The Anatomy Of A Cupcake

With all the attention to cupcakes of late, there is little on cupcake forensics.  I will dissect a birthday cupcake for you.

Sometimes, certain recipes, foods, or food combinations, for that matter, get in one’s mind and do not go away.  On the very informative instructional site, A Feast for the Eyes,  I recently had come across Debby’s recipe for Chocolate Bliss Cake.  I really liked the idea of an easy five-minute version of the classic seven-minute meringue icing (thank you, King Arthur Flour, for this simpler version!).  I thought it would go well with Debby’s moist chocolate cake – which included my favourite addition of coffee – and a chocolate buttercream filling.  While I am a big fan of chocolate cake with the icing of the same flavour, the contrast of a light, marshmallowy meringue icing is a treat for both the senses of sight and taste.

However, I also had been thinking about chocolate malt since I read Geni’s recipe for Chocolate Malt Cake on the engaging blog, Sweet and Crumby.  Chocolate and malt – as in Whoppers, Maltesers (NB:  this site prevents visitors under 12-year-old from exploring these chocolate-malt treats further…), chocolate malted milk balls, or a thick chocolate malted ice cream shake – are an irresistible combination.  Chocolate complements many other ingredients to star in desserts, e.g., coffee, mint, peanut butter, and raspberry, to name a few of my favourites.

If you are a devotee of chocolate malted milk balls, the chocolate-malted buttercream is reminiscent of the crunchy filling, with a different texture, of course.  I found it to be quite addictive, which I must admit, at this point, in this cupcake anatomy lesson.

In the  midst of these cravings, my friend Kip happened to mention that it was Jim’s birthday (which I should have remembered as he is precisely 12.5 years older than I am!).  A birthday cake on this island can be a bit of a challenge for those who do not like to bake, as there is one bakery – closed for holidays, at the time – and one baker who makes sumptuous cakes with impressive decorations, which are priced accordingly for major special occasions.  And Kip will be the first to confess to not being a baker, though she is a marvelous cook.   So I told Kip that I would bake something to celebrate.  I wanted it to be visually impressive, as Jim is one of the top professional photographers in Canada!

Initially, I had planned to bake a cake, but the image of Hostess cupcakes I had seen in the US recently kept making me think of filled cupcakes, an undertaking I had never attempted before.  As I have been in a more reflective state with my series on my grandmother, Jessie, I was thinking recently of a cupcake from a neighbourhood bakery of my childhood, which was a chocolate cupcake, filled with a white marshmallowy-buttercream centre, and iced with a dark chocolate frosting.  Thus, the Chocolate-Malt-Meringue Bliss Cupcake came into existence.

For the technique and the recipe….

I decided to cut out conical pieces from the top for filling the centre with the chocolate-malt buttercream.  I then flattened these (an alternate would be to cut off the part below the top crust to use for cake-lollipops, which I really find a bit bizarre).  With a pastry bag, I piped the buttercream into the centre, and replaced the now-densely flattened top back on the filled cupcake.  The The other technique I have seen elsewhere is to poke a hole in the centre and fill that with the filling, but this buttercream is thick enough that I chose the dissection technique…cupcake forensics 101.

As it was a birthday, I thought multi-coloured sprinkles would be appropriate.  One candle or other decorations could work, as well, for these. They could be left unadorned for other occasions.  Another variant would be to switch the meringue with the buttercream, which might be more traditional (a la Hostess) and more malty but perhaps less visually striking.  One could make the anatomy much more simple, with either just the meringue or just the buttercream as the frosting, without the anatomical complications of a filling.  The choice is yours.  It is your cupcake.  Create its anatomy as you wish.

So this brings us to a close of our lesson in the anatomy of the Chocolate-Malt-Meringue Bliss Cupcake.  Now you know what secrets lurk beneath the cupcake’s billowy white meringue icing:   a rich chocolate-coffee cupcake with  a surprise chocolate-malt buttercream filling, of course!

Chocolate-Malt-Meringue Bliss Cupcakes (or cake) (adapted from A Feast for the Eyes and inspired by Sweet and Crumby)

Yield 24 cupcakes (or three nine-inch layers)


For the cupcakes (or cakes)


  • 1-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, melted and cooled (NB:  I had only 1/2 c of cocoa left, so I did the old switcheroo, but Debby’s directions for 3/4 c of cocoa would work as well, without the trouble of melting the chocolate!)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg yolks (this is my change, as I wanted to use the yolks separated from the whites for the meringue)
  • 1 cup hot water, mixed with three teaspoons of espresso powder, cooled a bit
  • 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 Tbsp lemon juice with milk to equal 1 cup; or 1 Tbsp vinegar with milk to equal 1 cup)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Line muffin tins with cupcake liners (or prepare baking pans with butter and flour — Debby used three 9-inch cake pans, for her cake ).
  3. Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, & salt in a large bowl or in bowl of stand mixer with the paddle attachment.
  4. Add eggs, coffee, buttermilk, melted chocolate (if using my adaptation), oil, and vanilla.
  5. Beat at medium speed for 2 minutes. (Batter will be thin.)  Check to ensure that the mixture is thoroughly blended, scraping the sides with a spatula, if need be.
  6. Pour approximately ¼ cup batter into each cupcake liner, or into a baking sheet, or cake pans.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes (for cupcakes) or 27 minutes (approx) for a baking pan at 350°F or until toothpick comes out clean.
  8. Cool completely on wire rack.

For the Five Minute White Meringue Frosting (originally from the King Arthur Flour site):


  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  1. Place the 2 egg whites in a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer.
  2. Beat until the egg whites are foamy and thick; they should mound in the bowl, without holding a peak. Set them aside while you prepare the sugar syrup.
  3. For sugar syrup, combine the sugar, cream of tartar, water, and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently; the sugar should be dissolved. If the sugar hasn’t dissolved, cook and stir a bit more, until there is no crystalline trace.
  4. Begin to beat the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, and immediately pour the boiling sugar syrup into the egg whites in a slow stream, beating all the while. As you beat, the mixture will thicken. (This takes about 5 minutes).
  5. Once all the syrup is added, stir in the vanilla, and continue to beat till the frosting is thick and will hold a peak.

Chocolate-Malt Buttercream, my standard buttercream, though inspired by Geni of Sweet and Crumby


  • ¼ pound unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1 ½ – 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup malt powder (I used Horlick’s – the name seems like a bad punch line from an adolescent’s joke and always cracks me up!)
  • 2 tablespoons or more half-and-half, whipping cream, or milk – whatever is on hand – as needed for the desired consistency


  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium, beat butter for two minutes until light and creamy.
  2. Add melted chocolate, two tablespoons cream or milk, and vanilla.  Beat until combined.
  3. Slowly add 1 ½ cups powdered sugar, blending until smooth and creamy.  Add more powdered sugar and/or cream until the desired consistency of your buttercream-dreams has been attained.


  1. Cut one-inch conical sections from top of cupcake.  Remove and compress to flatten.
  2. Pipe chocolate buttercream into cavity.
  3. Replace top and press down.
  4. Ice with five-minute meringue, swirling it decoratively..
  5. Decorate while warm with sprinkles, mini chocolate chips, sparkling sugar, or the decorations of your choice, if desired.  Or serve unadorned, for the most basic – yet anatomically correct – cupcake.

14 responses to “The Anatomy Of A Cupcake

  1. The problem with reading wonderful blogs like this post is that I want to make that. But how can I make that and make a new post for my blog and not gain 20 pounds or demolish my kitchen? Please tell me the trick. You have been blogging longer than I have. These look mahvelous (please say it with a Billy Crystal impersonated voice)! P.S. I hope you have noted that I passed the Versatile Blogger award torch to you. Cheers.

  2. Thanks, Geni. I do have to point out that it was you who got the idea of the chocolate malt cake into my head, to begin with…but I bake for special occasions and/or others more than leaving lots of tempting things around within reach. I also think I have some self-control (“some,” that is).

    Thank you very much for the “Versatile Blogger” award!! That is very sweet of you (and not at all crummy or crumby). I do appreciate it greatly.


  3. salut dan rien à faire je ne suis pas cupcake !!!mais bravo pour ton post Pierre

  4. DAN! It’s my birthday in February and I’ll probably be lurking somewhere around your parts around then – please make these for me? 😀

    You’ll find me hiding under your kitchen table. Ta very much.

    Jax x

    PS: I love these. They’re gorgeous. And happy birthday Jim!

    • Hi, Jax. You know I would have baked these, carried them on board my flight to LHR, and given them to you next week – well in advance of your birthday – but you have to sell babies that day. Thanks very much for the comment, to which I always look forward from you. Dan

  5. So how much would it cost me to have you bake up a batch of these and send them to SoDak? I could easily polish off a dozen of those all on my own!

  6. The ingredients list on a package of Hostess cupcakes makes my blood curdle, but there’s something so enticing about that cream filling. Honestly, I’d never considered that you could recreate them at home — I’m impressed! (My birthday is in November, by the way, and I would totally accept boxes of cupcakes via air-mail… 🙂 )

    • Thanks, Maddie. I do agree about Hostess, though I enjoyed them as a child. The meringue would work well as the filling, with a slightly thicker ganache for the topping…and a squiggle. I’ve seen recipes to this effect. If only cupcakes knew no international borders….Dan

  7. These cupcakes look absolutely fantastic! Great post!

  8. Pingback: Double-Chocolate Double-Malt Frosted Brownies: Recycling and Reusing Recipes | IslandEAT

  9. Pingback: Pie is the New Cupcake? | IslandEAT

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