The answers to all your cupcake questions

Who can say no to a cupcake? Certainly not me! Today, I’m lucky enough to have chef Tony O’Reilly with me to unravel the ins and outs of making the perfect cupcake.

 Like cheese and wine - Cupcakes and parties

Like cheese and wine - Cupcakes and parties

When does a cupcake become a muffin?

A cupcake will never be a muffin! Cupcakes and muffins are usually around the same size and look similar but there are subtle differences:

  1. Unlike cupcakes, a muffin mix usually has something solid added to the base mix such as blueberries, raspberries or chocolate nibs.
  2. Cupcakes are usually topped with a piped frosting and decorated with a representation of their flavour (such as chocolate) whereas muffins are usually dusted with icing sugar or a thin coating of fondant.
  3. The basic mixture might be different too - some recipes suggest making muffins with oil.

My top tip: always use unsalted butter and a good cooking margarine.

Branded or own-label flour – does it make a difference?  

Yes, the flour does matter but because of the blend of flour rather than the brand - a good name usually means a superior blend (it could be a shop-branded quality product). Basically, you get what you pay for and, although I’m all for saving money, I want a balance between quality and price. A good-quality blend will be a finer-milled flour from selected wheat grains and is more likely give you a lighter finished product.

Does the age and quality of eggs make a difference?

The older the egg, the weaker the protein (helps to set the cake) so use the freshest eggs possible and as local to your area as you can. I use free-range eggs for everything because, for me, it’s about conscience and care for the environment. As for organic - some people believe it makes a difference to the flavour but I’m not so sure.

Stork v butter – which is best?

Ah, this old chestnut!! Stork is especially formulated for baking and it can make for a lighter finished product but I prefer the taste of butter, even though you have to beat the air into it to make it lighter.

Do you use baking powder as well as self-raising flour?

 Mixing made easy with the Judge Table Top Stand Mixer

Mixing made easy with the Judge Table Top Stand Mixer

I’m with Mary Berry on this one - I always add extra baking powder to give more lift to the finished product.

My top tip: sprinkle the baking powder evenly over the flour and sieve the additional baking powder and flour together twice to make sure it is dispersed as evenly as possible.

Mixing - all in one or one ingredient at a time?

I always cream my butter and sugar together before I add my eggs. Lastly, I add my self-raising flour and baking powder mix.

How long should I mix for? Can I over mix?

I always say get the mixture into the oven as quickly as possible! (I’ve never tried to over mix but it’s not a precise science so, if you leave the blender on too long, it won’t make much of a difference.)

Should you leave the mixture to stand before baking?

For cupcake mixture (or any product with self-raising flour), speed is of the essence - my advice is always to get it into the oven as quickly as possible! (I think you’ve probably got that message by now!)

My top tip: make sure you have pre-set the oven and have your tins ready because once you add the flour to the wet mixture, the chemical reaction begins. The longer you take to get it into the oven, the less of a chemical reaction you have left to give you a good ris

What’s the best temperature to bake cupcakes?

 Not getting the results you want? Check the oven temp with a Judge Oven Thermometer

Not getting the results you want? Check the oven temp with a Judge Oven Thermometer

Everyone’s oven is different but I say 180°C for most ovens and 170°C for a more modern, (If you want to check your oven temperature, Judge has a Oven Thermometer. efficient, fan-assisted oven. Older ovens might need an extra few degrees and a bit of extra time.

How do you know when they’re ready?

I check using a combination of recipe-suggested timing and eye. If you’re unsure, push a cocktail stick or a skewer into the middle of the mixture and if it comes out clean of raw mixture, it’s done. Remember, you still have ‘carry over cooking’ temperature when you take your cupcakes out of the oven which will cook them a little more on the cooling rack.

My top tip: once out of the oven, let the initial heat dissipate and then lightly cover your cupcakes so that they don’t dry out too much.

How much mixture do I need for 12 cup cakes?

My recipe allows for about 60-65g of raw mixture per cupcake which will give you a good-sized cupcake – don’t forget, you’re going to add 60g of frosting on top! If you’re not sure about the size you want, have a look at the results -  here we  used 50g and 65g. Really, it’s up to you – they both look tempting to me!

Good luck and good baking!

Ingredients

  • 200 g butter (at room temperature)
  • 200g golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium free-range eggs, beaten together
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 level tsp baking powder

For the Frosting

  • 300g butter, room temperature
  • ½tsp vanilla extract
  • 2-3 tbsp Milk, cream or yoghurt
  • 600g icing sugar

Colouring, essences & Sprinkles

  • Orange colouring with Orange essence and Gold sprinkles
  • Lemon colouring, Sicilian Lemon essence with popping candy sprinkles
  • Red colouring, salted caramel essence and hearts and star sprinkles

Method

Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas 4. Line a 12-hole tin tray with paper cupcake cases. Have you 2 dessert spoons for portioning ready too.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix in well. Sift the flour and baking powder twice and add to the wet ingredients. Using two spoons, divide the mixture evenly between the paper cases.

Place in the preheated oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cakes are well risen, firm on top and a nice light brown colour. Once cooked, remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Meanwhile, make to make the frosting. place the butter, two tablespoons of the milk, cream or yoghurt (I used Sheep's Yoghurt to be different) and half the icing sugar (300g) in a large bowl and beat until smooth and creamy. Add the remaining icing sugar. If the mixture is too dry add a little more milk, cream or yoghurt. Too wet to pipe, add some more icing sugar.

Once the cup cakes are cold. I divided the cream mixture into three, coloured and flavoured accordingly and decorated.

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For piping - if you don't have already, please check out the Judge piping kits kit handy to have and great for cooking projects like this.