Top 5 Cupcakes
Oh lordy, what’s with all the cupcakes? Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cup-sized cake, but here in Sydney it seems I can’t go into the city without walking past a new cupcake shop. They’re everywhere, and while there are some bakeries whose cupcakes I can’t resist, I’ve yet to be tempted by these new stores. I worry that they’ve taken something lovely and turned it into something soulless and mass-produced, something that looks a bit too much like plastic, and that there are people out there who might think that’s how cupcakes are meant to be.
Of course, this trend also has a positive side – there are lots of people making and baking their own. Lately I’ve been seeing blogs devoted to them and books filled with nothing but these perfectly portioned creations. One of the reasons for the current surge in popularity, I think, is that cupcakes seem, and indeed are, achievable. And once you’ve mastered the basic cake there’s no end to the possibilities, whether you want to add chocolate or cream, fruit or lemon zest, eat them plain or with a meringue topping. Cupcakes have a quality that lend themselves to stress-free experimentation, something that many people might not feel in the kitchen, particularly when baking. They’re fun, and if this batch isn’t quite right? There’s another waiting around the corner.
There’s always a batch waiting around the corner for me – there’s only so long I can go without feeling the need to play. Here’s five of my favourites, a mix of cakes I’ve made and those I’m planning to make:
- Vanilla cupcakes (pictured above), the classic – these (from Notebook: magazine) are my default cupcake, guaranteed to succeed. The sponge is light and perfect, the flavour is lovely and sweet, but not too sweet. The last batch I made I didn’t even bother icing them, I just gave them a dusting of icing sugar and they were good to go.
- Chocolate whiskey and beer cupcakes, also known as Car bomb cupcakes, from Smitten Kitchen. When Masterchef first started on TV, a few short weeks ago, I didn’t think I was going to like it. It bore no resemblance to the Masterchef I remember watching in the UK in the 90’s (brilliantly hosted by Lloyd Grossman, I wonder what happened to him?), and has little in common with the current UK version. Instead, it just seemed to be a homogenised, cookie-cutter reality show, made in the mould of The Biggest Loser, and Australian Idol, and all those others I really couldn’t give a flying fig about (except for So You Think You Can Dance, which has a fixed and certain place in my heart). Anyway, despite the fact that Masterchef has many qualities I think it could, nay should, do without (voting each other off? But then they’ll just vote off the strongest contender! Not a way to determine who is the ‘Masterchef’ but who is the Masterstrategist, methinks), I still like it. I still love watching the challenges, one of which, a few weeks ago, was a cupcake challenge. And while the winner was Julie’s delightful sounding Lemon Diva cupcakes, one of the more interesting cupcakes (by Chris, the beer-specialist and current front-runner, in my humble opinion) had beer in it. I hadn’t thought of using beer in anything except for a beef stew, or beer batter, so the concept intrigued me. And lo and behold, Smitten Kitchen had just what I was looking for. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan to, although I think I’ll omit the Baileys frosting and just use whipped cream.
- Warm raspberry cupcakes with orange sugar drizzle, from Good Food Magazine. Now, I have a tiny issue with these, because (as per the title) they’re meant to be served warm, fresh from the oven, and to me, one of the central virtues of the cupcake is that they should be versatile and convenient. Whether making 100 for a party or 6 for lunchbox treats, you must be able to transport them easily, to be eaten several hours later, still perfect. However, these are just too yummy. Orange and raspberry? Heaven. And I can tell you for sure that they’re still good once cooled. Read the comments for great sounding variations, though I’ve never felt the need to stray from the original, myself.
- Magdalenas, from delicious. magazine. I love the blurb at the top: “The sweet-making skills of Spanish nuns have been famed since medieval times. And these little sponge cakes were traditionally made and sold by the nuns as a way of making a living. Their delicious recipe is now found in cake shops and bars all over Spain.” And in my kitchen. These use olive oil instead of butter, and are quite a dense little cake, but they’re easy and so tasty, especially with a dollop of jam. Nice with a cuppa.
- Finally, for something a bit posh, how about these Rosy cupcakes with Turkish delight, from Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine. These are delicate and lovely, perfect for high tea. And the tips at the top of the recipe are excellent, suited to most cupcake recipes, not just these.