April 15, 2012

High-Altitude Hummingbird Bakery Black Bottom Cupcakes, Pt. 1: Fixing That Chocolate Batter


Better, right?

Okay, so this time I made sure to follow the recipe's instructions PRECISELY. In fact, it took me twice as long to cook this batch of Black Bottom cupcakes because I kept double-checking each step of the recipe along the way.

So when I got to the part about adding the liquid ingredients (sunflower oil, vinegar, vanilla, water) to the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking oil), I was especially cautious. Last time, I screwed up because I just dumped the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients. The recipe, however, instructs the baker to slowly add the liquid ingredients while increasing the speed of the blender as the mixture thickens. I figured that my incorrecting mixing might have been the reason why I ended up with such a clumpy chocolate batter.

But lo and behold, even with the correct mixing method, I still ended up with the same clumpy batter that the incorrect mixing method had also produced:


What gives?!

I was confused for a second, but then remembered something I had read in Michael Ruhlman's Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind The Craft of Everyday Cooking. According to Ruhlman, a cup of flour can weigh anywhere between 4 and 6 ounces. That's because the weight of flour can be affected by humidity -- that is, the greater the humidity, the more moisture in your flour. Since Denver (and most high-altitude places in general) is a very dry place, I'm willing to bet that the old bag of flour I've been using to bake has dried out and has the least amount of moisture in it as possible. 

With that theory under my belt, I decided to add in another 1/4 cup of water to the batter:


Hey, that's not bad. The Hummingbird Bakery Blog describes Black Bottom cupcakes as having a thick batter that resembles uncooked brownie mix. The mixture above is definitely more along those lines. Still not liquidy enough though... so I added another 1/4 cup of water:


Boom! That's more like it. I'm a little worried that 1/2 cup more water than what the original recipe calls for might be a little too much, but when I doled out the batter into the cupcake cases in the muffin tin, I noticed that I had enough batter for exactly 12 cupcakes. That's a sign of something good, right?


Not bad. They actually look like uncooked cupcake batter now, as opposed to my first try where they resembled clumps of dirt. Those cakes looked like scoops of dirt/sand covered with some sticky yellow liquid that was actually the cream cheese batter.

Speaking of the cream cheese batter, that also turned out better this time around:


I had the foresight to bring the cream cheese down to room temperature before mixing it up with other ingredients. One of my key recommendations that I always give is to bring all ingredients (unless otherwise stated) to room temperature; doing so will ease the mixing process and help the ingredients integrate into each other more fully. With the cream cheese softened down to room temperature, the cream cheese batter was definitely thicker, fluffier, and less lumpy this time around.

So how did the cupcakes turn out in general?


Not bad, right?

They definitely look more like other bloggers' attempts at Hummingbird Bakery Black Bottom cupcakes, so there's that. But a closer look reveals more flaws:


Okay, so they're not the prettiest cupcakes in the world. I think I might have gone a little crazy with the cream cheese batter. But the recipe instructed me to put a tablespoon of cream cheese batter into each cupcake -- in my defense, I was just following instructions! But the cream cheese batter just spread during the baking process, leaching out into the muffin tin.

The cream cheese batter was also severely undercooked. When I tried to take the cupcakes out of the muffin tin, crazy amounts of cream cheese batter came off the cake leaving some sort of mushy, yellow residue on the fingers I had used to pick up the cupcake.

In fact, I'd actually say the entire thing was pretty undercooked since it was hard to get a good grip on the cupcake to begin with. That is, when I did manage to pick up the cupcake, not only did the yellow cheese cake batter come off into my fingers, but the chocolate cake base felt mushy and squishy, collapsing inwards from the pressure of my fingers. You can see what I mean in the pictures below:


Well, that's unsurprising since a common problem I've had in the past are sea-level recipes resulting in undercooked, liquidy goods. Remember that at higher altitudes, water boils at lower temperatures which means that it takes longer for foods to cook in water since the water isn't as hot when it's boiling. I've almost always had to increase the temperature of most Hummingbird Bakery recipes in order to get the baked goods to set quickly before overexpanding. 

So my next move... increasing the oven temperature!

But wait!

How did the cupcake taste?


Not bad, actually. The cheesecake topping was a little bit too eggy and sticky -- definitely a sign of being undercooked -- but the chocolate cake base was shockingly good. It was still a little too mushy and soft, but the cake was definitely cooked (or only slightly undercooked).

The taste test has given me some good guidelines on how to proceed with the temperature adjustments. I plan on increasing the temperature just slightly -- maybe experimenting with only a 10 - 15 degree (F) increase in temperature? Remember, it's easy to burn chocolate, and the chocolate cake base really seemed fine at its current temperature.

In any case, stay tuned for the next post which will be all about temperature adjustments. Excited? Because I am.

Wooo!

1 comment: