All over the country, clothing designers are putting the final touches on their preparations for Fashion Week this month. In the mix, I'm wondering if, in any manner or form, there will be cupcakes.
It was a 30-second cameo on Sex and the City that rocketed these little cakes to fame as a fashion icon. Season three, Carrie and Miranda, sitting on a bench chair outside the Magnolia Bakery down in New York's West Village, munching happily on their pink-iced confections and talking about their love lives - well, we were hooked. We wanted to be there and we wanted those cakes. We weren't going to be getting any of the Manolo Blahniks at US$485 a pop, but those cupcakes - ohhh yes, we could all get our hands on those little candy-coated morsels of deliciousness. One bite and our lives would be transformed into a world of cosmopolitan cocktails, fabulous shoes, amazing clothes, witty friends and hot sex.
Life in Bleeker St was never the same as hordes of people lined up to get their cupcake fix from the newly famous Magnolia Bakery. Long after the TV series was defunct, bus tours took up the charge with a ticket that included a stop at the bakery and iced cupcake. All over the globe, lookalike bakeries were spawned, offering their own versions of sugar-coated pleasure.
The funny part of the whole story is that cupcakes weren't even a menu item at the Magnolia Bakery until one of the bakers decided to throw some leftover cake batter into cupcake tins. They sold so well that they eventually became a menu staple. Cupcakes earned their name because the batter was measured in cups (as distinct from pound cakes, which were measured by weight). Basically any cake batter can be cooked as cupcakes, the cook time will just be shorter. Just like when making a cake, you need to take care not to overbeat the mix once the flour goes in, as this will give a peaked, volcanic shape and a coarse, tough texture.
Fashion is capricious, regardless of the genre, but the delight in biting into your very own little personal iced cake is unlikely to wane. The latest iterations of cupcake fashion that I saw in New York recently are "healthy" vegan offerings, iced with coconut buttercream rather than real butter buttercream, but at heart they are the same pretty little sweet fix.
Think of cupcakes as the little black dress in your culinary wardrobe - something you can whip together in a flash, which makes you look fabulous and is perfect for every occasion. This week I'm sharing two of my favourite cupcake recipes, plus a simple buttercream icing that you can flavour to suit any kind of cupcakes.
One-Pot Chocolate & Raspberry Cupcakes
Ready in 45 mins + standing
Makes 24 cupcakes
½ cup neutral oil
1 cup water
100g dark chocolate, chopped
½ cup cocoa, sifted
1½ cups caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup yoghurt or buttermilk
2 cups flour
¾ cup raspberries, fresh or defrosted
2 quantities of raspberry buttercream (see below)
Candy sprinkles, to decorate (optional)
Line 24 muffin pans with paper cases. Warm butter, oil, water and chocolate in a medium-large pot over medium heat until butter is melted. Turn off heat and whisk in cocoa and caster sugar, making sure there are no lumps of cocoa. Whisk in eggs and vanilla. Mix baking powder and baking soda into yoghurt or buttermilk then add to chocolate mixture with flour, whisking until evenly combined to a smooth batter. Stand for at least 10 minutes before cooking. While mixture is standing, preheat oven to 180C fanbake. Spoon mixture into paper cases, using about 3 Tbsp per cupcake to ¾ level in each case (it will be quite runny). Push 2-3 raspberries into each. Bake cupcakes until they are risen and the tops bounce back when gently pressed (about 20 minutes). Stand 5 minutes before lifting out of tins. Pipe raspberry buttercream on cooled cupcakes. Garnish with candy sprinkles if desired.
Annabel says: As with any cake batter, you can add flavourings and extra ingredients as long as they don't absorb liquid - nuts and seeds (not chia), dried fruits, lemon or orange zest and chunks of chocolate can all be added to this simple vanilla base.
The Ultimate Vanilla Cupcakes
Ready in 30 mins + cooling
Makes 12 cupcakes
50g butter, at room temperature
½ cup caster sugar
2 Tbsp golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp baking soda
½ cup warm milk
1¼ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 recipe vanilla buttercream (see below) or icing of your choice
Preheat oven to 180C fanbake and arrange paper cases inside 12 muffin pans. Beat butter and sugar until pale and creamy. Beat in egg, golden syrup and vanilla extract. Stir baking soda into warm milk and fold into butter mixture alternately with dry ingredients. Divide mixture between paper cases and bake until lightly golden (15 minutes). Allow to cool before icing. Best eaten within 2 days or can be frozen, un-iced.
Annabel says: The terrific thing about this cupcake batter is that you don't have to cook it all at once. Bake a few and store the rest of the batter in the fridge until you're ready for more. It will keep for 4 or 5 days.
Ready in 5 mins
Makes enough for 12 cupcakes or 1 full-sized cake
150g butter, at room temperature
2¼ cups icing sugar, sifted
2 Tbsp milk, plus extra if needed
Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add icing sugar, ½ cup at a time, beating between additions. Beat in milk, adding a little extra if necessary until a pipeable consistency is achieved. You can beat in any flavourings or colourings of your choice. For vanilla buttercream add 1 tsp vanilla extract. For raspberry buttercream add 2 Tbsp blackcurrant cordial or berry juice and a few drops of red food colouring. For chocolate icing add 2 tsp sifted good quality cocoa.
Annabel says: It's really important the butter is soft but not melted for this icing. Once butter melts it separates and won't reconfigure back to the smooth, creamy emulsion we know as butter, so you won't be able to get the fluffy, creamy texture that is the essence of buttercream icing.
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