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Sep 4, 2009 07:43 AM

Secret to a moist cupcake?

What is the secret to a moist cupcake? Oil? Butter? Melted butter? I'm having a hard time finding just the right "basic" cupcake recipe (i.e. vanilla or buttermilk).

I'm not sure if I'm doing something wrong, or if I'm choosing bad recipes, but I keep getting dry results. I've had success with other flavors, but for some reason I'm having a hard time with vanilla.

Any suggestions, tips, or recipes would be greatly appreciated. I'm letting everything get to room temperature first, I only use high quality ingredients, and I generally closely follow the recipe instructions. But obviously I'm doing something wrong!

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  1. A previous discussion:

    My first thought was sour cream or buttermilk would help make a nice moist cake.

    1. I've also noticed that when unsweetened applesauce is used in place of the oil, it results in a moister cake / brownie.

      You may also want to cut back the time you're baking minute by minute. Always start at the low end of the time suggestion, and check them minute by minute. They will keep cooking slightly after they're removed from the oven.

      1. Oil based cakes tend to be moister...I don't really like that as well as a good butter cake, though. I would recommend taking a batch out when you think they are underbaked, let them cool, and then try one. I'm a big believer in not overbaking your cakes and brownies.

        The white cake recipe in the cake bible is great, but it's a velvety texture, not a spongy-moist one.

        2 Replies
        1. re: danna

          + 1 ~~~~~~~ Oil, butter, do not over bake!!


          1. re: danna

            She's right. Unfortunately, oil makes the moistest cakes. Sometimes I use 1/2 oil and 1/2 butter. And in chocolate cakes, sometimes I'll use all oil, because it's a little harder to miss the butter in chocolate.

          2. increase the fat content (butter, shortening or oil) indicated in the recipe. increase proportion of yolks to egg whites (you increase fat content this way too).

            1. I apologize in advance for the length of this response.

              Shirley Corriher has a great discussion of butter cakes, among other things, in her book Bakewise. I just obtained a copy of it yesterday and was pleased with the way she explained the chemistry of the baking process. Note that I haven't tried any of her recipes yet, but I'll try to summarize what she says in the book anyway. I'm assuming that you are using a butter cake-type recipe for your cupcakes.

              1. There are two competing forces in butter cakes: structure and softness/moistness.
              2. Structure is provided by protein (gluten from flour and albumin and others from eggs). Proteins can grab water and make it less available for moistness in the baked product.
              3. Agents that contribute structure can also cause dryness. Shirley says that egg whites are very drying.
              4. Softness/moistness are provided by solid or liquid fats and sugar. Fats do this by coating the protein and making it less able to uptake water. Not sure how sugar does it.
              5. Liquid fats coat proteins better than solid fats (this probably explains the previous chowhound discussion on why oil-based cakes are very moist)
              6. There is an optimal weight ratio of dry vs. wet ingredients and fats vs. protein sources. Shirley provides a mathematical formula for this. I don't have the book right now but I can provide the heuristic for you if you need it.

              My foolproof way of getting moist cakes is to use a recipe that follows #5 above. The Cake Bible cake recipes have worked for me in the past when I had a great oven (my latest batch baked in my new place wasn't as deliciously moist as before.) Another recipe that is totally foolproof is this from epicurious:


              However, the above doesn't have the very soft and fine crumb that RBL's cakes have.

              If you want to tweak your favorite recipe, perhaps a quick way to ensure moistness is to do a weight-by-weight replacement of some of the butter in the recipe with oil. Shirley says this is fine. Don't encourage gluten formation by overbeating the mixture. And better to underbake than overbake.

              Acidic liquids like buttermilk can also increase softness by inhibiting protein formation. But don't add this indiscriminately because excessive use will lead to a very weak structure (concave cake surface.


              Oh, use weights for baking. Volume measurements are non-reproducible and more subject to error.

              3 Replies
              1. re: amy_wong

                Sorry, but who is RBL? I am looking for the ultimate vanilla cupcake recipe as it's a friends birthday on Tuesday, and I wanted to surprise her. Cupcakes are not that common in Germany, so I that's why I'm looking "overseas" for recipes.

                1. re: tonhin

                  I just looked it up because i was curious, myself. It's Rose Levy Berenbaum.

                  This seems to be a very popular one from her book The Cake Bible.


                  1. re: kubasd

                    Thanks for the info and the link. I'll give it a shot. Hope my friend likes my cupcakes:)