10 Tips for Baking the BEST Cupcakes

apple spice cupcakes with salted caramel frosting, a drizzle of salted caramel, and a slice of granny smith apple on top

Not only are we focusing on COOKIES this month, we’re also getting our feet wet in the cupcake decorating department. I love your response so far to September’s baking challenge recipe! I hope you’re having  a lot of fun decorating the sunflowers, as well as building some confidence. Because that’s what I want these challenges to be: educational + confidence boosting + fun + delicious.

With back-to-school events, bake sales, weddings, showers, and fall baking in full swing this month, I figured it’s the best time to share another baking basics post.

And cupcakes are calling our names…

overhead image of cupcakes with pink buttercream frosting and sprinkles on a white plate

Recipe: soft and fluffy funfetti cupcakes dressed in pink!

I compiled a list of my 10 best cupcake baking tips– all geared toward helping you bake a better batch. Get your ovens preheated, my friends, because you’ll have the baking itch after reading this!

1. Follow the Recipe

Well, duh. This sounds pretty obvious, right? Well actually… no! We often substitute ingredients in recipes based on what we have. Subbing out eggs, reducing sugar, using liquid sweetener instead, all-purpose instead of cake flour, baking soda for powder (no! don’t do it!), egg whites instead of whole eggs, etc. I do not recommend doing this unless the recipe states. Don’t sabotage your time, effort, and money! Ingredients are needed for a reason and, more often than not, a cupcake recipe fail is because the recipe wasn’t properly followed. I’m guilty too!

I always recommend following a recipe the first time you try it, then making alterations as you see fit the next time.

2. Room Temperature Ingredients

This one could get a little too long so I’m just going to direct you to my entire post on the subject. To sum it up: “room temperature” isn’t listed next to ingredients for fun. There’s science and legitimate reason behind it. If a recipe calls for room temperature ingredients, use room temperature ingredients. See the article I linked in this paragraph for more explanation. 🙂

apple spice cupcakes with salted caramel frosting, a drizzle of salted caramel, and a slice of granny smith apple on top

Recipe: apple spice cupcakes with salted caramel frosting

3. Don’t Over-mix, Don’t Under-mix

Not too much, not too little. Make sure you’re mixing the cupcake batter together *just until* the wet and dry are combined. Overmixing batter, whether that’s for cakes, cupcakes, breads, muffins, etc, lends a tough-textured baked good. Don’t turn on the mixer then leave the room. Goodness no!

Not to get all NERDY on ya or anything (hi, have we met?) but if you overmix the batter, you run the risk of over-developing the gluten. This results in squat-looking cupcakes, dense-textured cupcakes, and heavy-tasting cupcakes. Mix just until there are no more pockets of flour. And maybe a few more seconds to rid any big lumps.

Likewise, don’t undermix– obviously we want all of the ingredients incorporated together.

4. High Quality Cupcake Liners

Did you know that a cupcake liner is kind of a big deal?!?! Seems silly, right? I started using higher quality + grease-proof liners a few years ago. My cupcakes stopped sticking to the sides of the wrapper (ugh I hated that!!) and the liners no longer oozed grease. If the cupcake liner feels cheap, it probably is cheap. I swear by these parchment paper liners or any quality liners labeled “grease-proof.”

For a little pizazz, I love these!!

vanilla cupcake batter in a glass bowl with a metal whisk

5. Fill Cupcake Pans Appropriately

Did you know this one simple step can make or break your batch? It’s often something we overlook completely– just pour/scoop batter into the cupcake wrappers and bake. Well, depending on the recipe, you could be over-filling or under-filling the liners. This leads to:

  • cupcakes that rise up, then sink
  • cupcake “mushroom tops”
  • overflowing

Unfortunately, most recipes don’t tell you how far to fill your liners. My general rule? 2/3 full (about 3 scant Tablespoons). All of my cupcake recipes turn out when filled this high– with the exception of my chocolate cupcakes. 1/2 full is imperative there!

If the batter is very thin, use a bowl that has a spout and pour the batter into each cup. If the batter is thick, use a large spoon or an ice cream scoop if you prefer.

2 images of cupcake batter in a glass bowl with a colorful whisk and batter in a cupcake pan

2 images of coconut cupcake batter in a glass stand mixer bowl and batter in a cupcake pan

2 images of funfetti cupcake batter in a glass bowl and in a cupcake pan

6. Oven Thermometer, Every Time

Unless you have a brand new or regularly calibrated oven, your oven’s temperature is likely inaccurate. Isn’t that crazy?? When you set your oven to 350°F, it might not really be 350°F inside. It could only be off by a little – 10 degrees or so. Or more than that – 100 degrees or even more. While this might not seem like a big deal to you, it is a huge problem for baked treats!

A temperature mismatch results in dried-out baked goods. Burnt uneven cakes and cupcakes. Heavily browned or undercooked in the centers. And as you know, when it comes to baking– accuracy is everything; there is little room for error. Having an oven whose temperature is off can ruin your baked good, not to mention the time, energy, and money spent. The inexpensive remedy is an oven thermometer. Place it in your oven so you always know the actual temperature. Trust me!

Do you have a convection oven? Read #7 in this post.

7. 1 Batch in the Center

Only 1 batch at a time in the very center of the oven. I know that sounds crazy!! But my reason is because you get the best possible results when the oven only concentrates on that 1 batch. If you absolutely need to bake more than one batch at a time, make sure you rotate the cupcake pans from the top rack to bottom rack a couple times in the baking process to encourage even browning. And turn the pans around as well. Ovens have hot spots!

But if you’re only baking 1 batch: center of the oven. That’s the oven’s magic spot.

vanilla cupcakes in a cupcake pan after baking

8. Bounce-Back Test

You can determine if a batch of cupcakes is done in the oven by testing with a toothpick, right? You know, sticking a toothpick into the center of the cupcake and if it comes out clean, they’re done? Sure that works. But here is what I always do instead. And you don’t need to waste time and fumble around for a toothpick!

Remove the cupcakes from the oven or leave them in, your choice. Gently press down on the cupcake. If the cupcake bounces back completely, they are done. If your finger left a dent in the cupcake, they need more time. So easy. I always do this!

And this nifty little trick can be used on muffins as well.

9. Allow to Cool Completely

This sounds like a no-brainer, but we’re often in a rush– myself included. Especially when I need to photograph a cupcake recipe! Decorating cupcakes before they are completely cool is, well, a recipe for disaster. The frosting will melt. Whenever I need a batch of cupcakes to cool down on the fly, I let them cool for 10 minutes inside the cupcake pan. Then I remove them from the pan and stick each cupcake in the freezer for about 20 minutes. They’re cool and ready for decoration. Easy and quick.

10. Store Properly

Unfrosted cupcakes are wonderful left at room temperature for a few days. Cover them tightly and they’ll stay soft, moist, and fluffy until you’re ready to decorate them. After you frost them, they’re OK for a day or two at room temperature, but should be refrigerated after that. I always let cupcakes come to room temperature before serving. The cupcake itself tastes best that way!

Traveling with cupcakes? I own and love this cupcake carrier. I have 3 of them. Sturdy, tall tops (for tall frosting!), and keep the cupcakes in place.

overhead image of chocolate cupcakes topped with chocolate buttercream and sprinkles

Recipe: super moist chocolate cupcakes

Make your next batch your BEST BATCH!

Q: Share your cupcake baking tips!

Further reading:


  1. Andrea @ Cooking with a Wallflower says:

    These tips are super helpful, Sally! I’m going to have to save them for later when I make one of your cupcakes. I’m currently eyeing the banana cupcakes!

  2. Jenny from jennyisbaking.com says:

    I especially like tip no. 8, I am always happy to save, even something as little as a toothpick. 
    I have said this before, but I feel your photography has improved so much over the last months, I especially love the cupcakes with apples and caramel, gorgeous! 

    1. Thanks so much, Jenny!

  3. LOVE these tips, especially the one about the oven temp!! Also, thank you for reminding me to let things cool completely. The hardest part is waiting for that first taste! 😉

    1. I have the same impatience!

  4. I always love the tips and tricks. They have definitely helped me become a better baker over the years. Especially the one about room temp ingredients, this has made a huge difference in my baked goods. I have heard of the bounce back tip before, and I will use it along with the toothpick. Thank you for helping me become a better baker, I understand a lot more about the whys and hows of baking because of you!

    1. Thank you so much for saying that, Courtney. I really appreciate it!

  5. Patricia @Sweet and Strong says:

    I have learned so much from reading your recipes about baking.  My mom and sister always talk about how we love that you explain the science and I think my baking skills have gotten much better because of it.  🙂  

    1. This makes me so happy to read. Thank you!

  6. Kelly | Maverick Baking says:

    Great tips here, I’m ALWAYS telling people not to eat cupcakes straight from the fridge!

    1. So much tastier at room temperature, I agree.

  7. Hi Sally, my cupcakes sometimes gets kinda too moist and sticky after I store them in the airtight container over night…I always leave the cupcake cool off for at least an hour before I store it and the cupcake is fully cooked..any ideas why this happens? thanks a lot!!

    1. Just lots of moisture– it’s not a bad thing. You can leave them uncovered overnight to help prevent that.

  8. Kally Muenster says:

    Just a heads up that the link to the oven thermometer in tip 6 links to your Gender Reveal Cake. Not that I don’t love that recipe, but just thought you may want to fix it. 🙂 Thanks for posting these tips!

    1. Fixed that last night– thanks for letting me know!!

  9. hi Sally, i know this might be a silly question (i’m still pretty new to baking), but just so i can be sure to experience cupcake making success: when storing cupcakes, what exactly does “cover tightly” mean? should they be placed in airtight containers or wrapped in cling film (or something)?

    always happy to learn from the baking experts! thanks 🙂

    1. Air tight container or covered completely with cling wrap would work!

      1. all right, thanks for all these awesome tips Sally! you’re the best 🙂

  10. I get extremely excited when you post something new! Thanks for the tips. I can’t wait to practice them out!

    1. Thanks Bre!

  11. Catherine Smith says:

    Super nerdy question – Do you leave the batter on the counter while one batch is in the oven? Will exposure to air or being settled for 10ish give mixed textures in batches?

    1. I will leave it on the counter for a short time while the first batch is baking! You can give it a quick gentle stir before filling the liners for a second batch if you think it has settled out.

  12. Loved these tips because I’m such a nerd and focused on the tiny details that really make a difference! Thank you, Sally <3 

    1. Thank YOU!

  13. Thank you for this Sally! My next cupcakes will be the best ever 😉
    I do have one question – does it matter where the thermometer is in the oven? Or can it just be to the side? I purchased one based on your recommendations, but wasn’t sure if it was important where it was placed. Thank you! I know I can always trust your recipes and advice! 🙂

    1. I place mine on the top or bottom rack in the center. Or, depending what I’m making and how large it is, over to the side. The BEST place is in the center.

  14. Great tips, Sal. Totally following these this weekend for the baby shower cupcakes.

    1. Have fun baking for the shower Meg! xoxo

  15. Thanks for the tips! I can’t wait to try them the next time I make cupcakes.

    I get the best topped muffins now too because of you telling us to bake them in a 425 oven for 5 minutes and then reducing the temperature according to the recipe.

    Goes the saying, we are never too old to learn something new!

    1. That high temperature trick REALLY makes a difference!

  16. Sherry McGuire says:

    When you use the parchment paper liners that you lined to on Amazon, do you still
    need to grease the pan, or can you then skip that step? Thank you!

    1. No need to grease the pan or the liners when using them.

      1. Sherry McGuire says:

        Thank you! I will definitely order these from Amazon.

  17. Kayle (The Cooking Actress) says:

    These tips are amazing!! Pinning!

    1. Thanks Kayle!

  18. Hello Sally!

    I absolutely love the tips! I’m actually going to be making 3 dozen cupcakes tomorrow so this post is perfect! I do have one question for you. What would be the best way to store the cupcakes? Like I know your post says to cover them tightly but is there anything you can suggest for me?

    Thank you so much!

    1. I have a large cupcake carrying container that I use to store them 🙂

  19. Great tips, Sally!  Hope you are writing this from a comfy couch with your feet up!  Your energy during these last weeks is phenomenal!!  

    1. My permanent spot when I write blog posts and respond to comments… the recliner 😉 HAHA! Thanks for checking in on me and the baby!

  20. Victoria Starkey says:

    You couldn’t be more spot-on with the necessity of an oven thermometer – I couldn’t believe how off my oven was (and of course, it’s off by a different amount each time…). The thermometer makes a world of difference!

    1. Exactly! Mine was off by 50 degrees. I couldn’t figure out why my cakes never cooked in the inside but were burnt on the outside!

    2. It truly does. I was SHOCKED with my old ovens. 25 degrees, 50 degrees, 30 degrees. always changed. It was so frustrating. The thermometer helps.

  21. Hi sally! Thanks for the tips! I have a 24-count pan, and I’ve been having problems when I use it for only 12 cupcakes. Is it because I’m putting all the cupcakes on one side so they aren’t in the middle of the oven? I read somewhere that you should fill the empty cups with water to balance it out? Advice??

    1. Hey Samantha! You’re exactly right– you should fill the empty cups halfway. I think your best bet would be to fit the center-ish 12 cups with the batter rather than only over on one side. Then, yes, fill those empty cups on both sides halfway with water.

  22. These tips are great and so helpful.I love baking cupcakes and eating them…of course!
    FYI…I was on the America’s Test Kitchen site recently and was checking out the equipment testing link. ATK did a test of oven thermometers and the one they ranked as best is the CDN Pro Accurate Oven Thermometer @ $8.70 on Amazon. I have found that many thermometers lose their accuracy over  a fairly short period of time so I am hoping the one above will be the answer to this problem.

    1. Good to know, thank you so much for sharing Nancy!

  23. If a recipe makes 14 or 15 cupcakes, and I have a 12 cup muffin pan, do I have to bake in 2 batches? If so, will the temperature & baking time be same for the last 2 or 3 cupcakes as the 1st batch?

    1. Yep, bake in 2 batches. Fill the empty cups in the 2nd batch with a little water. Same bake time and temp for both batches 🙂

      1. Thanks for replying!

        P.S: Big fan! ❤

  24. Thank you for this post! I love the bounce-back test trick. I’ll need to try it next time! I made your yellow cupcakes last weekend and they were delicious, as always. 🙂 I had extras so I put them in a ziplock bag in the freezer. Will they still be good if I get them to room temperature? They are not frosted. Thanks!

    1. Yep, I would thaw overnight in the refrigerator then bring to room temperature before frosting/serving.

  25. I love the parchment liners! I discovered them by accident when I was baking four dozen vegan cupcakes for a graduation party. I usually only used foil liners because paper liners tend to stick to the cake, but the liners I thought were foil turned out to be paper lined. Crisis! I found the parchment liners at Meijer and HOPED they would do the trick. They were perfect, and are now my only choice! <3

  26. Rachael @ Rachael's Foodie Life says:

    These tips are fantastic Sally! I love your cupcakes and your cookies – i will ensure i apply these tips all my cupcakes

  27. Sally, This may sound dumb, but… . You start your muffins at a higher temp for 5 minutes for a good rise. Mine have always been perfect. Why not start cupcakes the same way. I’m open to a nerdy scientific response.

    1. I prefer flatter tops for cupcakes 🙂 Easier to frost.

  28. Hello Sally,

    These are helpful tips! One quick question. How often do you replace the oven thermometer?

    Thank you,

    1. I’ve had mine for 4 years– haven’t had to replace yet!

  29. Hi Sally do you recommend silicone cupcake liners because I was thinking about getting some but wanted to see how you felt about them first

    1. I think they’re great! I love this silicone muffin pan.

  30. Sally, help please. What causes the cupcake liners to pull away from the cupcake? This happens to me a lot, especially on mini cupcakes. I’ve tried several different things to prevent this, nothing has worked. Very frustrating.

    1. It could either be the cupcake recipe itself (perhaps just a very moist cupcake, which isn’t a bad thing!) or the quality of cupcake liners.

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