To make sure I keep up with my baking practice, I’ve decided to use holidays and special events as motivation to bake thematic and timely treats. Inspiration immediately struck when I realized the Oscars were coming up. I wanted to make something festive and glamorous to bring to my friend Allie’s Oscar party, and the first thing that came to mind was–champagne! I immediately found a recipe for champagne cupcakes at GimmeSomeOven.com with photos that had me salivating at first glance.
My first thought was: Hey, I’m baking something that isn’t chocolate, for a change! My second thought: How on earth do I do this?
It took quite a bit of research before I felt confident enough to start. I copied the recipe down and added lots of extra tips for myself in between the lines about how to cream the butter and sugar, how to beat the egg whites, precisely how long to mix the ingredients at each step, etc. This ended up saving me a lot of time and angst during the actual baking process! And guess what? It went well. I ended up pulling beautiful little cupcakes out of the oven! But more on that in a minute.
Let me complain about something for a second: I really dislike creaming butter and sugar together. I can never get it “very light and fluffy,” like they say in a lot of recipes. The best I ever end up with is a bunch of smooth, thick butter with a kind of grainy texture, thanks to the heaps of sugar in it. I’m starting to wonder if I’d be happier with my results if I took a different approach and starting dissolving the sugar in boiling water before mixing it in…but I’ll definitely need to do some more reading before I give that a shot.
Anyway, after mixing my butter, sugar, and dry ingredients, I ended up with a very dense batter that looked like this.
I’d read in some of the reviews that this batter did tend to turn out quite dense, so I wasn’t too worried. Plus, after I added the eggs, I had a batter with a very nice consistency:
As for the egg-beating–I learned a new skill! I’d never beaten egg whites like that before, and I learned a lot in the process about what kind of texture to look for, what to add to whites to make them stiffen, and how not to overbeat them. Learning how to do so was one of my favorite things about trying this recipe. The only downside was that it gave my ancient hand mixer a real workout! After all the creaming and beating, it started to get hot and give off a faint burny smell. But hey, maybe the baking fairies will grant me a stand mixer someday….
With fingers crossed, I filled ‘er up and slid ‘er in the oven…
…and loved my results!
These were by far the prettiest cupcakes I’d ever made. And I largely credit one huge difference in the way I mixed my ingredients: For the first time, I made a conscious effort to thoroughly mix my dry ingredients before adding them to the batter. Thanks to multiple readers’ comments (here on my blog and elsewhere, where I’d asked questions), I realized that my failure to do this was likely to blame for my oozy, splotchy cupcakes. Big, big thanks to those who opened my eyes to this problem!
Jack approved of my work.
It was time for the first taste test. I bit into one and noticed two things right away. First, the cake was super-dense–almost more like a hearty muffin than a light, airy cupcake. Second, the champagne flavor wasn’t very noticeable; it tasted more like butter than champagne. Still tasty, but kind of disappointing on both counts. If I were to make these again, I’d love to find a way to make them lighter, and I’d probably add more champagne, if possible.
Rather than despairing of the whole champagne theme, I decided to just make my frosting extra-champagney. I had a bit left over, anyway, so I dumped it all in–but realize now I probably should’ve at least measured it to know how much extra I was adding. I think I might have even doubled the amount called for. This made my frosting a bit stickier and goopier than it was probably meant to be, but the flavor was excellent; the given amount of champagne would not have been enough, in my opinion. Also, before I began the recipe, I’d worried that using dry champagne (all I had in the house) instead of sweet wouldn’t give me a sweet enough cake or frosting, but both were absolutely sweet enough–maybe even too sweet. Next time, I might use my friend’s advice to add a little lemon juice to the buttercream to counteract the sweetness.
The extra liquid in the frosting made it less than ideal to work with, but it was still thick enough to hold the design I’d had in mind. I wanted to evoke the aesthetics of champagne in the decoration, so I added enough yellow food coloring to give it a golden tinge. Then I piped the buttercream in a spiral on each cupcake and added sugar pearls to imitate bubbles.
In the end, they tasted good and were perfectly suited for our Oscar party. We gorged ourselves on sweets and made plans to see all the good movies we missed last year. My first event-themed baking project turned out to be worth all the hard work it required.
I hope you’re ready for more liquor-inspired treats. After all, St. Paddy’s Day is right around the corner….