High Altitude White Cupcakes with Blackberry Italian Meringue Buttercream

by Apr 30, 2015

My daughter loves to bake almost as much as I do, and cupcakes are her favorite. I’ve got several decades on her, and I’ve learned a thing or two over the years, mostly from trial and error, but also from the Bakers Dozen and one of my favorite bakers who’s really good at chemistry, Shirley Corriher (check out her books Bakewise and Cookwise). My biggest baking flop, was the batch of cupcakes I made for my daughter’s tenth birthday, the year we moved to Montana. I had years of practice with the recipes from Magnolia, and we were hopeful when we removed this batch from the oven, then turning our attention to making frosting. When we looked over next, our tray of puffed cupcakes had transformed themselves into donuts!  Each one sporting a perfectly round, quarter-sized sink hole right in the center. Thus the beginning of my high-altitude phase.

It’s really pretty simple to adapt cake recipes for altitude, thanks to King Arthur Flour and their handy chart. You basically tweak six dimensions in an attempt to deal with the reduced air-pressure you get as you climb up to the sky:  more liquid, more flour, less sugar, less leavening, higher baking temp, less time. I’m writing this recipe for Bozeman, which sits at approximately 5000 feet. If you’re out in San Francisco, or anywhere else really, that’s not in the mountains, use ¾ cup milk, 1¾ cup flour, don’t take out the tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder instead of 1½, and 350° for 18–20 minutes, basically following Dede Wilson’s original white cupcake recipe from A Baker’s Field Guide to Cupcakes. If you’re at higher elevation than 5000 feet, experiment with that King Arthur chart.

Our blackberry buttercream is based on Julia Child’s Italian Meringue Buttercream, recipe here.

High-Altitude White Cupcakes with Blackberry Italian Meringue Buttercream

Servings 12 cupcakes


  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¼ tsp Kosher salt
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar less 1 Tbsp
  • 4 egg whites (approx. 1/2 cup, 115 grams)
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • cups sifted all-purpose flour, plus 2 Tbsp (230 grams)
  • tsp baking powder


  1. Preheat oven to 365°. Line a 12-cup cupcake pan with paper lines. Sift baking powder over flour in a bowl, whisk to combine. Measure milk using a liquid measuring cup and add the vanilla.

  2. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light in color and texture, 3–4 minutes, scraping down the bowl and beater once or twice. With the mixer running, sprinkle in the salt then add the sugar in a slow stream, continuing to mix until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes more. Add the egg whites one at a time, mixing well after each.

  3. Add the flour to the butter in three additions, alternating with the milk/vanilla. Mix briefly on low speed after each addition. Divide batter into the cupcake liners and bake for 14–16 minutes, or until domed center springs back when you touch it lightly with your fingertip. Let cook for 5 minutes in the pan, then remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

Recipe Notes / Tips

  • Have your ingredients at room temperature for best results. The temperature of the butter should be near 70° for optimal creaming, so if your room is cool, microwave the butter for about 15 seconds.

  • Sea-level adjustments. Follow the recipe except make the following substitutions: milk ¾ cup, sifted all-purpose flour 1¾ cups (215 grams), sugar ¾ cup, baking powder 2 teaspoons, and bake at 350° for 18–20 minutes.

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