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!