Lets get one thing straight here. I’m not a professional; I bake purely for the fun of it or sometimes for the challenge and although I have done literally a handful of orders for cash the majority of them I do out of love (or obligation, or guilt, or is that quite another story?)
At the beginning of the summer I was asked to do a bulk order of graduation cupcakes. No probs, easy job, wasn’t worried. Until I realised that I had got my dates a little mixed up and the day preceding the graduation order was in fact the day I was to deliver the wedding cakes that I had been preparing for, for weeks (white cupcakes) and weeks (vanilla cupcakes)! I panicked for the best part of a day and then thought I can do this it’s just going to require me to be extremely organized. That’s the thing with perishable cupcakes, you can’t whip ‘em out a week before and hope they’ll hold out – people will TASTE the difference! To me, baking anything more than a day before they are due to be served is 2nd rate and unacceptable but what it also means is that you’re pretty much guaranteed a very hectic 24hour stint (especially if you’ve been at work all day!). Fortunately in this instance the weeding-grad whammy fell on a long weekend!)
What being in this situation made me appreciate however was that all the years I have been doing this, all the experience, all the mistakes and failures that have come my way have actually given me an almost baking sixth sense. It comes so naturally to me now that I can predict what could and can go wrong and so hopefully avert disaster. What I wished however was that I hadn’t had to have learned these lessons first hand and that someone had made me a list of top tips when I had started out. So here I present cakebook’s top tips for bulk baking. It’s not something I do particularly often but it probably is the baking scenario that can induce the most stress. I have included everything that I could possible think of from MY experiences and if it helps you avert even one micro-disaster in your kitchen then it will have done its job. I am not claiming these tips will be to everyone’s style or that the advice is by any means all-inclusive and encompassing but they have worked for me time and time again and I hope they can for you too. If you have any top tips for bulk baking, please, add them in the comments – THIS is the stuff that makes us better bakers!!
Just a note on the structure of the tips – I have ‘timelined’ them AKA Delia’s and Nigella’s Christmas dinners. Mainly because sometimes a couple of hours after work for a few days is all I have to knock out 100 cupcakes for a charity bake sale or a friends big birthday bash. Take and use what you will.
Up to 2 weeks before
Test your recipe before hand – a must.
Make sure you have enough wrappers – and then some (see next point)
If you are trying new wrappers with an old recipe or vice versa test that too – My fairytale wedding cakes failed miserably at T-minus12hours – The ‘new specially bought for the wedding’ stiffer wrappers started to peel away from the soft delicate cupcake and at 10pm the night before the reception, I was left 50 wedding cupcakes down – back to the kitchen I trudged (after a midnight butter run to the store!!)
Measure out batches of dry ingredients in advance, keep in ziplock bags – This saves TONNES of time and really can be done whenever you have a spare hour or so!
Sieve the icing sugar – do you know how much icing sugar you need to frost 150 baby shower cupcakes!!
Up to 2 days before
If you are pressed for time then make the frosting before hand. I often do because I find making frosting in bulk quite time consuming and very messy (that icing sugar gets EVERYWHERE). Butter cream, fudge frosting, cream cheese frosting are all fine to do this. Ganache and marshmallow frosting however, have to be made on the day.
On the day – baking
CONCENTRATE – I can’t stress this enough (I’ve been there and its hard to stay focused at 11pm on a friday night after a long work at week!) Silly things I’ve done when I’m all cupcaked out and my concentration starts wavering? Start the kitchen Aid without securing the bowl, forgotten the baking powder, lemon zest, vanilla extract, pinch of cinnamon, SUGAR!! , fill in blank with anything else you can think of, melted the butter when it’s a creamed recipe, creamed the butter with the sugar when it’s a melted recipe, not checked the correct oven temperature, had the grill on instead of the over , overdone/underdone cupcakes, dropped a whole tray of cupcakes sunny side down out of the hot oven, burnt my arm, hand, wrists – you get the picture – CONCENTRATE.
STANDARDIZE – use a cup, ice-cream scoop or batter dispenser, depending on the consistency of your batter. ALSO test the quantity, ie. ½ filled, ¾ filled so you know exactly how they’re going to look, domed, flat etc. I’ve just recently bought this dispenser from Cuisipro for my runnier batters and although not perfect, takes a lot of the frustration out of bulk baking and speeds things up considerably.
Plan for a little more that you need – ie. If you need 100 cupcakes, make 5 batches of 24 (see any of the above fails if you need a reason)
On the day – frosting & decorating
Making frosting on the day – if you do, try and make it while cupcakes are in the oven. This saves a bit of time as for every batch of cupcakes baked, you should get a batch of frosting done.
Frosting made in advance – take it out a couple of hours before you need to use it. You want to take the chill off, not overheat it so keep it away from the oven or kitchen or anywhere where it might be too warm. Put it back in the mixer for a minute or two to regain its just made consistency
Have a clean large space available – ie dining table or somewhere you can sit. You’ve just been on your feet baking for 3 hours+, you’ll be grateful of the chair!
Have all decorations ready before you begin – counted out if necessary or at least guestimated, small cups or bowl make them easy to see and access.
Do a few test pipes (if you haven’t already) – so you know what style you want and how much frosting you’ll need – sometimes what you plan isn’t quite what looks best.
Frost in batches – otherwise when you come back to sprinkle the nonpareils on cupcakezero, the frosting might have crusted already!
Keep batches on large trays – this enables cakes to be easily moved around and accessed – nothing more painful than moving individual cupcakes one by one again and again.
Airtight – Most card cupcake boxes are not airtight – If you need to store over night airtight is best. Its more hygienic and there’s no chance of cakes drying out.
Packing – If you have boxes of 12, 18 or even 24 try and get a larger box to transport them. There’s nothing more nerve wracking than carrying 3 stacked boxes of 24 cupcakes!
Enlist the help of a friend or relative – obviously someone to help wash up is going to make a huge difference to your workload but sometimes even just having someone to chat with or throw ideas around with can be sanity saving (especially if you’re up burning the midnight oil). Cups of tea are also much appreciated!
Wear Comfy Shoes – Sounds ridiculous but can make a difference if you’re on your feet for hours.
EAT – it’s easy to forget when you’re up to your eyeballs in cake batter and frosting, but low blood sugar leads to poor concentration and we all know what can happen then!
Enjoy yourself – If you’re not having fun then question if this is something you should be doing for next time. You may be completely cream crackered at the end of a monster bulk baking session but you should also be thrilled with the results and feel that all the hard work was well worth the effort!