Mmmm... cupcakes nom nom nom...
May 13, 2008 7:15 AM   Subscribe

Help me improve the texture/crumb/density of my cupcakes!

As the mother of two young children, I find myself baking more cupcakes than I used to. I'm having trouble, though, with my cupcakes being TOO fluffy. I know fluffiness is something most bakers strive for, but I think mine generally come out too light and airy. Moist, but really, really light. I prefer a more substantial cake, something with a little more heft. As an example, I have had great success with this recipe for chocolate cake, the crumb and density are perfect. The last time I made yellow cupcakes, I used this recipe, and my results were too fluffy for me.

Is it a matter of the dry/wet ingredient ratio? The all-purpose flour vs cake flour? Butter vs oil? Or is it possible that I am mixing too much air into the batter? I am using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and I try not to over mix.

Any help would be appreciated, as I am going to be making more cupcakes tonight (I was planning to try this recipe) for my son's class.
posted by missuswayne to Food & Drink (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Baking soda AND buttermilk AND baking powder seems excessive - the combination of baking soda and buttermilk is a pretty potent base/acid leavening agent on its own. Try cutting out all but a 1/4 tsp of baking powder, or eliminating it entirely.

Are you at altitude?
posted by peachfuzz at 7:24 AM on May 13, 2008

I'm near Philadelphia. Definitely not an altitude issue :)
posted by missuswayne at 7:30 AM on May 13, 2008

I've been experimenting with cake flour on a different project- it's VERY light and produces almost no gluten at all, it seems to me. Great for angel food cake, but you're right, a cupcake needs to be more solid.

I'd try the recipe with all-purpose and see what happens. Might have to change the amount, if it was me, I'd try to get a batter that's the same or just slightly thicker than what you get with the cake flour.

Messing with the leavening seems harder to get right, but I'm not hatin' on the idea. I believe the reason for using both soda/buttermilk and powder is that the baking powder acts both on the uncooked batter and then has a second leavening action when it gets hot.
posted by gjc at 7:36 AM on May 13, 2008

Don't use cake flour, use regular all-purpose (unbleached tastes even better, if you can find it). Cake flour has a lower gluten content than all-purpose or bread flour, and since gluten is what forms the bonds with the other ingredients, less gluten means a more delicate texture. If you want a denser cupcake, use a flour with a higher gluten content. You might have to experiment a little to find your desired ratio- switching it out entirely might result in a hockey puck of a cupcake, try half cake and half all purpose or something like that.

Also, what peachfuzz said about reducing the leavening.
posted by Oobidaius at 7:37 AM on May 13, 2008

I wonder if it's the butter vs. oil difference. Well, really, I wonder if it's the fact that they use two completely different mixing methods - the creaming method (cream together butter and sugar, add eggs, then dry ingredients, used in the vanilla recipe) vs. the muffin method (mix dry and wet separately, mix together, used in the chocolate recipe). I personally find the muffin method makes things a bit denser than the creaming method, especially when oil is used rather than melted butter.

Unfortunately, I don't have a recipe to share, but if you do find one that works, post it back here!
posted by cabingirl at 7:47 AM on May 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hmmm...I'm going to try subbing AP flour (minus a few tablespoons) for the cake flour and see what happens.

Something I forgot to add in my OP, is it possible to over-sift the dry ingredients? Could this contribute to the extra-fluffy texture?

cabingirl, I see your point. I'm also going to hunt around to see if I can find a yellow cake recipe that uses the muffin method.
posted by missuswayne at 7:56 AM on May 13, 2008

AHA! I think I found a yellow cake that promises the texture I'm looking for. It uses cake flour, but the butter and sugar (and then eggs) are not creamed together first. Think I'm going to try it out.
posted by missuswayne at 8:01 AM on May 13, 2008

While I'm here I'll just ask - do you think it's ok to sub buttermilk for the milk called for in the above recipe?
posted by missuswayne at 8:02 AM on May 13, 2008

My gut says no, because buttermilk is thicker so it will make the batter thicker, and also tends to lend specific characteristics to baked goods (tenderness, tangyness) that you don't get with milk. I think it would turn out quite differently than it would with regular milk - which is not to say it wouldn't be delicious, just different.
posted by cabingirl at 8:12 AM on May 13, 2008

Alright, then I will just have to make some pancakes this week :)
posted by missuswayne at 8:24 AM on May 13, 2008

Mixing does have an effect. You'll get more air in with a paddle than if you use a blade. You're much more limited in your selection there however, and you may find the blade doesn't quite get it right either. I'd go with adjustments to the recipe in order to get it spot on.

It may take it a few goes to get right, but you can never have too many cakes.
posted by edd at 8:39 AM on May 13, 2008

I agree with pretty much all of the above, just wanted to say that you can't over-sift. It's leavening, gluten, and creaming that you really want to pay attention to.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:05 AM on May 13, 2008

edd - It's true, you really can't have too many cakes. I don't think my family's going to complain too much if I have to do some test recipes.

Also, I'm just curious - when you say blade, do you mean dough hook? I have three attachments for my mixer: dough hook, paddle, and wire whip. Which one is the blade?
posted by missuswayne at 11:19 AM on May 13, 2008

If you're looking for denser, richer cupcakes, you could also try adding a little instant vanilla pudding mix-- that should help keep things nice and moist. The wet/dry balance of the other ingredients would probably need to be tweaked to compensate, so maybe start with a tbsp or two of pudding mix, and increase slowly in subsequent batches until you find the proportion that's right.
posted by Bardolph at 12:25 PM on May 13, 2008

Well, I couldn't wait until tonight to bake, so I went ahead and made this recipe with the hope that the cupcakes would come out the way I wanted. No dice. Still far too airy and light. Also, the cake doesn't release from the paper cleanly at all, and that was the case with my previous unsuccessful yellow cupcake attempts. You take the paper off and like 1/4 of it is left on the paper.

Perhaps I will try again with AP flour instead of cake flour. I also might sub oil for the butter. I just want something that will hold up to a nice rich frosting you know?

Bardolph - the pudding mix idea is interesting. If the flour and oil subs don't work, pudding might be next.
posted by missuswayne at 1:04 PM on May 13, 2008

Depends on the mixer. If it's functional as a food processor there might literally be a blade attachment for slicing and dicing. They mix too, but produce very flat stuff. You can probably guess based on how fat the attachment is how close to that kind of mixer you get. Blades tend to whizz through stuff but don't give much of the folding action you want for a lighter dough.

Not sure how the ones you have would affect it. I tend to go for the fattest attachment but it sounds like I prefer my cakes lighter than you.

I'd try the flour suggestion the others suggested. And maybe a exchange a small proportion of the flour for a little more sugar? I seem to recall when I bake cakes they're nearer equal proportions, but I also go for the self-raising flour too, and I've never baked with buttermilk.
posted by edd at 1:49 PM on May 13, 2008

Ohhhhh, a blade like on a food processor. No, mine's a Kitchenaid stand mixer, no blade.
posted by missuswayne at 3:14 PM on May 13, 2008

Best kind. Don't switch!
posted by edd at 3:38 PM on May 13, 2008

I should mention for anyone checking back to this thread, I found Magnolia's vanilla cupcake to be exactly what I was looking for!
posted by missuswayne at 10:45 AM on May 15, 2008

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