Making Cupcakes: Tips and Recipes
When I first started making cupcakes, I tried numerous different recipes which I found on the web or in cook books. I expected them all to work but I discovered that many did not – either producing mini volcanos or omelettes! After a lot of research and practice, I now have a recipe that works really well and is very easy once you know how.
Making cupcakes is actually quite a precise science as cake batters require a very accurate combination of ingredients. When I was a child my nana use to tell me “a good baker does not need to measure” but she had been baking cakes for 30 years so she knew the measurements off by heart! For those of us with a little less experience, it is important to remember that lots of chemical processes need to take place during the cooking and changing the quantities of ingredients upsets this balance – leading to sunken or exploding cupcakes! The important thing is to follow the recipe exactly.
It is really important to have an oven thermometer if you are hoping to turn out lots of perfect cupcakes. This is because domestic oven temperatures actually vary greatly from what you see on the dial. My oven, for example, when set at 150 degrees is actually cooking at 180 degrees. An oven thermometer which you just sit on the shelf will therefore make sure you don’t overcook or undercook the cakes (thus avoiding tough little rebels or sunken little blops). You can buy oven thermometers online for just a couple of pounds.
The other thing to remember is not to open the oven door for a quick peek when the cupcakes are cooking! If you do need to look wait until they have been cooking at least 15 minutes or your curiousity could mean they don’t rise properly!
When I first started, I kept finding that the cupcake cases peeled away as the cupcakes cooled. Why? One reason was the cupcake cases. If you are a beginner, do not use waxed cupcake cases as these are much more likely to peel away when your cupcakes cool down.
For more baking tips, see Pretty Witty Cakes facebook dicussion page.
Simple Vanilla Cupcake Recipe
Before you start, turn on your oven. It needs time to warm up and remain and a constant temperature before you put the cupcake batter in. You should preheat it to 150C (fan oven). Depending on your oven you may also want to increase this to 160C but no higher.
Measure out the ingredients. They are listed on the right of this page in the order you will need to use them. Cupcakes do not like the cold so all ingredients should be room temperature.
- Ensure the butter is really soft by leaving it out overnight or blasting it in the microwave for 15 seconds at a time. It needs to be almost melting but not actually melting! If you are using Stork Magarine instead, this is usually ok if just left out of the fridge for 5-10 minutes before you start.
- Put the butter or Stork magarine in your kitchen mixer and mix using a beater attachment (for example, the Kenwood K beater) for around 2 minutes. If you do not have a kitchen mixer, don’t despair - people made cakes long before these were invented! Just put the butter/Stork in a bowl and mix until it is light. This is an important step so take your time on this!
- Add the caster sugar and mix until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, one at at time and mix on a low speed/low arm muscle (!) until they are mixed into the batter.
- Add the vanilla and mix in.
At this point, you should have a liquid mixture. From here, it is important not to mix things too much as over mixing can make the cupcakes tough as gluten (the protein in the flour) doesn’t like being mixed too much.
- Sift the flour and add it to the mixture with the cornflour and baking power. Stir this in with a giant spoon very gently rather tham with a mixer. You need to mix it until the flour is just mixed in – no less, no more.
- Add 6 to 9 tablespoons of milk to loosen the batter a little. This is important as it helps bind the cupcake mixture to the cupcake cases.
- Fill a muffin pan with 12 muffin cases. Scoop the mixture into the cases so it plops in. If you have an ice cream scoop with a release button, this works brilliantly for getting the mixture in the cases without spilling it on the sides.
- You need to fill the cases 1/2 up way if you want perfect flat topped cupcakes and 3/4 of the way up for neat little domes. If in doubt put less in especailly if using butter as this rises a little more.
- Fill another muffin pan with muffin cases. You should be able to fill between 18 and 24 cupcake cases with this mixture depending on whether you want perfectly flat-topped cupcakes or domed ones.
- Put the cupcakes in the oven for 18–20 minutes. Test the cupcakes at 18 minutes by inserting a cocktail stick. If it comes out clean then they are done. If it has little bits attached to it, wait for the full 20 minutes.
- Take the cupcakes out and let them cool in the baking pans for around 5 minutes then take them out of the pans and let them cool down on a wire rack (or your kicthen surface if you dont have one). Let them cool completely before you ice them.
Basic Buttercream Icing Recipe
Make sure the butter is very soft. Either leave it out overnight or blast it in the microwave for 15 seconds at a time.
- Put the butter in a mixer and mix and mix using a beater attachment (for example, the Kenwood K beater) for around 2 minutes. If you do not have a mixer, use a hand held mixer/whisk. You should mix the butter until it is slightly paler in colour.
- Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl. When you do this, make sure you have an apron on as the dust from the icing sugar floats up as you sift it then floats back down so your kitchen surface is covered with a light thin film of dust!
- Add 1/3 to 1/2 the icing sugar to the butter and mix on low speed (if you do it on a higher speed, the icing sugar flies everywhere!). When it is mixed in, scrap down the sides of the bowl and add the vanilla.
- Add the rest of the icing sugar and mix in. You should again mix it slowly until the icing sugar is mixed in but then increase to high speed and mix it until it is really light and fluffy.
- Add a splash of milk at the end and mix in. Be careful not to add too much or the buttercream icing will be too runny to hold the piped swirls.
- Colour the buttercream using paste colours. Do not use liquid colours as this changes the consistency of the buttercream icing.
- Pipe or smooth on to the cupcakes and decorate.