Cupcake Rampage: Maple Muffincakes
Maple cupcakes, er, muffins? Doesn’t matter to whoever couldn’t wait and took a bite already.
Some vegans balk at consuming honey, especially mass-produced honey, claiming it’s a product of animal labor. Not too many people would say the same thing about maple syrup, even though it arguably exploits a plant of its natural resources, keeping them hooked up to galvanized buckets all winter like intensive care patients or perennial blood donors. That’s a debate I’m not willing to engage in today. Today, we’re making cupcakes. Or maybe muffins? What’s the difference, anyway? Another conversation for the ages…
Of the grades of commercially available maple syrup, you’re usually only going to run into two: the most common one, amber A, and the darker, late harvest B. Because the process of making real maple syrup is so intensive, it’s reflected in the rage-inducing prices of the finished product. But it’s one case where that chestnutty cliché “you get what you pay for” really is true.
I used grade B maple syrup in this recipe, because it has a stronger flavor that stands up to the abuse of baking. For insurance, I fortified the batter with maple extract. The only other oddball ingredient is ground flaxseed, which is often used as an egg substitute for its thickening and binding properties. Because flax lends a strong oatmeal-like flavor, it’s not ideal for all recipes, especially those with more delicate flavors, but here it complements the dominant notes of the maple syrup.
Dark amber grade A maple syrup on the left, grade B on the left. Choose wisely.
- 1/2 cup soymilk or almond milk
- 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp finely ground flax seeds
- 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (grade B if you can get it)
- 1/3 cup canola or other neutral-tasting oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp maple extract (or flavoring)
- 1 cup all-purpose flour (preferably unbleached)
- 1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350° F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together all the wet ingredients until well combined. Set aside for at least 2 minutes to thicken up.
In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and mix just until combined; do not overmix. Overmixing can cause extra gluten to form, which might make for a tougher, chewier cupcake instead of a light and tender one.
Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling halfway for flat-topped cupcakes, or two-thirds of the way for puffy muffin tops. Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one of cupcakes comes out clean. Remove from oven and let them rest in the muffin tin for five minutes before transferring to a cooling rack; this prevents soggy bottoms. Cool completely before frosting and garnishing with a walnut half, if you’re having company.
The frosting I used is actually leftover coffee buttercream, but making your own is as easy as beating 1/2 cup softened butter or butter substitute with two cups of powdered sugar. Use an electric mixer and incorporate the sugar into the butter half a cup at a time, along with any extracts or flavor enhancements like vanilla or coffee or maple.
Frosted or unfrosted, the maple flavor still shines through, just not in an in-your-face, Aunt Jemima-over-flapjacks kind of way. The tops form an ever-so-slightly crusty exterior, which gives way to a soft but structurally sound interior. And since maple syrup only has about 60% of the sugar of regular granulated sucrose, we can even pretend these are good for you.