Cupcakes: Week of celebration for bite-sized treats

IN RECENT years interest in the cupcake has surged – whole shops and business have grown up, dedicated to the production of them - writes Emma Crowhurst.

And in recognition of this phenomenon, it’s National Cupcake Week from Monday September 17 to Sunday September 23. So my recipe this week celebrates all things cupcake! A cupcake – or fairy cake – is a small cake designed to serve one person, usually baked in a small, thin paper or aluminium cup. But it is the decoration which has been its biggest selling point – and with some its downfall. Beautiful rows of expertly-piped cakes in many colours always look amazing and the kitsch retro look is the height of fashion.

The trend for cupcake shops started in the United States in the last few decades, playing off the nostalgic 1950s look of the cakes. In New York City, cupcake shops gained publicity on television shows, such as Sex in the City. In 2010, television presenter and Queen of homemakers Martha Stewart published a cook book dedicated to cupcakes.

However the first mention of the cupcake in America can be traced as far back as 1796, when a recipe notation of “a cake to be baked in small cups” was written in a book called America Cookery, by Amelia Simmons.

The term cupcake has two likely origins. The first is the way in which it is measured - the Americans use ‘cups’ to measure ingredients. The second is that it could refer to the small cups, patty tins or ramekins in which the cakes are baked. In Australia they call it the patty cake but over here we call them fairy cakes.


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Our own term, “fairy cake”, is a child-like description of its size, which would be appropriate for a party of tiny fairies to share. English fairy cakes vary in size more than American cupcakes: they are traditionally smaller and are rarely topped in frosting or icing like their American cousins.

They are usually made using the creaming method: that is butter and sugar first, mixed until pale and fluffy, eggs added slowly, then flour stirred in. One can use the All-In-One method and mix the ingredients in a food processor or similar.

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The easiest way to measure for this kind of cake is as follows: weigh the eggs in their shells and then the same quantity of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour. It works every time; you can use margarine or a mixture of fat if you like. The all-in-one method works well for large or small cakes. Small ones can even be cooked in the microwave and served as a cake or even a sponge pudding with a sauce. I did exactly that on one of my appearances on Ready Steady Cook.

Obviously they cook much faster than a large cake and it is important not to overcook them as they will dry out. Cupcakes may be topped with frosting or other cake decorations. They can even be filled with frosting or pastry cream. When making a small number of filled cupcakes, you can use a spoon or knife to scoop a small hole in the top of the cupcake. In commercial bakeries, however, the filling may be injected using a syringe.

Personally, I enjoy a filling of apple puree or lemon curd. All the butter icing may look nice but they are far too sickly for me.

Another option to finish a cupcake is a simple glace icing.

With its flat, matt finish and topped off with a homemade crystallised rose petal it is very British and what I call a proper cake!

The icing just melts under the tongue and is made from icing sugar and water. It can be flavoured and is usually only a couple of millimetres thick.

A butterfly cake is very British. The top is cut off straight, and the two halves are divided and stuck back on at an angle, using a small amount of vanilla butter cream. A dusting of icing sugar completes the classic look.

INGREDIENTS

110g/4oz butter, softened at room temperature

110g/4oz caster sugar

2 free-range eggs, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

110g/4oz self-raising flour

1-2 tbs milk

� teaspoon baking powder

For the buttercream icing

140g/5oz unsalted butter, softened

280g/10oz icing sugar, sifted

1-2 tbsp milk

a few drops food colouring

For glace icing

100g (4oz) icing sugar – sieved

15ml spoon (1tbsp) boiling water

This icing will keep very well in the fridge covered with a damp piece of kitchen paper and a lid or cling film.

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a bowl until pale. Use an electric whisk or the old-fashioned wooden spoon for this.

Beat in the eggs a little at a time and stir in the vanilla extract.

Fold in the sifted flour and baking powder using a large metal spoon, adding a little milk until the mixture is of a dropping consistency. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until they are half full.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until golden-brown on top and a skewer inserted into one of the cakes comes out clean. Press the top of a cake: it should spring back if it is cooked.

Set aside to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cool on a wire rack.

For the buttercream icing,

Beat the butter in a large bowl until soft. Add half the icing sugar and beat until smooth.

Then add the remaining icing sugar with one tablespoon of the milk, adding more milk if necessary, until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Add the food colouring and mix until well-combined.

Spoon the icing into a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe the icing using a spiralling motion onto the cup cakes in a large swirl. Decorate with edible sparkles or other little pretty edibles.

For glace icing

Mix sieved icing sugar with the boiling water in a basin. Beat until smooth, add colour and flavouring as required. The icing consistency needs to be thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. If it’s too thin, add a little more sieved icing sugar. If it’s too thick, add a few more drops of water. Remember to do it little by little.

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