I love cupcakes. I know they are fashionable at the moment (though like anything fashionable I am sure this craze will pass) but I will always bake cupcakes. They are incredibly easy and can be adapted to so many situations and tastes.The most novice baker can make a perfect batch of cupcakes with just a few basic ingredients (if my husband can do it successfully- and he has- then trust me anyone can!) It's also a lovely activity to do with your children. They can help whisk the batter and put it into the cases (and yes it will be messy but who cares!) and then afterwards they can decorate it with whatever they want which they will just love.
The recipe I tend to use is the following:
125g softened butter (or stork)
125g caster sugar (preferably vanilla infused)
125g self-raising flour
2 eggs (at room temperature)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp milk
1 tbsp plain yoghurt (this is not necessary but gives a lovely creamy and light texture to the cake).
Whisk everything together and divide between 12 cases. Bake in an oven pre-heated to 200 degrees C for 15-20 minutes until risen and golden. I've mentioned vanilla infused sugar above- this is simply caster sugar stored in an air tight jar (like the ones used for making jams) with some some vanilla pods in the sugar. It gives a lovely flavour to the sugar that infuses through your recipes.
Now you can adapt the above depending on the reason for the cakes - adding some cocoa powder, chocolate drops or melted chocolate to give a rich chocolatey flavour, some raisins, chopped cherries, mashed bananas, coffee or even a dash of alcohol. They can be served instead of a pudding when having friends over for dinner- add dark chocolate and coffee and serve warm with the best quality vanilla ice cream you can buy. For a kid's birthday party, rather than serving a big cake that needs to be cut, make a couple of dozen cakes (or however many you need), pile high and dot with candles. They can then quickly be dished out to the waiting kids!
Now topping the cakes is where you can really let your imagination go wild. Whatever you do make sure your cakes are completely cool before you start to decorate or the toppings won't stick as well and may melt. If you want a flatter cake to work with just top off the domes of the cakes once they are cool.
You can top the cake however you like. If doing it with your kids then an easy icing is:
125g icing sugar
0.5 tsp vanilla extract
2-3 tbsps of water
Food drops of food colouring (whatever you fancy)
Mix together the ingredients adding the water slowly since it quickly will go from being too thick to far too thin. This is more than enough to cover a dozen cakes. Cover with sprinkles, edible glitter, chocolate drops, jelly beans, smarties, sprinkles, edible balls, sugar motifs (you can buy these ready made at most supermarkets). Just let your imagination go wild. This is a plate of cupcake I did for a birthday tea- pastel colours, silver balls and sugar animals were used to decorate.
Another lovely topping is butter cream:
50g softened butter
125g icing sugar
1 tbsp milk or water
2-3 drops of food colouring if desired
Combine the above and use to the ice the top of cupcakes and decorate as above. This can also be used to make another children's favourite- butterfly cakes. Simply use a teaspoon to scoop out a circle of about 2.5cm (1 inches). Fill the hole with buttercream. Take each removed top, cut in half and stick the halves on the icing so they look like a butterfly. Dust with some icing sugar if you wish.
Again using buttercream you can make a chocolate version:
150g icing sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder
50g softened butter
Beat the ingredients together and use to top cakes (or to make chocolate butterfly cakes). This can be used to make teddy bear cakes (which my kids love!) Simply cover the cakes with the cream and then use a fork to brush over the surface of the cream to make it look like fur. Use white and brown chocolate buttons and black writing icing to create a face.
You can also use ready to roll icing that can be cut out to cover the tops of the cake and also to add features with other types of toppings. My youngest loves Monsters Inc so I made the following cupcakes for her third birthday- simply dying the white icing with some green food colouring (use a clean piece of sponge to spread the dye and get a smooth finish).
An easy topping for chocoholics out there is melting 100g double cream and 100g good quality chocolate (dark is good for a more adult cake mixed with 1tbsp brandy/rum for a bit more adult taste, milk or white (which can also have food colouring added) are also great for kids). I often do these for birthday parties- it seems to be the topping that everyone loves.
Cupcakes are also great for fund raising- if you need to take cakes for the school fete or fund raising event then a batch can be made and decorated accordingly using different colours and toppings for different seasons and festivities. Since it is red nose day tomorrow I made a batch of dotty cupcakes this morning. I added some red dye to the cakes before baking:
I then topped with icing again dyed red with white chocolate for the spots.
If you need any last minute fundraising ideas or want to know how to donate have a look at the Red Nose Day 2011 website. Don't forget to store any cakes that aren't eaten immediately in single layers in air tight containers to keep them fresh.