Cupcake Conundrum!


My entry for CupcakeCampColumbus

Originally uploaded by chefrb

Perhaps you have noticed that cupcakes are all the rage lately? I don’t know exactly WHY we are strangely drawn to cupcakes. . . perhaps it is our inner-child seeking comfort in foods that remind us fondly of our youth. But whatever the reason, cupcakes are garnering much attention, both from consumers and the media.

So with all this hype about cupcakes these days, I decided it was time to start baking cupcakes instead of traditional layered cakes. But in doing so, I have been perplexed–completely stumped–by a CUPCAKE CONUNDRUM:

Every single time I bake cupcakes, they burn on the bottom and sides of the cupcakes before they are done in the middle. And who wants to eat a burned cupcake? It doesn’t taste good, and it doesn’t look good, either. Furthermore, I feel like my professional integrity is on the line if I serve an inferior product. So I have tried every solution I can think of to avoid burning my cupcakes.

I have baked in both gas and electric ovens. I have used every kind of muffin pan from Teflon-coated to non-coated steel to Pampered Chef stone bakeware. I have baked with and without paper muffin liners. I have used many different recipes for cake batter. And yet, EVERY single time, my cupcakes BURN!

I can bake ANY size of cake—from a small 6-inch round cake to a large 14-inch wedding-size cake—without burning the cakes—and in ANY kind of pan, too—either non-stick or non-coated. I can bake mini-cupcakes and muffins in both non-stick and non-coated mini-muffin pans. NONE of these products burn when I bake them. So why, WHY do my cupcakes ALWAYS burn??!!

I have been plagued by this problem for many months, until recently, when I was watching an episode of “The Barefoot Contessa” with a friend. The featured recipe in that show was—you guessed it—cupcakes! I was glad to know that every single baking secret and tip that Ina Garten shared on the show was something that I already knew from my own experience baking and teaching. But the one tip she did NOT share was how to bake the cupcakes without burning them on the bottom and the sides. Upon closer scrutiny of the baking process, though (thanks, DVR!), my friend and I noticed that Ina placed her cupcake pans on a larger sheet pan before placing them in the oven. MYSTERY SOLVED! Why didn’t I think of that before??!!

What the cupcakes need in order to protect the bottoms from burning while they finish baking through the center is an extra layer of protection—the same principle that applies to AirBake insulated bakeware. This can be achieved by doing just as the Barefoot Contessa did (and as I always did in a professional bakery!): place the cupcake pans on top of a sheet pan. Or—a method I just tried recently with successful results: double-panning the cupcake pans. I set the filled cupcake pan inside of an empty cupcake pan, thus creating the double-pan effect. This serves to protect both the bottoms AND the sides of the cupcakes from over-baking and burning before the centers are fully baked.
Just as a word of caution: the Teflon-coated pans DO drawn in the heat of the oven moreso than a non-coated pan because the lining is darker. I have achieved the BEST baking results by using inexpensive, non-coated steel muffin pans. They are both cheap AND effective: win-win!

So what started out at a completely frustrating conundrum turned out to have a very simple solution, and I am now all set to enter the world of cupcake extravaganza! And I’m going to start by entering these Chocolate Raspberry Truffle cupcakes into a local cupcake-lovers meet-up: CupcakeCampColumbus. Wish me luck!