Cupcake nirvana, and swiss buttercream (among other toppings)
I’ve made many cakes that go like this: beat butter & sugar, beat in eggs and vanilla, fold in milk and flour alternately. Bake. Eat. Don’t get me wrong. These cakes are damn good. They make my day. They’re predictable, safe and a few hours after they’ve been cooked, pure heaven, and the reason I do home baking. BUT. The next day can be a little disappointing, to say the least. And the day after that, they get progressively worse. They get dryer. And sort of hard. And well. Then I don’t feel so great about home baking. Which is wrong, wrong, wrong.
Then stuff like this happens.
These were meant to be for my best friend Clare’s birthday dinner dessert thing. See those gorgeous red polka dot wrappers? Well, they appreciated the cupcake overflow about as much as I did. Not very much. However, my cunning as a home-baker-that-doesn’t-always-succeed resulted in me just cutting off the ooze babies and resulted in this:
Ahhh. Like engineering boys after a haircut! Still greasy, but much better looking ;)
Also, they were still good, and the ooze babies provided ample snackage.
But ok, I’m honestly not here just to share poor analogies and baking failures. I have discovered a cure for those dry cake ills. It’s using half oil, half butter (ok…lots more oil, shh). Which frankly made me feel better about piling on the buttercream for the cupcakes. Who are we kidding. Adding some cupcake to the buttercream. Anyway I think we will need a cut because I got very excited with pictures, and I ended up writing more about toppings and decoration ideas. But before I do:
Moist-for-days cupcake batter
makes 23 cupcakes, 6cm at the top x 2cm thick (I think small is cuter anyway, and if you’re smothering them in icing, they’ll need to be small)
50g unsalted butter, cut into thin slices to soften
1 c white sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (very niceness stuff)
optional: 1/2 tsp orange essence (they won’t be orangey, just less cloying)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 c plain white flour
1/2c low fat milk*
*If you have full fat milk take out about 2 Tbs oil from the recipe
Beat oil, butter and sugar until paler and sort of fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in vanilla and orange essence. Shake in 1/3 of the flour (easy to do if you use a 1/2 c measure) and shake over baking powder, fold in a little (without completely mixing in), fold in half the milk, no need to completely combine yet. Shake in another 1/3 of the flour, fold in a little (without completely mixing in), fold in half the milk, no need to completely combine yet. Fold in the last 1/3 of the flour, this time combining to make a smooth, even batter, but do not mix any more once smooth and even. The directions are in bold because they matter, and will ensure a consistently fluffy cupcake!
Preheat oven to 170C (345F). Line a cupcake tray with cases (paper or silicone, but place a baking tray under your silicone trays/liners), and fill each 2/3 full with a teaspoon (I leave 1cm of paper edging to let them grow, and this seems like half, but remember they bulge up a little). If your mixture at the bottom is a little curdled just stir it in a little before spooning the mix into your cases. Bake in the centre of your oven for 10 minutes, rotating halfway if your oven doesn’t cook evenly. Only do one tray at a time. Seriously. If you spend too much time rotating and swapping trays over, too much heat will escape from your oven and your cupcakes could sink into unhappiness, and then they won’t be fluffy. Test for doneness with a skewer or knife – if it comes out clean and the tops are golden, they’re ready to come out. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan before cooling completely on racks.
Note this recipe does yield cupcakes that have flat tops (I imagine if you made it into cake form it might too), which is a perfect excuse for ridiculous amounts of icing. Did I say this was a healthy blog at some point? Well, this is one of my few exceptions. Cupcakes=simple extravagance. Call me insane. I will just eat a cupcake at you.
Plain buttercream icing (untested by me as of yet)
100g unsalted butter, softened
200g sieved icing sugar
2-4 tsp hot water (depending if you use other liquid flavours)
2 tsp whatever essence you want (use 2tsp hot water if using essences)
Beat butter until soft and light. Gradually add icing sugar, beating well between each addition. Add water and essence and beat until light and fluffy.
Thanks to the multix piping bags for the recipe. Double the recipe if you want a huge amount of icing on your cupcakes. Best piping bags ever.
280g unsalted butter, cubed and softened
3 egg whites
3/4c caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla
optional: squeeze of lemon juice
This is what I put on mine. It’s a completely smooth, incredibly buttery, and only mildly sweet meringue based buttercream. It requires some patience, but if you won’t tolerate the grittiness of icing sugar, this is the one for you. I have to say it tastes like sweet vanilla-y butter, but gooood. Make sure you have a powerful set of beaters too, as this requires about 20 minutes of beating all up, and beating of thick buttercream to boot! Also a note: this icing won’t be perfectly smooth and isn’t great to pipe as I found out. You could pipe large blobs though, like Deb from Smitten Kitchen has done. But it breaks too much for fine piping. To be fair, this is how much butter went into it:
Start by putting a pot over very low heat, or if you are using gas, set a medium metal bowl (or one that conducts heat) over a saucepan of simmering water. Add the meringues, sugar and salt to the pan, and whisk occasionally until the sugar is completely dissolved. To test this, rub some of the mixture in between your fingers, and if you can’t feel any sugar granules, you’re ready. Remove all the meringue into a large bowl unless using gas in which case remove the bowl from the simmering pan of water, and wipe the bottom clean. Don’t worry about cooling, just get out those beaters and whip whip whip! It will take about 6 minutes of solid beating to get stiff, glossy peaks to form. Here’s a photo example again from Smitten Kitchen. The amount of egg whites will have also doubled in size.
Beat in vanilla and any other essences you are using (try not to use more than 1 tsp more liquid wise). Now beat in butter, one cube at a time, beating on medium speed after each addition. Once all the butter is in there, raise the speed on your beater to full and beat it until smooth. Many recipes say that the butter may curdle, but I didn’t seem to have this problem (maybe to do with the butter water content). If yours curdles, basically beat it until smooth. Now, when I say smooth, it’s not going to look like the meringue mixture. It’ll look like this, but that’s perfect. Now mix on low to remove large air pockets. Now you can spread it! The stuff lasts 2 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge, but don’t leave it on the counter for more than a few days. To use refrigerated stuff, bring to room temperature, beat a little, then use.
all iced, ready to decorate (see bottom of post)
200g dark chocolate (best quality you can afford)
Melt together in a saucepan on very low heat or in a bowl set over simmering water if you can’t get very low heat on your cooktop, stirring constantly, until you get a consistent glossy chocolatey mixture. This doesn’t pipe, so if you want pretty patterns you’ll have to drizzle with hot ganache or pour very carefully with a slightly cooled ganache.
1 Tbs caster sugar (more for those who like a very sweet icing)
Beat cream until it thickens a little, add sugar, and beat until the cream form peaks when beaters are lifted out of the bowl. This can be piped or you can slather it on like with buttercream.
Cream cheese icing
This is pretty soft and not “grainy” like most icing. If you like grainyness, use icing sugar. If you want to pipe this icing, let it cool in the bag a little first, unless you’re piping words, in which case you want a thinner icing.
1c (250g) cream cheese, softened (heat on low microwave setting for about 5 mins at least if short on time)
50g butter, melted
1/2c caster sugar
fine zest of 1 lemon
Beat all the ingredients until creamy (use a proper beater for this). Done.
So unless you’re made of money and can afford pro decorations (like edible glitter and stuff), what can you decorate your cupcakes with to make them just that extra bit special? Here are some suggestions if you’re wondering how to add to already iced cupcakes:
Sliced fruit, especially berries. If using strawberries, you can slice them into smaller bits, which look daintier and will stretch your strawberry supply further. You can alternate the kind of fruit you use, too, and this will look very pretty if arranged in a regular pattern on your plate. Fruit would be my top choice as they add some tartness to an otherwise very rich cupcake. Or if you’re a zest fan, orange or lemon zest just in the centre can look lovely. One drawback is that they will dry out a little if left for more than a day or two, so keep this in mind if you’re serving cupcakes to guests.
Lollipops add colour and charm, especially if you get heart shaped ones!
Nuts add richness. Toasted hazelnuts or whole almonds or toasted pecans work well with many flavours. Or you can crush them and sprinkle from the middle for texture
Chocolate kisses or buttons or mini sized home made truffles look gorgeous and oh so cute.
Chocolate grated over white icing looks lovely, or white chocolate grated over ganache covered cupakes.
Chocolate shapes, or chocolate dipped fruits/nuts will look and taste fabulous. Here’s a tutorial on just about every kind of chocolate decoration
Marshmallows if you like them are always lovely, and if you happen to have a blowtorch, you can toast them a little first too.
Obviously, store bought candy can look nice, but I like to resist the urge as they will make the whole experience far too sweet and sticky. If using them, go for tangy, small and cutely shaped sweets or colourful jellybeans. To amp up the home made feel avoid anything that screams a certain brand, like MnMs or Skittles candy, or a flake bar. Remember that coloured candy may run if left for more than a day or two, so plan wisely.
Nice wrappers work wonders – if using them, make them the focus and do a simple icing with no other decorations, unless the colours or pictures match. Serve on clean simple white plates to impress.
Pretty plates in lieu of fancy wrappers and decoration will perk up the colour factor.
If you want to go the extra mile, some supermarkets stock gorgeous sugary shapes that you can cascade onto your cupcakes. These are usually stocked at higher end supermarkets (*ahemnotpaknsave*), in the baking section. Remember though: they don’t taste nice. As much as I am a fan of pretty things, Also, personally I don’t like the look of chocolate hail and those silver balls or even hundreds and thousands (gasp. I think I offended half of you) on cupcakes, but hey, if they indulge your inner kid, go for it.
Dried fruit can look nice as long as it’s sliced into thin slices or chopped finely. Dried apricots for example add a pleasing pop of colour and a bit of tartness, plus you won’t run the risk of colour streaking. Or banana chips if you’re making banana cupcakes.
Contrasting ganache (ie. dark chocolate ganache on white chocolate ganache). First drizzle or pour your first layer of ganache onto your cupcake. Let completely set in the freezer for about 10 minutes, then remove from freezer and drizzle your second layer of ganache over.
Lemon balm, lavender or mint if you have appropriately flavoured cupcakes.
Dusting with icing sugar or even cinnamon and icing sugar if you’re having your cupcakes plain.
Ground almonds or coconut on chocolate ganache
Coarse granules of sugar, often known as sanding sugar (or coarse sugar). These can be found in the sugar aisle, and if you’re looking for something more colourful, you can find them at craft or baking shops (Spotlight for example stocks them).
Any others I’ve missed?