When I moved to Denver, I definitely experienced the agony of altitude sickness. It turns out that my baking was suffering from the same agony. Add to that my desire to make my own cute cupcakes and I made my own recipe for disaster.

With cupcakes being so popular and my birthday coming up, I thought I could make my own in lieu of purchasing overpriced cupcakes at a cupcake boutique. I was certain I could make them just as tasty and beautiful as those Michelin-Man style iced beauties. I discovered there is no shortage of pricey cupcake accoutrement in stores these days. From Target to Williams-Sonoma, there are designer cupcake kits costing $7-$12 that include fanciful papers with coordinating cupcake party hats. Cupcake carriers cost $40 and we need those to get them to the party. Cupcake tree stands cost $30 and we need those for the pretty table display, of course. I also spotted cupcake sprinkles for $14. Hmmmm, you get the picture. It’s a cupcake conspiracy. I was trying to save money and I ended up spending $100 before I even made the cupcakes.

Chef Rebecca Masson, owner of the Fluff Bake Bar in Texas, kindly shared her recipe with me for my birthday plans. But the Texas cupcakes didn’t rise to the occasion. I have a pastry degree. I’m not supposed to fail at making stupid cupcakes. But I experienced disaster on two batches. I had to put my culinary training hat on to fix this high-altitude flop.

My cupcakes failed because they rose too quickly and self destructed. They didn’t need as much of the ‘little-blue-pills’ known as baking powder and baking soda, so I cut both back from 1 ½ teaspoons to ½ teaspoon each from the original Texas recipe. Sugar can also have an effect. It acts as a tenderizer. So I cut back on the sugar by ¼ of a cup from 2 cups down to 1 ¾ cups. Last fix was raising the temperature of the oven by 25º to 375º. That helped to set the batter more quickly.

The Salted Caramel Frosting recipe was a thing of beauty. No fix required.

Here’s a tip for the prettiest paper cups: double up the papers and the batter will only soak through the first cup leaving an outer cup that is pristine.

I may have failed on saving money, but I succeeded in curing my cupcakes. Maybe there is something to be said for these sweet little cupcake boutiques afterall.




Devil’s Food Cupcakes

1 ¾ cups sugar
1¾ cup all-purpose flour
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
½ cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¾ cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 375°. Line 2 standard muffin tins with double-up cupcake liners; set aside. Sift sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix ingredients together on low speed. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, oil and vanilla. Add to flour mixture and beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and continue mixing on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add boiling water and stir it to combine. Fill muffin cups one-half to two-thirds full with cake batter. Bake for 18-20 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking, until tops are firm and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer muffin tins to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool in pan for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from pan and let cool completely.

Salted Caramel Frosting
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup water
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 sticks butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons grey sea salt (sel gris)
2 cups powdered sugar

1. Briefly stir together granulated sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Continue cooking, without stirring, until mixture turns dark amber in color, about 6-7 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and slowly add cream and vanilla, stirring with a wooden spoon until completely smooth. Set aside until cool to the touch, about 25 minutes.
3. Combine butter and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium-high speed until light in color and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add powdered sugar and mix until completely incorporated.
4. Turn mixer off and scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add caramel. Beat frosting on medium-high speed until airy and thoroughly mixed, about 2 minutes. Cover and refrigerate until stiff, about 45 minutes, before using.