The science behind cupcakes

Baking cupcakes is a science as well as an art. Most of us have probably discovered the hard way that you can’t just spontaneously make up a cake recipe. So have you ever wondered, where did those magic numbers in the recipe book come from? And why do they work, when our made-up ones don’t?

I’ve researched many different cake recipes, in search of the perfect one, and one day was delighted to learn (from this clever book) that there are some very good rules for making cake recipes. At last, I had found the method in all the baking madness. You want to know the rules? Here they are:

1. The sugar must be equal to or less than the flour (in weight, that is).
2. The eggs and liquids (milk) must equal the flour.
3. The fat must equal the eggs.

But does it work? Let’s make cupcakes and find out.

Rule 1
Let’s start with 420g flour (that’s 3 cups). Then, in accordance with Rule 1, we need roughly the same amount of sugar. 2 cups of sugar come to 405g! Isn’t that lucky?

Rule 2
Now for the eggs and the milk. 4 extra-large eggs weigh about 240g. That sounds good. To get to 420g (the weight of the flour), we need about 3/4 cup, or 180g, of milk. Done!

Rule 3
This is easy, we just add 240g of butter.

Baking Powder
Lastly, the rule for adding baking powder is to add 1tsp of baking powder per cup of flour. I find SA baking powder brands to be quite strong though, so I add a little less.

And, we have a recipe! Magic.

3 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
240g butter
3/4 cup milk
4 extra-large eggs
2 tsp baking powder (Moirs is a good brand)
a pinch of salt (salt brings out the flavour in the cake, believe it or not)

Here are the general directions for mixing cakes regardless of quantities (also discovered in the above-mentioned baking bible):

Heat your oven to 180 degrees.
Set out two 12-cup muffin tins with cupcake liners.
In a nice big mixing bowl, cream the butter until it’s smooth.
Add the sugar gradually and beat until the mixture is fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each one.
Add the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the milk.
Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners! Each one should be about 3/4 full.
Bake for 20 minutes (or until a cake tester comes out clean).

Now you can ice them and E.A.T. them. With a decorating pen, you can write anything you like on your creations, and it is a whole lot of fun.

And there you have it folks, the science behind cupcakes. Happy experimenting (download a printable version of this recipe)!