Cupcakes have been getting a bad press lately. Ruby Tandoh, Guardian columnist and finalist of last year’s Great British Bake Off, showed her feelings clearly, when she posted a picture on Twitter of a poor, unsuspecting cupcake moments after she had smashed it to smithereens with a hammer. “What have cupcakes ever done to her?” one might reasonably ask. They might not be fashionable anymore, but neither is Lindsay Lohan and you wouldn’t hit her with a hammer. I think it’s time to take a good, hard look at this irrational backlash and learn to live in harmony alongside cupcakes once again. After all, neither cupcakes nor Lindsay Lohan are going to go away without a fight.
Cupcakes are no longer the cool kids on the patisserie block. They’ve had their status unsettled by everything from whoopie pies and macarons to marshmallows and doughnuts. Everyone and their aunt has been declaring the death of the cupcake for at least the last 10 years, or whenever it was that Sex and the City shut up shop and aired its final episode (and no, I’m not including those post-series’ films they defecated on our cinema screens with).
The main beef people seem to have about cupcakes, apart from moaning about getting icing on their noses (Christ alive! Just learn to eat properly, will you), is that there is too much topping hiding a dry, flavourless cake. Now, I’m not going to pretend I’ve eaten all the cupcakes out there, but I’d wager actual money that these over-iced dusty sponges are just examples of bad cakes, pure and simple. It’s not the cupcake’s fault that some people can’t bake. I’ve eaten just as many bad Victoria Sponges and bad flapjacks as I’ve eaten bad cupcakes.
Then you have the, “Whatever happened to fairy cakes?” brigade. As if this apparent cupcake invasion has pushed our smaller indigenous bakes to near extinction. They’re probably the same people who let Spanish bluebells overtake their gardens. If you’re going to get all patriotic in our faces about something, surely you can do better than getting a bit shirty about the imaginary demise of the fairy cake.
There’s actually very little to separate them. Fairy cakes are just a bit smaller, which is why we ate so many more of them when we were still little enough to get excited about going to birthday parties that included musical bumps and paper cups filled with Tizer. It’s nostalgia gone mad! Please let’s not pretend anyone ever got excited about the watery sugar icing on top, which added absolutely no flavour, just extra and unnecessary sweetness. It’s not even a matter of buttercream either. What’s a butterfly cake if not a slightly deconstructed cupcake after all? It might be super cool to bang on about how crap cupcakes are at the moment, but I will roll my eyes at you every single time you do, before shutting you up by stuffing one of these straight into your gaping cake hole.
If you like cake, you will like a good cupcake. What’s more, they’re portable and you don’t even need a plate. If you don’t like too much icing, then don’t put so much on. It’s not rocket science. Though I find it genuinely baffling that those who declare a hyper-sensitivity to the buttercream on cupcakes will eat just as much of the stuff, if not more, when it’s in the middle and on top of a slice of sandwich cake.
Aren’t we bored of this sustained attack on cupcakes yet? Why the contempt? There’s really nothing here to get a wasp up your bum over. They’re just little cakes, folks, give them a break.
Chocolate and Salted Caramel Cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan)/350°F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tray with cupcake cases
For the cakes
50g dark chocolate
100ml whole milk
115g dark muscovado sugar
40g soft, unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
1 tsp. vanilla essence
110g plain flour
1 level tbsp. cocoa
1 tsp. bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
For the salted caramel
200g light muscovado sugar
1 tsp. vanilla essence
100ml double cream
1 tsp. salt
For the buttercream
125g soft, unsalted butter
250g icing sugar
Half of the cooled salted caramel (above)
Chocolate covered popping candy to decorate (optional)
To make the cakes, put the chocolate, milk and one-third of the sugar in a saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until the sugar has dissolved and the chocolate has melted. Leave to cool.
Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy and gradually whisk in the beaten egg and vanilla essence until fully combined. Tip over the cooled chocolate milk and sift over the dry ingredients. Whisk it all together until combined and divide the mixture between the cake cases. Bake for 20 minutes, or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
In the meantime, make the salted caramel. Simply bung all the ingredients in a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has melted. Increase the heat and let the mixture come to a rolling boil. Reduce to temperature again and leave to simmer for a minute. Taste for saltiness (careful, it’s hot!) and add more if you like. Leave to cool.
Once the cakes are out of the oven, stab them all over with a skewer and spread a spoonful of salted caramel on top. Leave the cakes to cool completely in their tin on top of a wire rack before turning out.
To make the buttercream, put the butter in a large bowl and sift over half of the icing sugar. Whisk together to combine and sift over the remaining half of the icing sugar. Whisk again until fully combined before adding half of the cold salted caramel. Whisk until pale and fluffy and taste, adding more salted caramel if you want.
Spoon the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pipe a swirl of buttercream on top of each cake. Flick over some more salted caramel and scatter over some chocolate coated popping candy.