The Classic Cupcake

Cupcakes are the new rock’n’roll!

There’s been a huge upsurge of interest in cupcake baking over recent years. Cupcakes suddenly became highly fashionable, and it’s largely thanks to Carrie Bradshaw from the American series Sex and the City. From the moment she bit into a dainty Iced Cupcake it was inevitable that the rest of the world would be doing the same very soon.

And we are. From children’s parties to wedding breakfasts to Afternoon Teas, cupcakes are taking place of honour. Bookshops have shelves full of cookery books devoted to cupcakes and specialist bakeries and cake shops are opening all over the country to satisfy our insatiable desire for cupcakes.


But cupcakes aren’t a new invention. Classic cupcakes have been around for hundreds of years albeit under different names. As long ago as the eighteenth century women would often cook small sponge – fairy or queen – cakes in tea cups.

The first known use of the term cupcake came in an American cookbook in the early nineteenth century. According to cake historians the word had two origins:

  • the ingredients were measured out using a standard-sized tea-cup rather than a weighing scale. This made preparation easier and quicker and even today American recipes tend to use cup measurements instead of grams or ounces.
  • the cakes were baked in cups. Their small size made them easier to bake in the old wood-burning ovens than one large cake.

But while our grandmothers would have been happy with a simple tea cake, the demand today is for extravagantly iced and decorated cupcakes.

Cupcake basics

Cupcakes are simple to prepare and the icing can be as easy or as intricate as you wish. But there are some ground rules, which, if you stick to them, should help you get perfect results every time.

  • Use good Quality Ingredients. You can’t expect the finished product to be wonderful if you’ve made do with stale butter or flour past its use by date.
  • Have all your ingredients at room temperature before you start. Butter especially will be much simpler to cream if you’ve left it to come to an ambient temperature.
  • Weigh out the ingredients carefully, trying to be as accurate as you can.
  • Use an electric mixer if possible for the lightest results. You want to incorporate air into the mixture and it’s much harder work to do that properly by hand.
  • Always sieve the flour – with baking powder, spices, cocoa or any other dry flavourings – before adding to the creamed mixture.
  • Preheat the oven. It sounds obvious but putting the cakes into an oven with too low a temperature will result in unevenly-risen cakes.
  • Don’t open the oven door for a peep until it’s almost time for the cupcakes to be ready. A rush of cold air could make your perfectly prepared cupcakes collapse.
  • Allow the cupcakes to cool thoroughly before you ice them.
  • Eat on the same day for maximum freshness but cupcakes will keep in an airtight container for a day or two.

And the Cupcake icing:

Beat very well until smooth, light and creamy. Use straightaway – if you’ve made it earlier maker sure you beat it well again before using.

If you’re using colour, add it very gradually. Remember that it will darken slightly on standing.

Most of all, be creative and enjoy yourself!

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