Addictive Recipes from a Self-Taught Baker

10 Tips for Baking the BEST Cupcakes

Apple spice cupcakes with salted caramel frosting on

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…

Pink funfetti cupcakes on

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 on

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!!

Top 10 tips for baking the best cupcakes! Tips and tricks on

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.

Top 10 tips for baking the best cupcakes! Tips and tricks on

Top 10 tips for baking the best cupcakes! Tips and tricks on

Top 10 tips for baking the best cupcakes! Tips and tricks on

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.

Top 10 tips for baking the best cupcakes! Tips and tricks on

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.

Super moist chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting on

Recipe: super moist chocolate cupcakes

Make your next batch your BEST BATCH!

Q: Share your cupcake baking tips!

Further reading:

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  1. BIG fan of your site – got your cookie cookbook for Christmas and can’t wait to try one out! 🙂 You probably have this somewhere on your site, but I couldn’t find it quickly so I thought I’d just ask. Do you have a recommendation for the best tips for frosting/decorating? (Meaning, the metal tips (not like “tips and tricks.) Thanks!

  2. That was EXACTLY what I was looking for…sorry I didn’t find it myself. Thank you – it’s bookmarked now for future reference! 🙂

  3. Thank you for all your tips and recipes of course! I love your site!
    I have to confess that I hate cupcake liners. 😉 So, I use non stick cupcake pan and lightly brush it with melter coconut oil. And wash pan before refilling it again (as I tend to bake mini cupcakes or mini muffins instead of regular size ones).
    Another thing is putting cupcake pan directly on the oven rack (you get more crunchy sides/bottom cupcakes) vs. putting your pan on top of any baking sheet first (which gives your cupcakes softer sides).

  4. Hi! I started baking just last month when i bought my new oven. cant wait to try your cookies and cupcakes recipes..guess what?..i chose cupcake recipe first then i did it right, i just followed all your instructions and tips.. it’s amazing..and now i really have the confidence to bake..i did it almost everyday..i love your cookie recipes and cakes too..i love them’re such a Blessing to share your wonderful ideas in baking. thank you so much! more power and God bless

  5. Hi Sally! I tend to over-think everything…. 😛 The last few times I’ve made cupcakes (always your recipes), I’ve been very conscious of not over-mixing (and closely adhering to all your notes). Yesterday, I made a batch of the Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes (this is the second time I’ve made them) and they came out rather chewy. (The first time, they were perfect!) I didn’t notice any lumps in the batter, and after reviewing this list, I have no idea why they didn’t turn out like the first time I made them, other than it had to do with the amount of mixing. How do you know when you’ve mixed too much?

    • Did you do anything different this time around besides *maybe* over mix? The cake flour– are you spooning and leveling it? Meaning, not scooping it with the measuring cup?

  6. Hi Sally, do you have any tricks for creating that smooth, crack-free, oh-so-very-gentle dome top on your cupcakes? I suppose a thinner batter might pour out evenly, but the few recipes of yours I’ve tried (cupcake version of the strawberry cake, simply vanilla cupcakes) yielded a bit of a thick batter. I’m thinking I might try to flatten the batter before baking.

    Of course, generous frosting tops cover up any mishaps, but now that I’ve tried a few recipes and they’ve tasted great, I’ve want to try refining things in the looks department. 🙂 Thank you!!

  7. Hi Sally! Love your recipes and tips. I’m making your Simply Perfect Vanilla Cupcakes next week for a Baby Shower in the mini cupcake pans. Do you fill them 2/3 full also?

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