When I was little I wanted to make muffins. I found a recipe, I followed it and they turned out great. Then I did another one, and another one and, well, a lot of them. And I realised that they were all basically the same recipe and used the same basic ingredients. Ans as it turns out, cakes and cupcakes are also basically the same thing.
Baking is a game of proportions and adjusting for whatever ingredients you are using. That’s why people usually say that baking is a science: mess up the proportions and your lovely cake becomes a messy puddle or a tooth-breaking rock.
Cakes are surprisingly easy to get wrong if you don’t understand the science behind them.
- cake that won’t rise: either you used too little baking powder, or it’s too old. A good rule of thumb is 2 to 3 teaspoons for 500 grams of flour (about 4 cups), denser cakes can take up to 4 without affecting the flavour.
- dense cake: you could have overmixed the batter or mixed it at a too-fast speed. It could also be that the amount of wet ingredients was too high.
- cracked cake: chances are the temperature of the oven was too high. The outside of the cake starts cooking before the inside has a chance to do it, and so when the inside grows it cracks the cake. Next time lower the temperature. Most cakes bake best between 150 and 180 C (300 to 350 F). Alternatively, you may have used too much baking powder.
- burnt top or bottom: make sure the cake is cooked in the middle of the oven, not the middle rack! the cake itself should be in the middle, this is probably one or two levels lower than using the middle rack but not quite the bottom of the oven.
- cake is stuck: if you use a regular pan, you need to cover the surface with butter, butter and flour, or oil to prevent sticking. You can also use baking parchment (but the cake could stick to that instead), non-stick spray (but it’s extremely expensive), or use a non-stick pan (however, these can also stick with some batters).
- uneven browning: your oven most likely has a hot spot. Short of replacing or fixing the oven, rotating the cake is the best solution (but be careful because opening the door can make it sink).
- cake is dry: you could have over baked the cake or used too few wet ingredients (or too may dry).
- the outside is done, but the inside is not: cover the cake with a thin cooking sheet or aluminium foil and keep baking until done. Fruit cakes are usually guilty of this.
- sunken cake: either too much baking powder or the door of the oven was opened during the baking process.
Luckily, if you have a cake that didn’t turn out as well as you had hoped, there are lots of things you can do with them:
- cake pops: crumble, mix with butter cream, and roll into balls
- poke cake: if your cake is dry, poke holes on it and brush with a syrup or alcoholic drink.
- layered pudding: slice (or crumble) and make a trifle or any other layered pudding (with cream, jelly, mousse, yogurt, cream…)
- reshape: if the sides of the cake are burt, cut them off and cover with buttercream or ganache
- mix again: for a batter that won’t bake, take it out, add some flour (and probably baking powder) and bake again, better if you use a larger tin (so the cake is thinner) or cupcake/muffins cakes.
- fill the middle: if the middle sunk or didn’t bake properly, take it out and fill in with sweets for a variation on a piñata cake.
This recipe is based on the very old-fashioned and traditional pound cake. It’s very easy to make, even by the most amateur of cooks. And a great recipe for children!
No matter which ingredients you have, you will be able to make edible muffins. Some combinations of ingredients will work better than others, but they will all be nice over a cup of tea or coffee.
Keeping the recipe for muffins assures that they will cook thoroughly regardless of the ingredients used. Don’t switch to a loaf or a larger cake if you haven’t tried the particular combination you’re using before. And, write down those that you love.
Preheat your oven to 180 C (350F), and prepare the muffin (or cupcake) cases. The amount will vary depending on the exact ingredient and size of case you use.
I like to use silicone cases because they can stand on their own and I don’t need to be buying paper cases over and over again. They also don’t need to be pre-prepared with butter or non-stick spray to avoid the muffins from sticking to them.
Dump and mix
In a bowl mix 1 cup of flour (if the flour is not self-raising add 2 teaspoons of baking powder), 1/2 cup of liquid (milk or an alternative, water, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, juice…), 1/2 cup of fat (butter, oil, nut or seed butter, coconut milk, ice-cream), 1/2 cup of egg (about 2 large eggs or any of the alternatives), up to 1 cup of any dry ingredients for flavour (fruit, vegetables, cheese, meats, nuts, seeds, herbs, spices…), and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
If you want sweet muffins add up to 1/2 cup of sweetener (sugar, honey, syrup, apple sauce…),
Divide and bake
Divide the batter into the muffin cases and bake at 180 C (350 F).
The baking time will vary between 15 and 45 minutes depending on the ingredients. A basic flour/milk/eggs mix will take about 15 minutes, while a vegan fruit muffin could take up to 45 minutes. If no fruit, vegetables or moist ingredients were used, you can test for doneness by inserting a toothpick. If it comes out clean, your muffins are ready.
If you have too much batter for the amount of muffin cases, cover the remaining batter and keep it in a cool place until you can bake a second batch.
You can batch cook this recipe and freeze the extra muffins. Leave out for a few hours or microwave for a few seconds, and they will be ready to eat.