How to Convert Cake to Cupcakes

And Other Cake Pan Conversion Tips

Various cupcakes

Doug Van Kampen / Getty Images

If you have a favorite cake recipe and you're wondering whether it would make good cupcakes, chances are it probably will. Converting cake into cupcakes isn't too difficult, but there are a few things to think about before you try it and other cake pan conversions.

Choose The Right Cake Recipe

Most cake recipes will translate into cupcakes quite well, but some will work better than others. Angel food, chiffon and similar low-fat cakes that rise because of whipped air can turn out short and dry. Cakes with higher fat content like pound cakes may be too dense for cupcakes. And flourless cakes won't have enough structure as cupcakes and will likely collapse. 

On the other hand, any standard cake recipe that uses the creaming method, where the butter and sugar are whipped together until light and fluffy, or the blended method, which usually uses oil, and all the ingredients are simply stirred together, will work. So will cakes using the paste method, also known as "reverse-creaming," where butter and liquids are beaten into the dry ingredients to form a sandy texture, before adding the eggs one by one. And as mentioned, cakes using the foaming method and sponge method probably won't work for cupcakes.

Bake a Test Cupcake

The beauty of making cupcakes as opposed to layer cakes is that with cupcakes, you can bake a test cupcake, something that's highly recommended when you're converting from cakes to cupcakes. Since a box of cake mix will make 5 cups of batter, or enough for 24 cupcakes, you certainly have enough batter to bake a test cupcake or two. 

Usually a single test cupcake is all you'll need. Whatever adjustments you have to make, you'll know about it from the test cupcake. For instance, fill the others higher if the test cupcake was too short, or fill them less high if it overflowed. 

When it comes to oven temperature, the ideal range for cupcakes is 325 to 375 F, and 350 F is usually just right. And 350 F also happens to be what most cake recipes call for. So with your test cupcake, bake it at the temperature the original recipe calls for. If your test cupcake came out with too much dome, lower the temperature 25 degrees (but not lower than 325 F). 

The test cupcake will also help you determine baking time. Because they're smaller, cupcakes bake faster than layer cakes. Usually 15 to 20 minutes is enough, but this can vary depending on the original recipe, like whether it was a 9" round cake or a 9x13" cake, as well as the richness of the batter and many other variables, including the color of your pans. All of which means there is no single formula for converting baking time. 

Fortunately, you can easily check for doneness by inserting a toothpick into the center. If it comes out clean it's done. The cupcakes will have risen nicely and the tops will spring back when you press them gently with your thumb. You can even use an instant-read thermometer: if the inside of the cupcake is 205 to 210 F, they're done. Start testing for doneness at around 15 minutes. 

Quick tip: While you're baking your test cupcake, keep the rest of the batter refrigerated. Also, be sure to preheat your oven for the test cupcake, and just leave it on for the main batch.

Adjust for Mini or Jumbo Cupcakes

Most of what we're discussing relates to converting a standard two-layer 9" cake recipe into standard cupcakes. If you're making mini cupcakes, which bake quite a bit faster, you might want to start testing for doneness at around 9 minutes. Jumbo cupcakes, on the other hand, require longer cooking, as much as 20 to 22 minutes. From a box of cake mix, you can expect to make 48 mini cupcakes or 12 jumbo cupcakes. 

Other cake recipes will make more or fewer cupcakes. A recipe that makes two 8" round layers will convert into around 18 standard cupcakes, while a 9x13" cake recipe might make up to 36. But for the most part, the conversion will only affect how long you bake them, not the temperature or anything else about the recipe. And fortunately, if you're at all uncertain, that's what the test cupcake is for.

Cake Pan Conversion Tips

Sometimes you might want to make other conversions, like between round and square cake pans, square to rectangular, or the same shape but different sizes. Of course, it's always best to use the specific pan a recipe calls for, or failing that, try to find a recipe that matches the pans you have. But that's not always possible. 

Match the Volume to the Pan Size

When making changes like these, remember that cake pan sizes are about volume. So if you're converting between cake pan sizes, you'll often have to make extra batter (or have batter left over). If converting to a larger pan, try increasing your recipe by 50 percent, to ensure that the pan is 2/3 filled. Make cupcakes with the extra batter. 

The easiest conversion is between a 9-inch round pan and an 8-inch square pan. Both hold 8 cups of batter. A 9 x 5 loaf pan also holds 8 cups. A 9-inch square pan and an 11 x 7 rectangular pan both hold 10 cups. 

A 9 x 13 pan holds 14 to 16 cups of batter, or the equivalent of two 9-inch round pans. A 10-inch square pan holds 12 cups, or the equivalent of two 8-inch round pans. 

Knowing this, you can perform the most common conversions simply by filling the pan you plan to use with water (up to 2/3 full) to find out how much batter they will hold. Of course, changing pan size will also affect baking time.

Adjust the Baking Time and Temperature

And when it comes to doneness, there's no single formula. In general, if you're converting to a larger pan, keep the stated oven temperature the same and increase the baking time. Reduce baking time if you're converting to a smaller pan. If converting from a flat pan to a deeper pan, like a loaf pan, you could certainly lower the baking temperature 25 degrees.

Remember the Toothpick Test

But your true test of doneness will be the same as always, namely the humble toothpick. If you're converting up, start testing for doneness when the recipe says, but start testing earlier if converting down.