Let me preface this by saying I am not in any way, shape or form the expert in these matters. All I am is a chick whose been baking weekly or bi-weekly for the last 6 years and had this blog for about 4 ½, so I know a little bit about a few things baking-wise. I am not trained, I am not a pastry chef, I did not go to school for this. I am self-taught and therefore I think in some ways I’m better at answering the basic questions that arise in every day kitchens, when you don’t have a fancy Viking range or Williams-Sonoma goldtone bakeware. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’m all about encouraging the average person to bake & cook, and letting them know they don’t need to invest in a brand new chef’s kitchen to do it.
I ain’t no genius & I’m definitely not Florian Bellanger (thank cupcakes!). I’m no June Cleaver and I am most likely not the person you think of when “perfect” comes to mind. But I have failed a few times, and I have made many mistakes and with most of them I’ve managed to figure out the how/why. Again- don’t think I’m being cocky here, not at all. I just hope my basic little down-home, practical knowledge can help someone else out there. So I decided to do a little Q&A on my Facebook page.
Q: Neikya Davis- I was wondering if cupcake batters should be different from cake batters. I’ve made hundreds of cakes and never have any baking problems. But whenever I try to make cupcakes, I always have issues with the cupcakes rising. And for that reason, I HATE making cupcakes. Thanks!
A: Well Neikya, I don’t think that there’s a difference in the batters themselves. I say that because most cupcake recipes can be adapted into making cakes and vice versa. I have noticed most cake recipes when used for cupcakes don’t rise quite as well as cupcake recipes alone, though. If your trouble is with the cupcakes rising but sinking in the middle during or after baking, then that could be a few things: ingredients aren’t “fresh” enough, off-brand butter or oil (as silly as it sounds, there is a serious fat difference in “cheap” butter & good quality butter), the wrong size eggs or the fact that the eggs/butter are too cold. It could also have to do with oven temperature. If that isn’t the problem, or the factors I listed definitely aren’t the problem, then it could be your baking powder or baking soda is old. It loses it’s power after a certain period of time and won’t rise. The reason you may not have a problem with the cakes is that it’s a larger surface area for one, and two they don’t have to rise as much as a cupcake does. And if that doesn’t sound like it’s the problem, maybe you’re over-beating your butter? Are you at a higher/lower altitude? Is your oven gas or electric? Is it humid or dry out? All those factors can also influence your baking. I hope that helped! If not, I suggest The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum. She answers tons of scientific questions and gives reasons for everything.
Q: Cindy Wright- I have never had good luck making carrot cake cupcakes. Do you a good recipe? I usually bake from scratch.
A: I’ve had the same exact problem. I can’t find a good carrot cake or carrot cupcake recipe. I sorta gave up. That said, I heard this one is to die for. If you try it, please let me know how it worked out for you!
Q: Melanie Bishop- I have tried to make cupcakes with peanut butter cups or kisses in the middle. However, no matter if the candy is room temp, frozen, or just barely covered with cake batter, the candy inevitably sinks to the bottom of the cupcake. Any tips to prevent this?
A: Melanie, I’ve had this problem, but mainly with chocolate chips. I find it happens when the batter is very liquidy. I have two solutions you can try: one, coat the candies in flour first. Just put a tablespoon in a bowl and toss ’em in it, then stick ’em in. Two, bake the cupcakes halfway and try putting them in then. It will be tricky, and don’t burn yourself. Good luck & please let me know if it works!
Q: Dee Kozarov- I am always excited when I see red velvet cupcakes but then I taste one and the cake is always dry and the cream cheese frosting always taste cheap. Do you have any suggestions on better cake and icing?
A: When a cupcake is dry, it’s usually because it was over-beaten or there isn’t enough fat in it. Red velvet in particular can be tricky, I don’t know why. I’ve tried some duds, let me tell you. But I have found an excellent red velvet recipe that I suggest you try. As far as the icing, I hate cream cheese frosting so I recommend either a vanilla bean cream cheese frosting or a regular vanilla frosting.
Q: Jill Ritenour Wilch- I have problems with my cupcakes rising like I would like them to as well. They prefer to spread instead of rise. Anyone else find they do not fill out the bottoms of the liners either? Mine always seem a bit brown and loose.
A: Jill, you may be overfilling the cups. Or not mixing them thoroughly, and the ingredients aren’t fully incorporated. If you could, send me a photo some time. I could help better if I see exactly what you mean about the bottoms. Until then, make sure your ingredients are room temperature, get an oven thermometer if you don’t have one, make sure you mix your ingredients thoroughly but don’t overbeat them, and you fill the cups no more than halfway. Halfway is the standard, although some recipes call for three-fourths or two-thirds, to be on the safe side I usually do halfway. Could it also be that the recipe calls for either not enough/too much flour or sugar and not enough baking powder? Does it happen with all your cupcakes or just specific ones? Do they use butter, shortening or oil? Those can be factors as well.
Q: Jocelyn Lua- I was wondering if you have any way of telling if your cupcakes are gonna turn out soft & moist, or otherwise. Cos I have been baking them for some time now, but i could never know how they are going to turn out until they finish baking (even if i might have used the recipe before). And it makes me nervous as hell, cos I’ll really hate to waste food. =x
A: I don’t really think there’s a way to tell that 100% from the batter, Jocelyn. However I have found that the thicker the batter, the heavier & denser the cupcake and the more liquidy the batter the more moist and “squishy” the cupcake. However, I’ve made some batters that were quite thick like cookie dough, and I’ve gotten some lovely cakes. Again, the weather, the humidity, your oven, and the ingredients all make a difference as to how exactly a cupcake is going to turn out.
Q: Pola Sanchez-Baker- Is there any way to save a whipped cream that’s been whipped too long? It becomes butter-like and… well, just too thick for frosting.
A: In a word, Pola, no. Sorry. Once it’s been whipped that long, it’s beyond the “cream” stage and into the butter stage. It’s best to keep going, add a little salt, and make homemade butter so the whole thing isn’t a loss. That’s what I’d do, anyway. I’d make lemons out of lemonade & use it to make a homemade compound butter. Maybe with some sauteed garlic/parsley, some basil & chopped sundried tomatoes or just with some cilantro. Then I’d wrap it in waxed paper, refrigerate it (or freeze it) and use it for cooking or topping bread later on. Just don’t keep it frozen for longer than 7 or 8 months.
Q: Tina Becker- Every once in a while when I bake cupcakes from scratch, I notice they have a raw flour taste. It only happens now and then…is it just a “bad recipe” or something that I might be doing?
A: There are a lot of reasons it could be. Yes, it could be a bad recipe. If it always happens with just that particular recipe and no others, then toss it, it sucks. It could also be that the flour isn’t being incorporated well enough so it’s not “cooking.” Make sure you scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl during the mixing to get everything all up in there. Another reason could be the brand of flour has a very strong flavor; although I’ve tried many brands myself and never had that issue, it could very well be. So if you switch brands a lot and notice it only with one brand- stop using it. There could also be too much flour in the recipe, or you’re using all-purpose when you need to use cake flour. And yet another reason could be that the flour is old and therefore stale. If you don’t bake a lot and have the flour in the house for a long time, it’ll turn. Finally, are you using the right amount of salt & extract? Both of those things add flavor (and salt also helps the rising if you’re using baking powder, but that’s another unrelated issue), and without them you’ll definitely end up with a not very delicious baked good. I hope one of these can help you! Happy baking!