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Premixed batter vs. baking from scratch

Question:

We are a fresh, gourmet market and deli.  I don’t really have time to bake desserts, and cupcakes and cakes harden rather quickly. I need to decide if I should use premixed batter or continue baking from scratch. Please help. 

– Tanya, Owner, BoJaynes Specialty Foods, McDonough, GA

Answer:

There is no shortage of cupcakes on the market, so I’m a firm believer that if you are going to go the fresh bakery route you need a fabulous product.  Because of their small size (which means proportionately large surface area), cupcakes dry out.  There are a few good options:

  • There is nothing wrong with a mix or drop-and-bake product as long as it meets your quality standards. Unfortunately, these may dry out as well, but ask for samples of a few different brands and try them out.
  • Because cupcakes are so small, you can use a prepared frozen product (or bake and freeze your own) and defrost and ice daily. They do not take long to defrost so this is a great solution for smaller volume operations.

Many cake recipes are designed more for home baking, where the product is eaten right away. Robynne Maii, a Brooklyn-based pastry chef and recipe writer, has these recommendations in finding your sweet spot (so to speak) in a moist recipe that will have an acceptable shelf life:

“This is a question bakers always struggle with. The reality is, cupcakes are so small they behave more like quick breads rather than cakes (layered). So, their shelf life is two days max--especially if you're selling them to the public.

Things I look for in a recipe for a very moist cake: combination butter/oil for the fat. And also some acidic dairy component--sour cream, buttermilk, yogurt (full-fat of course!). The last thing is extra egg yolks, but that's not as important as the first two.

Butter is about 25% water, so having a recipe with oil helps with the moistness and crumb. The butter is important for capturing air in the creaming process with the sugar. I find the combination of fats is spot on. You get a good crumb and a moist cake.

Also, to help seal the cupcake, they should be frosted with buttercream or topping shortly after the cupcakes are cooled. This limits the drying out process. And, if they store the cupcakes in a cooler, they must tell people to bring the cupcake to room temperature before eating for best results. Cold buttercream and cake isn't pleasant to eat.”

For recipes, Maii recommends Dorie Greenspan’s (author of Baking: From My Home to Yours) for white and Cindy Bearman’s (ABC Kitchen) for chocolate.

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