Secret cupcake recipe

Cupcakes, and cake decorating, have had a renaissance of late.

(As an aside, I think the cupcake fad is almost over – a concerning thought for the many cupcake shops that have proliferated in recent years – but that’s a matter for another post.  And please, no more TV shows about the dream of having a cupcake store.  For the work that goes into making them, I don’t see how such a business could ever make a profit.  Rant over.)

I work in a male dominated field, so in the past I have tried to hide my love of baking.  A senior colleague gave me advice early on that I shouldn’t bring my baking in to share with others, because it undermines my professional credibility.  It shouldn’t be the case, but I think he was right.

I now save the baking for friends and family.  They appreciate it more anyway!

I’m always impressed by some of the elaborate decoration that others construct for their cakes.  So much art goes into them!  But it’s not what I do:  to me, taste is everything, and the pretty decorations are generally overly sweet, hard and throw out the balance of the cake overall.  I tend to pick them off, rather than eat them, and that seems a waste of ingredients and the talent of the decorator.

In this post, I want to share my cupcake recipe.  I kept it secret for a long time.  I guess (at least for a while) I got a bit competitive about it.  Now I have decided that it would be far better to share it.  After all, it’s a pretty silly thing to get competitive about.

The recipe started as something I got from a freebie magazine about 8 years ago (I’d give credit to that magazine, but I can’t remember which one it was!), and I have modified it and changed parts as I tried to make it better.  I am now happy that it produces reliably wonderful cupcakes.  It’s not a quick exercise, though.

I hope you’ll give it a go at some stage, and that those you love will enjoy them.  I always associate these cupcakes with happy times.

Ingredients for the cupcakes:

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 and 1/2 cups of self raising flour
  • 1 and 1/4 cups of plain flour
  • 1 cup of full cream milk
  • 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Method for the cupcakes:

Allow all ingredients to come to room temperature before you start.  It makes a big difference to the final result.  Also, the milk needs to be full cream.  My experience is that it doesn’t work as well with low-fat or lactose-free milks.

Preheat the oven.  180°C for a normal oven, 160°C fan forced.

Using an electric mixer, cream the butter in a big bowl until it is smooth.  Again, this will work much better if the butter comes to room temperature before you start.

Add the sugar gradually, beating it on a medium setting in between each addition.  This process should take no less than 5 minutes.  You’ll know that the mixture is about ready for the next step when the colour of it becomes pale, and the texture becomes light.

Add the eggs, one at a time, giving them a few minutes of beating with the mixer in between each addition.

In a separate bowl, sift the plain flour and the self-raising flour together, and then stir it through with a spoon.  I know there are a lot of sifting devices on the market, but I like to use an old-fashioned wire strainer.  It’s up to you which of them you would prefer to use.

Measure out the milk and add the vanilla to it, and give it a quick stir.

The next step is to add the flour mixture and the milk/vanilla mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture you’ve already made.  This needs to happen gradually.  Add a small amount (say, 1/4 cup) of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg mixture, and give it a few minutes of beating on at least medium speed.  Then put a splash of the milk/vanilla mixture into the butter/sugar/egg mixture and give it a few minutes of beating.  Keep alternating the addition of the flour and milk/vanilla mixtures, giving each a good beat in between additions, until they are all combined.

Beat the mixture on a high speed for 3-4 minutes.

Put spoonfuls of the mixture into paper cupcake cases that are in a cupcake tin, or if they are the strong card kind of cases, just sit them on a metal tray.  Don’t fill them more than just over half way, or they’ll overflow as they cook.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden.  If you’re not sure, tap them gently, and if they spring back firmly they’re done.  Alternatively, pull them out of the oven and listen to them.  If they’re crackling, they need more time, if they’re quiet, they’re done.

Allow to cool completely.  You should have about 24 cupcakes from this process.

Ingredients for icing:

  • 4 cups of pure icing sugar
  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method for icing:

Again, all ingredients need to be at room temperature before you start.  I should note that you really need to use pure icing sugar – icing mixture doesn’t work.  It is available in all of the supermarkets near me, but usually tucked away from eye level.  Check the label carefully before you buy!

Sift the icing sugar, and then divide it into two bowls.

Add the butter, milk and vanilla to one of the bowls of icing sugar.  Beat it until it is smooth, completely free of lumps.

Gradually add the remaining icing sugar to the bowl with the mixture in it, until the mixture is no longer runny, spreadable but not stiff.  It should take most (if not all) of the sugar in your second bowl to get it to this point.

Divide the mixture into separate bowls for each colour you’d like to make it, then use food colouring to add the colour.  Only use a very small amount of food colouring, as a little goes a long way.  Add it one drop at a time, and stir thoroughly.

Spread the icing on to the cooled cupcakes, and if you wish, decorate with sprinkles or other garnishes.

This icing is a soft, delicious icing – but it is not a stiff variety.  It’s perfect for traditional, wholly edible cupcakes, rather than those that are fancily decorated (but with decoration you don’t want to eat).  It makes it perfect for kids.

If you are short on ingredients, you could get away with halving the ingredients list for the icing, and then following the same method, provided you are happy to have a thinner layer of icing.  There’s no such thing as a diet cupcake – but some people prefer the slightly less sweet finish of a cupcake that has a small amount of icing rather than a thick layer.

They can be stored in the fridge, but bring the finished cupcakes to room temperature to serve.  My sister says they get even better when they are a few days old, but they’ll be stale after about a week… so eat up!



Reviving old coasters

Here’s an easy way to give old coasters new life – whether the reason they need a refurbishment is because they are peeling, or because you just don’t like their design.

My old coasters were in a pattern I had never really liked, but I had picked them up really cheaply when I was a student, and they have worked hard for a long time.  As you can see from the old coaster on the left of the picture below, they were peeling, and had seen better days. 

I decided to use some Liberty fabric, felt and Mod Podge to give them a new look, and a new lease on life.  It made my really happy to not have to throw them out and buy more, and to have created something with a bit of character.  The finished product is on the right side of the photo below. 


Just cut pieces of fabric that exceed the size of your coaster by about 2cm on each edge.  Paint a thin layer of Mod Podge over the coaster, and lay the fabric on top, pretty side up, smoothing out any bubbles.  Let it dry, which will take 30 minutes to an hour. 

When dry, turn over the coaster, and cut little splits in the part of the fabric that overhangs the edge of the coaster.  You might have to make these quite close together if you are dealing with rounded corners.  I cut splits about half a centimetre apart around the corners, and largely left the straight edges intact.  The purpose of the splits is to allow you to fold the overhanging fabric neatly on to the back of the coaster, and secure it there with a thin layer of Mod Podge.  Once you are happy with your splits, then use the Mod Podge to glue down the overhanging fabric on to the back of the coaster, and let it dry.

Now, you have the basics done.  Apply 3 coats of either Mod Podge gloss, satin or matte to the top of the coaster, and the same to the parts of the back of the coaster that are fabric covered, allowing each coat to dry thoroughly before turning it over or applying another layer.  Finish up with 2 coats of the furniture grade Mod Podge. 

Mod Podge washes up in soap and water; wash your brush promptly after each coat or your brush will be ruined. 

I gave the fabric a light sand with a very fine piece of sandpaper at this point, just to give it a really smooth finish.  It was the finest grade of sandpaper I could get at Bunnings. 

To finish it off, cut a piece of felt in a complementary colour to a size just a little bit smaller than your coaster.  Use a thin layer of Mod Podge, or any PVC based glue, to secure it to the back of the coaster.  It will make sure it is kind to your furniture while in use. 

I’m really happy with how my refurbishment of the coasters turned out.  Maybe I’ll get another ten years out of them as a result! 

You can do this with any colour of fabric you like, just keep in mind that a light fabric might allow the old design to peek through once it has been glued on.  If you’re worried about this, just pick a darker coloured fabric, or paint the coaster a light colour first to block out the old pattern. 

If all of this has given you a bit of a Mod Podge habit, then check out Mod Podge Rocks.  It will show you a whole lot more uses for it. 



Covering a tray with fabric

ImageI mentioned that I enjoy making things.  I saw in the Martha Stewart Magazine for July/August 2013 an idea for using fabrics to recover an old tray. 

I had been debating how to use some very pretty Florence Broadhurst fabric scraps that I had collected, and decided this project would be worth giving a go.  (If you love Florence Broadhurst designs, check out as they have the full range of her gorgeous prints.)


Here’s what I started with:

  • One ugly tray
  • Fabric – this was furnishing fabric but you might get an even better result if you used a finer fabric
  • One cheapie paintbrush, flat edged and about 1.5cm wide
  • Mod Podge – both the gloss finish and the furniture grade finish
  • Good scissors

The Mod Podge is something that Americans seem to use a lot, but can be a bit tricky to find in Australia.  I managed to pick it up at Eckersley’s, but I hear some Spotlight stores also carry it. 

If you haven’t used it before, Mod Podge is a PVC-based product that functions as a glue, sealant and varnish.  It’s pretty hard to go wrong with it.  If you happened to have the satin or matte finish Mod Podge, you could use these as a substitute for the gloss Mod Podge.

First, cut the fabric to just a little larger that the top of your tray.  Paint a thin layer of gloss Mod Podge onto the tray top, and on to the back of your fabric.  Carefully place the two glued surfaces on to each other, so that the pretty side of the fabric faces up.  Working from the middle of the fabric to the edges, smooth it out with your fingers.  It gets a bit tricky to smooth it when you get to the rim of the tray, but I still found it possible to get a nice, even finish. 

Let that dry, with the excess fabric still dangling over the edge of the tray.  It’ll take around 30 minutes to an hour to dry properly.  Then, get your scissors (the sharper the better) and trim off the spare fabric from the edge.  I also found this a bit fiddly, but it can be done.

Then, reapply the gloss Mod Podge three times, allowing it to try fully between coats.  To finish, apply two coats of the furniture grade Mod Podge, to give it a hard finish that will be durable.  The furniture grade should be left to cure overnight between coats.

Wash your brush up in soap and water.  No nasty wash-up chemicals are needed. 

This project is a nice, easy one that can be tucked into a few minutes in a busy day.  The hardest part is getting the fabric smooth, and getting a nice, neat edge when the fabric is trimmed.  With practice, you can do both well. 

I suspect the entire project would be a bit harder if you selected a tray with a hard right-angle or similar at the point where the base of the tray becomes the lip of it.  If you have a choice, choose a tray with a gradual rise up to the lip.  It will make smoothing out the fabric much easier. 

A tray like this makes a really personal gift for a housewarming, or can just be done to update old items to give them a new life. 

Here’s what Martha did with her trays.  She adopted a Fourth of July colour scheme, but you could do them any way you like.