You have stumbled upon an incredibly old post! Please note that since 2011, all of my content has been vegan, but posts from before then may not be.
I’ve found myself exchanging baking and frosting tips with a ton of people, lately, so I figured why not share this wealth of knowledge with the very people who have caused my head to swell to a point where I feel qualified to tell anyone how to do anything. I’m going to do this Q & A style to keep it somewhat organized.
Q: My cupcakes turned out dry, what happened?
A: Dry cupcakes could be the result of a weird recipe, over baking or most often, I believe, over mixing. In the case of a just plain no good recipe, I like to give every recipe that has a technical difficulty a second try. If it just tasted bad then why bother, but they turned out dry, too big, kind of soupy, etc. I try again, Chances are I blew it somewhere along the lines. Over baking is also a common culprit. To this I say get yourself an oven thermometer, even if you have a brand-new oven. I have a brand new oven, it’s off by about 50 degrees. Get yourself an oven thermometer. If you aren’t sure when your cupcakes are done here are some things you can try: bake them for the minimum time suggested by the recipe and then check them. I like to touch them lightly to see if they’ll spring back. If they do, they’re done. If they don’t, I give them two more minutes. Keep baking in two minute increments and checking them until they’re done. You can also use a toothpick, although this won’t always give you accurate results when you have things like chocolate chips or fruit in your cupcakes. But the rule is, if the toothpick comes out clean the cupcakes are done. Don’t be afraid to follow your nose, either, sometimes you can smell when cupcakes are done. Check them! As long as they’ve been in there at least 10 minutes they should be structurally sound enough to check up on. Also, make sure you’re using the correct time for the size cupcake you’re baking. Minis generally bake for 12-16 minutes, full-sized for 18-25 minutes. I have no idea how long to bake giant cupcakes, I have no need for so much cupcake for godzilla’s sakes. Ok, finally, the one that I would like to shout from the rooftops: DO NOT OVER MIX YOUR BATTER!!! I know electric hand mixers are really fun, stand mixers are even more fun, but these make it all too easy to over mix your batter and thus, make it gummy and dry. The more you beat flour once it’s been added to your wet ingredients, the more gluten you release. Gluten is what makes bread um, bread-like. Some recipes will tell you to use a hand mixer specifically, if you can see a reason why that’s necessary than by all means. But if you can blend the ingredients by hand, do it. I think over mixing is the public enemy number one of vegan cupcakes especially, until I started baking my own I thought vegan cupcakes came out gummy and dry because they were vegan. It doesn’t have to be that way if you’re careful.
Q: My frosting is runny, what did I do?
A: Well, possibly you were a little too excited about frosting your cupcakes and you didn’t let them cool all the way. If you remove the cakes from the pans about 10 minutes after baking and let them cool on a wire rack they’ll be cool enough to frost in no time. Just wait, it’s worth it. Otherwise you might be adding too much liquid. Buttercream isn’t an exact science, I don’t think I use the same measurements every time I make it. Sometimes I need 2 Tbs. of milk or cream, sometimes I only need a few drops. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it, that’s just how it goes. So once everything you need for flavor is in there, add liquid according to texture and consistency. Sometimes I add a few spoonfuls of vegetable shortening to my buttercream if I’m going to be piping it onto my cupcakes and it’s too fluffy to stand on its own. Otherwise I’d say maybe make sure you’re just using room temperature butter or margarine, don’t let it get too soft or melty, and again, don’t over mix. If you’re whipping up some fluffy buttercream and it’s looking melty you’re going overboard. Again, I know it’s easy to do in a stand mixer, so maybe try a hand mixer if you’re guilty of whipping the snot out of your buttercream.
Q: My cupcakes have weird chunks in them.
A: You need to mix a little more. If you’re getting blobs of flour or butter is settling at the top of your cakes, your ingredients aren’t mixed up enough.
Q: I want to make big piles of buttercream like at the bakery. What do I need?
A: For towers of bakery style frosting on your cupcakes, use a pastry bag and a 1M tip. That’s a Wilton tip, I don’t know what number it is in other brands, but it’s a really big closed-star tip. Cut the tip off your bag, drop the tip in and scoop your buttercream in. Don’t fill it to the top or the frosting will squish out onto your hand. Hold the tip slightly above he cake surface and squeeze a spiral staring at the edge of the cupcake and ending in the middle. Then repeat this step to make a second, smaller spiral on top of the first one. As I’m sure you can tell, I haven’t had any decorating classes, and I’m certainly not a teacher, so take a class if you want to get into roses and all that B.S. Oh, or watch it on You Tube, I’ve seen a lot of decorating tips for free there.
Q: I need to make cupcakes for my son’s birthday party, the theme is Jack’s Big Music Show and I can’t find any decorations at the store.
A: Jack’s Big Music Show or vintage nudie cards, you can make your own cupcake decorations so easily it’s stupid. I don’t like to be too literal with my decorating. If the party theme is pirates I’ll do shark fins and gold coins instead of the old Wilton pirate face or treasure chest. People really appreciate the fact that your cupcakes are one-of-a-kind as well, not just topped with things you bought at Party City. If I can use edible decorations I like to- check out Oriental Trading Company for the weirdest array of gummy candies and suckers I have ever seen. Organ Harvest gummies? What? Awesome. You can also roll gum drops and other soft candies flat and cut shapes out of them. Another trick is to find images online or in clip art and resize them- 2 inches at the tallest or widest- and then print out a sheet of however many you need. Tape the cut outs to toothpicks and stick them into piles of frosting. I love to do this with retro kitchen images, pictures of hilarious famous people and pictures of naked ladies.
Q: I make a huge mess when I bake, how do I make it easier to clean up after myself?
A: First, get organized. Review your recipe before you begin and get out all the ingredients you’ll be using. If you have rep bowls you can even measure things out to save time and to stay accurate. Second, use the correct sized bowls. If you’re mixing a double bath of cupcakes in a medium bowl you’re about to get messy. Finally, I lay a paper towel next to my supplies and I sit everything on it as I go. Drippy measuring cups, dirty spoons, rubber spatulas, eggshells… it all goes on the paper towel. Then after I throw all the reusable stuff in the dishwasher I can just scoop up the flour-covered, soggy paper towel in the garbage and wipe off the counter.
That’s all I have the energy for tonight, but leave me comments with your problems or questions and I’ll see what I can come up with.