Cupcake Questions, Answers, and Tips

Sunday, September 23, 2007

It's time to answer some cupcake questions that I have been getting frequent e-mails about. I figure the best way to approach this is to make this a general database post which I will update on occasion. Please feel free to e-mail me other questions you may have and I'll be sure to address them here.

Q: Can I use cupcake recipes to make a layer cake and vice versa?

A: Yes, in most cases, it's perfectly logical. An 8 inch round layer cake recipe will give you about 20-24 cupcakes and vice versa. However, keep in mind that in some cases, you may have to take special precautions. If a cupcake recipe has a tendency to deflate a bit like the Fojo Cupcake, then it will not adapt well at all to a layer cake.

Q: Can I turn the recipe into mini cupcakes?

A: Go nuts, just be sure to grease (maybe flour as well) the pan. Cook them for about 12-15 minutes.

Q: Can I replace one ingredient for another? Or will it taste good if I do this?

A: I really don't know. I can give you my own suppositions as to how it will taste, but until you make it, you'll never know for sure. If it's something like, "Can I replace orange juice with lemon juice?" then sure, it's pretty much the same thing in respect to the ingredient balance. If you ask me what will happen if you totally re-work the recipe, my answer will be "I have no clue, give it a try and e-mail me back with your results."

Q: What kind of pan do you use?

A: I got mine at Safeway on sale. Nothing special about it.

Q: How full should I fill my cupcake papers?

A: Depending on the recipe, between 1/2 and 3/4 full. Be sure to take into account how much the cupcake will rise. Black Bottom cupcakes won't puff up much at all, while others will have glorious mounds. If you overfill a cupcake with high rising aspirations, you're likely to suffer overflow and burning, which is never fun.

Q: Why don't you use silicone cupcake cups?

A: It's preference. I just like papers over silicone as silicone seems to always want to piss me off and tear my cupcakes, others never have this problem though.

Q: How do you get your cupcakes out of the pan without mushing them up?

A: Always let your cupcakes cool for about a minute before taking them out of the cupcake tin. I then use a fork to carefully turn and slide them out of the pan, and let them sit on a wire rack so the bottoms do not get soggy from residual heat coming off the pan.

Q: My cupcakes come out mushy, what do I do?

A: See the previous question for that. But it could also be too much liquid from eggs or milk or whatnot.

Q: Why should I sift my flour and sugar?

A: To avoid any lumps from getting in the batter. Flour likes to stick together, and if the cupcakes bake with a large pocket of flour, you'll have uneven baking, possible deflation, and pockets of uneven cake texture to deal with.

Q: Why do you always say to leave the butter and eggs at room temperature?

A: Butter at room temperature is more pliable and will better mix with the other ingredients. Same goes for the eggs. Plus the batter will be at room temperature and won't have such a sudden shock (leading to melting and burning) while in the oven.

Q: My cupcakes have weird melty burnt spots in them. What happened?

A: Did you scrape down the sides of the bowl to ensure that your ROOM TEMPERATURE butter and eggs were fully incorporated? If not, then that's your answer. Those spots are caused by blobs of butter melted and burnt in the cupcake. Generally, I do not scrape dough off the very bottom of the mixing bowl as thats where you get small butter deposits.

Q: Can I freeze cupcakes?

A: Of course! Place the cupcakes, undecorated, in an airtight box and place in the freezer. They'll keep for about 3 months. Generally though, the longer the stay in the freezer, the more it will detract from the taste and texture.

Q: How long do cupcakes keep?

A: About 2-3 days. I actually prefer my frosted cupcakes to spend a night in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld, then bring them back to room temperature and eat. Be sure to cover them in tupperware or or plastic wrap or something to keep them fresh and to ensure they stay moist.

Q: Salted or Unsalted Butter?

A: Unsalted. You can always add more salt if need be. On that note, use kosher salt.

Q: Do I have to preheat my oven?

A: Do I have to bitchslap you for asking me that?

Q: How come you rarely pipe your icing?

A: My piping skills are mediocre at best and I am too lazy to take that extra amount of time. Hence why many of my cupcakes simply have the frosting smeared on, or I dip the cupcake in ganache, or cop out some other way or another. Shut up, don't judge me.

Q: How do you come up with your cupcake flavor ideas?

A: Ahh, this is the most popular e-mail... The first thing I would say would be to just read, watch, and listen to anything food to learn the basic ideas of pairings. Try to notice similar patterns (PB&H, pear and gorgonzola, cinnamon and apple, etc).

Try to put them together in your head and then taste them in your mouth (a simple exercise is imagine a pepperoni pizza, and taste it in your mouth, then try to separate every single ingredient on it's own, and see how they compliment each other).

I find that it's best to stay around 3 flavors, any more and it becomes difficult to balance in a cake. A few weeks ago I saw some pears, and recalled a pork dish I had with pears and fennel, suddenly Pear and Fennel Cake with Star Anise syrup and caramelized pears on top.

Note that in the above example similar flavors, and the repetition and layering of ingredients are utilized. This creates harmony without undue tension within the cakes flavor profile.

Then take in texture and presentation of tastes. You have your flavors and ingredients, now how do you want to use them? In the cake, frosting, as edible decoration, syrup, filling? Do you want to candy the citrus zest, or or use it to flavor the cake? Maybe you want to candy it, and then put it into the cake? A variety of textures is important.

For writing the recipe, take a look at other existing recipes. If you wanted to make a unique yellow cake, make one or two other existing yellow cake recipes. See how they differ based on their measurements, baking times, etc. Create your recipe to be practical so it will be stable, yet have the right balance of flavor you want along with the right texture. My French Vanilla cake took five tries, the Apple Cardamom took just one. Accept any failures as simply lessons, and try to figure out what went wrong. We all have setbacks in baking, you just have to learn to turn the oven back on, break out the butter, and try it again.

Read everything you can about the chemical science of baking. Why if you have buttermilk baking soda is preferable to baking powder. How eggs leaven bread? Why do gluten bonds increase with over-mixing creating denser bread? Classes taught by reputable teachers are ALWAYS a good thing to help you understand this and in helping you fine tune your technique.

Try to always showcase the flavor. If you have mint in the cake, try to use fresh mint on top as a decoration and to give visual appeal and inform the eater that this cupcake contains mint.

Honestly, it took me weeks (not kidding) to think up my first original cupcake; I based it off a butternut squash soup with sage. The more you do it the easier it becomes. Nowadays, I'll just see an ingredient and then start pairing, measuring and doing trial runs in my head automatically. It's now a pretty easy process. Inspiration can come from anything. Practice makes perfect.

Q: I have a great idea for a cupcake, will you make it?

A: Probably not. I rarely take requests. The main reason is I already have a laundry lists of recipe ideas I want to try out, trying to cram in one more is just too much. Read the previous question for more information.


  1. I, too, loathe silicone cupcake cups. I used them exactly once: For the cupcake challenge last January! I hated them so much that I tossed them in the trash un-washed. They gave the cupcakes an odd texture, and the very thought of washing all those pleats made me grind my teeth.

  2. thanks for this. very helpful and entertaining! yes i am a baking geek. :-)

  3. I love to cook, and fail miserably with baking....something about the exact science of it makes me inept...

    maybe I'll try a cupcake baking session and see how it goes.

  4. I've been searching for a lost cupcake recipe... think I might find it here? It was the BEST chocolate chip cupcake with sour cream in the batter. No icing was necessary. They were soooo yummy... HELP!

  5. Annony - Search the cupcake dropdown menu to see what cupcakes I have made here. Though you may have to search for a sour cream chocolate chip one as I haven't done that. There are many other tasty options however, and I always encourage you to try your hand at making your own recipe. =)

  6. I make loads of cupcakes which turn out great but they have started to rise in the middle like volcano's. They still taste great so I level off the top and ice but I cannot seem to stop them erupting..Any advice or ideas?

  7. I can bet my last dollar that I saw a cupcake recipe with rice pudding filling.I can't find it anymore. Could you please add it to your pick list?

  8. Please ignore my previous comment.
    My bad!! I found the rice pudding recipe I was looking for.

  9. My first real successful (gluten free) cupcake attempt took many (your eyes might roll to the back of your head if you knew!) attempts. But the results were so damn satisfying. If you're interested, here is the post:

    Thanks for your unique and very interesting blog!


  10. I need some help. I want to make capcakes bigger than the standard size but not the huge ones. My local cupcake shop makes them the size I want. She says she uses the standard size pan but I saved a liner and the liner is the size for the huge ones and doesn't fit well into the standard pan. Any suggestions? Sure hope so!!

  11. Linda: I have only seen mini and the regular size. Sounds like you just need to shop for the right size pan that you want.


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