Troubleshooting Cupcakes – Make Beautiful Cupcakes Every Time

Cupcakes are beautiful confections, which can actually be quite troublesome in my experience. From oddly shaped tops which are hard to decorate to the cupcake wrapper being greasy or totally stuck to your cake- there are so many things that can go wrong. Here are a few lessons I learned on my quest to make beautiful and delicious cupcakes.

Orange cupcake with a Russian buttercream with a boozy twist

Baking cupcakes is all the rage all the time. Even though they look pretty I never thought they were worth all the fuss. In the time I manage to decorate a handful of cupcakes with a buttercream that is way too sweet I have decorated an entire cake. That Swiss Meringue Buttercream I stumbled upon when trying to bake a teddy bear cake has definitely changed my view on buttercream. It is the most delicious thing in the world, although this blogpost is not about buttercream. If you want to know more about which buttercream is more suitable for your purposes or how to bake a teddy bear chocolate cake check out this post (here). There I take a closer look at the advantages of Swiss Meringue Buttercream and American Butter. It also includes step by step instructions on how to bake a teddy bear cake and some tips and tricks I wish I had known.

Anyway, that cake left me with a whole bunch of new baking equipment such as piping nozzles, a turntable and a stand mixer. Not to forget all the new recipes I saw when researching how to make that cake. Since then I attempted making more cupcakes, which were not as perfect as you see them on TV or on the internet. They were delicious and soft, but crackly on top with strange little hills forming. Buttercream can hide all these imperfections but it is so much easier to pipe around an even cupcake, so your tip is actually in the middle. How would you even go about just spreading some buttercream on top of the cupcake when you have no piping nozzles available? It would look ridiculous. Therefore I decided to conduct an experiment on how to get a perfectly even cupcake and the last five, out of twenty-nine, were finally perfect. I really think I tested all aspects of cupcake baking which might influence the outcome, other than testing all cupcake recipes in the world.

• which equipment worked best silicon or metal moulds
• how high to fill the mixture into the moulds
• how many cupcake liners to use
• where to put the baking rack in the oven

To test all these different conditions I used Cupcake Jemma’s Chocolate Cupcake recipe I have used before, but made a few alterations. By replacing some of the buttermilk I turned a regular chocolate cupcake into a Chocolate Irish Coffee Cream Cupcake (recipe here). To frost it I used some leftover Cocoa Swiss Meringue Buttercream from the freezer.

Let’s consider you have a cupcake recipe that should technically work. A good indicator for is that it is springy on top and a toothpick comes out clean within the indicated time at the indicated temperature in the oven. Obviously one some could rise a little more than others depending on how accurate you were filling them and whether or not you have a hotspot in your oven. Your cupcake did not rise evenly, but you have baked a moist sponge that is fine in any other regard. Clearly the recipe does not seem to be the problem. Now let’s have a look at all the other factors that could influence the rise of these cupcakes when the recipe is not the root of the problem.

1. Silicone Cupcake Mould versus Metal Cupcake Tin

When you take a look at the photos you can see that in terms of getting an even rise it made no difference whether I used silicone moulds or the metal cupcake tray. They were both baked on the same rack and at the temperature and all rose unevenly. Silicone moulds lightly change the shape of the cupcake as they are wider at the top, giving you more space to decorate. I only see one advantage to using silicone moulds is that they are cooler than the metal tray therefore leading to less caramelization of the cupcake within the liner. Either way when making a dark cupcake inside a light cupcake liner you will have to either double up the liners or use a stronger liner.

Verdict: Using a silicone mould or a metal cupcake tray makes no difference.

2. 2/3 of the way versus ¾ of the way full

How high to fill the mixture into your cupcake moulds can be difficult to estimate. Recipes often give you both options. I figured that this likely depends on the recipe you are using and your own personal preference when it comes to decorating. How high I filled them made no difference, they all had the crackly, hilly top. Some where just higher than others. Once I figured out my actual problem I thought that 2/3 of the way full gave me a nice even top. That even top is important when you want to sprinkle something on top or put a cupcake topper on it, which otherwise might slide down.

Verdict: How high you should fill your moulds depends on the recipe you use as they rise differently and how you plan decorating them.

3. One versus Multiple Cupcake Liners

The answer to that is quite short as it made no difference whatsoever when it came to the cupcake rising.

Verdict: Whether you use one or two cupcake liners makes no difference. Although two cupcake liners are often more aesthetically pleasing. especially when it comes to a dark sponge. Make sure the cupcake liners fit the mould you are using perfectly so that they don’t fold in. For a clean look add a fresh liner to the finished and cooled cupcake.

4. Where should you place the baking tray inside the oven?

After testing all the factors above whilst baking these cupcakes I was starting to think that the recipe had to be bogus, despite getting a springy top and a fully baked cupcake in the designated time at the designated temperature. Most recipes ask to put the baking tray in the middle of the oven, which I have always done. With the last few cupcakes I decided to go rogue as I had tried everything else. Rather than putting it in the middle I put the cupcake tray in the lower third, not the bottom, of the oven. After twenty-four minutes I had the perfect cupcakes with a springy and even top. I assume by putting it lower in the oven the top edges don’t dry out before the cupcake has the opportunity to rise evenly, which might force the weird hill we experienced before. Baking time and temperature remained the same.

Verdict: If you experience unevenly risen cupcakes when baking them in the middle rack of your oven, bake them in the lower third of the oven not the bottom in order to give them more time to rise before the top edge dry out.

Hopefully this post was helpful to you, I wish I had known this before. Cupcakes are such a cute little treat and baking season has officially begun. Now nothing can stop you from making evenly risen pumpkin spice or Halloween or even Christmas cupcakes. Both cupcakes and Swiss Meringue Buttercream freeze well, making it easy to keep some in the freezer and assemble when needed. Should you have butterfingers as I do and drop shall I say two beautifully decorated cupcakes onto your light carpet, I can tell you that those stains can be removed with an old towel, water, dish soap and vinegar essence. No butter stain left behind. I think that is a good thing to know, right?


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