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|But that doesn’t mean that its history is simple to trace. For instance, in American baking, there is the “cupcake”, and then the “cup cake”.||
Now the “cup cake” evolved out of an almost complete lack of standard weights and measures in colonial America. Not that most American households had the scales that made precision Old-World baking possible in the first place. When it came to volumetric measure, about all we really had was the “Queen Anne” gallon ...
COLONIAL ERA MAN: [enters holding container labeled “Ye Olde Queen Anne Gallon”]
...which weighed ten pounds. Anything under that and, well, you were kind
of on your own.
Now, seeking convenience and consistency, American bakers reached into their
cupboards for, ironically, a cup. Although it might not be the eight fluid
ounces we’re used to today, it was something that colonial housewives could
Now the shift from weights to cups heralded in a whole new age of cake recipes which came to be known as "cup cakes," because the cup was the standard of measure. Now, what does this have to do with "cupcakes"? Well, that depends on how you look at it.
Welcome to the average colonial kitchen. That’s right. [camera pulls pack to show AB's fireplace] Back in the days before the enclosed iron oven, most cooking was done right here. Stews, beans and what-not simmered in Dutch ovens, meats roasted on spits. And a lot of baking got done, too. But it was tedious. And large cakes were especially hard to pull off. And so, folks got into the habit of baking lots of little bitty cakes in things like ... [holds up his tea cup] That’s right, cups. Heatproof, of course. Batter would go in. And they would just set them right at the edge of the fire, and bingo, you could have a "cup cake" which would also be a "cupcake". Get it?
Most cakes spring from this humble handful of ingredients. The differences between the many final forms come in part from the exact amounts. But more often than not, it’s the mixing that matters. Most American cakes are born of the creaming method in which sugar and or butter or shortening are beaten until the sugar punches zillions of little holes into the fat, which are then blown up by the chemical leavening during the baking process. Such high-fat batters are tasty to be sure. But I find them too heavy for cupcakes. Thanks to a Los Angeles insurance salesman, we have an option.
|Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time in the 1920’s, there was a Los Angeles insurance salesman named Harry Baker.||
|Now Harry wanted nothing more in life than to become a famous cake baker. After years of experimenting with different recipes, he finally came up with a light and delicate cake. It took Hollywood by storm. It was called the “chiffon cake.” What was the secret? Harry wouldn’t tell. For 20 years his cakes were the stuff of legend until finally, in 1947, he shared his secret with the most popular, albeit nonexistent, baker in the land, Betty Crocker. A year later, Betty shared it with the rest of the world. The secret ingredient was ...||
BOY FIGHTS OFF INTRUDER
--Local Stars Caught in
THE CAKE MASTER
THE CHIFFON CAKE
What's Harry's Secret?
SILVER SCREEN MAGAZINE
... oil. Rather than butter or shortening, Harry just skipped the solid fat
altogether and went with cooking oil to create a fluffy golden cake. Of course,
you can’t beat bubbles into liquid oil. So Harry designed his chiffon to get its
lift from the eggs themselves. But I’m putting the cake before the pan.
[at the cupboard] Oven-proof cups, or mugs in this case, make perfect baking vessels. The cupcakes that come out of these will be twice as big as your average paperbound cupcakes, and that means, hah, they’ll be twice as delicious.
|As is true of most batters, we will assemble a dry team and a wet team, and then quickly bring the two teams together. For the dry team, we begin with five and a quarter ounces of cake flour by weight, please, or our cupcakes will not be cup cakes. To that we will add a teaspoon of kosher salt, and one and a half teaspoons of baking powder which will help to inflate the bubbles provided by the egg whites. Just go ahead and sift that together for lightness.||
5¼ Ounces Cake Flour
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1½ tsp. Baking Powder
|Now we’re going to move over to the eggs. One ounce of regular old sugar, five-eighths teaspoon of cream of tartar, and five eggs. Come this way, please.||
1 Ounce Sugar
5/8 tsp. Cream Of Tartar
5 Large Eggs
When it comes to separating eggs, I use the quarantine approach, which ensures
that if one of my egg whites becomes contaminated with any foam-destroying egg
yolk, that it is not spread to the rest of the egg white pool. Here’s how. Crack
your egg, drain out your white [into one bowl]. I like to use the shell-to-shell method, because
the shell likes to hold onto the egg. There we go. Then the yolk goes here
shell there [in the sink] We inspect. Looks good, and goes to
its final resting place [mixer bowl]. We repeat for each and every egg in the batch.
|Now bring your egg yolks back over to your batter station and move to a large mixing bowl along with five ounces of sugar. And we’re going to beat these until they reach the ribbon stage. And I prefer to use my handy-dandy hand mixer. This one came from the hardware store, which is kind of nice.||5 Ounces Sugar|
For optimum leavening minus the chemical flavor,
use aluminum-free baking powder.
|Now the mixture is much lighter in color. And you can see, that is the ribbon stage. See how it kind of falls all over itself. This is ready for the next liquidous addition, which comes in the form of a quarter cup of water. Just room temperature is fine. And a quarter cup of vegetable oil. Don’t use olive oil for this. That would taste funny. Speaking of taste, we will add some flavor with a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Beat to combine.||
¼ Cup Water
¼ Vegetable Oil
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
Once that looks good and smooth, you can add the dry mixture. But do this very,
very slowly or you’ll toss it all over your kitchen.
There. The batter is done and ready for the eggs. A chiffon cake gets its leavening from the same source as an angel food cake or a soufflé, an egg white foam. Now egg whites are pretty much born to foam due to their unique mixture of protein and water, okay? All we have to do is bust up the surface tension a little so they can start blowing bubbles. So, we already have our five egg whites here in a bowl. Going to add five-eighths of a teaspoon of cream of tartar, and beat on high using the whisk attachment until it becomes foamy.
|Now we have dealt with egg white foams a few times on this show and I’m afraid that we have perpetuated a couple of myths. So, I want to set this straight. First, temperature: for years I’ve been saying that you should separate eggs when they are cold and whip them when they are warm. Well, truth is, with modern mixers, it just doesn’t matter, okay? They deliver enough what’s called “shear” to overcome any temperature issues.||
|Now the other thing has to do with cream of tartar, okay? Truth is, you don’t have to add it after the whites become foamy. In fact, adding it right up front is better. Also, most recipes, including some of mine, don’t take full advantage of tartaric acid’s power. For top volume and the best texture, you ought to shoot for about an eighth of a teaspoon per egg white, okay? That’s why the funky amount, the five eighths of a teaspoon. Why? Well, come here.||
Add cream of tartar
For maximum volume
[now at a demonstration] Now let’s say for a moment that this twisted piece of ductwork is actually an egg white protein. Now in its natural state it’s all balled up on itself. To make it culinarily useful, we need it to denature, stretch out, relax, and tangle up with other proteins. Now we can do this just by thrashing the tar out of it. But it’ll take a long time, and the resulting foam won’t be very stable. ‘Tis a far, far better thing to mix said thrashing with a bit of chemical coaxing, okay? And that’s where the cream of tartar comes in. See, cream of tartar is an acid, and acids lower the pH by bringing extra hydrogen ions to the party. Add enough of these to the protein, and they’ll reach what's called the “isoelectric point”, and they will relax. By adding more cream of tartar at the get go, you start the protein party earlier in the process. And that means smaller bubbles, ergo a finer texture. And that translates to a lighter, and more tender, cupcake for you.
Cream of tartar, or potassium bitartrate,
is a by-product of the winemaking process.
The sugar is going to dissolve into the water phase of the whites, creating a
syrup that will provide additional structure. But if we add this all at once,
the proteins won’t have room to do what they need to do, so go slowly.
[later] Ahh, there we have it. Like Weebles, stiff peaks wobble, but they don’t fall down.
Now I like to work the egg whites into the batter in thirds, and we’ve actually put it into three different bowls to kind of prove the point. The first addition, I don’t actually fold. I just beat it in as quickly as possible to lighten the batter. The second third of the egg whites, we will fold in, gently, using a rubber spatula. And the technique, as always, is simply to kind of push the spatula down and fold over, rotating the bowl, doing this as few times as possible. Third batch, the same thing. Only this one we’d like to get in even quicker. If you still see a little, just kind of plain egg white in the mixture at the end, that’s okay. Better that than overbeating.
Now this batter is delicate and ooey and gooey. Almost impossible to pour. So I like to dose it out with a disher. Some people call it an ice cream scoop. I call it a disher. Now we’re looking for just three quarters full on the mugs. We need room for expansion here. Now whatever you do, do not grease these mugs or lube them in any way. This kind of egg foam needs something to climb. It has to be able to get hold of the cups. If we did this in just an ordinary cake pan, it would fall as soon as it comes out of the oven. Because we’re using a relatively small amount of batter in a nice confined space, it should be able to hold on pretty nicely.
[at the oven] Ahh, stash your mugs in the lower third of a 325-degree oven, and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean or the cupcake reaches an internal temperature of 205 to 210 degrees.
A cupcake by any other name:
GUESTS: Approximately 35 Children and 8 Adults
In many 18th century kitchens, the use of cups for baking gave way to the iron gem pan. Which, of course, was the precursor of the nonstick muffin tin, which we will employ. Of course, we could line this with paper cups. A lot of people don’t think it’s a cupcake unless they get the Christmastime effect of unwrapping the cupcake. You can use either paper or foil. But I will say this, the ones that come in the little tubes seem to fit better than the ones that come in the bags. Don’t know why.
|Hey, let’s make this next batch chocolate!||
|Combine one teaspoon of kosher salt and one and a half teaspoons of baking powder with four ounces of cake flour and sift. You notice that this is an ounce and a quarter less than in the first recipe. You’ll see why in a minute.||
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1½ tsp. Baking Power +
4 Ounces Cake Flour
|Now with the sifting done, turn to the chocolate part. Add a quarter cup of hot water to one and a quarter ounces by weight of cocoa powder. Keep mixing and mashing until it reaches the consistency of a spackle. Now since it acts a lot like flour in the final batter, this ounce and a quarter of cocoa powder replaces the ounce and a quarter of flour that we took out.||
¼ Cup Hot Water +
1¼ Ounces Cocoa Powder
|Now that we have our chocolate spackle made, we will move to the egg yolks. Five, just as before, go into the mixing bowl with five ounces of sugar, just as before. And guess what? We’re going to beat it to the ribbon stage, just like before.||
5 Egg Yolks
5 Ounces of Sugar
|Once the ribbon stage is achieved, we will add the chocolate mash, the oil, and the vanilla. No use for water this time, ’cause we already stirred it into the cocoa. And the dry phase. Remember, speed kills. There. Now all we need is the egg white foam.||
¼ Cup Vegetable Oil +
1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
|Four egg whites this time plus, that’s right, an eighth of a teaspoon per egg white gives us a half teaspoon of cream of tartar. We’re going to beat this on high until it’s foamy, then cut the speed, gradually add one ounce of sugar. Once it’s incorporated, the speed will go back to high, and we’ll continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Probably about two minutes.||
4 Egg Whites
½ tsp. Cream of Tartar
[1 oz. Sugar]
When the foam is finished, we will deposit in three easy installments. The first
stir-in will be a little tougher, because this batter is definitely stiffer. So
it’s going to take just a few more seconds to make smooth.
And just as before, we will employ our disher. Only this time, of course, we’re filling paper cups, which are a little trickier, because they tend to stick to the disher.
[at the oven] Okay, these go in, same time, same temperature. Oh. [realizes that the cakes baked in cups are still in the oven] Forgot about those. Ahh, these are obviously, [checks] yeah, ready to come out. And, I’ve already got a rack standing by for them to cool thoroughly on.
Now the chocolate muffins need to be right in the middle of the oven, so I’m going to add a rack here. There we go. Thirty minutes. And do not rotate them and do not open the door, or the chiffon may fall.
Like all egg-foam cakes these will shrink a bit during cooling.
Although I do not agree with those who insist that a cupcake is simply a delivery device for frosting, I will agree that without a good frosting, a cupcake is, well, a little too much like a muffin. Now I think that given the texture and flavor of these, that a nice buttercream would be in order. But, we have one big fat question to answer:
AB: [to 1/2 of the group outside the left windows] Who wants vanilla?
EVERYONE: [screaming] I DO! I DO!
AB: [to the other 1/s of the group outside the right windows] Over here, who wants vanilla?
E: [same as before] I DO! I DO!
AB: Doesn’t anybody want chocolate?
BOY: I do. I want chocolate.
AB: Oh, sorry, kid. We’re outnumbered. Vanilla wins!
E: [screaming resumes]
In 2005, the Texas legislature passed a “Safe Cupcake Amendment”
making it ok for kids to bring cupcakes to school.
|Six ounces of room-temperature unsalted butter plus two ounces of shortening go into our work bowl. Now, using the paddle attachment, we’re going to cream on high until this is light and fluffy. Probably take three to four minutes, depending on the temperature of the room your butter came to room temperature in.||
6 Ounces Unsalted Butter,
2 Ounces Shortening
|Okay, next, we add one room-temperature egg, and beat until well combined. It’ll take a couple of minutes at most. [alarm sounds]||1 Egg. Room Temperature|
AB: Thing, can you kill the alarm?
|Yes, it is a raw egg. And yes, it is potentially dangerous. I get my eggs from someone who grows chickens, so I’m not so worried. But if you are worried, I strongly advise you seek out pasteurized shell eggs at the mega-mart. Well, yeah, you could technically leave the egg out, but then you’d have to remove the shortening, up the butter to eight ounces, and then replace the egg with an ounce, a tablespoon at least, of whole milk. It would be okay, but believe me, it would be kind of grainy. It wouldn’t be very unctuous and delicious. So just make peace with the egg. Anyway, return this to high speed.||
[Egg Removal Changes
|All right, we are getting closer and closer to the end. But now we’ve got to work in an entire pound of confectioner’s sugar. And obviously, we can’t just dump that in all at once or it will blow up all over the place. So we’re just going to go about a half cup at a time. Turn off the machine, add the sugar, and then slowly restart the machine. Let it work until that batch is in, and then keep repeating until the pound is gone.||1 Pound Confectioner's Sugar|
|Finally, one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Beat until the frosting is smooth and light, about three minutes.||1 tsp. Vanilla Extract|
You can use your frosting right away or you can refrigerate for a couple of
days. But whatever you do, make sure that you let it come to room temperature
before you attempt to apply it. Otherwise, it’ll be so hard, you’ll basically
rip the top of your cupcake off.
Now some people like to apply this with a little piping bag, and that’s fine. But I prefer this little miniature offset spatula. I think that’s a nice job. Not too fussy.
Now as far as other toppings, the only thing that I can think of that’s appropriate is probably some form of... [a big batch of sprinkles drops on AB from above. He takes some from the table and sprinkles them on a cup cake that he is holding]
AB: [clears his throat, as MD appears to be too busy to pay attention]
MD: [a bit annoyed] May I help you, Sir?
AB: Not at all. It is I who will help you. [offers one of his cupcakes] Eat this.
MD: Oh, I think not.
AB: Ho ho ho ho ho, I think so. [tosses away his box, dives on MD off camera, and apparently forces him to eat a cupcake]
[later, both AB and MD are sitting together, smiling, and tossing paper airplanes]
MD: [acting child-like, comments on the flight of AB’s paper airplane] Hah hah, that was so
awesome! Hey, hey, hey, mister, can I have another cupcake?
AB: Sure you can, kid.
AB: There you go.
AB: Ha ha ha! Listen, I want you to run on home and tell your mom you don’t want to be a maître d’.
MD: [agreeing, with his mouth full] Mmmpf mmmpf.
AB: You want to grow up to be a baker.
MD: Okay, thanks.
MD: Hey, I’ll see you later. [runs off]
AB: See ’ya. Be careful on the street.
MD: Okay. [sound of car brakes squealing to avoid him]
Who knew that one puny little pastry could have so much positive power? You know, I got half a mind to bake up a couple hundred more of these and take a drive over to Washington, D.C. Yeah. See you next time on Good Eats.
Transcribed by Michael Roberts
Proofread by Michael Menninger
Last Edited on 08/27/2010