Top 10 Tips For Better Cupcakes

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Cupcake-making class at Butter Lane. [Photographs: Reese Muntean]

The other day I was walking through Manhattan's East Village and passed a window, through which I saw a scene that looked straight out of a romantic comedy. The room was filled with a half-dozen people wearing white aprons and giggling as they tasted their way through the stages of making the perfect cupcake. There was a little crowd of voyeurs gathered around the window gazing into the class; it looked like so much fun!

The culinary tutorial was Butter Lane's cupcake class, and I enrolled right away. (After reading Leah's cupcake roundup, I was inspired to make my own.)

Under the expert guidance of my instructor, Rachel, I got quite a bit of helpful advice for making homemade cupcakes even better. Here are some of the tips I learned, straight from Butter Lane to you.

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1. Keep It Organized

Use as few bowls and utensils as possible. I have the tendency to use a new spoon for each ingredient, but when all you want to do is eat your delicious cupcakes and you're faced with a sink overflowing with dirty dishes, it might discourage you from making cupcakes again in the future. Remember, all the ingredients are getting mixed together anyway. Measure the sugar and butter right into the bowl of the mixer; reuse bowls and clean up as you go along.

2. Bookend With Dry Ingredients

Whenever combining dry ingredients with liquid ingredients, start and end with the dry ingredients—it helps get the perfect consistency.

3. Whip It Good

When mixing ingredients in a stand mixer, put the mixer on max speed for the last five seconds.

4. Add Gradually

Add ingredients bit by bit, mixing between each addition, rather than dumping everything together then attempting to mix a mountain of ingredients. For instance, when making the batter, add one egg at a time, mixing briefly in between each addition.

5. Keep It Even

A key to successful cupcake-making is consistency. A consistent size is necessary to even baking (otherwise you will be stuck with a pan of cupcakes in which some are under-baked and others are over-baked). Rather than eye-balling your batter as you use a spoon or spatula, try using an ice cream scooper instead.

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6. High-Quality

The best quality ingredients will result in the best taste. This may be a no-brainer, but it's worth it to use, for example, actual vanilla beans to flavor vanilla frosting. (After you have scraped the inside of the bean for the frosting, save the exterior and put it in a sugar canister: it not only perfumes the sugar, but gives it a hint of vanilla taste).

7. Watch The Shine

When mixing ingredients for the frosting, add the butter—and cream cheese, if the recipe calls for it—then begin adding sugar before the mixture becomes shiny. (Shininess means that the ingredients are starting to melt, and you want to add the sugar before that happens).

8. Fully Mixed?

To gauge whether frosting is sufficiently mixed, taste it for texture: it should be creamy rather than grainy. If it's grainy, keep mixing.

9. The Bounceback

Right out of the oven, the cupcakes should be able to take a bit of pressure from your fingers and still be able to bounce up. Cupcake tops may still be a little sticky right out of the oven, but they will continue to cook in the minutes after.

10. Eat 'Em Up!

Your cupcakes should be consumed within 48 hours for optimal taste. (This is probably no challenge for most of us. If you can't polish them all off, share!). Don't put your cupcakes in the refrigerator; it dries out the cake and the frosting loses its flavor. Keep them in an airtight container in a cool place in your home.

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