If you are a person who is either an Anglophile or an ursinophile or both, you likely already know this: “In the United Kingdom, good weather at Candlemas is taken to indicate severe winter weather later: 'If Candlemas Day is clear and bright, / winter will have another bite. / If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, / winter is gone and will not come again.' It is also alleged to be the date that bears emerge from hibernation to inspect the weather."
But you may not know that in Mexico, Candlemas, or Día de la Candelaria, is a family and religious holiday celebrated throughout Mexico on February 2nd and, oh no, we’re certainly not marking Candlemas as an excuse to share this particular margarita-and-tequila themed recipe, of course not! We would never cook up a news hook to justify publishing this, which rightly ought to be showcased on Cinco de Mayo—nope, not this website! ¡Feliz Candlemas!
But here we are.
The recipe for margarita cupcakes is built around a white cake mix with a whole bunch of add-ins. Normally I wouldn’t advocate for the use of boxed cake mixes because, really, how hard is it to mix together flour, sugar, baking soda and salt? That’s pretty much what a cake mix is, but also are you really going to trust that the fine folks at Betty Crocker aren’t cutting their cake mixes with laxatives and baby powder? Right, do it yourself, if only to ensure that your cake mix is as pure as possible and the DEA isn’t going to bang down your door to confiscate your Sachertorte.
For the sake of this recipe though, it’s fine to use a boxed mix and here’s why: This is not the simplest cake to make. It's not hard, it's just got a number of steps and also? We’re hardly talking about fine pastry here. We’re going to shoot tequila off the tops of these cupcakes, so I think we can all agree to relax our standards a bit. If you’re one of those people who has trouble relaxing, not to worry! The first step is designed for you! (Come sit here. Half a Xanax?)
First, we’re going to mix up a margarita. (I can tell you’re unwinding already!) You’ll need a liquid measuring cup for this, one that can sort things out in ounces. To get into the spirit (oh!), I like to pull out the shot glass measuring cup that I cherish but hardly ever use which is crazy because oh my God, how cute is that seriously?
You’ll want to measure out 6 ounces of tequila—and here the quality is entirely up to you. If you’re a tequila snob (and if you are, you’re insufferable and none of us want you here), feel free to use Patron or whatever other brand you’re willing to pay twelvity-hundred dollars to bake with. I’ll be over here with my friend Jose Cuervo, kissing all the cowboys and shooting out the lights. Then put 18 ounces of margarita mix and 1.5 ounces of Triple Sec into a bowl or large cup, give it a good stir to mix, and then pour a cup and a quarter into your mixing bowl. The rest of it goes over ice and down your throat. ¡Arriba! ¡Candlemas!
Now you’re going to add the following items to the margarita mixture in your bowl: The white cake mix, 3 egg whites (what’s the difference between white and yellow cake? Yolks, right. Nothing gets past us, does it?), 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and the zest of one lime.
If I’m being totally honest with you, the recipe really could do with the zest of two limes but I hate zesting citrus and now you know that sometimes I cheat with my baking. Judge away!
While you’re busy deciding if you want to judge me or not, I’m going to break something to you that doesn’t involve my shortcomings as a human being and baker of cakes: This is a recipe that truly benefits from the use of a stand mixer. If you don’t have one you can certainly—CERTAINLY!—use a hand mixer, but I weep for your poor paws. Maybe wear gardening gloves to protect yourself from the horrible vibrations? There’s a cheap joke to be made there but I am too much of a lady to do so.
The reason stand mixers trump the hand variety for this use is that both the cake and the frosting need to be beaten for a goodly amount of time. The cake batter should be beaten on a low setting for about 30 seconds, then on medium for two minutes. Time that. Two minutes is longer than you think! Oh and is this batter ever worth the time—it’s BEE-YOO-TI-FULL, all glossy and flecked with vibrant green lime zest and smelling of a margarita. Gorgeous.
That sexy, sexy batter can now be spooned into your cupcake tin. Oh wait—you preheated your oven to 350° and lined a muffin tin with cupcake liners, right? No? Okay do that now. Feel free to refresh your margarita and have a lie-down while the oven comes up to temperature. Once the oven is ready, you’ll want to fill the liners ¾ of the way full with batter, and bake the cupcakes for 20-22 minutes.
While the cake is baking, we’ll turn our attention to the frosting. You must use buttercream and only buttercream and I know that cream cheese is the superior frosting but you will also have a giant mess on your hands (and on your shirtfront and trousers too) if you try to shoot tequila off of anything but buttercream. Buttercream is the meathead chotch of the frosting world, the Ronnie Ortiz-Magro of icing, the bro of the crowd, and nothing else will do when it comes to putting a vicegrip on a plastic shot glass full of tequila.
You’ll need two sticks of room temperature butter and a one-pound box of confectioners’ sugar and let’s not even talk about the fact that we’re using a POUND of sugar. Will it make you feel better if we call it four cups of sugar? Yes? Okay then, four cups of powdered sugar it is!
Start beating together the butter and the sugar on low speed, until things are incorporated enough that powdered sugar won’t go flying all over your countertops, and then jack the speed up to medium. Add in two tablespoons of lime juice (which is more or less equal to the juice of one lime), the zest of the same lime— oh, sure, zest it before you juice it, right—a pinch of salt and two drops of green food coloring. JUST TWO. Food coloring is powerful stuff, mama, go easy! You can always add more. You can't add less.
Let that beat together for at least five minutes. TIME IT. I can see you there, trying to cut the power three minutes in. Pour yourself the last of the margarita if it helps to pass the time! If you’re the patient sort you could let the frosting go for up to ten minutes even. Frosting, like cancer or a red-headed stepchild, is something that deserves to be beaten.
Once your cupcakes have cooled completely—wait, DID YOU HEAR THAT? COMPLETELY COOLED. Please don’t try to put buttercream on still-warm cake, I know you’re smart enough to know what happens to butter in the face of any sort of heat. Yes? Okay. So go ahead and frost them. I used a pastry bag (and let me assure you, lest you develop some sort of inferiority complex here, that I SUCKETH at using a pasty bag), but you could go for a nice knifespread if you’re more comfortable doing so. Seriously, it’s not going to matter much since you’re going to smoosh a shot glass into the frosting anyway.
To the top of each cupcake you’ll affix a plastic shot glass, and I think they look rather jaunty if you pop them on at an angle. Look for shot glasses with the narrowest possible base in a 1 or 1.5 oz. size. For New Yorkers, Party City on 14th Street sells a pack of 20 1.5 oz. shot glasses for something like four dollars. Of course, the recipe yields 24 cupcakes, which means you’ll have four sad virgin margarita cupcakes but there’s always a teetotaler or expectant mother or someone who’s made the absurd decision not to drink for a month in the bunch.
For garnish, cut a lime across its equator, and then cut each half in twos. You should be able to get 4-5 wedges out of each lime quarter. Slice a notch in the flesh side of each wedge and affix them to the rim of each shot glass.
When it’s time to serve, don your best sombrero and fill each shot glass with tequila. Hand your guests a salt shaker and wish them luck—they’re on their own now.
And now you have something to do each and every Candlemas.
Jolie Kerr is feverishly working out a recipe for Manhattan cupcakes.