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Celebrating National Cupcake Week

By Solange Berchemin •


Cupcakes have come on a long way since Carrie Bradshaw from Sex and the City turned them into as much as a fashion statement as her tutu skirts & designer bags.  This week sees the fourth annual National Cupcake Week. Solange Berchemin takes a look at these bite sized goodies and also asks Sarah Trivuncic, author of Sweet Bitesize Bakes, better known as Maison Cupcake, for her thoughts on what makes them so popular.

Blog post & photography by Solange Berchemin of Pebble Soup

Cupcakes first appeared in the United States in the 1800's. Traditionally cakes for one, they were originally baked in small pottery cups, hence their name. In the 21st century, cupcakes could have tumbled into anonymity, had it not been for an episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie Bradshaw sitting outside the, then unknown, Magnolia Bakery in NYC, makes little cooing sounds before sinking her teeth into one of their delightful creations.

A decade later we are seeing wedding cakes are made of a tower of cupcakes.  £23.5m worth of cupcakes were sold last year, in the UK and the fourth annual National Cupcake Week will kick off on the 17th September. The week is organised by British Baker magazine and promises to be filled with fun events and competitions. 

To unravel the secrets behind the fame of these little cakes, I went straight to  Maison Cupcake, also known as Sarah Trivuncic, author of  Sweet Bitesize Bakes.

I started by asking Sarah if she could explain the popularity of cupcakes,

'Cupcake refers to a size rather than a style of cake,' she says, 'The decoration can be as ornate as anything you see in a French patisserie, they sometimes look like perfect little jewels. Versatility is an advantage too. Cupcakes can be themed for Halloween or a baby shower. The flavours are endless and can easily be baked at home with children, not a lot of kitchen paraphernalia is required to make cupcakes.'

When asked for the secret behind a good cupcake, Sarah comes up with a surprising answer,  'They have to be fresh, because they are so small, they will dry quickly. Ideally they should be consumed the same day as they are made' She continued, 'As the topping looks all-right for a few days, they might be kept on the shelves for too long and they may become dried out underneath, this explains why people sometimes have a bad cupcake experience. They can also be too top-heavy, the ratio should be 1/4 topping for 3/4 cake.'


Sarah's baby shower cupcakes - photograph by Sian Irvine

Talking about toppings, I asked her what kind of decoration she favoured: 'I like piped butter-cream roses on the top, whereby the swirl starts in the centre of the cake and is worked outwards rather than the reverse. I think it looks very stylish and pretty. The beauty can also be in the flavours, I once made matcha cupcakes, matcha is a fine powdered green tea, the result was delicious'.

Being an expert, Sarah has a great tip for people new to baking cupcakes: 'You need to watch them carefully as they bake, It's very easy to over-bake cupcakes.'

Cupcakes have been very popular for a long time so it wouldn't be surprising if a new trend was on its way to snatch the title king of the small cake, 'Whoopies pies are just as flexible as cupcakes but they have not risen to the same height in popularity, may be because they are slightly more difficult to make at home. I'd love for fondant fancies to be "the next cupcake" but again they are tricky to do and you won't get "Mr Kipling's smooth look" at home.' So the traditional, turned modern cupcake might be reigning for a while longer.

As there are as many cupcakes as there are bakers and occasions, this allows for a lot of creativity. From the choice of the paper case to the toppings, making cupcakes is endless fun and here is a basic recipe to start.

For this  recipe, you will need a 18 standard cupcakes tray though a 12 muffin-size will do too. To ring the changes you could replace the vanilla in this recipe with orange essence, lemon zest, grated coconut, chocolate or even grated carrots....

Vanilla Cupcakes with Fondant Icing

Ingredients

115g/4oz unsalted butter softened at room temperature

115g/4oz caster sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

115g/4oz self raising flour

1-2 tbsp milk

Method

1  Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas4.  Line the baking tray with cupcake cases.

2  In a large bowl, beat 115g unsalted butter with 115g caster sugar until the mixture turns pale. This is much easier to do with an electric mixer and it give a smoother texture too.

3  Beat in two eggs, this is where it could all go wrong and curdle. To avoid potential disaster add two spoons of the 115g of the sifted self-raising flour. Then add the flavouring.

4  Fold in the flour adding a little milk until the mixture is of dropping consistency.

Spoon the mixture into the cases. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

6  Stand in the tray for 5 minutes - this is a necessary step as the cupcakes are rather fragile when hot - transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Toppings

The simplest of toppings is a fondant icing, decorated with flowers, glitter, berries...for which you'll need

300g icing sugar

3 tbsp water

Decorations of your choice.

Mix the icing sugar and water, stir until your topping is smooth and glossy, don't be tempted to add more water, add a bit of colouring if you like, top the cupcakes and decorate.

Blog post & photography by Solange Berchemin of Pebble Soup

What are some of your favourite cupcake toppings?  Do you have any tips for people making cupcakes for the first time? 

 

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Solange Berchemin

Solange Berchemin is a freelance writer and author of two books. She has a passion for food, travel and the arts. Solange has contributed to numerous publications including The Sunday Times, BBC Good Food, Wanderlust. A librarian by training, her love of words, her relentless curiosity and her sense of adventure are reflected in her articles.

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