Have you ever seen the perfect muffin, borrowed the recipe, and followed it to the letter, only for your muffins to have unsightly cracks when you retrieve them from the oven?
Below are seven of the most common reasons why muffins crack at the top:
- Using an oven that is too hot.
- Using too much raising agent.
- Overmixing the batter.
- Using muffin tins that are too small.
- Using the wrong recipe.
- Overbaking the muffins.
- Using too much sugar or egg whites.
This article will take a detailed look at each of the above reasons. By the end of the article, you should find it easy to make crack-free muffins!
1. Using an Oven That Is Too Hot
If you’re baking muffins and your oven’s temperature is too high, the outer parts of the muffins bake faster than the inner parts.
By the time the inner part of the muffin is expanding, the outer part has already solidified into a crust. And as the inner part expands, it pushes against the crust, which is already hardened, leading to the formation of cracks.
If your muffins are cracking at the top and you suspect it’s because of extreme temperatures, the solution is to lower the temperature setting.
A balanced temperature results in an even baking process and reduces the probability of cracks appearing at the top of the muffin.
However, you shouldn’t set the temperature too low. If you do, the muffin might not rise at all.
So how do you get the temperature just right?
Tips To Achieve Optimal Oven Temperature So Your Muffins Don’t Crack
One of the secrets to baking perfect muffins is mastering the art of optimal temperature. If the temperature is too high, your muffins will burn or have cracks at the top. If it’s too low, the muffins won’t rise.
The following tips will help ensure your oven temperature is just right:
- Use the recipe-recommended temperature.
- Don’t forget to preheat the oven properly.
- Understand your oven.
- Invest in an oven thermometer.
- Avoid opening the oven during the baking process.
Below is a brief explanation of each tip:
Use the Recipe-Recommended Temperature
When following a muffin recipe, the goal is to recreate the same taste of heaven that the original baker created. The magic of a muffin is usually in the little details: the fluffiness, the texture, a subtle note in the flavor, and so on.
Differences in oven temperature can cause significant changes in the qualities of a muffin.
For example, a cake baked at around 300° F (149° C) will have a soft, smooth crumb, while that baked at 400° F (204° C) will have a rough texture when eaten. The cake baked at a higher temperature will also have a darker crust.
Even differences as low as 25° F can cause significant variations in the end results.
It’s, therefore, crucial to follow the temperature specified in the recipe.
Don’t Forget To Preheat the Oven Properly
Preheating your oven before baking shouldn’t be discretionary. It provides an initial blast of heat that helps achieve even baking.
Seeing as one of the causes of cracks at the top of muffins is uneven baking, you should make it a habit to preheat your oven.
Give your oven about 20 minutes to preheat properly.
Additionally, it would help to let the oven settle into the required temperature by giving it about 10 minutes before you start using it.
During this time, the oven temperature is likely to be fluctuating. The indicated temperature will only be an average of the actual fluctuating temperatures. After 10 minutes, the fluctuations will have reduced, and the indicated temperature will be much closer to the actual one.
Understand Your Oven
If you’ve been following baking recipes to the letter without being able to achieve the desired outcome, you should check to ensure that your oven’s temperature reading is correct.
Some ovens come with improperly calibrated thermostats. The result is that you’ll never bake at the required temperature, even though you always think you are.
If you learn that your oven has this problem, consider buying an oven thermometer and using it every time you bake to achieve the required temperature.
Also, some ovens cook faster at the back than at the front. After using an oven for some time and for different foods, you will be able to tell whether it has this quirk. If it does, you can try turning the tray halfway through your baking session to see whether it helps.
The choice of rack you use can also affect the temperature that your muffins are exposed to. So, if your muffins are coming out cracked when you put them on one rack, you can move them to another shelf and note the results.
The middle rack usually has the best results.
Additionally, keep in mind that an oven may have different temperatures at the right, central, and left sections.
Invest in an Oven Thermometer
The indicated temperature of an oven isn’t always accurate. This problem can be worse with some ovens than it is with others. And it can be a significant obstacle in your quest for the perfect, crack-free muffin.
With a temperature indicator that you can’t trust, how will you even preheat your oven to the required temperature?
Rather than leave the outcome of your baking to the mercy of the oven temperature gods, you can take matters into your hands by purchasing an oven thermometer.
This way, when the indicator tells you that your oven is preheated, you can double-check. You’ll find that, often, the indicator is misleading, and you’ll have to wait for some extra minutes before the oven is truly ready for use.
As far as the best oven thermometers go, I recommend the ThermoPro TP-16 Oven Thermometer from Amazon.com. It’s accurate, reliable, and affordable. The best part is that it comes with a five-year guarantee and unlimited probe replacement.
Avoid Opening the Oven While the Baking Process Is Ongoing
Most baked goods smell heavenly, and it can be tempting to open the oven door and let the aroma waft into the room.
Try to resist that temptation because as the aroma wafts out, air flows into and out of the oven, messing up the oven’s temperature. Depending on how often and for how long you do it, it may impact how the muffins turn out.
To be on the safe side, keep the oven door closed during the baking process.
2. Using Too Much Raising Agent
Raising agents are added to baked products like muffins to help them expand. A raising agent will achieve this by causing the production of air bubbles during the baking process.
When you use too much raising agent, the muffin will expand more than it’s supposed to. It will continue expanding even after the crust has formed, resulting in cracks at the top.
It’s best to avoid tinkering with the recipe to ensure you use just the right amount of raising agent.
You might look at a recipe and think it uses too much or too little raising agent. As long as you got the recipe from a reputable source, the instructions will rarely be mistaken.
Before most chefs release recipes, they will have tested them several times. So, the amount of raising agent given will be the required amount, usually just right to offset other ingredients in the recipe.
In short, trust your recipe. And if your recipe proves untrustworthy, get another one from a trusted source.
If you’re creating an original recipe, using a small amount of raising agent or a combination of plain and self-raising flours will help solve the cracking problem.
There are also some raising agent conventions that you should follow. For example, when baking with acidic ingredients like lime juice, baking soda is the raising agent to use instead of baking powder.
3. Overmixing the Batter
Overmixing the batter might seem harmless, but it can lead to muffins with cracks on the top.
When you mix the batter more than you are supposed to, it introduces air bubbles, which contribute not only to a cracked surface but also to holes in the muffin. Overmixing also makes the gluten stronger, which results in chewy muffins that aren’t fun to eat.
Overdoing the mixing part is clearly a bad idea. But how do you know that you’ve mixed enough?
A general rule of thumb is to stop mixing when you no longer see the last ingredient you added. Some recipes specify the time you should use to mix the batter. Following such guidelines can help.
Another tip is to ensure that all ingredients are at room temperature before mixing the batter.
Cold ingredients require more effort to integrate into mixtures. Using them increases the risk of overmixing. With cold ingredients, you’re also more likely to have lumpy batter, which will result in dense, less-tasty muffins.
Mixing in one direction, as opposed to mixing in alternating directions, can also help get the perfect batter.
4. Using Muffin Tins That Are Too Small
The size of the tin you use to bake your muffins is essential, and you should try to use the perfect size.
The ideal size of a tin will allow you to add the batter up to three-quarters of its height. The top quarter of the tin should be empty to provide enough space for the muffin to expand.
If you don’t leave enough space at the top, probably because the tin is too small, the muffin is likely to dome and crack.
Additionally, the right-sized tin will allow the contents to be heated uniformly, which results in even expansion and reduces the probability of a crack forming at the top.
5. Using the Wrong Recipe
The wrong recipe can mess you up because no matter how well you do everything, your outcome will always disappoint you.
On the other hand, if you have the right recipe and follow it faithfully, the results are likely to be perfect. At the very least, they’ll be acceptable.
A wrong recipe will lead to a host of problems with your muffins, and a cracked top is one. If the recipe uses too much flour, the batter will be thick, resulting in cracks.
Another example is if the recipe has too many dense ingredients and the raising agent used doesn’t account for them. This is also likely to result in cracking.
A wrong recipe can be incredibly frustrating.
Again, you should get your recipes from authoritative and trustworthy sources to avoid cracked muffins.
6. Overbaking the Muffins
Overbaking a cake can increase the probability of cracks forming at the top. When you overbake a cake, the sugar in the cake caramelizes.
Caramelization is the process that sugars undergo when they are exposed to heat. This process causes the sugars to turn brown. It’s partially responsible for the change in flavor when you bake a cake.
Moderate caramelization is good and results in tasty flavors.
However, when you overbake a cake, excess caramelization occurs, making the cake dry and crusty, effectively leading to the formation of cracks at the top.
To avoid overbaking a cake, stick to the schedule given in the recipe.
Sometimes, since ovens are different, your muffins may not be ready when the recipe says they should be.
Still, there are other ways you can use to check that your muffins are ready:
- Check whether the muffins have pulled back from the pan. If they have, they are probably ready.
- Check whether the muffin springs back when touched. If it doesn’t, it needs more time.
- Insert a toothpick into the center of the muffin. If it comes out clean, the muffin is ready.
7. Using Too Much Sugar or Egg Whites
Cracking in muffins can be caused by the use of too much sugar. This would result in excess caramelization, which leads to cracking.
If the ratio of egg whites used is too high, your muffins are also likely to crack at the top. The egg whites expand while the muffin is in the oven and then collapse when it is taken out of the oven.
If a recipe has a high ratio of egg whites and you don’t want the muffin to collapse, you could bake at a lower heat. When you’re done baking, leave the oven door slightly open for a maximum of three hours to stabilize the temperature and prevent the collapse and cracking of the muffin.