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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:)

              2. just bookmarked this recipe for trying - while I personally can't attest, the post seems like it might be just what you are looking for


                2 Replies
                1. re: kasiav

                  Wow, thank you guys so much for all the info and the links. I don't think I'm overbeating things, and I'm a chronic "underbaker" - even though I have an oven thermometer (and a HORRIBLE oven) I always set my timer for WAY less baking time than indicated, then check frequently. I've only tried one buttermilk recipe - Martha Stewart's - and I'm definitely not a fan. But I'll definitely look into others with buttermilk.

                  I'm going to attempt some oil recipes. I tend to shy away from them because I love the taste of butter. :) And amy_wong - THANK YOU!

                  I can make great red velvet, carrot, chocolate, and coconut cupcakes, but I'm going to need to do some experimenting to get this vanilla cupcake just right.

                  My husband pointed out that I halved the recipe and I could have gotten my ingredient quantities screwy - do you guys ever have issues halving cupcake recipes?

                  1. re: MPJ

                    Since I like my oatmeal cookies flat and crisp, I melt the butter. This led my lazy self to do likewise for cupcakes and other basic cakes, so I can do everything by hand in a single bowl. Depending on the type of flour and leavening, sometimes there's less rise and sometimes no discernible difference. The melted butter should be just the thing as per #5 in amy wong's post. So maybe instead of subbing oil for part of the butter, melt some of the butter and cream the rest as usual?

                    Sugar is hygroscopic so it holds moisture - but paradoxically is necessary for crispness when the baked good is cookies.

                    I have made double and half-batches of cupcakes/muffins and never found any problems.

                2. I use this recipe with one tablespoon of oil added for my strawberry cupcakes. I add some chopped freeze-dried strawberries to the batter and top with a strawberry cream cheese frosting. I do find that using a dark nonstick pan makes the cupcakes brown too quickly and dry out, so I prefer aluminum. I also like that this recipe only makes 12 cupcakes, because sometimes a gal wants a cupcake, but having more than 12 in the house is dangerous.


                  1. My best chocolate cupcake has no oil and no eggs and 1 T of white vinegar. I don't have a go-to vanilla recipe.

                    Do not use too much flour! I always under measure the flour.

                    Do not overbake! So that means paying attention to how many cupcakes the recipe makes vs how many you are making and adjusting time down if yours are smaller. I find most recipes are way over on baking time. Could be my oven but I don't think so. 25 minutes for cupcakes is too long.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: KimMae

                      I'll keep that in mind. Keep fingers crossed they turn out okay.

                      1. re: KimMae

                        would you mind sharing this recipe? :)

                      2. Try using 80 percent butter 20 percent oil for whatever the butter/oil amount is. HAND BLEND THE INGREDIENTS WITH A LARGE FORK UNTIL JUST MOISTENED. Add half cup of whole milk to every recipe and check every minute as your baking time is ending. The hand blending is very important.

                        1. There is a lot of great advice here, but I tend to go a little more simple. Slightly less flour and slightly more liquid than called for in the recipe...not much, maybe a Tbs more or less. If I'm doing that, I usually cut the cooking temp by 25 degrees and then cook an extra 5 minutes. I also don't need the toothpick to be 100% clean when I do the test. Mostly clean is good enough for me. Then again, my method tends to lean towards moist and dense which is what I prefer. Personal preference.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: GutGrease

                            The type of flour you use is key too. I agree about the use of liquid fat, and I add an extra egg YOLK to whatever eggs are called for in the recipe with nice results. But, flour gets old, can be the culprit of dry cupcakes. I use cake flour or add some almond or coconut flour to the AP flour. I bake small cupcakes and I bake on demand. Cupcakes even with the best guidance are not designed to sit for days uneaten.

                          2. Recommendations: buttermilk, use proper amounts of oil or butter, and don't over bake the cupcake.

                            Also, don't beat the batter more than about 1 minute.

                            Good luck!