Though I'm no expert, I take a lot of pride in everything I do and wouldn't want to share anything less than the best with you guys. So instead of my original post, I'm going to share some general cupcake tips which have helped make most of my other cupcake experiments successful. Plus a quick round-up of all my Halloween recipes for you last-minute planners =p.
XIAOLU'S CUPCAKE TIPS:
- Use a good muffin pan. I recommend one that's nonstick and has some weight (like this one). A sturdier pan will be less likely to warp (become misshapen) easily. I recall using my new pan for the first time 3 years ago and noticing an immediate difference. My cupcakes rose at least 1/4 inch higher and baked more evenly.
- Buy an oven thermometer (or even 2!) and always preheat at least 25 minutes, ovens (even brand new ones) are notorious for being inaccurate as to temperature. Buy your own thermometer and rely on it rather than your oven's. If your oven tells you that it's up to 400 degrees F only 5 minutes after you turned it on...it's lying...
- If it's your first time making a recipe, try to read it a few days in advance in case you need to buy/prepare anything ahead of time. At the very least, try to read it before you start making the cupcakes.
- Lightly grease the top of your cupcake pan BEFORE putting in liners. Especially if you overfill the cups with batter later, this will make it much easier to lift the cupcakes out later. I've found that the grease seems to reduce the "muffin-top" effect and encourages the cakes to rise up and not outward.
- Use good-quality baking liners. Especially if you bake cupcakes/muffins a lot, this should be a no-brainer. I usually buy basic solid liners (white, brown, black) in bulk online so that I'm never low -- I usually search for the lowest prices on Etsy. Cupcake Social is one seller I've had a good experience with. If you're a fan of those paper souffle standalone baking cups (similar to those Wilton nut cups except that those aren't oven-safe), you can get a LOT of them for cheap here. Unsuitable liners can take a lot away from your final product. For example, I bought white liners at the grocery store when I was nearly out of my usual liners. Luckily I didn't need to use them because when I placed one into the pan, it wouldn't even fit without a big fold forming along the top. Liners can also differ in their non-stick coating. Some are so non-stick that they tend to pull away from the cupcake. Trust me, this is NOT a good look!
- When measuring flour for cakes, it's best to go by weight OR to stir the flour, spoon it into the measuring cup, then level it with a knife or other straight edge. The method of measurement can make a big difference. Scooping up the flour with your measuring cup will compact the flour, result in you using too much flour, and the cake being too dry.
- Sift dry ingredients together, it helps minimize the formation of clumps of dry ingredients when they're being mixed into the batter later.
- Unless the recipe specifies otherwise, use room temperature eggs and butter. Obviously if you'll be heating up the butter or eggs as part of the recipe, you don't need to worry about the starting temperature. But if you'll be creaming the butter with sugar, you'll need it to be warm enough to properly incorporate the air that will make your cake fluffy. Room temperature eggs are also important if the eggs are to mix in evenly in the batter. You can speed up their warming by placing them in a bowl of lukewarm water. Once the water becomes cool, replace it with more warm water. Do this until the eggs no longer feel cool to the touch.
- If whisking by hand, beat eggs separately (or with other wet ingredients) before adding to batter. I always pre-beat my eggs even for one-bowl recipes because of one incident. When crumbling up my favorite chocolate cake to make cake pops one time, I noticed there were chunks of something rubbery in the cake. I realized these were from streaks of egg white that didn't get totally mixed into the batter. Referring back to the bullet point above, it's important to use room temperature eggs as well to avoid these streaks.
- If whisking by hand, whisk in one direction only when first combining wet and dry ingredients. Once the 2 are fairly combined, you can change directions, but I find that changing directions before the dry ingredients are mixed in results in more clumping.
- Unless the recipe instructs otherwise, always stop mixing as soon as the added ingredients have been mixed in. Overmixing will result in developing the gluten (proteins that make bread chewy) in the batter too much = tough cake!
- For even and clean distribution of batter, use a cookie/ice cream scoop. I love love LOVE this scoop -- it makes dividing up batter a cinch and is also great for cookies and ice cream, of course.
- Don't overfill your baking liners. I've rarely seen a recipe that calls for filling more than 3/4 full. Most cupcakes recommend somewhere between 2/3 and 3/4 full. A few batters rise exceptionally high, so if the recipe says to only fill 1/2 full, follow the directions!
- After filling pan with batter, slam pan directly down on counter from a height of 2 inches. Don't do this though if the batter is exceptionally delicate. Otherwise, it helps push any big air bubbles to the top and out. This way you won't have big holes and tunnels in your finished cakes.
- Don't open the oven door before the last 5 minutes of baking. Cakes can be very sensitive to temperature changes and drafts. Especially opening the door during the first 1/2 of baking can have big consequences such as the cake collapsing.
- Always check in on your cupcakes about 5 minutes before the baking time listed in the recipe. Due to variations in ovens, pans, altitude, and whatever else, it's a good idea to check your goods a little early. Better that than dry, overbaked cakes (ew). For most cakes the toothpick test is fairly accurate; the cupcakes are ready as soon as a toothpick stuck into the middle of the cupcake comes out mostly clean (a few moist crumbs are usually ok; wet batter or a lot of crumbs are not).
- Regardless of what the recipe says, move cupcakes from pan to cooling rack no more than 5 minutes after they come out of the oven (but be careful not to burn yourself!). After persistent issues with cupcake liners separating from the sides of the cake (as mentioned above), I did some research and found 2 main culprits. First was the type of baking liner used, and second was steam formed when cupcakes sat cooling in their pans for too long. After figuring these out, I haven't had this problem again.
- Let cupcakes cool on racks COMPLETELY before frosting unless the recipe says otherwise. Even if your cupcakes feel just barely warm, that bit of heat is probably going to be enough to melt your frosting if you try to put it on too early.
- To fill cupcakes, I prefer the "cone method" or using a cookie cutter. The cone method simply means using a paring knife to cut a cone about halfway down into the cupcake, then using the tip of the knife to help pop the cone out. Or you can use a 1-inch wide round cookie cutter. Press the cutter down into the center of the cupcake, left it up and out, then use the tip of a knife to help you pull out the round of cake you just cut. With either method, you can spoon/pipe in the filling at this point. Now you can either put back the cone/round of cake on top of the filling or frost directly on top of the filling.
- Cupcakes with any perishable ingredients (like whipped cream or cream cheese frosting) should be stored in the fridge. Other cupcakes can be stored, well-covered, at room temperature. They are usually good for several days this way.
- If you make cupcakes ahead of time and want to keep them fresh/moist, wrap or place them in an airtight container and freeze them. Defrost before frosting and serving.
- Share the joy of cupcakes with friends and family. I promise, they taste better when enjoyed together ;p.
Well, that's all I can think of for now. Please feel free to add your own tips or any questions you may have for me in the comments! In the meantime, if you're still looking for a fun and tasty Halloween treat, I've gathered all of mine in one convenient locations (...in Africa...brownie point if you get this reference ^-^).