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Dense Strawberry Cupcakes: How to Aid Leavening

JoAnne asks: I used the following recipe to make Strawberry Cupcakes.  Followed directions and measured the ingredients.  The cupcakes look great BUT were very dense and dry.  I took them out of the oven right when the toothpick came out clean which was after 21 minutes. I’m using an oven I have never used before and its temperature reading isn’t digital, would this be the case?  I have also tried another recipe using buttermilk, baking powder, AND soda and still ended up with very dense cupcakes. HELP! Thanks!

Strawberry Cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour , sifted
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. coarse salt
1/4 cup whole milk , room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter , room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 large egg , room temperature
2 large egg whites , room temperature

Preheat oven to 350°. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with cupcake liners; set aside.

Place strawberries in a small food processor; process until pureed. You should have about 1/3 cup of puree. Add a few more strawberries if necessary, or save any extra puree for frosting; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In a small bowl, mix together milk, vanilla and strawberry puree; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until well combined and fluffy. Reduce the mixer speed to medium and slowly add egg and egg whites until just blended.

With the mixer on low, slowly add half the flour mixture; mix until just blended. Add the milk mixture; mix until just blended. Slowly add remaining flour mixture, scraping down sides of the bowl with a spatula, as necessary, until just blended.

Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Transfer muffin tin to oven and bake until tops are just dry to the touch, 22 to 25 minutes. Transfer muffin tin to a wire rack and let cupcakes cool completely in tin before icing.

Baking S.O.S. says: Thank you for sending the recipe along with your question.  It helps in trying to analyze what may have gone wrong.

Let’s start with the oven: Since you haven’t used it before, it’s possible that the oven could be one source of the problem. I would suggest placing an oven thermometer in the oven when you preheat it to get a reading on the actual temperature. Sometimes ovens can fluctuate quite a bit from the set temperature, producing uneven results. Very frustrating!

Is the oven gas or electric? Electric ovens are supposed to bake more evenly than gas.  I recently had a new gas oven installed at work, and the installer told me that the rate of gas flow through the lines can ebb and flow, producing very uneven baking results as the oven gets hotter and cooler.

So the oven could be one reason why the cupcakes dried out during the baking process if it was actually hotter than the set temperature.

As for the dense cupcakes, it sounds like a leavening problem. There are several things I noticed in the recipe you used:

1) The recipe uses the “Creaming Method” to mix the cake. Most recipes do not specify how to properly cream a batter (whether it be cakes, cookies, or muffins) using the Creaming Method.  Recipes–like this one–usually say to beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffly.  What they DON’T tell you is that you need to use an electric mixer set on medium speed (4-6 setting) and beat with the paddle attachment for 8-10 minutes. I know that sounds like a lot, but it will incorporate much more air into the batter if you beat it for a long time, and air bubbles help the cake rise as it bakes.

2) I noticed that the recipe called for egg whites in addition to a whole egg.  Typically, when cake batters call for egg whites, they include an extra step in the mixing process that this recipe is missing.  Again, this extra step also helps with the leavening of the cake batter.

Rather than adding the egg whites into the cake batter along with the whole egg, try whipping the egg whites separately into an egg foam to medium peaks (this means that the egg foam should barely stand up when you lift the whip out of the foam). This can best be accomplished with an electric mixer with a whip attachment, but you could also whip by hand with a wire whisk and a stainless steel bowl.

Once you have whipped the egg whites to a medium peak, very gently fold them into the finished cake batter as the final step (after you have incorporated the dry and wet ingredients).  Again, the air that you whip into the egg whites can also help leaven the cake.  This is called the “Sponge Method.”

If all else fails, you could try adding just a little bit of baking powder to try to force the cake to rise a little more.  However, keep in mind that too much baking powder will make the cake taste bitter.

I hope that helps.  Good luck!

3 comments to Dense Strawberry Cupcakes: How to Aid Leavening

  • Hi,

    I’ve made a slightly similar recipe but I didn’t have the same problem. The cake texture is not airy but still slightly crumbly, fluffy and moist.

    I love the tips about creaming and whipping the egg whites before adding to the cake. Am definitely going to try doing these two steps the next time around and I will let you know what happens.

  • Great! I would love to hear if these suggestions work for you!

  • The creaming method does make a huge difference! Making it almost White to look at before adding any other ingredients is a good rule to follow!

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