Regency Cupcakes - Queen Cakes

By Karen Burns-Booth •

What exactly is a cupcake? When does a fairy cake become a cupcake? When does a cupcake become a fairy cake? Karen ponders these questions and also shares a recipe for the original British Cupcake - Queen Cakes



I love cakes of all types, from ginger parkin to Victoria sandwich with a few fairy cakes in between, but, when is a fairy cake a cupcake and vice versa? And what are cupcakes exactly? It’s an interesting question, and as the larger style cakes from America known as cupcakes have taken Britain by storm, what of our dainty butterfly and fairy cakes, have they become extinct? Well I don’t think so, there is always room for a plate of fairy (or butterfly) cakes especially when served at a children’s party or for an elegant afternoon tea, where their smaller proportions are more in keeping with the bone china cake stands and delicate cups and saucers.

However, as a cake loving kinda’ gal, I am always up for a celebration, especially when that celebration is for cake! So, when I realised that National Cupcake Week was coming up, I decided to join in with appropriate gusto (and greed?!) and make a batch of cakes. Plus, any national foodie week that celebrates with the tag line of “Go on, Treat Yourself” has my vote! The annual event is sponsored by Tesco, BFP Wholesale and Secret Ingredients this year, 2013. It is designed for bakeries, coffee shops, supermarkets and cafes - basically anyone selling cupcakes - to make the most of their popularity by promoting National Cupcake Week to their customers, and encouraging them to come in and buy a cupcake.

Organisers of National Cupcake Week British Baker are also encouraging bakers to use the week to raise vital funds for the charity CLIC Sargent, which supports children and young people with cancer as well as their families. You can do this by selling a range of special cakes for the charity, and then donating a percentage of the profits to the charity, and as we all know, cakes sell, so hopefully the charity will be flush with extra donations throughout the week. You can read more about how to get involved as well as check out what events are on here, at their website: National Cupcake Week; and, there are also some delicious looking recipes posted there too.

Now to get back to the cupcake and fairy cake debate, I always think of fairy cakes as being smaller and with less icing, not so big; and cupcakes as being larger (often made in what we call muffin tins) with lots of buttercream icing and edible decorations. I love cupcakes as much as I like their diminutive cousins, fairy cakes, but, I am not a lover of excessive buttercream icing, and so when I decided to join in and create a recipe for this delightful cakey week, I went back to the original British cupcake for inspiration, an Eliza Acton recipe no less, and one that would have probably graced the table of Jane Austen.


Britain does have an original cupcake recipe, and it came from much humbler beginnings; a thrifty housewife or “downstairs” cook who finding themselves with an excess of cake mixture at the end of the baking day, would pop the extra batter in a china tea-cup and bake it…..a cupcake would probably have been some excess fruit cake mixture, which was then baked in a couple of tea cups……the poor culinary cousin of the “Queen Cakes”, which, were also baked individually and boasted plump currants, rose-water and almonds and was to be found in the more affluent of households during the 19th century.


I have experimented with baking cakes in cups before, and my recipe for Little Coffee Cup Chocolate-Chip Cakes with Vanilla Cream Froth are always popular, especially when served at the end of a dinner party. However, to celebrate this week of cupcakes, I have decided to go back a few centuries and create a modern day “Regency Cupcake” based on the original recipe from Eliza Acton. My recipe may not call for miles of buttercream, but it needs little adornment as it contains brandy soaked currants, rose water, fresh citrus peel, ground almonds and just a hint of ground mace. The little cakes have a regal name and are very regal in flavour, with my family and friends asking me to bake a second batch, very soon after devouring the first batch!


These little cakes have also appeared in old cookbooks such as the Be-Ro book of home baking, as well as being frequently featured as a popular bake in the television series Larkrise to Candleford. I remember my grandmother use to make them too, and they were always arranged on an old plate with a lace doily…….with a cloud of icing sugar sifted over the top. The recipe I am sharing today is more like the original Eliza Acton recipe, although I have added a few additions myself, such as the brandy soaked fruit! (Just omit this if you are serving these for children) They may not be laden with buttercream icing, but they are still luxurious enough to celebrate National Cupcake Week and I shall be selling a couple of dozen of these over the week, in order for charity. I hope you enjoy this old recipe as much as we have…….and have a fabulous cake-eating week!

Regency Cupcakes – Queen Cakes

(Makes 12 to 14 cakes)


1 tablespoon brandy

125g currants

225g self-raising flour

225g caster sugar

225g unsalted butter

50g ground almonds

3 large free-range eggs, beaten

1 tablespoon rose water

¼ teaspoon ground mace

Grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)


1. Place the currants in a dish and add the brandy, leave to plump up for an hour or so.

2. Pre-heat oven to 190C/375F/Gas mark 5.

3. Line a 12 hole patty tin with some paper cases.

4. Sift the flour and mace together into a large mixing bowl and then melt the butter, allow it to cool slightly before adding it to the beaten eggs and rosewater. Mix well.

5. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour the melted butter and egg mixture in, mix thoroughly.

6. Add the currants, grated lemon zest of using, sugar and ground almonds, mix well; adding a little milk of the mixture is too stiff.

7. Place a heaped tablespoon of mixture into each paper case, and then bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until well risen and golden brown.

8. Take the cakes out of the tin and allow them to cool on a wire rack.


Inspired? Great British Chefs have more delicious cake recipes from some of Britain’s finest chefs.

Do you think there's a difference between cupcakes & fairy cakes?  Which do you prefer?  Let us know here or over on Great British Chefs Facebook page.


Karen Burns-Booth

Karen Burns-Booth is creative freelance food writer & blogger. Her love of seasonal food & recipes stems from her childhood observing her grandmother and mother’s cookery skills. A regular contributor in Country Kitchen magazine, she currently writes for numerous other publications, food, travel and tourism websites and has several recipes in print in compilation cookbooks. She is currently working on a Historical British Cookbook.

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