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At long last! Its time. Time for those gosh darn cotton candy cupcakes from scratch. I want you to know something though, before we start. This was not just another cupcake baking experiment, this was....an experience. No joke. Yet again I found myself knee deep in hours of research, because believe it or not, this is my very first vanilla recipe! Bye bye Duncan Hines. So long Betty Crocker. My very first vanilla experience was a hit, and I'm ready to tell you all about it so you too know how to make cotton candy cupcakes.
So after last night's taste test, I became quite obsessed (re: jealous) on how Sugar Sweet Sunshine landed such an incredible vanilla cake base. Seriously, New Yorkers are very, very serious about where you can find a decent cupcake. A native will tell you to steer clear of Magnolias, while a tourist will tell you its amazing. So this morning I of course went crazyyy looking to see if there was any possible chance that SSS shared their recipe in an interview or online in the last decade. All I found were broken links and a lame lemon something or another. I was lucky enough to find a buttercream frosting recipe by them, which was used below. But I wanted a perfectly approved batter! So next was a search for overhyped (but for all the right reasons) Georgetown Cupcakes recipes, and after a good half an hour, I found a cupcake wars article in the Washington Post where GC obviously won, and was nice enough to share their chocolate ganache recipe. Yay! Oh, just one thing, I needed vanilla. Oh well.
So a little more searching and I landed here (which we will call Batch #1) and here (below as Batch #2). The first, via Egg Beater, churned out the most amazing batter I've ever tasted (yes compared to my store bought box batters) I couldn't even stop licking the spoon, which never happens. But when it came time to baking, I had all the same problems the commenters had. Not yellow, almost white. Didn't rise, in fact they sank completely out of the oven (what did I tell ya, powder and soda together as I found out here). And all around burned after 10 mins. Indeed I halved the recipe because she did not make this recipe for cupcakes, but rather a layer cake, and I don't need 36 cupcakes. Well, my ass doesn't need another 36 cupcakes that's for sure. So instead of trying to retest it, I just moved on to the other recipe via Epicurious.
And who would have guessed one of my absolute fave baking shops, Bake It Pretty, had cotton candy food flavoring! I didn't even know this existed, but with a little googling, turns out its all the rage. Jeez, I really am under a rock sometimes. I mean if mankind can make enough synthetic hair to keep Dolly Parton happy, of course there must be a food flavor liquid in existence. But I wanted the real thing of course, so lots of cotton candy shopping later, and below are my very first vanilla cupcakes with cotton candy buttercream frosting! Enjoy!
Cotton Candy Cake Recipe Batch #1
- 10 oz unsalted butter, room temperature
- 14 oz sugar
- 11 oz all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 large eggs
- 4 large egg yolks
- 3/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350F and plop cupcake papers into baking pans.
- Cream butter until light. Add sugar all at once and continue mixing on medium speed until very light in color. Stop and scrape down, and continue beating. (Note: The better you scrape down the bowl the better your creaminess will be.) Add salt at this stage.
- Sift flour and baking powder into a bowl. In another bowl, add eggs and yolks together. (Note: if you crack eggs first, the yolks will not stick to the bowl.) In a measuring cup, add milk and vanilla extract.
- *You are going to utilize a Dry, Wet, Dry, Wet, Dry method*
- Add egg mixture to butter bowl a little at a time (one thirds at a time) making sure mixture comes together fully after each addition. Just after the last bit goes in, scrape down bowl and continue mixing.
- In the above mentioned method, you turn mixer down to the lowest setting it can go. Your first "third" of drys will be a big third, the 1/2 of wet will be an exact 1/2 and so on. You are always adding in the next D or W JUST before the batter looks uniform/incorporated.
- When batter is done, scrape and use a spatula to do the last few turn-overs of the batter, making sure that no wet or dry spots have hid from you at the bottom of the bowl.
- Scoop into baking pans. Bake for 15-22 minutes. Its helpful to set your timer to the halfway point to check on cupcakes and also rotate the pans for even baking.
- Let cool for at least 20 minutes. Frost!
THE VERDICT: The first time I tried this during the afternoon, and as mentioned, they completely burned and sank. Utter disaster. However, come evening I was revved up to try again and this time added my trusty baking powder+baking soda mixture and they still bubbled to a HUGE dome in the oven, then sank. It also took more than 26 mins to bake, very runny the whole time. I'm just going to chalk this up to bad halving conversions, opening the oven too much or too much baking poweder on my end and try again next week.
Cotton Candy Cupcake Recipe Batch #2
- 3 cups cake flour
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
- 16 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups sugar
- 5 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1¼ cups buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line two cupcake pans with paper liners. Set aside.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk together and set aside. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the bowl of the mixer with the butter and discard the pod (or reserve for another use.) Beat on medium-high speed for 3 minutes, until light and creamy in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for one more minute.
- Add the sugar to the butter mixture, ¼ cup at a time, beating 1 minute after each addition. Mix in the eggs one at a time until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Combine the buttermilk and the vanilla extract in a liquid measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients alternately with the wet ingredients, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing just until incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for 15 seconds longer.
- Divide the batter between the prepared paper liners, filling each about 2/3 of the way full (you will likely have batter left over after filling 24 wells.) Bake 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Replace paper liners and bake remaining batter if desired. Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.
The only thing that didn't fail...well, not completely, was the buttercream! The cotton candy really has no standout taste once added, but the extra garnish helps in the end and tastes amazing! Just like SSS tasted last night, minus the consistency.
THE VERDICT: So after failing like Americans at a World Cup game on my red velvets, I was so anti-AP flour and thought cake flour recipes would rule all. Boy was I wrong. I don't know why I don't trust my instincts more, but batter tastes like the end product. So go with your finger licking gut. This batter was insanely eggy, and after baking, had the worse egg after taste, as well as floury. The texture was unlike any cupcake I know, it screams home baker. Very fine, and not at all moist or crumby like I'm used to. Damn you King Arthur! So I don't know, could really use feedback from you guys on why you think these flopped.
Day two, its a little after 2 am and had a large pasta dinner so wanted something light and sweet to fall asleep. Nothing else to eat except these cupcakes, and guess what...they taste amazing! Still an eggy after taste, but perfect fluffy texture and the buttercream is divine. So definitely worth you trying it!
Cotton Candy Buttercream
adapted via Sugar Sweet Sunshine
- 1/2 pound unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 cups powdered sugar
- 4 tablespoons milk
- 3 teaspoons vanilla
- pink food coloring (or 1 drop of red)
- Tiffany blue food coloring (or two blue drops, one green drop)
- cotton candy, pulled into small pieces
Using the paddle attachment on a mixer hand beater, cream the butter. Add half of the sugar and half of the milk. Cream these ingredients until well blended. Add the rest of the sugar and the milk and combine. Add the vanilla and mix in. Separate the frosting into two containers. Add food colorings to each bowl and mix until even. Add cotton candy pieces until well combined. Frost cupcakes. Garnish with remaining cotton candy.