How to Make a Better Cupcake

Cupcakes are the best - no if's, and's, or but's about it. And whoever says they're going out of style is going out of style. Cupcakes are here to stay.

Click here to see Crazy Cupcake Recipes

Why are they so popular? Well, they're the perfect size for people who want to eat dessert without feeling guilty - anything larger than a single-serving cupcake just isn't a cupcake anymore, quite frankly. And they're a canvas for the creative cooks out there because they can be customized with a variety of batters, flavored icings, or toppings. Most importantly, however, they're so fun and easy-to-make, even kids can do it.

Click here to learn How to Make a Better Cupcake

Or are they? We've all been there. Even the best cooks sometimes find themselves in desperate situations at the 11th hour, say, the night before a son's fourth birthday party at school, where homemade cupcakes were already promised. And resorting to store-bought just isn't an option. Perhaps you ended up with cupcakes that were perfectly done but stuck to the bottom of the pan - how frustrating is that, especially when every step was meticulously followed? Or cupcakes that were underdone. Or lumpy. Or rock hard.

Click here to learn Foolproof Baking Tips

Bobbie Lloyd, president and chief baking officer at Magnolia Bakery (yes, that title is real!), is on speed dial for many of her friends for just that reason. But for the rest of us who aren't so lucky as to have a cupcake-baking extraordinaire on call, we've gathered together a few basic tips that can mean the difference between achieving cupcake nirvana and, well, just making a mess. Thank you for all of your help, Bobbie!

Butter, Out
Bring butter to room temperature before creaming it. Cold butter won't work well since it doesn't have the proper leavening power needed for good cupcakes, and on the other end of the spectrum, neither will melted butter. The butter should just indent to the touch, but your finger shouldn't sink straight into it.

Bobbie says: Touch your pinky to the hard part of the base of your thumb. That is what butter straight from the refrigerator feels like. Now, touch your middle finger to the base of your thumb (further down, of course). That's what room temperature butter should feel like. If the butter looks shiny, it's too soft. Back in the fridge!

Here's a shortcut: Place a stick of butter, unwrapped, in the microwave for 10 seconds on defrost mode. If it's still not quite soft enough, repeat in five-second increments.

Check out these Delicious Cupcake Recipes

Oven Thermometer
Oven temperatures can vary widely, especially for gas ovens, which can have hot spots or inaccurate internal thermometers. (Bobbie said she once lived in an apartment where her oven was off by 75 degrees Fahrenheit!) So spend a few bucks on one. It will make all the difference.

Bobbie says: Gas ovens are often too hot at the top for the tops of the cupcakes, and too hot at the bottom for the bottoms of the cupcakes. Always bake in the middle rack, and if doing a batch of more than one dozen (the standard size for cupcake pans), bake them one at a time, not all at once, so they can all cook evenly in the middle rack.

Don't Overmix
The consistency won't be right. As a rule of thumb, when adding dry ingredients to wet, you'll want to mix just until incorporated, but again, we cannot stress this enough, it will depend on the recipe, so read the recipe!

Don't Overfill
Just two-thirds of the way up is perfect. Cupcakes expand when baked, and if the cupcake pans are filled any higher, the batter will spill over when baked. Any less than two-thirds, and the cupcake won't "dome." For a quick and consistent filling process, use an ice cream scooper.

Don't Overcook
It's better to err on the side of slightly undercooking the cupcakes (rather than overcooking, in which case there's no rescue). That's because cupcakes will continue to cook slightly when removed from the oven.

Bobbie says: Cupcakes are just about ready when they start to smell like cake, shrink from the sides of the pan, form an indentation when tapped gently with a finger, or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Stuck/Gummy Cupcakes
It cannot be stressed enough - thoroughly butter and flour the cupcake pans. Or just use cupcake liners. If they get stuck anyway, there are a couple of things that might work.

Bobbie says: If the cupcakes have already cooled and are stuck, put the oven on a low setting and try putting them back in for about 10 minutes, or just until the pan heats up and the cake is soft, but not warmed itself. Then, carefully turn it upside down on a wire rack and rub - don't whack or tap. Show it some love.

Or, if you didn't try the oven thing, you could always turn it upside down and yes, tap, the bottoms with an offset spatula. Lastly, to avoid gummy cupcakes, make sure to let them cool on a wire rack for not more than 10 minutes, or they'll absorb moisture, become wet on the bottom, and turn gummy.

Prettier Frosting
It's easiest to frost the cupcakes after removing them from the pan. For a hand-done look, try using an icing wand, available at many home goods stores. For a cleaner look, try piping the frosting. There's no need to purchase pastry bags - a heavyweight freezer bag works just as well.

Bobbie says: Fill the bag with your icing of choice, and snip off about ¼- to ½-inch from the corner of the bag. Twist it up to make an ice cream cone, hold the tip end of the bag to aim in one hand, and use your other hand to squeeze from the top.

Magnolia Bakery's Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe
Make Magnolia Bakery's most popular flavor at home! The vanilla cake is rich and buttery with a light crumb. In addition to the vanilla cupcake, Magnolia offers their classic chocolate cupcake with chocolate or vanilla buttercream, as well as a selection of specialty flavors, including red velvet, devil's food, caramel, hummingbird, pistachio, s'mores, and coconut.

For the vanilla buttercream:
• 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 cups confectioners' sugar
• 2-3 tablespoons milk
• 2-3 drops food coloring (optional)
For the cupcakes:
• 1 1/2 cup self-rising flour
• 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1 cup unsalted butter, softened
• 2 cups sugar
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 4 large eggs, at room temperature
• 1 cup milk

For the vanilla buttercream:
Cream the butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the vanilla extract and gradually add the sugar 1 cup at a time. Scrape down the sides of the bowl often. When the mixture starts to thicken and appear dry, add 2 tablespoons of the milk.

Using an electric mixer, beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy, about 2-4 minutes. Add more milk as needed, if you want a thinner consistency. If desired, add a few drops of food coloring and mix thoroughly. Store the icing at room temperature. Icing can be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

For the cupcakes:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk together the self-rising flour and all-purpose flour. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter until smooth using an electric mixer on medium speed. Add the sugar and vanilla gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, scrape down the batter in the bowl to make sure the ingredients are well blended. Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling them about ¾ full. Bake until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cupcake comes out clean, about 20-25 minutes.

Cool the cupcakes in the tins for 15 minutes. Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Click here for More Tips on How to Make a Better Cupcake

- Will Budiaman, The Daily Meal