Moisture is the most important factor in a cupcake. Even if your flavors are delicious and perfectly balanced, dryness can make your cupcake chewy, crumbly and difficult to eat. Baking requires some precision, and even small miscalculations can throw off a perfect result. Dryness can be caused by a single issue, or a combination of factors.
Whenever you bake, it's important to closely follow the ingredient list. Good cupcake recipes are carefully calibrated to achieve the right ratio of fat to flour and wet to dry ingredients, which is essential for preserving moisture during baking. You must use the right quantities of eggs, flour, butter and milk to make a tender cupcake.
To stay light and fluffy, cupcakes need to have enough air bubbles. Over-beating the batter flattens these bubbles, leaving the cupcake dense, chewy and dry. Mix your wet ingredients in with your dry lightly, and stir just until they're fully incorporated.
Baking too long is a major culprit in dry cupcakes. Never leave cupcakes in the oven longer than suggested in the recipe. In addition, rather than relying only on your oven timer, check your cupcakes periodically to see if they're done. When cupcakes are done, they have a slightly sunken in appearance at the top, and they are soft to the touch. To be sure, stick a toothpick into the center. If the toothpick is clean when you pull it out, the cupcakes are done. It's always better to remove them to early than too late, because overcooked cupcakes can't be fixed. Always bake cupcakes in a liner, as it will help hold in steam and preserve moisture after baking.
If you have carefully followed your ingredient list, mixing instructions and baking time suggestions and your cupcakes are still coming out dry, it may be time for a new recipe. Recipes are not all the same, and you may have to try several before you find one that gives you the texture you want. Once you do find a good recipe, you can play with the ingredients a bit to try to add even more moisture, because you know that you can always fall back on the original.
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