Cupcakes are just right for almost any occasion. You can dress them up or down, fill them with something sweet or leave them plain, and top them with fluffy frosting, candies, and so much more, Follow these step-by-step tips for picture-perfect results every time.
Step 1: Choose a cupcake recipe
The easiest way to make a cupcake is to use a cake mix and follow the package directions for cupcakes. Cake mixes come in a variety of fun flavors, such as lemon, German chocolate, devil's food, angel food, and carrot cake. Put your personal twist on a cupcake that starts with a cake mix by adding different spices or extracts; try this Strawberry Cupcakes recipe for a tasty example..
If you want to make your cupcakes from scratch, we have dozens of delicious cupcake recipes you'll love. Most homemade recipes contain the following steps: creaming the butter, beating in granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla and then alternately beating in the liquid and the flour mixture (usually comprised of flour, baking powder, and salt).
Once you've chosen your cupcake recipe, preheat the oven. Ovens often take 10 to 15 minutes to reach the required temperature, and preheating will ensure even and accurate baking. Most cupcakes bake at 350°F.
Step 2: Pick a cupcake/muffin pan
For standard-size (2-1/2-inch) cupcakes, use muffin or cupcake pans with 2-1/2-inch-diameter cups.
For mini cupcakes, use pans with 1-3/4-inch-diameter cups.
Pans are also available with large 2-3/4-inch-diameter or jumbo 3-1/2-inch-diameter cups.
For a unique look, you can also use square muffin tins (found online or in specialty baking shops).
Step 3: Choose your cupcake liners
For the prettiest cupcakes, line the pans with decorative cupcake liners. Cupcakes bake taller in paper cupcake liners and are easier to remove from the pan. They are also easier to grasp for frosting or decorating.
If you don't have liners, you can grease and flour the individual cups in the pan. Or you can bake the cupcake batter in flat-bottom ice cream cones. To try a cupcake-ice cream cones duo, whip up our Neapolitan Cupcakes recipe.
Crafts stores also offer silicone baking cups for cupcakes (as well as the pretty liners). These cups don't require greasing. Place the individual cups on a baking sheet, fill them with batter, and bake as directed in the recipe.
Step 4: Fill cupcake liners
Fill the cupcake liners 2/3 to 3/4 of the way full (about 3 tablespoons). Avoid adding too much batter or the cupcakes will overflow from the cups as they bake and cause a mess.
There are several ways to fill your paper cupcake liners with cupcake batter:
If the batter is somewhat thick, use two teaspoons to scoop it into the cups.
Use a medium (3-tablespoon) ice cream scoop to spoon batter into the cups.
Fill a heavy resealable plastic bag with batter and cut a small hole in one corner. Squeeze the bag gently into the cups to fill. Place your finger over the hole in the bag as you move to the next paper bake cup.
If your batter is thin, pour it into a large glass measuring cup. The spout on the measuring cup will make it easier to fill cupcake liners with batter.
Step 5: Bake and cool cupcakes
Bake cupcakes in a preheated oven according to your recipe or the cake-mix package directions. Most 2-1/2-inch cupcakes are baked at 350°F for 15 to 22 minutes.
Here are some general guidelines for adjusting baking times for larger or smaller cupcakes:
Mini cupcakes: A recipe that makes 24 standard (2-1/2-inch) cupcakes will make about 64 mini cupcakes. Generally, they're baked in a 350°F oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
Jumbo cupcakes: A recipe that makes 24 standard (2-1/2-inch) cupcakes will make 10 to 16 jumbo cupcakes. Typically, they're baked in a 350°F oven for about 25 minutes.
Test the doneness of cupcakes by inserting a wooden toothpick into the centers. If the toothpick is clean when you remove it, the cupcakes are done. If wet batter or several moist crumbs cling to the toothpick after it is removed, the cupcakes need to bake longer.
Cool cupcakes in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes before removing them. When they are very hot they are quite fragile. Cooling cupcakes for the recommended amount of time allows them to be removed from the pan without breaking or tearing. Use a thin metal spatula to help you lift the cupcakes from the pan.
Cool the cupcakes completely on a wire rack before topping them with icing or frosting. The wire rack allows for air circulation around the whole cupcake, which allows it to cool quicker.
Step 6: Fill cupcakes (if desired)
To add cream, frosting, or other fillings to cupcakes, use a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip. Spoon the filling into the bag and insert the tip into the top of the cupcake. Squeeze the filling into the center of the cupcake. Don't worry if you leave a hole in the top because the frosting will cover it. Practice this technique by whipping up a batch of our Red Velvet Cupcakes with White Chocolate Filling and Mascarpone Frosting recipe.
Step 7: Frost and decorate cupcakes
Once cupcakes are completely cooled, you can frost and decorate them as simply or creatively as you like.
Before spreading or piping frosting, let the frosting stand at room temperature to soften if it has been refrigerated. Stir well before using. Chilled frosting is very firm and may tear your cupcakes as you try to frost them.
For simply frosted cupcakes, use a small flat metal spatula to spread frosting. For an example of an easy-to-decorate cupcake, try our Cream Soda Toffee Cupcakes recipe.
For more elaborately decorated cupcakes, use paste food coloring (available in the cake-decorating department of crafts stores) to color your frosting. You can place the frosting in a pastry bag fitted with special pastry tips to pipe the frosting in swirls or other designs. For garnishes, try candies, chopped nuts, colored sugars, sprinkles, or crushed cookies. For inspiration, try our Champagne Wedding Cupcakes recipe.