My cupcake recipes like my famous vanilla cupcake recipe and chocolate cupcake recipe often contain the instruction “mix until just combined.” Today, inspired by Craftsy’s free (to Cupcake Project readers) baking basics course, I want to talk about what that really means and what happens when you overmix cake batter.
What Happens When You Overmix 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 the great visual of an overmixed cake in Craftsy’s Baking Basics course, I’d never thought to purposely make an overmixed cupcake to see (and taste) what happens.
For my experiment, I mixed my Ultimate Vanilla Cupcake batter 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 overmixed. 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 overmixed cupcakes looked nicer than their correctly-produced sisters. Both cupcake variations had perfect domes, but the overmixed ones looked cleaner and had fewer crumbs. If they tasted better, it would have been overmixed cupcakes for the win.
Once I tasted the two cupcakes, there was no contest. The overmixed 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 overmixed cupcake had sunk and lost its dome while the properly mixed cupcake still looked perfect.