Classic Butter Cupcakes

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"Not So Guilty Pleasure"
If only somebody could get the cupcake right. By Corby Kummer


3 cups (12 1/4 ounces/350 grams) cake flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (8 fl. ounces/240 ml.) whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
8 ounces (2 sticks/225 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature 2 cups (14 ounces/400 grams) granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
4 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Before baking:

Center a rack in the oven, place another rack in the upper third of the oven, and preheat the oven to 350° F. Very lightly coat only the top surfaces of three 12-cup standard muffins pan with nonstick spray. Or very lightly butter them. This ensures that the rising top portion of each cupcake will not stick to the surface of the pan and each cupcake will easily release from its cup.

Place fluted paper or foil liners in 28 of the muffin cups, filling the cups in 2 of the pans and evenly spacing the 4 liners in the third pan. Spacing the cups promotes even baking when not all of the cups are filled. Have all of the ingredients at room temperature.

To make the cupcakes:

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt onto a piece of waxed paper; set aside. In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the milk and both extracts.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and smooth, about 45 seconds. Add the sugar in a steady stream, stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue to beat on medium speed until the mixture is very light in color and texture, 3 to 4 minutes, again stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

With the mixer still on medium speed, add the egg yolks slowly, 1 at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated and stopping the mixer occasionally to scrape down sides of the bowl. Continue beating until the mixture is fluffy.

On the lowest speed, add the flour mixture in 4 additions, alternating with the milk mixture in 3 additions. (Begin and end with the flour mixture and mix each new addition only until incorporated.) Stop the mixer occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Using a handheld electric mixer, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar in a medium bowl until small bubbles appear (about 30 to 45 seconds more). When you judge whether you have finished the whipping process, keep in mind that the whites are going to be folded into the batter. It's better to underwhip than to overwhip (tips of peaks are bent). Using a rubber spatula, fold half of the whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites just until incorporated.

Without delay, using an ice cream scoop a scant 2 inches in diameter (#24) or a spoon, deposit mounded portions of the batter into the prepared cups, filling them no more than two-thirds full.

If your oven is wide enough, bake 2 muffin pans side by side, spacing them about 1 inch apart on the center rack, and the third pan on a rack in the upper third of the oven. If your oven can’t accommodate all of the pans at one time, put a full pan on each of the racks and set the third muffin pan with the batter for 4 cupcakes aside at room temperature (or in the refrigerator if it’s a very warm day), and bake these cupcakes after the others have finished baking.

Bake the cupcakes about 21 to 23 minutes—until the color is lightly golden, the tops spring back when lightly pressed, and a round wooden toothpick inserted in the center of a few of the cupcakes comes out free of batter. Be careful not to overbake. If the cupcakes are browning unevenly, gently rotate the pans when a little more than half of the baking time has elapsed. The cupcakes will rise above the paper liners. Transfer the pans to wire racks and let cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

Tilt a pan and tap it gently on a counter to help free the cupcakes. (Don’t invert the cupcakes onto a rack or you will mar their shape.) Carefully remove the warm cupcakes from the pan and place them, right-side up, on the racks. Repeat with the second and third pan. Let the cupcakes cool completely before frosting them. If you are not frosting them right away, cover them with a kitchen towel to prevent them from drying out.

Serve the cupcakes the same day they are baked. Or place in a sturdy covered container or cake box, securely wrapped with plastic wrap, and store at room temperature for up to 1 day.

Yield: 28 cupcakes