Food & Drink

How to make a perfect cupcake

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trays of cupcakes
Baking perfect cupcakes starts with the basics, ends with delicious!
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Knowing how to make a perfect cupcake is easy if you pay attention to details

After dozens and dozens of batches of cupcakes, including some truly spectacular failures (I believe in learning from my mistakes!) I have learned how to make a perfect cupcake. Well, almost perfect. Once in awhile, a new recipe or a change in my ingredients will surprise me with something less than ideal. But that's what the neighborhood kids are for!

Even if perfect isn't a 100% guaranteed, there are some things you can do to make your cupcakes come out better every time. 

It starts with the pan

It would be nice to be able to say that any old cupcake pan will work. But unfortunately, baking pans are a case of "You get what you pay for." Cheap discount store pans or disposable aluminum cupcake pans just won't give you the fluffy, golden, evenly cooked cupcakes you want.

If you're serious about your baking, invest in a couple of really heavy professional grade cupcake pans. Non-stick pans are nice, but not a requirement. (If you select a dark finish, remember to adjust the oven temperature down slightly to compensate.)

Know your oven

Different ovens cook at different speeds and temperatures, so before you start your cupcakes make sure you know whether your cooks hot and fast, or tends to cook slower than expected. Then adjust your cooking time and/or temperature settings accordingly.

If you don't know which yours is, you can test it in one of two ways. You can buy an oven thermometer and put it inside. Then set the oven for 350. When it says it has reached the temp, check the thermometer. That will show you the adjustment you need to make. 

Or, you can use my method. It costs less, and you get treats at the end! Buy a cheap boxed cake mix and prepare according to directions. Set the oven for the exact setting on the box. Fill  and bake according to directions. Do not open the oven during the baking time.

If the cupcakes are just right at the end of the time, your oven is true to temperature. If they're underdone, you will need to adjust the temperature slightly higher to get perfect cupcakes. If they're overdone, drop a few degrees off the recipe temperature when you bake.

Now eat the cupcakes, and move on to the next tip!

Use good cupcake papers

Cheap cupcake papers, like cheap pans, will doom your cupcakes. No one wants to spend time trying to peel shreds of paper off their dessert. Cheap papers also sag away from the cake during baking, creating a messy look and allowing the sides to dry out.

Good cupcake papers keep your creations from sticking to the pan, help them cook more evenly, and keep them together for plating and serving.

Test your recipes

When you're experimenting with new cupcake recipes, it's a good idea to make a couple of test cupcakes. That way you'll know whether the cakes come out too moist or crumbly or if the flavors change with baking.

If you're making cupcakes with a filling, this is also a chance to see how it comes out. Sometimes what seems like a great idea for a filling (or topping) doesn't work once it's baked.

Even experienced cupcake bakers run tests on new recipes, or when they make changes to older recipes. The minutes it takes for that test is well worth the knowing how the entire batch will come out.

Don't overfill...or underfill!

A good cupcake should reach the top of the paper on the side and rise up slightly above the sides in the center. More most cupcake batters, this means filling the paper about 2/3 full. If you're not sure about the right fill volume for a new cupcake, test different levels during your test phase.

Cool before you store

Everyone knows you have to let cupcakes cool before you frost them, but beginners often make the mistake of leaving hot cupcakes in the pan or putting them on a plate or other flat surface before they cool. That results in soggy bottoms that stick to the paper.

Hot cupcakes need to be carefully removed from their pans as soon as possible. Let them cool completely on cooling racks before placing them on any flat surface or into boxes.

Be creative

Making the perfect cupcake isn't just about following recipes or rules. It's also about trying new combinations and new flavors. Baking is an art, and cupcake baking is no exception. Try new tastes in small batches, and get trusted friends to act as tasters.

The perfect cupcake is within reach. Enjoy the process!

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