A week ago, I made dark chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting for a group of friends, using a recipe from the Brown-Eyed Baker’s blog. They were only my second attempt at cupcakes, so I shouldn’t be disappointed, but the cupcake turned out dry. The frosting was amazingly delicious and light and wonderful, and the flavor of the cupcake was there, but it just was dry and crumbly. They still got wonderful compliments, though, and were all gone by the end of the evening. Considering the amazing recipes I’ve found on the Brown-Eyed Baker’s site, and the number of things that can go wrong with such an amateur baker at the wheel, I did some searching to determine what I did wrong.
I had already read that I mustn’t over-mix after adding flour, and that I must go from adding leavening ingredients (baking soda and/or powder) to the over as quickly as reasonable. So I did do those two things. Well, maybe I mixed a little too much, but not a lot more than directed.
So why are these two things important? When it comes to the leavening ingredients, the simple explanation is that they have a chemical reaction with the other ingredients as soon as they are added, and you don’t want to waste that reaction outside of the oven (where the temperatures rise and all other chemical reactions occur). As for mixing the flour, according to BakingBites.com:
“When the flour is exposed to liquids and stirred around, the gluten (protein) in the flour starts to develop into a network that will hold whatever you’re baking together, giving cookies, cakes, etc. their structure. Gluten can also make baked goods tough if there is too much of it in the dough/batter, and excessive mixing of the dough can develop the gluten to this point.”So when a recipe instructs you not to overmix, what it means is that you should just do the minimum amount of mixing necessary to make a uniform dough. A good rule of thumb is to stop mixing when no streaks of flour remain in your mixing bowl, or if you’re going to be adding chocolate chips or fruit into your mix, you can stop when a few small streaks of flour remain, since you’re going to give the mixture a few extra turns when you stir in your add-ins.”
However, I made some other mistakes. First, my ratios were off. I may not have had a full cup of sour cream, and I may have had a little too much flour and/or baking soda and/or baking powder. Sour cream adds moisture, while dry ingredients absorb moisture. Next, I did a lot of mixing before adding the dry ingredients because, when I read the blog, it said the batter would have an almost whipped, mousse-like texture. So, stupid me, I thought to mix it a lot. Wrong. Apparently, mixing does NOT always just add airiness. You can overbeat eggs. According to JoyofBaking.com:
“Eggs, as well as flour, are the structural ingredients in baking. Eggs provide leavening; add color, texture, flavor and richness to the batter. They are very important in helping to bind all the other ingredients together. Beaten eggs are a leavening agent as they incorporate air into the batter, which will expand in the oven and cause the cake to rise.
. . .
“If whites are over beaten the protein molecules will lose their elasticity and the whites will become dry and flaky and won’t hold as much air.”
Dammit. Finally, I probably left it in too long. I didn’t test it earlier than the time I set on the timer and I lost track of time. Also, I may have had the oven set a little too high (half-way between 325°F and 350°F), because the blog said to preheat to 350°F unless a nonstick cupcake pan is used, in which case set it to 325°F.
To sum up, what to avoid is:
- having too high a dry-to-moist ingredient ratio
- over-mixing eggs
- over-mixing the flour
- taking too long to put batter in the oven after adding ingredients that cause chemical reactions (like baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, etc.)
- baking too long or at too high a temperature
So, I messed up. But they still looked pretty, especially in the leopard-print cupcake liners, and tasted pretty good.
Tags: baking, chocolate, cupcake, kitchen science, peanut butter