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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!

60 comments to Cupcake Conundrum!

  • Great! I love it when the solution can be so simple. 🙂

  • Hi there, my guess is that after baking cupcakes in a cupcake/muffin pan, there is some greasy residue left inside the pans–either from cooking spray, if you sprayed the pans ahead of time–or else from the fat in the cake batter seeping through the paper liners onto the pan. Either way, the pans would need to be cleaned before the next use, and it sounds like she is recommending that you simply wipe the pans clean with a dry towel or paper towel, rather than washing it in hot soapy water.

    To be honest, I don’t know if that would have any effect on whether the cupcake liners would stop separating from the cupcakes, but I guess it couldn’t hurt to try! There are certainly plenty of different suggestions in this conversation thread, but I have yet to try them all.

    I will share this one tip/observation from my own experience, though: When I use paper liners to make muffins, I have ZERO problem with the liners separating from the muffins. I even spray the muffins tins with cooking spray before I put the paper liners in the pan, and it works great! The muffins come out of the tins easily, and the liners always stay attached.

    But the opposite is true for cupcakes: I do NOT recommend spraying the tins with cooking spray at all. Just place the paper liners in a dry muffin tin. Even so, the exact same papers–when used on cupcakes–always pull away from the cupcakes. Therefore, it seems as though it must have something to do with the ingredients in the cupcake vs. muffin batters themselves. Interesting and frustrating, all at the same time!

  • Colleen

    Thank you so much! I had never had this problem until I recently purchased a new oven. I had tried reducing the temperature and even that did not help. This has saved me!!!

    On the subject of making liners keep their color…I have only found one brand of liner that remain bright after baking and that is the Reynolds brand. Unfortunately, they offer a very limited variety. They are lined in foil and are much heavier than standard liners.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience! My guess is that the Reynolds liners retain their color after baking specifically because they are lined in foil. The foil liner must add a layer of heat-protection to keep the paper liners from browning.

  • Tiffany

    Good Evening,
    When I bake my vanilla cupcakes the edge of the cupcake turns a darker brown than the rest of the cupcake, mainly because when it goes “up and over” it’s touching the pan slightly, although it’s not burnt it’s still not an even color with the rest of the cupcake and it bothers me. Do you think trying the sheet pan trick will allow the cupcake to be one even color?

  • Hi there, I don’t think it is possible to ever get an entire cupcake (or cake) to be a uniform color all over. As you mentioned, the edges that come in contact with the pan will always get a little more color than the centers of the cupcakes because the pan is hotter. Some color is OK because it simply means that the sugar in the batter is caramelizing. In cooking school, we say baked goods are done when they are GBD: golden, brown and delicious! So golden and brown are perfectly desirable characteristics in cupcakes.

    The only trouble is when they go beyond brown and start to get too dark or even burned. Using the sheet tray or double-pan technique helps prevent the cupcakes from burning, but it won’t stop them from developing some color.

    If you don’t like the way the browned edges look, simply cover them completely with frosting. It does wonders for hiding the imperfections!

  • Thank you for the answer to this problem! I had the same issue and almost bought new pans! I was baffled until now. Thanks again

  • Louise - mamalou

    Thank you so much for the solution to my burned muffins. I thought I had tried everything – foil muffin cups, tinkering with the oven temp., however yesterday I found the double pan solution on this site and have been muffin-baking my brains out ever since. My husband and son-in-law are Celiac and rely on me to bake their treats. They are both smiling today. Thank you, thank you!!!

  • Fantastic!! I’m so glad I was able to help solve this problem for you, as well. And I’m glad this little trick is helping you bake lovely gluten-free treats for your family–even better! Happy baking!

  • Kim

    Also fill the cupcake tens with a little bit of uncooked rice and it kept my cupcakes from burning

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