First Ever Vanilla Cupcake Experiment

People ask me all the time why I like to bake. To be honest, I didn’t really know.

I’ve always liked neat and pretty things so when I saw my first Cupcake Wars episode on Food Network, I instantly fell in love. It was amazing to see the bakers create such charming little cupcakes. They each added their own unique flavors, but essentially the base was simple: butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.

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Ever since I’ve started looking through hundreds of food blog posts, pinning recipes, and creating them myself, I learned why I like baking and cooking (which I do need more practice on ;)) Some bake out of love, some bake to relax, and others bake to be creative. It’s a part of who we are. I bake because I truly truly truly enjoy creating things from beginning to end. It’s magic!

You might have heard that baking is a science, and it really is. The type and ratio of the ingredients, the way they are mixed together, the heat and environment they are baked in are just some of the factors of how a cupcake, a cookie, a cake, or a loaf of bread all come out.  Unlike cooking, where flavors and seasonings can be added and adjusted without a second thought during the process, baking is different. Once the dough or batter is made, you cross your fingers and hope it comes out alright from the oven.

In today’s post, I explore the difference between two mixing methods: the traditional creaming method and The Cake Bible’s reverse creaming method. The traditional creaming method is the one used most often in cake recipes. You cream the butter and sugars until flour, then add the eggs in one at a time until incorporated. Then you add in the milk and flour mixture in 2-3 additions alternatively, starting the ending with the dry flour mixture. All the mixing done before the milk/flour addition is usually done at a medium high speed to incorporate air and fluffiness. The mixer is reduced to low once the dry ingredients are added to prevent gluten formation. In the reverse creaming method, the dry ingredients are mixed first then butter is added to coat the flour until coarse crumbs form. Then the eggs are added until incorporated. Finally a milk mixture is added and mixed at a medium high speed until a fluffy-texture.

During the mixing process, I’ve learned two important things:

  1. Scrap down the sides of the mixing bowl: This is so so so important. I used to just keep the mixer on once I added the ingredients, but this led to two problems. One, the paddle attachment tends to beat everything to the sides of the bowl so the stuff on the sides never gets mixed correctly. Two, the same thing happens to stuff in the bottom of the bowl. There’s been times where I thought the batter was looking good, only to find butter slabs stuck at the bottom. Result? Butter pockets in my cupcakes.
  2. Add the dry and wet in additions: Patience is key. Don’t immediately mix at speed 10 just to mix everything together and plop it in the oven. Mix at low speed when necessary and at high speed when you should. That’s why I like recipes that tell you which speeds to use and for how long (or at least an approximate). Thank you to those bakers!

In today’s first ever experiment, I took Allie’s Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes via Baking A Moment and used the reverse creaming method, which Allie uses in her recipe, in one batch and the traditional creaming method in another. Here’s what I discovered:

Reverse Creaming Method:

  • Mixing: It was a one bowl, no mess batter. It only required one mixing bowl and was easy to clean up.
  • Batter: Batter was the prettiest I’ve made. It looked like the cake batters on TV! Not too thick and not too liquidy. It was almost fluffy!
  • Cupcake: I didn’t get the slight dome in Allie’s photo. This is something I have yet to answer.
  • Taste: Vanilla and eggy, and not too sweet. The texture was softer and almost melt-in-your mouth, which is another way of describing ‘velvety’ as expected from this reverse-creaming method.

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Traditional Creaming Method:

Note: I actually used Christina Tosi’s mixing method where everything is mixed at medium high/high speed for quite some time before the dry ingredients are added for 45-60 sec at the end. See her recipes here. This is slightly different from other traditional creaming method where the wet and dry mixtures are added alternatively after the butter, sugars, and eggs are mixed. In hindsight, I should have stuck with the traditional traditional creaming method since Christina’s recipe actually calls for a higher fat to liquid ratio. 

  • Mixing: Also one bowl, no-mess batter. Easy clean-up = thumbs up!
  • Batter: Everything was ok until I added the milk and vanilla mixture. Don’t know what happened but my batter curdled! It was ugly, hence no photos of it here. Another thing I need to research. Luckily, it turned out fine once I added in the flour. Baking powder saved the day by being the aerating agent in the batter. Traditionally, the emulsion was created allow the cupcake to be risen entirely by air – whisking. The emulsion of sugar, butter and eggs incorporated enough air before folding in the flour. The batter was also thinner.
  • Cupcake: I got the slight dome in this cupcake, which was good in presentation, but had a more holes on the top.
  • Taste: Also vanilla and eggy. It smelled like it too. It had more of a “chew”and felt a bit more coarse compared to the reverse-creaming method one.

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I asked my family to taste test both cupcakes. They liked both, but gave a bigger thumbs up to the reverse-creaming method one. I had to agree.

Reverse-creaming method

  • Soft, smooth, and fluffy texture, almost like the Japanese style cheesecakes
  • Tender and fine crumb
  • Moist and not oily
  • Indulgent vanilla flavor, and slightly buttery
  • Cupcake pealed easily off the wrapper

Traditional-creaming method

  • Coarser and a bit denser
  • Open crumb
  • Same vanilla flavor
  • Wrapper had a slightly oily residue
  • “Bubbled” when it baked
  • Some cupcake crumbs stuck to wrapper when pealed

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While the slightly denser and harder texture of the traditional creaming method made it sub-par to the reverse creaming method, both were still one of the better cupcakes I’ve made. I suspect the culprit behind the denseness is overmixing on my part. Just another lesson to follow the recipe and not apply a mixing method that is not usually used on a recipe with a basic ingredient ratio. This is just another excuse to re-do the traditional creaming method on another recipe and see the results there. Teehee. 😉

I had initially planned on having ‘naked’ cupcakes, i.e. cupcakes sans frosting. But then Christine said she was going to smear Nutella on it. Well, that got me into frosting mood. How could I just let her smack some Nutella on it? I whipped up a small batch of creamy Nutella frosting and iced it on 9 of the cupcakes. Thanks for the genius idea (and for letting me use your Nutella, Christine!)

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Find the recipe for these Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes here, and Nutella Frosting here!

Other sources:
Cake 101 Vanilla Butter Cake via Baking Sense

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