Basic Cupcakes and Three Variations

The cupcake (or fairy cake if you’re of a certain generation) is an icon of the 21st century. Crowned with a swirl of glossy meringue or buttercream icing, and sprinkled with twinkle dust or stars, it’s the Victoria Sponge’s glamorous little sister.

Cupcakes are cheap AND easy…

You’ll pay pounds for a small box of cupcakes from a fancy bakery. But these little cakes, though adorably cute and appealing, cost very little to make at home. So stop buying those gorgeously adorned, hideously expensive cupcakes, and make a whole tray of your own. Okay, so the decorations may not be quite so professional, but you can afford to do a few practice runs.

You don’t have to be a goddess to create a tray of cupcakes. In fact (whisper it) they’re possibly the easiest thing to bake – ever. Use our all-in-one processor method, throw the ingredients into the mixer, and you’ll have a tray of cupcakes ready in moments. They take 15 minutes in the oven, so it’s quite possible to make and eat a batch after dinner – or after getting in from the school run. Decorating the Cakes is something that you can take very seriously, or treat as a hilarious family activity. Laughing at one another’s efforts to recreate Peppa Pig or write initials with icing can be almost as fun as scoffing your creations afterwards.

Get creative with your cupcakes…

Start with our basic recipe and once you’ve tried that, invent some new favourites of your own. Pop a toffee in the middle of the cakes… top with your kids’ favourite sweets… or pour a splosh of coffee liqueur into the batter. Who knows what you can do – and how great it might be?

Classic Cupcake (or Fairy Cake) Recipe

Easy to make and even easier to get carried away with. You’ll be able to whip this up in seconds. Then spend the next few days dreaming up gorgeous variations…

You need:

  • 110g (4oz) unsalted butter
  • 110g (4oz) caster sugar
  • 110g (4oz) self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1tsp pure vanilla extract

To make:

Preheat the oven to 180ºC and line a 12-hole muffin tray with cases. The easiest way to proceed is with a food processor or mixer. Just put in all of the ingredients and blitz until thick, smooth and light. If you are working by hand, cream the butter with the sugar, then beat in the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla. Finally sift in the flour and fold until you have a smooth batter. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the tops are risen and pale gold.

Some Variations to try…

Espresso & White Chocolate

Dissolve 2tsp instant espresso powder into 1tbsp boiling water, and add this to the cake batter before baking. Top with a white chocolate ganache: simply melt 100g high-quality white chocolate (with pure cocoa butter – we like Hotel Chocolat’s white chocolate drops) with 100ml double cream. Cool slightly before spreading over the cupcakes, and sprinkle with cocoa powder before serving (like little cappuccinos).


Finely grate the zest (avoiding the white pith) of a lemon into the cake batter, and squeeze the juice into a cup (but save it for the time being). Bake as usual. When the cakes are nearly ready, sift 4tbsp icing sugar into the lemon juice and stir to dissolve. When the cakes come out of the oven, stab each one all over with a skewer. Pour a teaspoon of the lemony syrup over each cake, tilting it so that the syrup runs into the little holes. Top with lemon buttercream.

Chocolate and Peanut Butter

To make a Chocolate Cupcake, simply add 2tbsp of really good cocoa powder to the cake batter (and a spoonful of milk if the batter seems too thick to drop off the spoon). You could ice it with vanilla buttercream or white chocolate ganache (above), but peanut butter makes an interesting topping. Cream together 75g unsalted butter with 175g sifted icing sugar, and when thick and fluffy, beat in 125g smooth peanut butter. Use a piping bag or spoon to top the cooled cupcakes.

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