Ahh, cupcakes, what wonderful little creations. It’s got all the components that make a full-size cake great: frosting, fluffy spongy cakey goodness, toppings, and maybe even a filling.
Sharing is all good and dandy, but what’s not to love about a tiny cake you can have all to yourself?
I love whipping up some cupcakes when I am having a big dinner party. They are small, easy to carry, require minimum effort, and better yet, you don’t need to wash any plates! Winner!
Baking them, however, can often prove tricky. I’ve had my fair share of cupcake disasters where they’ve turned out flat, sunken, dense, dry…you name it, I’ve had them all.
I bet you have spent all day in the kitchen baking a batch of cupcakes, toiling over measurements and flavors, just to have your dreams crushed by cupcakes that come out flat, sunken, dry, or dense.
If you are sitting there wondering ‘why are my cupcakes flat?’ or ‘why are my cupcakes sinking?’, then you’ve come to the right place. We will take you through some common mistakes you might be making with your cupcakes and how to make cupcakes rise perfectly.
Why Are My Cupcakes Flat?
A flat cupcake looks like.. well…flat! You actually want your cupcake to have a slightly flat surface so you can pipe your buttercream on it.
But, what you really don’t want is a completely flat cupcake with no texture to it. If it comes out looking like a pancake then you’ve done something really wrong!
Flour and Raising Agents
Measuring all ingredients correctly is crucial to keep the ratio of raising agents to other ingredients balanced.
Too much raising agent and your cupcakes will end up collapsing and looking very flat.
Be wary of making any substitutions for flour if you want your cupcakes to turn out perfectly.
Cake flour makes cupcakes soft and light, but the texture can be too overwhelming if you use only cake flour.
If subbing cake flour, try using cake flour in place of half the flour in the recipe and use plain flour for the other half.
Self-rising flour already contains baking powder, so if you are substituting self-rising flour, make sure you adjust or omit the baking powder in the recipe.
Too much baking powder can have the opposite effect, resulting in flat cupcakes.
Substituting self-rising flour may take some trial and error. I suggest leaving out the baking powder entirely.
Self-rising flour and bicarbonate of soda are the main ingredients that I use to make my cupcakes rise and I follow this recipe to make them.
If you’ve followed the recipe to a tee, the most common mistake resulting in flat, sunken cupcakes is overmixing.
Over-mixing the batter puts in too much air into your cupcakes.
Your cupcakes may look deliciously fluffy as they rise in the oven, but once you remove them from the heat, they will soon deflate into a dense, flattened mess.
While still the lesser of two evils, undermixing will also yield undesirable results.
If using an electric or stand mixer, one-and-a-half to two minutes of mixing is ideal.
Baking tip: If you haven’t quite mastered the art of timing, undermix slightly rather than overmix.
Why Do My Cupcakes Peak?
There are a few reasons why your cupcakes peak in the middle. This could be due to the butter or the oven temperature.
The temperature of your butter can make a huge difference to the way your cupcakes come out the oven.
To make the perfect cupcakes, your butter needs to be soft enough that you can squeeze it. This way, you can mix it well with the rest of the ingredients.
If your cupcakes have come out super short with a volcano like peak in the middle, your butter was probably too hard and hasn’t been mixed in properly with the rest of your batter.
When you don’t mix your butter in properly with the rest of the ingredients, you are essentially just mixing up some sugar, eggs and flour.
Your cupcakes will end up with a slight peak in the middle and with a hard, sugary crust all around it. Not ideal!
Another reason that your cupcakes might be peaking in the middle is the oven temperature. Cupcakes are usually baked at 170C/350F.
If your oven is too hot, your cupcakes will start cooking faster round the top than the mixture in the middle.
This causes the batter to erupt and cause a volcano like peak on your cupcakes.
Why Are My Cupcakes Sinking?
You’ll know a sinking cupcake when you see it!
It’s basically a cupcake where the edges are slightly higher than the middle and have a massive sinking hole in the middle.
Now, these are the cupcakes you don’t want to have!
The most common mistake leading to sunken cupcakes is overmixing.
While it is not ideal to undermix either, overmixing is just about the worst thing you can do for your cupcakes.
Over mixing your cupcake batter will put too much air into the mixture.
When you over-mix, you will see that your cupcakes will puff out like soufflés in the oven and once they’ve been taken out, as they cool, they will start to sink in and pull away from the cases.
Mix the batter just until well incorporated, or for about one-and-a-half to two minutes.
Underbaking your cupcakes will also cause them to sink in the middle. Make sure you leave your cupcakes in for the full amount of time.
If you take them out too early, your cupcakes won’t have been fully cooked and will just collapse when they come out of the oven.
Cupcakes should be baked for around 20 to 22 minutes. Check by pressing your finger in the middle. If they spring back then they are ready.
If they sink a little bit then leave them in for a minute at a time.
Opening oven too soon
Don’t open your ovens people! As tempting as it might seem, try to resist the urge to check on your cupcakes halfway through.
A sudden drop in temperature mid-bake can cause the cupcakes to fall flat.
Also, be sure your oven is fully preheated before you put the cupcakes in the oven.
Preheat your oven to exactly the temperature provided in the recipe. This will usually be 170C/350F.
If you don’t fully trust your oven, get your hands on an oven thermometer for better temperature accuracy.
An oven that is too cool will result in a sunken cupcake that is too moist and without much integrity to the crumb structure.
While a too hot oven will cause peaking and a thick golden crust, as the top and sides will cook much faster than the insides, causing them to erupt like a volcano.
Too much raising agent
Your cupcakes may also sink if you have added too much raising agent in your recipe.
Too much raising agent in a recipe may have the opposite effect.
If the recipe calls for self-rising flour, just stick to that and don’t add any additional baking powder.
Why Are My Cupcakes Dense?
Dense cupcakes lack that light spongy texture desired in a cupcake and have a tight crumb structure.
Dense cupcakes tend to be short as they have not risen properly.
They can also be too dry and taste crumby, not letting all those delicious flavors shine through.
Most cupcake recipes will call for room-temperature butter to be used.
Now, the term room temperature isn’t very accurate as the temperature will depend on how warm or cold the climate is.
To get fluffy cupcakes, your butter needs to be at a soft, squidgy consistency that is not too hard and not so soft that there is butter grease seeping out.
If your butter is too cold, it won’t mix in well with the rest of the batter, resulting in a very dense cupcake.
If your butter is too soft, your cupcakes will end up sinking in the middle and create an uneven crumb.
The sinking in the middle will cause your cupcake to be very dense.
Mixing your batter will put too much air into the mixture.
You’ll know you’ve overmixed it because the batter will look super pale, and fluffy, and have rigid peaks.
While it may look and smell heavenly, your cupcakes will collapse once you remove them from the oven, resulting in a dense cupcake – far from ideal.
What happens is that they puff up really quickly in the oven and look very soufflé like.
Once you take them out and they start cooling down, they will start to lose all the air and begin to sink in the middle and start pulling away from the cases.
This sinkage makes your cupcake very dense in the middle.
Lack of raising agent
The ideal recipe for cupcakes is one that uses self-rising flour and baking soda.
This makes it easier to control the rise and you minimise the risk of underdoing it with raising agents.
If you end up using plain flour with baking powder, make sure you measure the ingredients out correctly.
Why Are My Cupcakes Dry?
You don’t need me to tell you that dry cupcakes look and feel, well, dry.
A dry cupcake is one where it is falling apart easily, has a thick, dark crust, and crumbs everywhere.
Take a look at some of the comment issues that cause cupcakes to dry out.
Overbaking can also result in a dry cupcake.
This can be caused by either leaving cupcakes in the oven too long (oopsie!) or by baking them at a higher temperature than intended.
Some ovens, especially convection ovens, tend to run a little hotter than the dial shows, so knowing your oven well can make a world of difference in your quest for the perfectly risen cupcakes.
If you’d like to avoid the hassle of trial-and-error and get your cupcakes right every time, a good oven thermometer will give you a much accurate reading of the temperature inside your oven
Keeping them in the cupcake tin too long
When you take your cupcakes out of the oven, leave them to cool in the cupcake tin for no more than a few minutes.
Leaving them in longer can cause your cupcakes to dry out as the heat from the pan will continue to cook them, removing all of the moisture.
So make sure you leave your cupcakes in the tin to cool for 5 minutes before transferring them onto a cooling rack. It’s an essential piece of equipment for cupcakes!
This 3 tiered cooling rack by Wilton is ideal for cooling cupcakes.
Not frosting the cupcakes in time
There’s a bit of an art to knowing when to frost cupcakes. Once your cupcakes have completely cooled down, make sure you ice them straight away. The longer you keep your cupcakes sitting out, the drier they will get.
The frosting will also keep your cupcakes moist for longer as it acts as a protective layer against exposing the cake to air.
How To Make Cupcakes Rise Perfectly
The perfect cupcake is light, fluffy, with an even crumb structure, and ever so softly curved at the top. It is slightly golden on the outside, and the spongy cake springs back when you press lightly on it with a finger.
It has not pulled away from the wrapping paper or the sides of the tin. And needless to say – smells glorious!
It might take you a few times to fully master how to make cupcakes rise high, but we will give you all the tips and tricks right here!
Pay attention to a few key points and you’ll be a cupcake pro in no time. And, I cannot stress the following enough; follow the recipe!
Measure your ingredients precisely and use ingredients as described in the recipe, and everything should turn out fine.
Depending on the recipe, some cupcakes will call for a batter prepared with the creaming method, and others will call for the all-in-one method.
Creaming method or all-In-one?
Some cupcake recipes will use the creaming method and others the all-in-on method.
The creaming method is when you cream the butter with the sugar and add the eggs and dry ingredients after.
The creaming of the butter and sugar puts air into the batter which helps in the rising process.
With the creaming method, since you are mixing the butter and sugar first, and then adding the rest of the ingredients one by one after, you are essentially over mixing your batter.
The creaming method is good for cakes as they are big and can hold all that air.
Cupcakes, on the other hand, are smaller, so they can’t withstand so much air to be beaten in them.
As we have already said, over-mixing your cupcake batter will not end well for your cupcakes!
The all-in-one method is literally that. You mix all the ingredients all at once. This way you aren’t over mixing your batter and you are putting in the right amount of air needed for your cupcakes.
So, even if your recipe calls for the creaming method, try the all-in-one method and I promise you won’t be disappointed!
You are probably bored by now listening to us tell you not to over mix your batter! But we can’t stress it enough!
That is why using the all-in-one method works well as you are mixing your batter until the ingredients are well incorporated without overdoing it.
The perfect mixing time for your cupcakes is around 1 ½ to 2 minutes with a hand mixer or stand mixer.
You want to mix until your ingredients are fully combined and the batter is a nice slightly pale colour.
The mixing time is probably the most crucial part of baking perfectly risen cupcakes. How long you mix your batter will affect the end result of your cupcakes.
So, make sure you get your mixing times right. It’s not hard to get a feel for once you’ve made a few batches of cupcakes.
Room temperature ingredients
Another way to make your cupcakes rise perfectly is to let all your ingredients, particularly the eggs and butter, to come to room temperature before you use them.
But, when it comes to butter, the term room temperature isn’t very accurate, as discussed above.
What you are looking for is for your butter to be the right soft consistency.
You want to use softened butter that is squidgy enough, but not so soft that it appears greasy and slippy.
If your butter is too soft you will end up with a very oily butter that has no resistance at all and sticks to your fingers.
If your butter is too hard, it will appear very resistant when you press down with your finger.
Hard butter will be difficult to mix in with your ingredients, leaving massive lumps of butter in your batter that won’t break down.
Like we already said, the most ideal butter to use is one that is squeezably soft and does not leave any residue on your finger when you press into it.
Always use room temperature eggs for everything you bake, not just cupcakes.
Room temperature eggs will break down faster than ones that have just come out of the fridge.
Eggs that are at room temperature will mix in with your batter much easier than cold ones.
For normal vanilla cupcakes I use self-rising flour and baking soda to get the perfect rise on my cupcakes.
I find this works really well and it means that I can get a controlled rise without having to worry that I have over shot it or under done it with the rising agents.
If you want a perfect rise and texture to your cupcake, you should always bake cupcakes at the temperature specified in the recipe.
This will usually be 170C/350F. You may be surprised to hear that many ovens are often hotter or cooler than the temperature showing on the dial.
If you think your oven might be playing you, then it’s definitely worth investing in an oven thermometer that will give you an accurate reading of your oven temperature.
Your oven thermometer isn’t just useful for your cupcakes, but you can use it for literally everything you bake in your oven.
Also, make sure that your oven has been fully preheated before you put your cupcakes in.
Your oven temperature will dictate how perfectly your cupcakes will rise. So, making sure that it’s not too hot or too cold is crucial.
Now you have no excuse not to make the best cupcakes you’ve ever made!
I hope this very extensive cupcake guide will help you with making cupcakes rise perfectly and end up with the best cupcakes you’ve ever made!
This may seem like a lot of information, but there are really only a few key points to take from this:
- Use the all-in-one method.
- Always use room temperature eggs and butter.
- Don’t use too much raising agent.
- Avoid overmixing the batter if you can.
- Don’t open the oven before the cupcakes are done
And once you perfect all these tips, you will never have any issues with making your cupcakes rise perfectly.
If you want a fool proof cupcake recipe, this one from Cupcake Jemma works perfectly every time.