Cupcake Troubleshooting is a science! Nothing is really quite as perfect as a perfect cupcake. Perfect cookies are cool… But there’s something about achieving perfection in something as delicate as a cupcake!
They tend to expose every shortcoming you may have in your baking skills… Which is why we end up covering them in too much frosting so that you cannot see the bad bake underneath. Every home baker knows that chocolate, frosting, fresh berries and sprinkles cover a multitude of sins!
My journey with baking perfect cupcakes has been nearly as intense as perfecting the shiny brownie crust. There are quite a few helpful articles on the internet, but it really came down to baking cupcakes 1000 times over to figure everything out. Once again, supplying cupcakes to restaurants and coffee shops has given me ample opportunity to experiment! So grateful!
Here is a FULL cupcake troubleshooting guide that will help you to better understand your cupcake dramas.
Cupcake Troubleshooting (Common Cupcake Errors):
I have to start with a cupcake troubleshooting list before I share my extra methods. Oh gosh, the list is long and we all know how horribly disappointing these results are! I’ll add some of my own thoughts on each point and provide my favourite links that discuss these topics in more detail.
In my NEXT POST I share my more Advanced, Secret Tips I use to make my cupcakes exceptional, not just error-free!
Cupcake Troubleshooting Problem A:
Cupcakes rise with a pointy top:
Image by The Cooks Academy Blog
1. Your Oven is too Hot
NEVER EVER bake your cupcakes on the thermo-fan or convection oven setting! EVER! The fan pushes hot air around in the oven, but makes the environment too intense for the batter to handle.
The outer edges of the cupcakes bake too fast, crisp up and stop rising very quickly while the center still keeps rising and ends up pushing through the top of your cupcakes – pointy! The worst pointy cupcake episode I ever had was when I baked my cupcakes in a convection oven. I cried.
Another reason is overbeating your batter. Make sure you follow the instructions of your recipe. Make sure you added in all the ingredients as directed so that you don’t need to mix in an ingredient after the wet and dry ingredients have been combined.
Certain cake recipes do require extensive beating once all the ingredients have been combined. Just be sure to stick to the required beating time of your particular recipe.
Best link – “How to Get your Cupcakes Flat on Top” by HubPages.
Cupcake Troubleshooting Problem B:
Cupcakes shrink/sink after baking:
Ah man this is a frustrating one! Your cupcakes look perfect when they come out the oven (they seem slightly smaller, but that’s normal right?). Then, within the next 3 minutes, they shrink into puny little things and the texture is also way too dense. Why does this happen?!
It’s happened to me 7 times, for 6 different reasons:
2. The cupcakes were under baked:
Perfect cupcakes are obviously not overbaked, but it really is important for them to be baked properly. I’ve found that it’s quite ideal if one or 2 moist crumbs stick to the bottom of the skewer after testing. Then you have a perfect bake.
There should never be any traces of batter glued to the skewer. Also be sure to insert the skewer all the way to the bottom of the cupcakes, not just to the centre. If the batter has not cooked and formed a proper structure, it will sag down (and in) once out of the oven.
3. Over-beating the batter:
Over-beating your batter overworks the gluten, making it tough and less likely to rise. Another analogy is that you are beating in too much air which will then escape once your cupcakes are out of the oven, causing them to shrink.
4. Self-raising flour fail / Old baking powder:
It is a handy ingredient yes, but not always so trustworthy in my experience. In summer I make the most amazing Passion Fruit & Raspberry cupcakes. They had come out perfectly every time before this one particular day. I always bought the best Self-rising flour our country has to offer. This one day they shrunk into oblivion!
I made them again – same result. Then I made them yet again, but this time using flour and baking powder – perfect cupcakes! Since that fateful day I’ve swopped self-rising flour for all-purpose flour and baking powder. Just use 2t baking powder per 160g (1 cup) Flour. Perfect!
5. Poor quality sugar:
I did not see this one coming. Sugar is sugar, right? Turns out it is not. Our grocery store had this tower of sugar with bright red “sale” signs all over – of course I was going to buy it! It was a brand I had never seen or heard of before, but come on! It’s on SALE! I bought a few… Little did she know…
The poor cupcakes shrunk to about half their original size in just 2 minutes after exiting the oven. I made them again with a trusted brand of sugar – perfect cupcakes! We ended up using the poor quality sugar in our tea and coffee.
6. Too much sugar:
It was purely just a lack of focus that revealed this error. My mind was occupied with a lot of stuff. Towards the end of mixing my batter I could not remember if I had added the sugar… It’s important to note that this recipe contained 3 different types of sugar. White, demerara and golden syrup, so I couldn’t just taste it and figure it out.
I wasn’t sure if I had added the white sugar. What to do? So the cake would be a tad too sweet if I might be adding extra, big deal. Shrinking cupcakes are a big deal though. And shrink they did. Be sure to focus, follow your recipe and don’t add extra sugar!
7. Too much egg:
Eggs vary in sizes. I generally get quite upset when a recipe doesn’t specify what size egg you should use. Too much egg WILL shrink your cupcakes. Once I added about 1,5 times the amount of egg the batter specified because I didn’t want to waste half an egg. In the end I wasted a batch of cupcakes instead!
I always WEIGH the amount of egg I use. Crack it in a cup, whisk it lightly with a fork and then weigh the exact amount of grams you put in. If the cupcakes come out perfect, make a note on your recipe of the weight of egg you used, so that you'll know how much to use when you make the recipe again.
If you feel the cake needed a bit more egg, make a note of that too. Weighing the amount of egg I use has made all the difference in my baking. If this bit of effort gives me perfect cupcakes, I’m more than happy to do it. Are you willing to sacrifice one minute of extra effort for perfect cupcakes? If you think about it that way, it’s totally worth it 🙂
8. Important notes on liquidy batters:
If your batter has a high liquid content, shrinking will occur after baking. The liquid produces a lot of steam. This steam puffs up the cupcake, but will evaporate after baking and your cupcakes will shrink. Most amazing chocolate cupcake recipes call for boiling water, which is totally fine. I always just add about 1/5 less water than the recipe states – just in case!
Best link – “5 Ways to Keep your Cakes from Sinking” by Always Order Dessert.
Cupcake Troubleshooting Problem C:
First you get excited because you can see your cupcakes are rising so well in the oven. How delightful! “These are going to be my most perfect cupcakes ever!” you think out loud. Then they continue to rise… upwards and then outwards! Wait, Stop! Nooo! What causes this?
9. Too much Leavening Agent:
More often than not, the reason is too much baking powder or bicarbonate of soda. Especially with bicarbonate of soda. “Soda spreads, powder puffs” Kitchen Conundrums always says. I always weigh my baking powder and baking soda while sifting the dry ingredients together. Seriously 1 little gram does make a difference!
Think about how dangerous measuring is. Some folks scoop out a compacted teaspoon of baking powder, while others pour it out of a refill pack. There is just too much room for error.
Write down on each recipe the exact weight of baking powder you use so that you will know for the next time you make that recipe and get consistent results. Also stick to one brand! All of them differ, even if it is just slightly.
10. Overfilling your cupcakes:
If you see there is a bit too much batter, rather bake half a cupcake extra. Rather have one little manky one (which serves as your sneaky treat anyway) and 11 perfect cupcakes as opposed to 11 overflown cupcakes.
11. Oven temperature is too low:
Preheat your oven till the exact temperature before putting the cupcakes in the oven. If the temperature is too low, the outer batter will take longer to cook, extending the cupcakes’ rising phase beyond normal.
Consider buying an additional thermometer to hang inside your oven. Oven thermostats are not always that accurate. An additional thermometer is a MUST for a gas oven.
12. Too much acidity:
I once tried out a lemon cupcake recipe which called for lemon juice in the batter. I made a batch with lemon juice and one without. The batch with lemon juice completely overflowed. Acidity can also act as a rising agent. Think of traditional Red Velvet Cake. The vinegar, along with the bicarbonate of soda, makes the cake rise.
Best link – “Basics and Troubleshooting” by Cupcake Blog.
Cupcake Troubleshooting Problem D:
Cupcakes bake out in weird little overflowing limbs:
1. Oven temperature is too hot:
If your oven temperature is too hot, the outer layer of batter will bake and harden too quickly. The centre of the cupcake will still be liquid batter that needs to expand and go somewhere! It will find the weakest spot on the cupcake and force itself out in that direction.
13. Unevenly mixed batter:
Always be careful of unevenly mixed cake batter when using a stand mixer. In fact, this can also occur when using a handheld electric beater. Gently go around the bowl with a rubber spatula to loosen any butter and sugar that might still be stuck from the creaming phase.
Be sure to do this on the bottom of the bowl as well. Gently keep folding the batter with a rubber spatula till there are no streaks of butter left.
8. Too much leavening agent:
This can cause total overflowing (as discussed above) or sporadic overflowing in selected areas around the edges.
Best link – “Basics and Troubleshooting” by Cupcake Blog.
Cupcake Troubleshooting Problem D:
Cupcake peels away from the wrapper all by itself:
This tends to happen when I bake gluten free cupcakes. I assume it is because gluten free goods contain less binding agents. In that case it makes sense that there is less binding between the cupcake and its wrapper as well.
The way I solve this is too use poor quality cupcake wrappers. They have a poor non-stick ability, so they stick very well to cupcakes. With regular cupcakes this can be annoying, but with gluten free cupcakes it works perfectly!
14. Under baking your cupcakes:
With regular cupcakes it is usually due to under baking your cupcakes. When the cupcakes cool, they then shrink inwards and leave the wrapper behind.
15. Fancy Cupcake Liners:
This problem also occurs with fancy cupcake wrappers. All cupcakes will shrink at least a little bit after baking. If your wrapper is a rigid one, the shape of the cupcake will change post baking, but the wrapper will remain the same. For this reason I really prefer fluted paper cupcake wrappers which expand and contract with the cupcake.
Best link – “Cupcake wrapper mystery – SOLVED!” by Jessica Harris Cake Design.
This concludes my FULL Cupcake Troubleshooting! Thanks for reading! If you have had any other cupcake struggles which are not discussed in this post, please share them. I'll answer them to the best of my ability or direct you to someone who can.
Here are some perfectly baked cupcakes just to make you feel positive again!
Another all inclusively helpful post is “How to make perfect cupcakes” by Handle the Heat.
I hope you enjoyed my full cupcake troubleshooting! Be sure not to miss PART 2 of How to Bake Perfect Cupcakes. I’ll be sharing my more advanced, secret tips I use to make my cupcakes exceptional, not just error-free!
Happy baking! Chat soon!