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How to Make a Better Cupcake

How to Make a Better Cupcake


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Walking through the basics with the president of Magnolia Bakery

iStockphoto/Thinkstock

With a few basic tips from an expert, making cupcakes will be a piece of cake.

Cupcakes are the best — no if's, and's, or but's about it. And whoever says they're going out of style is going out of style. Cupcakes are here to stay.

Why are they so popular? Well, they're the perfect size for people who want to eat dessert without feeling guilty — anything larger than a single-serving cupcake just isn't a cupcake anymore, quite frankly. And they're a canvas for the creative cooks out there because they can be customized with a variety of batters, flavored icings, or toppings. Most importantly, however, they're so fun and easy-to-make, even kids can do it.

Or are they? We've all been there. Even the best cooks sometimes find themselves in desperate situations at the 11th hour, say, the night before a son's fourth birthday party at school, where homemade cupcakes were already promised. And resorting to store-bought just isn't an option. Perhaps you ended up with cupcakes that were perfectly done but stuck to the bottom of the pan — how frustrating is that, especially when every step was meticulously followed? Or cupcakes that were underdone. Or lumpy. Or rock hard.

Bobbie Lloyd, president and chief baking officer at Magnolia Bakery (yes, that title is real!), is on speed dial for many of her friends for just that reason. But for the rest of us who aren't so lucky as to have a cupcake-baking extraordinaire on call, we've gathered together a few basic tips that can mean the difference between achieving cupcake nirvana and, well, just making a mess. Thank you for all of your help, Bobbie!

Click here to see the How to Make a Better Cupcake Slideshow.


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."


5 Steps to Perfect Cupcakes

Moist, tasty, and expertly iced, the popular cupcake creations of sisters Katherine Kallinis and Sophie LaMontagne of Georgetown Cupcake in Washington, D.C., are baked works of art. Here are their secrets to success.

1. Good ingredients truly equal good taste. When your teeth sink into a cupcake, your taste buds should register nothing but bliss. To send them straight to cupcake heaven, consider splurging on top tier ingredients, say the sisters. Gourmet flavors are highlighted in something as small as a cupcake, so make those 3-4 bites count. "We use Plugra butter, Madagascar bourbon vanilla, and Valrhona cocoa, and they make a huge difference in taste," says LaMontagne.

2. Never, never over-bake a cupcake. "We always recommend erring on the side of under-baking," says Kallinis. "If you over-bake a cupcake, there&aposs no way to save it. And it won&apost be moist on the inside." Georgetown Cupcake&aposs team of bakers even set two timers to ensure the cakes make it out of the oven on time. For even better results, check your oven&aposs heat with an oven thermometer, to determine it&aposs true temperature. You&aposre doing it right when your cupcakes look slightly sunken, rather than peaked, says LaMontagne. Test them with a toothpick if you&aposre unsure -- if no batter clings to the pick, they&aposre done.

3. Mix your batter with a light hand. If there&aposs one thing we&aposve learned as bakers, it&aposs to simply be more gentle, says LaMontagne. "Baking fluffy, moist cupcakes is all about creating air bubbles in your batter that expand in the oven," she says. "If you over-mix your batter, you collapse those bubbles and end up with a brick-like cake." To avoid this, always mix on a low speed, stopping just as all ingredients blend.

4. Let all ingredients come to room temperature before baking. Take it from a pro: All ingredients incorporate into batter much more easily if they&aposre at similar temperatures, says Kallinis. Sure, it requires a bit more planning to set out eggs, butter, and other refrigerated ingredients 15-20 minutes before you set to work, but for a perfect cupcake, it&aposs worth it. (And as far as baking tips go, this one ranks among the easiest!)

5. Baking in advance? Freeze your creations. "If you&aposve baked them to eat right away, we recommend storing cupcakes at room temperature," says LaMontagne. "But if they&aposre for tomorrow, freezing them will retain their moisture much better than leaving them on a countertop overnight."