I’m not sure if I should title this Cupcakes 101, Baking 101, or Melissa’s Baking Philosophy. I did a presentation on this a couple weeks ago and called it Cupcakes 101. So we’ll stick with that. Just know—this isn’t your ordinary cupcake talk. I apologize.

I mentioned doing a presentation. On food. First time ever. Yes, I was nervous. Nail biting nervous. I’m used to presenting logos, brochures, and ideas, but food…I love food. It’s got an extra soft spot in my heart and in my stomach. But I’m no expert. I’m self taught. I guess you could say Martha taught me everything I know via daytime television. That gives me some credibility. But it ends there. Most days, it’s just me, my kitchen, trial, and error.

Here are my 4 tips to starting or refining your cupcake baking journey. Don’t worry, this is the only slide I’ll show verbatim. I’ve adapted everything to work in a blog post. Which is why this took me a week to write. Dang. That’s a huge exercise in patience for me.

In general, we live life based on a set of beliefs. They guide us in making decisions. The same is true in baking. Develop a set of rules, or principles, or guidelines for your baking self. It will help in the recipe picking process. For example, I am a purist. I like to consume food in it’s most pure form. Processed, unpronounceable ingredients are not my cup of tea. I also like to bake everything from scratch. No boxes or mixes on my kitchen shelves. But I wont judge if that’s your philosophy. Pinky promise. I’m a butter girl. No margarine or shortening. Just butter. And lots of it. I love the classics. I’m not that adventurous in the kitchen. I’m happy with vanilla cake, brownies, vanilla ice cream, and chocolate chip cookies. Some call it boring. I call it classic. Like pearls. Finally, I’m a lover of simplicity. I like having a couple good recipes rather than a binder full of untested so, so recipes. I complicate things enough by insisting to make everything from scratch. You’ve got to insert simplicity somewhere.

This idea goes back to my love for simplicity. Think Starbucks for a second. Their goal is to provide you with a similar experience no matter which Starbucks you go to.  You know exactly what you’re going to get. Likewise with recipes. I want to yield the same results every time I make a certain recipe. Keeps me sane. Once you get comfortable with a recipe, you can start experimenting. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—Warren Brown’s cookbooks, Cake Love and United Cakes of America, are my fave. His recipes are quite possibly the best.

It will make a difference. Here’s my not so usual arsenal. Moving from left to right, we have unbleached all-purpose flour. While I would love to buy King Arthur Flour, I’m poor, so Trader Joe’s is my flour of choice. But no matter the brand, I always buy unbleached. Bleached flour, or enriched flour has been bleached (duh!) which strips it of its nutrients. The FDA says—put those nutrients back—thus you have enriched flour. Like I said, I’m a purist. Moving right along, we have potato starch. Not your average ingredient. I put this in all my cakes per Warren’s instructions and it makes for a nice crumb. It’s silky smooth and wonderful. I even put it in my hamburger bunsYou can buy this from Bob. Sea salt is my other secret ingredient. It tastes worlds better than table salt and it’s a bit more pure, no iodine. We can’t forget evaporated cane sugar. It’s perfectly unrefined and tan in color. If I’m lucky, I buy this in bulk at Costco. And last but not least, aluminum free baking powder. Health reasons aside, it tastes so much better. Aluminum = bitter taste. Just ask David Lebovitz.

When you put 1, 2, and 3 together, the rest is just icing on the cake. A lot of people worry about the aesthetics of cupcakes, don’t get me wrong—that’s super important, but if it doesn’t taste good, the pretty decorations are just pretty decorations. And you thought I was going to tell you how to ice a cupcake. Sorry. This really is the most unconventional cupcake post I’ve ever read or written for that matter. I owe you a cupcake.

The vanilla cupcake pictured, was made from this recipe. For other cake and cupcake recipes on the blog check out the categories tab to your right. The recipes are smattered with tips and tricks. And because decorating is not my forte, check out some of my favorite cake/cupcake decorators Sweetapolita, Call me Cupcake, and Always with Butter.

Happy baking to you!

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