Margarita Cupcakes

Challenge Recipe #1: The Margarita Cupcake. When I first started asking for suggestions, someone suggested this idea, and I thought it sounded the most intriguing. That was partially because the instant I read the suggestion, I had an instant picture in my head. With the help of a friend, I saw a green speckled white cupcake with light frosting and a candied lime slice on top. And of course, tequila. Somewhere. Because what’s a margarita without tequila?

My goal was to create the recipe, with a basic recipe as a base. I found a white cupcake recipe on that sounded promising – it involved folded beaten egg whites to boost the fluffiness and airiness of the cupcakes. Sounded good! Away I went.

I started off by separating 2 eggs and letting the yolks and whites and butter arrive at room temperature.

I then sifted together the flour (all-purpose, instead of cake, but not a huge deal), baking powder and salt. The recipe called for 2 tsp baking powder, and per the general idea of reducing baking powder by 1/8-1/4 per teaspoon above 5000 feet (I’m at 5280 here in Denver – OK, actually, a little lower where I live), I added only 1.5 tsp. I felt confident about this, and knew I would be adding more liquid later, to help as well. I creamed the butter and added the sugar and the egg yolks.

I decided at this point to add the lime juice. Since my base recipe was just plain old white cupcakes, I knew I needed to make strong lime cupcakes. So I added the juice of one lime to the butter/sugar mixture. I did it at this point to replace the vanilla, and to avoid adding it at the same time as the milk (yum, curdled milk). I mixed it well, and then alternately added the flour mixture and milk, starting and ending with the flour. Then, I tasted it. There was a subtle hint of lime, but I didn’t think it was limey enough. This cake had to scream lime! Hello, margarita!

So I added more lime juice.

Then I was really worried about curdling, but mixed well, so it seemed to be OK. At this point I scraped the whole mixture into a different bowl so I could use my mixer bowl to beat the egg whites. I folded lime zest and neon green sprinkles into the batter.


I wasn’t kidding about the neon green. I was going for an effect, OK?

Now, to beat the egg whites. I’ve never done this myself. The recipe calls for beating them until they form stiff peaks. I mean, that’s serious stuff. The last time I watched someone do this they accidentally overbeat them and the egg whites completely fell apart. I was scared.

Beating egg whites

But some egg whites, cream of tartar and sugar later, things turned out well. (Nearly stiff peaks.)

I then very carefully folded the egg whites into the batter. Folding is a fine art – you don’t want to deflate the egg whites. I carefully folded, distributed in my silicon cupcake pan already filled with liners, and deposited into a preheated 350 degree oven. 20 minutes later, beautifully puffed and domed cupcakes were removed from the oven to cool, and I went to bed.

But, alas, the high altitude demons had not been mastered, despite reducing the leavening and increasing the liquid. No. This is what I found the next morning:

Deflated cupcake

They shrunk! By a lot! But nice and green speckled, no?

I went to work, feeling as deflated as the cupcake. If they deflated this much, that meant the texture would be all dense and funky. What a bummer! What did I do WRONG?

Google, as always, made several suggestions, but turns out many bakers have slight disagreements. Lower the leavening, yes. BY how much? Who knows. I heard to increase the liquid but also increase the flour (how does that work?) and decrease the sugar. Increase the cooking temp by 25 degrees, and don’t add too much air into the batter (there goes the egg white idea). I was sad, and confused. Most of these suggestions were coming from people on the coasts. Like THEY know! However, some people had baked here, and they agreed that lowering the leavening and using high altitude flour and maybe adding an extra egg for liquid and structure did the trick.

The problem is that the cupcake lacked enough structure. I bought high altitude flour and armed with a new white cake recipe, tried again. Not easy to turn on a 350 degree oven twice in a row in 90 degree heat, but I persevered. And this time, the cupcakes had a much better structure. High altitude flour, raised oven temp and lessened baking powder were all employed here. Plus an extra egg white.

For the frosting, I whipped up a simple buttercream, but added both lime and tequila. I added the lime after the butter was whipped alone and added a tbsp of tequila in place of a tbsp of milk. I ended up adding another tbsp but wouldn’t recommend this without adding more sugar, as well. The frosting was a little frumpy looking but tasted quite good.

Margarita Cupcake (in bad lighting)

And everyone agreed, it really had the essence of a margarita! What made the difference, I think, was rolling the candied lime in coarse salt. I also brushed the tops of the cupcakes with tequila before frosting them, but I think you can skip that and as long as you have the salt and the lime, you will have an unbelievably margarita-y cupcake.

I am including the high altitude white cake recipe with my modifications at the bottom, including frosting. If you’re at sea level and want the try the egg white fluffing, you’ll find that recipe here. Just use 1.5 limes worth of juice in place of the vanilla, and if you’re at sea level, add a tad more flour to compensate for the extra liquid.


Preheat oven to 375°
2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour

2 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp sugar

1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp shortening (room temperature)

Juice of 1 – 2 limes, to taste

1 cup plus 3 Tbsp milk (refrigerator temperature)

5 egg whites (refrigerator temperature)

Zest of 1 lime

Green sprinkles (opt)

Grease and flour pans or line bottom of pans with waxed paper. Mix and sift flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar into mixer bowl. Add shortening, lime juice, milk, and egg whites. Mix lime juice a little before adding milk, to avoid curdling. Beat 30 seconds on low speed, scraping frequently. Beat 7 1/2 minutes on high speed. Scrape twice during this beating. (I didn’t follow this exact timeframe.) Remove from mixer and gently fold in lime zest and sprinkles (if desired). Fold until just mixed. Pour batter into pans.
Bake at 375°
Oblong, 9x13x2-inch (small cake): 30-35 minutes.
Two 8-inch layers: 25-28 minutes.
24 cupcakes (half full): 23-25 minutes.
Remove from oven and cool in pan about 12 minutes.
Remove from pan and finish cooling on rack.
Altitude Adjustments

7,500 ft:
Same as 5,000 ft.

10,000 ft:
Reduce baking powder to l 1/2 tsp. Reduce sugar to l 1/2 cups minus l Tbsp.


2 cups confectioners sugar, sifted

1/2 cup butter, room temp.

Juice of 1/2 lime

Zest of 1 lime

1 tbsp tequila

1 tbsp milk

Cream butter in mixer until light and fluffy. Add lime juice. Turn the mixer to lowest speed and gradually added the sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl periodically, until all sugar has been mixed in. Add tequila, mix in, and then add milk and beat at higher speed until frosting is light and fluffy.

Decorate cupcakes, once cooled, with frosting topped with half of a candied lime dipped in coarse sea salt. Serve with tequila shot, if desired. 🙂

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