Cupcake recipes like my famous vanilla cupcake recipe and chocolate cupcake recipe often contain the instruction “mix until just combined.” I want to talk about what that really means and what happens when you over-mix cake batter. The results aren’t pretty!
What Happens When You Over-mix Cake Batter?
Mixing batter until “just combined” means that you should stop mixing as soon as you can’t see the ingredient that you just added. For example, if you are adding flour to butter and sugar, you should immediately stop mixing once you no longer see any white powder.
You may have read that when you overmix cake batter, the gluten in the flour can form elastic gluten strands – resulting in a more dense, chewy texture. This can be beneficial in cookies, but it’s not so great in cakes and it’s an archenemy of flaky pie crusts. I’d heard that as well, but until I saw a great visual of an over-mixed cake, I’d never thought to purposely make an over-mixed cupcake to see (and taste) what happens.
For my experiment, I mixed the batter of my vanilla cupcakes for an extra three minutes on high speed above what the recipe calls for.
Look how different the batter looks in each liner – the white liners’ batter is mixed correctly and the red liners’ batter is over-mixed. The batter in the red liner was much smoother and more dense (almost like cookie dough). I’ll admit that when that when the cupcakes came out of the oven, I worried a bit that my experiment was a bust. The over-mixed cupcakes looked nicer than their correctly-produced sisters. Both cupcake variations had perfect domes, but the over-mixed ones looked cleaner and had fewer crumbs. If they tasted better, it would have been over-mixed cupcakes for the win.
Once I tasted the two cupcakes, there was no contest. The over-mixed cupcake was dense as pound cake and gummy; it stuck to the side of my mouth as I ate it. The correctly-mixed cupcake was light and airy and, well, the ultimate vanilla cupcake. Also interesting was that by the time we took the photo (the next morning), the over-mixed cupcake had sunk and lost its dome while the properly mixed cupcake still looked perfect.