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Basics & Troubleshooting

Baking is not easy, generally speaking. If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it is that the end result of any baking project is unpredictable. The key is to:

— learn how to see problems coming and adjust in advance
— learn how to turn apparent failures into delicious and attractive treats
— learn what ingredients can and can’t be swapped
— take the time to pre-read the recipe and follow it closely, while adjusting for your circumstances
— take the time to practice and experiment before baking for a special event!

With practice, patience, and attention to some basic rules, there is a good chance your baking project will be a success. Best of luck in the kitchen and I hope this information is helpful!

Basics

  • Preparation is Key
    I can’t stress enough how necessary it is to pre-measure all ingredients and allow crucial items like butter and eggs to fully come to room temperature. The bottom line is baking must be pre-meditated.
  • Be Careful What You Swap
    It is helpful to understand where you have flexibility with your ingredients and how to effectively swap them out. I personally recommend Regan Daley’s book In the Sweet Kitchenfor its very helpful ingredient substitution section. Otherwise get to know your ingredients by researching them on the web or in cookbooks.
  • Just Enough but Not Too Much
    You have measured out all your ingredients and double checked the recipe. You are ready to start. While recipes attempt to describe the steps in as much required detail as possible, successful mixing of ingredients often comes about with experience. Knowing just how much mixing is enough is key. For example, over mixing once flour has been added can build up glutens and result in a tough end product. Under mixing, say for example, the butter and sugar, can result in separation of ingredients and possible sinking. Recommendations include 1) scraping down your bowl often to ensure that all ingredients are combined, 2) beating well during the steps before the flour is added, and 3) mixing only enough to combine ingredients once flour has been added.
  • Its All About the Oven
    No matter how well you measured, mixed, and otherwise painstakingly prepared your batter, it can all go to waste if you don’t follow some very important rules of baking…

    Check your oven temperature!
    Ovens, even new ones, can be far off. I can’t stress how important it is to use an oven thermometerto ensure that your oven is at 350 degrees.

    Know your oven!
    In addition to ovens being off temperature-wise, they can also have hot and cold spots. You might come to learn of those, likely if you pile a lot of cupcakes in your oven. In my oven for example, the lower, left-hand corner always gives me trouble. If you have hot/cold spots, minimize how many cupcakes you bake at a time. I recommend a maximum of 24. If you need to bake more, use convection and drop the temperature in the recipe by 25 degrees. In addition, you can move the baking pans around to adjust, but be careful when doing so (see recommendations below).

    Do not disturb!
    Absolutely do not disturb those precious cupcakes for at least 15 minutes of baking (or 8 in the case of minis). It is important to let them develop some structural integrity. After 15 minutes you might want to shift the position of the pans in order to move cupcakes in and out of hot spots. Otherwise let them do their thing. Start testing cupcakes 2 minutes before the end of the recommended bake time, usually with a light tough or shimmy of the pan. Once the cupcakes give a slight resistance to the touch, you can start testing them with a toothpick or other pointy object. Now this is important… Bake cupcakes until the tester comes out clean. And that means NO CRUMBS. If you take them out prematurely, they are very like to fall or at least sink slightly. Lastly, don’t just check one… Due to oven hot/cold spots, you might have some done and some not. Do what you can to make sure they all finish baking without drying any out.

Troubleshooting

  • My Cupcakes Are Sinking!
    See “Its All About the Oven” above. There is a good chance that you didn’t allow the cupcakes to bake fully. If the sinking is accompanied by pools of melted butter, it is likely the ingredients were not mixed adequately.
  • My Cupcakes Are Overflowing!
    See “Its All About the Oven” above. There is a good chance that your oven temperature is too low or you have too many cupcakes in the oven at once. If the cupcakes don’t get adequate heat during the early phase of the baking process, they will overflow. I guarantee it…

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