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Feb 14, 2011 01:19 PM

I keep ruining oil-based cupcakes...why?!?

I need some baking advice...

I'm a big cupcake baker and have become quite good. I'm even doing a couple friends weddings this year, however, while I've mastered the construction of the "butter cake", I've yet to have a good experience baking an oil-based cupcake.

Many chocolate and red velvet cupcakes recipes I've tried require oil, and yet every time I make them, they come out having slightly overflowed onto the cupcake pan, making a very hard, crispy cookie that i literally have to pry off and a slightly undercooked middle.

Basically, they're inedible.

I do typically use AP flour; I have an oven thermometer separate from the oven so I know it's at the right temperature. What could I be doing wrong? This is really confusing and I'd like to be able to make them, as I understand they can yield a moister cake.

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  1. With the information you've provided in your post, it would appear that you are over-filling the cups. Have you tried pouring less batter in each cup? I hesitate to even raise this solution, as it seems the most obvious solution, no offense intended.

    2 Replies
    1. re: janniecooks


      What kind of oil are you using? Is it the exact same kind called for in your recipe?


      1. re: I used to know how to cook...

        these are both great points...i generally do "overfill" because it gives a nice domed effect with butter cake.

        And Lucy, this is probably really stupid, but i NEVER thought of that. I used canola oil in the last recipe that called for vegetable oil. Does it really make that much of a difference? Thanks!

    2. Those cupcake recipes do not "require" oil. They call for it, but more for convenience and economy than anything else. With oil, the batter can be easily mixed by hand. I use melted butter instead. Taste is much better. Virgin coconut oil, melted unless the weather is warm enough to liquefy it, is also delicious in recipes where a slight coconut flavor would enhance the batter.

      3 Replies
      1. re: greygarious

        You've addressed something I've often wondered about, Greygarious. I've always questioned why oil not butter in recipes. I know each produces a different texture, but are they interchangeable if as you stated, oil is primarily used for convenience and price? I always feel a bit icky using oil and would love to make the break and go all butter all the time! Are there exceptions to the rule in your experience?

        1. re: tweetie

          Carrot cake is traditionally made with lots of oil and as I recall, I liked it better cutting back on the amount but still using oil. Eons ago I made it with butter but all I remember is that I didn't like it as well, not why. And I don't know if it was melted or not. I also prefer oil or melted bacon fat to butter in cornbread.

          Certainly creaming softened butter with sugar yields a lighter texture and smaller crumb than using melted butter. If a recipe calls for oil I would melt the butter (or virgin coconut oil) rather than creaming it.

          1. re: tweetie

            In low temperature baking (baking at 250F or lower), oil produces a moister cake and muffin than butter, even if the butter is melted first. Sometimes I mix oil and butter, but when the butter is omitted, I don't miss it, especially if there are other flavors to compensate.

        2. Canola oil isn't precisely 'vegetable' oil, it's made from a grass. Rapeseed, I think??

          My feeling is canola oil is less 'oily' than, say, corn or soybean oil. Whether that would cause the runniness I have no idea. Since it's happened more than once, it doesn't sound like you mis-measured your liquid or flour.

          When I've used canola to grease and flour pans it doesn't work as well. I have sticking problems. Baker's Joy, which works very, very well, is made with soybean oil, as is Crisco.

          As I recall, some oil-based cake batters I've made (granted that's not been very many...) were rather thin. Could be you just over-filled the cups.

          As Greygarious points out, you could also use melted butter. Might make a difference in the finished cakes texture-wise. Better flavor, too!

          I'm remembering one carrot cake I baked that called for oil. Moist? Well, I suppose you could say that. To me it was just oily. As in greasy fingers oily. Butter cakes aren't like that because butter is solid at room temp.


          1. Okay, this is a really dumb question...

            Are your recipes specifically for cupcakes? Or are they for a layer cake you're baking as cupcakes?

            Reason I ask is I dug out my old-est and best-est and most tattered-est cookbook. Somehow it popped into my feeble brain I had run into this before... Sure enough, right next to one of the recipes was my note: Good but don't use for cupcakes - runs over the pans.

            Okay, I'll be quiet now! :) :)


            2 Replies
            1. re: I used to know how to cook...

              I was going to say the same thing! Though some cake recipes seem to work well when converted to cupcakes others don't, due to leavening issues, etc. I can't say that it has anything to do with the oily factor, but I would bet it is definitely contributing to the spread issues you are facing.

              1. re: Laura D.

                I've been pondering this issue today...

                So while my pineapple upside-down cakes were in the oven, I perused my tried-and-true BH&G 1965 cookbook. Figured I might as well since it was right there in front of me! :)

                Here's what I found:

                "Baking your cake: You may bake cakes as layers, loaves,sheets, tubes, or cupcakes - - but many recipes can't be used interchangeably. To be safe, use type and size pan specified in recipe."

                I wonder if the surface area of the batter might be a factor. Maybe the batter rises before the perimeter starts to set up??

                "Causes of failure:

                Batter running over pan

                Too small a pan
                Too slow an oven
                Too much sugar or shortening
                Too much leavening"

                Don't know if any of these apply but it might be worth checking out.

                Or maybe I'm just full of beans?? :)