Sprinkles fans, you might want to step away from the computer for a cupcake break. The June issue of Cook's Illustrated, the Consumer Reports of test kitchens, features a chocolate cupcake tasting challenge. They've dubbed Sprinkles' version the “underachiever” of the bunch with its “flat-flavored” cake and “dull Duncan Hines”-like frosting.
The editors were equally unimpressed with the five other commercial chocolate cupcakes they tasted. Magnolia Bakery's chocolate cupcake was tossed because it was too sweet (“my teeth are crying”) and Crumbs earned a “plain crummy” rating for its “coarse, shaggy rug” texture that the tasters likened to being more akin to brown bread than cake. Kyotofu, also in New York, was dubbed the “dustball” for its “mealy” and “desiccated” crumb and virtually frosting-free top (the Japanese bakery won New York Magazine's best cupcake award in 2007; the unusual “soufflé” cupcake recipe includes tofu and miso in the batter.).
As recipe testers are wont to do, their solution was to ditch the commercial cupcakes and come up with their own super chocolate-y version.
Unless you're a Shirley O. Corriher type, you can skip the print version of the article that waxes on about failed attempts to find the perfect crumb-to-moisture ratio. The online version sums it up nicely.
The winning cupcake ingredient America's Test Kitchen thinks solves that crummy-shaggy-desiccated problem? Surprisingly, one that includes high-gluten bread flour — the opposite choice for most cake recipes (cake flour has even less gluten, or protein, than AP flour because too much protein can toughen a cake). The test kitchen reports that the added protein actually yielded a cupcake that was slightly less crumble-prone than one with AP or cake flour, and thus they could load on the cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate (A Squid Ink side note: There is relatively little bread flour in this recipe, only ¾ cup, as the cocoa powder acts as an additional flour-like ingredient, plus this is a moisture-rich batter, so we don't recommend you try this swap with your other cake recipes).
The end result, according to Cook's Illustrated, is a chocolate ganache-filled cupcake with an über-chocolatey but moist crumb and a mound of chocolate buttercream on top. And ya, they did test out that Kyotofu miso-in-the-batter trick, just for kicks. “Adding savory umami flavor to cupcakes in nothing but a bad, bad idea.”