from pans and finish cooling on a wire rack.

*Two 9-inch cakes: About 28 minutes.
One 9 x 13-inch cake: Lower oven temperature to 350F.  Bake for 30 – 35 minutes.
24 cupcakes (1/2-full): About 25 minutes.
(Update 12/31/10: Based on several visitor comments, I would recommend checking your cupcakes at the 18- or 20-minute mark if you bake them at 375F.  If they need more time, just put ’em back in.)

Altitude adjustments:
6,500 – 8,500 feet: Decrease baking powder to 1 3/4 teaspoons.
8,500+ feet: Decrease baking powder to 1 1/2 teaspoons.  Increase milk by 1 tablespoon.

Source: High Altitude Baking by Patricia Kendall  (Amazingly, this link displays the entire cake section of the cookbook for free!)

Toba Garrett’s Decorator’s Buttercream Icing
Make 2 1/2 quarts (2.37 L) (This is an absolute ton of icing!  Feel free to cut it in half or even quarter it.)

2 cups (1 pound or 454 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (230 grams) vegetable shortening or hi-ratio shortening
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice or 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon extract, pure vanilla extract, or almond extract
3 pounds (1.36 kilograms) 10X confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 fluid ounces or 135 millilitres) water, milk, or clear liqueur
3 tablespoons meringue powder
1 teaspoon salt

Cream shortening and butter with an electric, handheld, or paddle-whip mixer. Add flavoring and salt. Gradually add sugar, one cup at a time. Add meringue powder. (The mixture will appear dry.)

Add liquid of choice and beat until light and fluffy (approximately 5 to 8 minutes). Keep the bowl covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap.

Store the icing in an airtight container and freeze for up to 3 months.

Source: The Well-Decorated Cake by Toba Garrett

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