Here are a few tried and true cupcake baking tips I’ve gathered through all of my kitchen explorations.
#1. Not All Dairy Is Created Equal.
I prefer local dairy whenever possible. I also know it’s not always possible. Sometimes the store brand has to do the trick, and when that’s the case you just roll with it. But I suggest doing a little research to find a local/regional dairy producer that treats their cows well and lets them eat some grass. It makes a difference in the taste of the milk, cream, butter, cheese, etc. Same goes for eggs. Local and roaming around freely is best. With that said, I do have a preference for one particular dairy product that you can probably get wherever you are. Using Kerrygold butter is one of my top cupcake baking tips. It’s an Irish butter with a higher fat content (meaning it’s delicious and silky), and it’s from grass-fed cows. So even if you can’t get high quality milk or eggs, this butter can turn a so-so cupcake into a masterpiece. I’m especially fond of Kerrygold in my fillings and frostings.
#2.Try Yogurt Instead of Sour Cream
Sometimes sour cream is the only option. I love sour cream, and I don’t have a problem using it. But often there is room for a little experimentation. When those occasions arise, I love to use yogurt. Specifically, Annie’s Organic Whole Milk Very Vanilla Yogurt. It’s creamy, velvety, and as the name suggests, very vanilla. This is my go-to for all those recipes on my site that call for yogurt.
#3. Your Chocolate Choice WILL Make A Difference
Chocolate is such a delicious and diverse product in baking. You can go to the grocery store right now and 5 different chocolates for a side-by-side taste test. I am willing to bet you’d be surprised by how different they are from each other. Their differences show up in your baked goods, too, so it’s important to choose the appropriate chocolate for your desired outcome and preferences. My all-time favorite chocolate for ganaches, fillings, frostings, and any recipe calling for any type of bar or chocolate chip is Green & Black’s Organic 70% Dark Chocolate. There is no dairy in this bar and the cocoa butter content is perfection. It melts well, tastes deeply of chocolate and tobacco, and gives everything a velvety texture. The biggest thing to remember about this cupcake baking tip is that whatever chocolate you choose will greatly affect the end flavor. So choose wisely!
#4. Make Whipped Cream Hold Up Like A Pro
A lot of people default to a sugary, gritty frosting because they know it is almost fail proof. It can hold up to intense heat and holds piping detail well. But it can detract from more complex or delicate flavors, making the overall impression just “sweet.” Sometimes a simple, lightly sweetened whipped cream is the perfect pairing for a more interesting flavor, but we all know it can melt at the drop of a hat. Not to fear! You can add unflavored gelatin to whipped cream and suddenly you have a pillowy topping that’s light, produces beautiful piping detail, and holds up in heat. The trick is to use a good quality gelatin. I love Zint pasture-raised gelatin. It’s an excellent source and doesn’t produce an odd smell or taste like some other gelatins do. Just pour a spoonful into cold water and let sit. Then warm it gently to dissolve and whip it into the heavy cream and sugar.
#5. You Need A Good Balloon Whisk
Many of my cupcake baking tips involve a brand that I’ve found is head and shoulders above the rest, but this one is an exception. I just know that I wouldn’t survive without my balloon whisk in hand. It’s the way I “sift” my flour and other dry ingredients together, and it’s my backup for those times the electric mixer just doesn’t reach all the stuff in the bottom of the bowl. A good balloon whisk makes stirring and combining ingredients really simple, and it’s a great tool for making small batches of whipped cream or stiffening egg whites. I happen to be really fond of this Oxo Good Grips one.
#6. Play Around With Temperatures
I know there are many who disagree with me here, but this has been a key to finding the perfect temperature for my cupcakes. The standard 350 degrees just doesn’t cut it for me. Often I’ll list a temperature in my recipes but then bump the temperature up or down a few degrees halfway through the baking process. I support exploration, and I think baking temperatures are no exception. Try to start 5-8 degrees lower for some of the more delicate cupcakes and then bump up the temperature midway through. You may find your own little tricks that you prefer.
#7. Good Mixing Bowls Are Lifesavers
I live for a good mixing bowl! Truly, having a good set of bowls makes all your cooking and baking endeavors much more pleasant. I have a few different types, but for baking I love the no slip kind. I usually use a set I got from The Sharper Image (crazy, right?) or these copper toned ones. They’re beautiful, they clean up well, and they stay put when I’m whisking away.
#8. Stand Mixers Make Life Better
I know it’s not a feasible thing for everyone to have a stand mixer, but once you experience life with these trusty little kitchen sidekicks, you’ll wonder how you ever did without. I have had my gorgeous red Kitchenaid bombshell, Betty Cracker, for over a decade, and I had a smaller version of her before that. This one has been my best friend in the kitchen. Kitchenaid machines are built like tanks, and in the rare case that you have trouble with anything, I’ve found their customer service to be wonderful. I can’t recommend them enough.
#9. Ice Cream Scoop For The Win
This may be among the less obvious of cupcake baking tips, but you need an ice cream scoop. That’s really all I can say about it. It’s the way I insure your cupcakes are as uniform as possible, and the right size gives you the perfect amount every time. No overfilling, no underfilling. Juuuust right. Whichever size you decide on (I like the ones that are right around or just under ¼ cup), you need to have one with a trigger. That’s just the fancy way of saying the one that has the squeezy handle that helps to get all the goodness out of the spoon and into your cupcake liner. I got mine at a local grocery store years ago, and it has held up like a pro.
#10. Invest In Good Cupcake Liners
This is not just one of my cupcake baking tips — this is my mantra. If you’re baking for anything besides your own personal enjoyment, do yourself a favor and invest in quality cupcake liners. They make the entire experience so much better! My favorite liners ever EVER are from Charming Creations. They are greaseproof and slightly taller than the standard liners. But they also have so many more options in sizes to choose from. AND they’ll send you a sampler pack (for just a small shipping fee) so you can figure out what sizes you want before buying in bulk. How great is that?! Seriously, I’ve used this company for years now and I’ve always found their cupcake liners to be superior to everything else I’ve tried.
#11. Get Resourceful With Your Piping
Though I think you should have at least a few trusty piping tips in your arsenal like this little 4 pc. kit, I know that they aren’t make or break if the cupcakes are delicious. I have collected quite a few piping tips over the years (I find them easy to store because they’re not bulky, and inevitably I’ll end up needing that one size someday), but one thing I don’t keep in stock all the time is piping bags. Honestly, unless I’m piping that super stiff, sugary stuff (which is pretty much never), I don’t see the need for spending the money. Instead, I just grab a gallon freezer bag and cut a small hole in one of the bottom corners. There ya go! Piping bag ready to roll. Just put the piping tip in and fill the bag with the frosting. Make sure not to make the hole too large or the piping tip won’t stay put and the frosting will spill. In the event this happens, don’t sweat it. Just grab another bag, cut a small hole in the bottom corner, put the tip in and then stick the whole bag full of frosting inside the new bag (with the opening in the frosting bag facing the new piping tip/opening). The point here is that you can make fancy piping details with what’s probably already in your kitchen. Score!
#12. Gluten Free Can Be Delicious!
Guys. I have made wedding cake that was Gluten free… and none of the guests ever even knew it. Yes, it’s possible. There is a flour blend that is heads and shoulders above the rest, in my opinion, and it’s my number one choice for all things GF. Lena Kwak developed this blend as the Research and Development Chef at The French Laundry (on my bucket list). So. You can keep using a subpar, slightly grainy GF flour blend, or you can use the same stuff they use at THE FRENCH LAUNDRY! Six of one, right? No seriously, it’s so delicious. AND all their blends are non GMO, which is a big deal to me. They also have a blend that is dairy free, which was a hang up for some when the original blend was developed. This is among the cupcake baking tips that are going to be game changers for all you gluten-freers out there!
#13. Invest In Vanilla
Vanilla extract is a glorious invention, and it’s especially lovely when you make sure it’s high quality. The flavor is much more intensely vanilla and doesn’t have a chemical aftertaste. Make sure the vanilla extract you use has a limited list of ingredients (that you can pronounce). I love Nielsen Massey Vanilla Extract because it’s widely available and it’s quality sourced and non GMO. And it tastes and smells wonderful.
#14. Go For The Gold
I am a BIG fan of Williams-Sonoma Goldtouch nonstick pans. I know it’s pricier than a standard baking tin, but it makes a world of difference. I have baked side-by-side comparisons, and every single time the cupcakes in the Goldtouch pan are more evenly baked and more uniform. They turn out perfectly, and the nonstick surface makes it a breeze to clean. They feel sturdy, and they look beautiful too. If this isn’t your jam, that’s totally fine. But if you’re going to bake cupcakes, you need a pan that you can trust to deliver good, consistent results every time. This one does it.
#15. Rubber Spatulas Are My Heroes
The day you decide to start using a rubber spatula to get all the batter from your bowl will be one of your happiest and saddest days at the same time. Sad because swiping the finger across the bowl to get a taste of the batter will have just gotten much harder. Happy because you’ll never waste a drop, and you’ll wonder how you ever managed to work in the kitchen without one. Rubber spatulas make the work a breeze, and they clean so well. I would opt for a quality one that stands up to heat really well (you don’t want your spatula tasting like soap from a dishwasher or melting in a pot of custard). My favorites aren’t too hard, not too flimsy. They stay somewhere right in between. I really like my Wilton ones, but this one from Home Kitchen is pretty great, too. Regardless, the idea is to make sure you have at least one in your tool belt.