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Saturday, November 7, 2009


I made cupcakes yesterday. Red Velvet cupcakes, to be specific -- with vanilla icing instead of the traditional cream cheese icing, not with the intent to buck tradition but merely because it was too cold (and I was too lazy, truth be told) to go out to the grocery store for cream cheese.

Ask the captain, I have this "thing" for red velvet cake. It is difficult to find here in Canada but easily found in the U.S., particularly in the southern states. When a restaurant has it, I make sure to leave room for dessert. It's an odd cake, white but definitely not white, chocolate but definitely not chocolate. There is cocoa, but not enough to depart a recognizable chocolate flavour; it is basicallly a white cake but because of the red food colouring added (and the wee bit of cocoa), it has an intense -- and yes, sometimes odd -- red shade. Mine were not vibrant at all, on purpose...I used only a few drops of red food colouring rather than spoonfuls.

I made these cupcakes yesterday because a few days ago Martha Stewart's Cupcakes came into my home; flipping through its pages, I spied the recipe for Red Velvet Cupcakes and knew it would be the first recipe I would try. It also made 24 cupcakes, which I conveniently cut in half to make only 12. Some of them made their way to work today with the captain; the two of us certainly don't need a dozen cupcakes at our fingertips.

I have the book from the library, it's not a purchase. Not yet. I may buy it, I may not.....after just a few days with it, it makes me both hungry and frustrated. Hungry because of the sheer variety of yummy-sounding cupcakes and corresponding luscious photographs, frustrated because the book is, in my opinion, flawed.

There is good advice in the book. In the "tools for baking" section at the back of the book, Martha writes that standard muffin tins are used for cupcakes, but suggests you adapt to suit your own style, using mini-muffin tins or jumbo muffin tins instead of the standard tins if you wish. To make this easy, she conveniently tells her readers that the cup in a mini-muffin pan should hold two ounces, four ounces for standard, eight ounces for jumbo. (I measured water into my muffin tins to see if they were standard and, as I suspected, they were.) She also wants you, when putting the batter into the tins, to only fill them three-quarters of the way up. Good tip. And in the photographs, only ordinary muffin tins are shown. By "ordinary", I mean those with either 6 cups or 12. Like the muffin tins you probably have in your cupboards. So far, so good.

But. But. Oh, Martha. Martha, listen to me. Why then, are the yields of your recipes all over the freakin' map? Rhubarb Cupcakes, makes 20. Devil's Food Cupcakes, makes 32. Ginger and Molasses Cupcakes, makes 26. Chocolate Malted Cupcakes, makes about 28. About? What's up with that? This is simple math. Make the batter, three ounces for each cupcake. That's how you develop a recipe, so it works out evenly. There's no about, um, about it. And why 28 anyway? When you go to the store, you have a choice: you can buy muffin tins that hold 6 or 12. You know, the ones you show in your photographs? I'm willing to bet that the majority of home cooks likely have one or two of each size. So why can't you -- or, in honesty, not you but your many minions -- develop recipes that make cupcakes in multiples of six? Twelve, eighteen, twenty-four. Simple. But nooooooo. You have recipes that yield 40 cupcakes, 16, even 15. Martha, it's just weird. And frustrating. Why do you offer no advice about how to handle the overage...whether you should put water in the unused muffin cups to prevent them from burning, for example? The topic of these odd amounts is not mentioned at all in the book. I've looked; I've searched. Nope. It's simply ignored.

Date-Nut Mini Cupcakes, makes 75 mini. Okay, who the heck has the equipment to make 75 mini cupcakes? Couldn't that recipe have been scaled to make, say, 48 mini cupcakes? And then there's Martha's Meyer Lemon Cupcakes. Makes 42. They look delicious. But 42 cupcakes means a LOT of muffin tins in your oven. Think about it. No advice in the recipe to bake them in two batches; the recipe assumes you are baking them all at once. And then my favourite have to assemble these cupcakes by filling a pastry bag with homemade lemon curd then squeeze the curd right into the middle of the cupcakes, letting a little puddle of curd form on the top of each. Then, unless you're basically serving them right away, they need to be refrigerated. That's a lot of fridge space you suddenly need. Yeesh.

I could go on but I won't. I think you can tell this really bugs me! But ... the cupcakes I made yesterday were very delicious and were one of the recipes in the book with a normal yield. (Yes, there are some.) I know I will make them again and again. So, for that, I give thanks to Martha. I'm betting the other cupcakes are also terrific. Right now I'm just so glad that I grabbed the old-fashioned muffin tins I saw at a yard sale last year, ones with only four cups in each, instead of six. I think I'm going to need them.


Irene said...

I've had a week of birthday celebrations, and cake, cake, cake, so I'll have to read this another time or I'm sure I'll need to eat one.

Leslie Jane Moran said...

Well, that was quite the little rant! I totally agree with you on the quantity issue. I usually use an ice cream scoop (standard size!) to divvy up the batter and sure enough there are always a few empty spaces. I always heard to fill them with water, and so I do. Sometimes that adds just enough moisture in the oven that the cooking time has to be varied. Love the ones you chose to debut. Is your tongue red?

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