Easy to bake, transport and eat, cupcakes are the ideal treat for any celebration (or just to satisfy a sweet craving). You can dress them up for weddings or just keep them classic for birthday parties or showers.
And when it comes to baking cupcakes, everything from the quality of your ingredients to the mixing of the batter comes into play. As lovers of all things cupcakes, we’ve gathered a few of our tried and true cupcake baking tips to help you make perfect cupcakes every time!
Preparing the Batter
As a general rule, most cake recipes or box mixes will work for cupcakes – you may just have to adjust the baking time (most cupcakes will be done in 15-20 minutes).
If you’re using a boxed mix or a 2-layer 8 or 9 in. cake recipe, the batter will make approximately 20-24 standard-sized cupcakes, depending on the recipe or brand of mix.
Better Ingredients=Better Cupcakes
The quality of your ingredients can make a big difference when making cupcakes from scratch, especially when the recipe calls for vanilla or cocoa. Splurge on pure vanilla extract, rather than settling for imitation vanilla, and use the highest quality cocoa you can find. Also, using large-grade eggs will produce a moister cupcake.
Use Room Temperature Ingredients
Because cold ingredients do not mix well with room temperature ingredients, taking the time to bring ingredients to room temperature will result in a lighter, fluffier cupcake. This is especially important if your recipe calls for butter. The colder the butter is, the more time it takes to break it down to a cream consistency, which means you run the risk of overmixing the batter.
Short on time? Check out our post on How to Soften Butter for three quick and easy ways to speed up the process.
Proper measuring of ingredients is key to perfectly baked cupcakes, especially when you are making them from scratch. Measure liquids at eye level in standard liquid measuring cups. Dry ingredients should be measured by spooning the ingredient into a nesting measuring cup or spoon, then leveling off the top with a knife or straight edge.
Don’t Overmix the Batter
No matter what you’re baking, overmixing the batter can lead to over-developing the gluten, which means your cake comes out dense and heavy. Undermixing can be just as bad, causing your cake to be flaky and crumbly. To ensure proper mixing, set your stand or hand mixer to the lowest setting, and only mix until the wet and dry ingredients are combined. You can always fold in the remaining batter by hand.
Use the Appropriate Amount of Batter in Each Cavity
To ensure your cupcakes are baked to perfection, it’s important to use the right amount of batter in each cupcake cavity. This helps prevent over-baking and under-baking and ensures batches are consistent.
If your recipe calls for a specific measurement of batter, then use the measurement it suggests. Otherwise, a general rule of thumb for standard cupcakes is to fill the pan cavities about 2/3 full, which leaves enough space for the batter to expand. The Versa-Tools Measure and Mix Spoon is perfect for filling pan cavities. The measuring guide inside the spoon makes it easy to pour the same amount of batter every time. A medium ice cream scoop also works well to minimize both variation in the batter amounts and drips on the pan. Use a small cookie scoop for mini cupcakes.
Bake your cupcakes immediately after mixing the batter. Letting batter stand for too long can cause some of the air you’ve beaten in to escape, making for a denser treat.
Preparing the Cupcake Pan
Cupcakes are traditionally baked in paper or foil baking cups to make them easier to get out of the pan, but you can also bake right in muffin pan cavities without a cup, if desired.
Baking with Baking Cups
While baking cups add fun color and style to your cupcakes, they also allow you to skip the step of greasing your pan, as well as make it much easier to remove your treats from the pan after baking.
Before filling, make sure all the baking cups are level in the pan. You don’t need to spray the pan or the baking cups with a non-stick vegetable pan spray—the cups are pleated to prevent sticking.
- Colored and Patterned Paper Cups
Paper liners are available in countless shades and patterns for almost any occasion, making it so easy to color coordinate your party theme. Keep in mind that the paper color will darken as the cupcakes bake.
- Foil Cups
Available in a variety of colors, foil liners are stronger and more decorative than paper liners. The color stays true after baking and grease won’t show through. If paper liners are included with the foil cups, they should be removed because their only purpose is to separate the thin foil cups in the package.
- Silicone Cups
Silicone cups are a great reusable option – and no muffin pan is needed! They can sit on any flat baking pan and are typically oven safe up to 500° F. Unlike the paper and foil cups, silicone cups can be sprayed with a light coating of non-stick vegetable pan spray for easier release. They’re also dishwasher safe for quick cleanup.
Baking without Baking Cups
If you choose to forgo the baking cups, we suggest baking your cupcakes in a non-stick aluminum muffin pan. Simply prepare your pan with Wilton Bake Easy! non-stick spray, Wilton Cake Release pan coating or your favorite non-stick vegetable pan spray. To account for the extra room that would be taken up by the cupcake liners, you can add slightly more batter to each cavity, no more than ¾ full.
You can skip both the baking cups and greasing the pan by using the Cupcake Cones Baking Rack. Just load the 12-cavity cone holder with store-bought sugar cones, then fill with 2 tablespoons of your favorite cupcake batter. Cupcake cones are a perfect alternative to the traditional cupcake, whether you want a fun treat for the kids or a fancy dessert for an elegant luncheon.
How to Properly Preheat Your Oven
For best results, preheat your oven according to your cake recipe – and don’t start baking your cupcakes until your oven is ready. Since your oven works super hard to preheat, putting your cupcakes in an oven that’s not fully pre-heated could result in burnt cupcakes – no fun for anyone!
If your oven doesn’t have a preheat setting, you can use an oven thermometer to check for accuracy. If you think your oven may not be hot enough, you can try raising the temperature by about 25° F. If your cupcakes appear to be overbaking, try lowering the temperature by 25° F. Also keep in mind that if you’re using dark bakeware, your cupcakes may be done quicker than noted on your recipe…so keep an eye on them or lower the temperature by 25° F if you’re using a dark pan.
Baking Two Pans at a Time
If baking more than one pan of cupcakes at a time, place each pan side by side on the same rack as near to the center (both vertical and horizontal center) of the oven as possible. If your oven isn’t wide enough to fit two cupcake pans at once, place two oven racks in the centermost positions of the oven and stagger the cupcake pans so they aren’t directly over each other. This will allow the air to circulate better, reducing the chance of over or under-baked cupcakes.
While it can be tempting, resist the urge to peek in on your cupcakes’ progress. Opening or closing the oven door before the baking time is complete can cause fragile air bubbles in the batter to burst, preventing the cupcakes from rising. Even if you are gentle with the oven door, a rush of cold air can affect the cupcakes while they are trying to set up, resulting in dense, deflated cupcakes. Try to resist the urge to peek until your cupcakes are at least 2/3 through their baking time.
How to Test if Your Cupcakes are Done
Test your cupcakes for doneness while they’re still in the oven by inserting a cake tester or wooden toothpick into the center of a few cupcakes. Your cupcakes are done when the tester or toothpick comes out with no more than a few moist crumbs clinging to it; you should see no wet batter. You can also gently press down on the cupcake and, if the cupcake bounces back leaving no dent, then they are done. If removed too early, the cupcakes will sink in the center as they cool and, if overbaked, they will be dry.
Make Sure Cupcakes are 100% Cool Before Decorating
Cool cupcakes in the pan on a cooling grid for about 5 minutes before removing. If removed from the pan too soon, they may break or crack. On the other hand, if left in the hot pan for too long, the cupcakes may continue to overcook, which can result in them drying out. Use a thin metal spatula or knife to help lift the cupcakes out of the pan and cool them completely on a cooling grid before filling or icing. Even just a slightly warm cupcake can melt your icing.
Add a Filling
Add some intrigue to your cupcakes with a filling. We suggest whipped topping, pie filling, peanut butter, jam, lemon curd or pudding, but the possibilities are endless!
For a creamy, smooth filling, use a decorating bag fitted with Bismarck Filling Tip 230. Insert the tip into the cupcake and lightly squeeze as you pull the tip out.
For a chunky filling, like a fruit pie filling, you can use a paring knife to carve out a small hole in the center, then spoon in the filling.
Don’t worry about the small hole left on top of the cupcake by either method, that will be covered up with your icing. Check out the How to Fill a Cupcake video to see how easy it is!
Icing the Cupcakes
Once the cupcakes have cooled, you’re ready for the best part – decorating! Try to ice your cupcakes as soon as you can (after they’ve completely cooled, of course). Icing will act as a seal to help the cupcakes retain moisture. Try to cover as much of the exposed top as possible with icing, especially if the cupcakes need to sit out uncovered at an event for a long period of time.
Spreading Icing with a Spatula
For a quick and easy decoration, use an angled spatula or knife to spread icing on cupcakes. To avoid getting crumbs in your icing, make sure you have enough icing on each cupcake before spreading and make sure your icing is at room temperature. If it’s too cold, it may tear your cake.
Piping Icing with a Decorating Bag and Tip
Use a decorating bag and a large round, star or drop flower tip to pipe a classic cupcake swirl. Learn how to make the classic buttercream swirl:
You can also have fun decorating your cupcakes however you’d like! Mix and match piping techniques with different tips and icing colors, or top your cupcakes with sprinkles, jimmies, icing decorations or candies for added color and texture.
Why are the Baking Cups Sticking to the Cupcake?
While paper baking cups make it easy to get the cupcakes out of the pan with minimal cleanup, they can sometimes stick to the cupcake. A high sugar content recipe can cause the batter to caramelize against the baking cup (or even the pan), and a lower fat recipe tends to stick more than a batter higher in fat.
If you notice your cupcakes are sticking to the baking cups, try placing a deep baking pan filled with water on the bottom rack of your oven. This added moisture my help prevent sticking. A cupcake is also more likely to stick to the baking cup if it has not cooled completely before trying to unwrap it.
Why are the Baking Cups Pulling Away from the Cupcake?
Baking cups tend to pull away when the cupcake is super-moist or under-baked. They may also start to detach if the cupcakes are not cooled completely before transferring them to a storage container.
How to Store Cupcakes
Cupcakes are at their best within the first 2 days of baking. While they can last up to 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container, they will start to dry out after 3-4 days.
Be sure to let the cupcakes cool completely. Packing un-iced cupcakes while still warm can create sticky tops, making it more difficult to get the icing to stick when you are ready to frost them. This can also cause the baking cup to start peeling away from the side of the cupcake.
Choose an airtight container that is tall enough, so the container lid doesn’t touch the icing. Typically, the container can be left out at room temperature; however, if you are experiencing hot and humid weather that is causing the icing to melt or if the cupcakes are filled or decorated with something that requires refrigeration (like lemon curd or a meringue buttercream), you can store them in the refrigerator. If you must refrigerate your cupcakes, bring them back to room temperature before serving.
Freezing Baked Cupcakes
Un-iced cupcakes can be frozen for up to 3 months. Be sure the cupcakes are completely cooled to room temperature before freezing to avoid condensation forming, which can result in soggy cupcakes when it’s time to defrost them.
While simply placing the cupcakes in an airtight container is enough, individually wrapping each cupcake before placing them in the airtight container will better help preserve the freshness and taste. After removing them from the freezer, let them defrost uncovered to prevent the tops from getting sticky.
Whatever the occasion, we have plenty of cupcake, filling and icing recipes you’re sure to love. And remember, if you do encounter a problem, sometimes it only takes a swirl of icing and a few sprinkles to save the day!
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