When my friend Cheryl asked me if I would bake some cupcakes for her daughter’s 12th birthday with ‘Happy 12th Birthday Megan’ iced on them I hesitated for a moment. Fairy cakes (as I knew them when I was a child) are easy to make and I’ve made them enough times before but those glorious cakes with billowing buttercream icing so perfectly iced sitting prettily in the shop cabinet, they were a different matter. Megan had her heart set on cupcakes for her birthday, her mum told me, and I suddenly felt the enormity of the responsibility; would my 2nd rate cupcakes ruin a little girl’s big day? Eek!
But, of course, I would do anything to help a friend and I do love to bake so I set about the task with enthusiasm. My biggest worry was the writing and so I asked my friends on Twitter for advice. The best came from 5am Foodie (aka Michele) who told me she pipes letters with melted chocolate onto baking parchment and can easily peel them off to place on the cakes meaning that if she messes up she doesn’t ruin the cakes. What a great idea! So that was my plan of action until, whilst shopping in a local supermarket for the cake ingredients, I spotted a set of letters and numbers made from icing. ‘Would it be cheating if I were to buy them?’ I pondered for a nanosecond before looking left and then right to make sure no one was watching and quickly flinging them into my basket before walking off innocently whistling.
I made my usual fairy cakes rather than the larger sized cakes more usually associated with cupcakes but I decided to really go to town on the buttercream icing, doubling my usual recipe. I don’t usually pipe the icing on, instead I spoon it on and use a knife to smooth it out and so the icing I use is quite thick. I knew it would be too thick to pipe so I added milk to give it a nice piping consistency. This, however, made it taste a little milky so I added vanilla extract which took the milk taste away nicely.
Having made my icing and mixed up the colours the next step was the biggest challenge: the icing. I rolled up my sleeves and loaded up my weapon of choice – a basic icing bag with a large nozzle I believe is called a star – with girlie pink icing. Nervously I approached the first bare little cupcake which I’m sure I saw quivering in as much apprehension as me, and started piping. I held my breath as I piped round, carefully, steadily, and thrilled at how easily the icing was coming out. All was going very well…and then the cake started to move as I piped it! Round and round it went as I chased it with the piping nozzle. I just about managed to finish the cake off and then I stood back to admire my handywork. Actually it wasn’t bad, not bad at all! After chasing several more cakes as I iced I worked out a knack of trapping them by the wire rack so the little suckers couldn’t move any more. Once I’d done that and iced a few more cakes I got into a rhythm and – dare I say it – found it quite easy and enjoyable. I do think the trick is getting the consistency of the icing right so that it pipes with ease – then you’re home dry.
As luck would have it I needed 22 cakes to spell out ‘Happy 12th birthday Megan’ which left 2 over – one for Rob and one for me as my reward, which I felt I’d truly earned.
Now that I’ve learned a new trick I’m looking forward to making cupcakes again and experimenting with different flavours and decorations. Watch this space!
The best parts of making the cakes were the joy on my friend’s face when she saw them and the surprise phone call I got from her daughter thanking me for them. I was as pleased as punch after that call (or should that be as chuffed as a cupcake?).
Cupcakes (Fairy Cakes)
125g butter, softened
125g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 large eggs
125g self-rasing flour, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
Preheat the oven to 200˚C/fan 180˚C.
Place the butter and sugar in a medium mixing bowl or the bowl of a food mixer and cream them together until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract and then the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon of the flour with each to help prevent the mixture from curdling. Mix in the milk then fold in the remaining flour until completely combined, don’t beat or mix it in.
Line a 12 hole patty tin with paper cake cases and then spoon the mixture evenly into them. Bake the cakes for about 12-15 minutes, until lightly golden and springy to the touch. If your oven cooks unevenly, as many do, turn the cake tray around halfway through the cooking time. Once cooked, transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool.
Buttercream Icing for Piping
Enough for 12 cakes.
500g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Approximately 3 tablespoons milk
Food colourings of your choice
Place the icing sugar and butter in a medium mixing bowl or the bowl of a food mixer and cream them together until light, fluffy and very pale, almost white. Mix in the vanilla extract and approximately 3 tablespoons of milk until the mixture reaches the desired piping consistency. Divide the icing among little bowls and add a few drops of different coloured food colouring to each, and mix it in well. Put the icing into a piping bag and pipe it onto the cakes.