What is the secret to a good cupcake?
Q: I love to cook and bake, but I never have very good results with cupcakes. The smaller I make them (for the grandchildren), the drier they become. Is there a secret to a good little cupcake – one with a soft crumb?
A: There are a number of things that can cause cupcakes to be dry, Wendy. They include an imbalance in the recipe, such as not enough butter and/or liquid ingredients and/or too much flour in the recipe, and leaving them in the baking tin to cool instead of turning them out onto a rack after a few minutes.
But these are the most likely reasons for dry cupcakes and what to do about it:
- The baking time is too long. The basic rule is the smaller the cupcakes, the less baking time they will need. Bake them only until a skewer inserted into the centre of one comes out clean – and no longer. Smaller cupcakes will be naturally less coloured on top because of the shorter baking time, so don’t be tempted to leave them in just to make them more ‘golden’. When you adapt a recipe intended for large cupcakes to make small ones, it’s a good idea to jot down the cupcake size you used and the corresponding baking time on the recipe for future reference.
- The oven temperature is too high. Cupcakes are generally baked at temperatures between 200°C and 180°C, depending on the recipe. However even though you may set the dial at the correct temperature, your oven could be running hot and causing the cupcakes to over-bake and become dry. You can check your oven temperature with an inexpensive oven thermometer, which you can buy at kitchenware stores. Place the thermometer in the centre of the oven, preheat to a set temperature (such as 180°C), and then check the temperature registering on the thermometer. Note the temperature difference between that and the dial setting, and adjust as required.
- They haven’t been stored in an airtight container. As soon as your cupcakes have cooled on the wire rack, pop them into a sealed airtight container. If you do this, they will generally last well for up to two days at room temperature and up to seven in the fridge. You can also freeze them if you want to keep them for longer – just wrap the cupcakes individually in cling wrap and put them in an airtight container. Thaw at room temperature and use them within a day.
And remember, it’s not the end of the world if your cupcakes are a little dry – simply add some jam and cream and turn them into butterfly cakes!