A wise person has said, ‘When stressed and in doubt, cupcake it out!’. But, what does one do when cupcakes itself become a major cause of ‘stress’? Confused? So was I.
The story goes like this: A major part of last weekend was spent in ‘trying’ to bake chocolate cupcakes. These were for a friend and made-to-order; so we mother-daughter duo spent a lot of time in the prep in an attempt to get them right. In terms of resources, we had everything: the perfect recipe, ingredients, equipment, enthusiasm and frame of mind. Nonetheless, the end result was far from perfect. We tried and tried some more (5 times over, if you please), right until the point when the physical and mental exhaustion got the better of us.
The entire experience was so unpleasant; I was determined not to bake for a very long time. Until, only a day later, my daughter had a friend over for a play date and the little girls demanded cupcakes. Not donuts, not ice-cream, not anything else but simple, humble chocolate cupcakes! Before I knew it, I was in back the kitchen, armed with my apron and whisk and the two helpers in tow, willing to do it all over again. It’s funny how the human mind works; except, this time we got it right! P.S. I still think it was the magic of the little girls 😉
So anyway, for the benefit of all those who’ve been in a similar position, I’ve decided to make a blog post of it. This is no recipe; rather a list of the 10 probable mistakes (and solutions) that one can make when baking cupcakes.
- Read the recipe: As simple as this may sound, reading the recipe when baking is no mean feat. If you have been baking off and on, it’s rather easy to assume that you know-it-all, which, by the way, might end up being your biggest downfall. Pay attention to the order of ingredients, exact measurements, oven temperature and cooking time.
- Egg & butter at room temperature: If you plan on baking in the morning, the best bet would be to keep your eggs and butter out of the fridge the night before. Should you not have the luxury of time, a couple of hours failing which, a couple of minutes at least; although, that could well be the point of difference between a scrumptious cupcake and an ordinary one. The reason most cupcake recipes require butter at room temperature is that they can easily emulsify into the batter thus imparting a uniform structure to the finished product.
- Sort your ingredients on the counter: Before you commence baking, ensure that your ingredients are set up on the kitchen counter and, in the exact order in which you plan to use them. The scope for any kind of error OR panic OR clumsiness reduces several folds by following this one simple step correctly.
- Preheat the oven: Don’t forget to preheat the oven. This process takes about 10-15 minutes, reduces baking time and ensures uniformity in cooking. Take note of the fact that while a new oven will preheat at the specified time, an older oven may take slightly longer to reach its optimum temperature.
- Invest in a weighing scale: The success of baking is largely determined by how accurately you measure your ingredients. Measuring cups and spoons are ideal for dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda) while glass jars or pitchers are more appropriate for the wet ones (eggs, milk, water etc). And if your recipe is in grams, you can thank me later for recommending a digital, kitchen weighing scale – a tool frequently used in the kitchens of budding bakers all over the world.
- Sift the dry ingredients: This is one step I never miss even if the recipe says otherwise. Not only does sifting enable the flour to combine more evenly with the cocoa powder, baking powder and soda; it also helps in aerating the flour before it is incorporated in the batter.
- Baking powder vs. baking soda: They are both leavening agents, they both cause the batter to rise when baked, they look completely alike yet, they are NOT the same thing. If the recipe calls for both, use both. If it calls for either one, use the correct one. While one can substitute baking powder for baking soda (in the right proportion), it is not true the other way around.
- Whatever you do, DO NOT over mix the batter: In the excitement that baking cupcakes can generate, over mixing the batter can pass off as a very logical mistake. However, over mixing is a sure shot of way of getting it all wrong, something you obviously do not want. So, the next time your cupcakes turn out tough, utterly flat or with large air-pockets in them, you might want to turn down the speed and strength a bit.
- Use an ice-cream scoop: After a couple of failed attempts to get my cupcakes to be of an even height, when I came across the idea of using an ice-cream scoop to fill the paper liners, I thought it was pure genius! I still remember trying to use a spoon and how messy it would get to reach the 2/3rd mark.
- Cook till 95% done: The key to cooking moist cupcakes is to pull them out when they are just about done. Ovens can be quirky, so while you follow the instructions on timings and temperature, always use a toothpick a couple of minutes earlier to check if they are ready. Take them out when moist yet cooked through and transfer them on to a cooling rack immediately.
Phew! Whoever said baking is a science surely knew what they were talking about. As for my friend who got the imperfect cupcakes last weekend, and you know who you are, we promise to make it up with some near-perfect ones soon 😉