Cupcakes are essentially all the best parts of cake with its swirly frosting and fun decorations. But actually getting from cake batter to Instagram-worthy cupcakes can be daunting. You have to figure out how to get the batter into the cups without spilling, and then how to frost each individual cupcake, never mind how you even move two dozen of something. Jack Bishop, creative director for America’s Test Kitchen, let us in on a few top secret hacks for making them like a pro every time and shared his gluten-free confetti cupcake recipe from his new cookbook, America’s Test Kitchen The Perfect Cake ($23).
1. Portioning Batter
Spring-loaded ice cream scoops aren’t our favorite for ice cream, but we found a better use for them: portioning cupcake batter. Our foolproof way for filling muffin tins is to portion 1/3 cup of the batter into each cup and then circle back and evenly add the remaining batter with a spoon. A #12 ice scoop (which holds 1/3 cup batter) makes it easy to portion batter without making a mess around the edges of the pan. Spray the scoop with vegetable oil spray so the batter slides off.
2. Cupcakes to Go
Toting a single cupcake for a take-along snack sounds like a good idea—until you’re faced with squished cake and frosting. To safely transport a cupcake, lay the lid of a clean pint-size deli container upside down and place your cupcake on it. Invert the container, slip it over the cupcake and down onto the lid, and seal it shut, thus creating a safe shell around the cupcake.
3. Baking Outside the Tin
If you don’t own a muffin tin, we found that foil liners are sturdy enough to hold our cupcake batters. Simply arrange the liners on a rimmed baking sheet and then fill them with batter. Note that cupcakes baked in a muffin tin brown on both the bottom and sides. If the cupcakes are baked without a muffin tin, only the bottoms (and not the sides) will brown.
4. A Simple Frosting Technique
Place 2 to 3 tablespoons of frosting on each cupcake, forming a thick layer. Using a small offset spatula, spread to create a flat top. Using the spatula, smooth the frosting so its flush with the edges of the cupcake. Reflatten the top as necessary.
5. A Top-Notch Tool
An offset spatula is a must-have tool for creating smooth frosting coatings for layer cakes. But don’t dismiss its little sister—a small offset spatula is much better than a butter knife for neatly topping cupcakes with frosting. We tested five offset spatula models and, to our surprise, found significant differences. Thin blades wobbled and wooden handles absorbed odors. Our top choice, the Wilton 9-inch Angled Spatula ($8), has a sturdy, round-tipped blade and an easy-to-grip polypropylene handle that offers great control. Sleek, sturdy, and comfortable, this blade was just about flawless.
Gluten-Free confetti cupcake recipe
(Makes 12 cupcakes)
- 4 ounces white chocolate, chopped coarse
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 6 1/2 ounces (2/3 cup plus 1/2 cup) gluten-free all-purpose flour blend
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 3 1/2 ounces (1/2 cup) sugar
- 1/3 cup sour cream
- 1/4 cup rainbow sprinkles
- 3 cups vanilla frosting
- 3 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Line 12-cup muffin tin with paper or foil liners. Microwave chocolate and oil in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring often, until chocolate is melted, about 2 minutes; whisk until smooth and let cool slightly. Whisk flour blend, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, and salt together in second bowl.
- Whisk eggs and vanilla together in large bowl. Whisk in sugar until well combined. Whisk in cooled chocolate mixture and sour cream until combined. Whisk in flour blend mixture until batter is thoroughly combined and smooth. Gently whisk in sprinkles until thoroughly incorporated.
- Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake until tops are set and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 19 to 22 minutes, rotating muffin tin halfway through baking. Let cupcakes cool in muffin tin on wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove cupcakes from muffin tin and let cool completely on rack, about 1 hour. (Unfrosted cupcakes can be stored at room temperature for up to 24 hours.)
- Stir sprinkles into frosting. Spread or pipe frosting evenly on cupcakes. Serve.
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(Photos and recipe via America’s Test Kitchen’s The Perfect Cake)