Bake a Better Cupcake
- Use room-temperature butter: Cut it into pieces and let sit one hour, or microwave in five-second intervals.
- Measure flour by spooning it into a measuring cup and then leveling it with a knife. Do not pack the flour.
- Check the expiration dates on your baking soda and baking powder. To test for freshness, add a pinch to vinegar; it should bubble.
- Use parchment or foil nonstick liners for batters with mix-ins like chocolate chips. The chips can stick to paper liners.
- Use an ice cream scoop to divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Each cup should be no more than two-thirds full.
- Let cupcakes cool five minutes in the pans, then remove to a rack. If they're left in the pans, they may dry out.
- To tint frosting, use gel food coloring — it's more concentrated than liquid, so you can use less (and it won't thin your frosting).
- Spread the frosting on the cupcakes right after you mix it — it starts to harden as it sits.
- Use disposable pastry bags or zip-top bags for piping. You don't need a tip — just snip the corner.
- To make fun swirls and swoops in the frosting, use an offset spatula or the back of a spoon.
- You can bake cupcakes up to two days ahead; arrange them (unfrosted) on a baking sheet, wrap the whole sheet with plastic wrap and store at room temperature. Frost before serving.
- To freeze, arrange unfrosted cupcakes on a baking sheet and wrap the whole sheet in plastic wrap, then in foil. Freeze up to three months. Thaw at room temperature before unwrapping.