Prior to beginning any culinary feat, a trip to the grocery store is in order. First, take a quick inventory of the pantry and fridge. The necessary items to turn out basic cupcakes are muffin pans, boxed cake mix and premade frosting. Of course, you can also bake cupcakes from scratch, in which case you'll need fresh eggs, butter, vanilla and any special ingredients the recipe calls for. Optional items include paper baking cups, toppings and decorative icing. Many people opt to use paper baking cups because they cut down the messiness factor and help prevent the cupcakes from drying out. Otherwise, you can spray your muffin pans with nonstick vegetable oil spray or grease them with shortening and flour.
You can take a few preparatory steps to ensure a great product, too. Expert bakers recommend that you bring all ingredients to room temperature before mixing anything. Room-temperature ingredients combine more easily than those of varying temperatures, minimizing lumps and graininess [source: Oprah]. Many cooking traditionalists also emphasize the importance of preheating the oven to ensure a perfectly baked product. However, today's efficient appliances are capable of heating up quickly and baking evenly even if you don't preheat before sliding your cupcakes in the oven [source: TreeHugger].