I'm sure I'm not alone when I say that I have an incredibly sweet tooth, but sometimes some chocolate just isn't going to cut it so I thought I would make some homemade cupcakes this week. The reason I thought of making them was because I had been chatting to some of our buyers at work and they happened to mention that there was going to be a Cake Crafting show as part of our US Craft Day tomorrow (Tuesday 21st February) at 7pm.
So, I called up my friends at The Cocoa Box, who I have known for years. As they teach hundreds of people to make cupcakes every week, and I used to teach classes for them, who better to get advice from on making the perfect sweet treat!
So, having borrowed some essential pieces of kit from the QVC buyers off I went to spend a very pleasant morning making the most delicious cupcakes and decorating them using an array of supplies from Wilton's (one of the best providers of cake making and decorating kit that I know of – I usually only ever use a Wilton 1M nozzle when I'm piping icing onto my cupcakes!).
So, where to start? Well we had to bake a batch or two of the cupcakes themselves. There are so many recipes for baking cupcakes, but the one I used is probably the simplest and the ones that my friends use when teaching. Here’s what you will need for this:
150g margarine (not butter – this is a little tip I learned as margarine means the cupcakes will stay flat as they rise rather than rise into a dome shape – this is ideal for cupcakes as you want to have plenty of room to add all your icing on top later!)
150g caster sugar
150g self raising flour
Vanilla (I never use vanilla essence as it’s synthetic, I recommend only using vanilla extract or some vanilla seeds from a vanilla pod)
Make sure you have everything at room temperature. So lay everything out well before you start and switch the oven on nice and early as you will want it to be pre-heated.
Cream margarine and sugar together. Take your time and be firm. It should look pale and fluffy. Do it for slightly longer than you normally would as this allows mixture to expand.
Sieve in a little bit of your flour. Crack in your eggs, do this slowly, a bit at a time and mix together, taking your time. Sieve in the remainder of the flour, and mix together slowly. You can gradually get faster as the mixture comes together. Finally add in your vanilla. Again, mix for longer than you would normally. So the mixture expands.
Line cupcake tray with cases. Spoon or pipe mixture into cases. When piping, I use a Wiltons disposable piping bag and nozzle. Be sure to pipe in a sort of Mr Whippy cone, so you add an extra little blob of mixture in the middle. This should even the cupcake out when cooking and help to avoid it sinking in the middle.
Fill the case just over half way. Cook for 12 minutes at around 150/160C if the oven isn’t hot enough. Turn the tray – as in take it out of the oven and turn it around then put it back in. This will ensure you don't burn the cupcakes as most ovens have hotspots. Cook for another 8 to 10 minutes.
Make sure they are a light golden brown on top and you can smell them (always a sign they are cooked when they smell 'done'). When your cupcakes are done, be sure to leave them to cool fully before moving on to the next step – decorating!
For decorating the cupcakes I used:
Wiltons Piping Bags
Wiltons Nozzle (1M)
Wiltons White Rolling Fondant
Wiltons Cutters – various shapes
Food colouring (to colour rolling fondant, or sugarpaste as I call it)
Sugarpaste board – which is non-stick, but you can easily use some greaseproof paper/cooking parchment for working on to make your decorations
The first thing to do though is to make the buttercream or butter frosting as some people like to call it. This for me is what makes a cupcake…well, a cupcake! Without it, it might be just an ordinary bun, but the butter frosting allows it to transcend the mediocre and become a thing of beauty! Here’s what you'll need to make yours:
250g unsalted butter (at room temperature – this is important)
250g icing sugar
10ml vanilla extract
Dash of food colouring (pink is great!)
Dash of milk/cream (optional)
Method: (If you have a Kitchen Aid Mixer it is going to be perfect for this but ideally you will use a food mixer that has 1000 watts of power to mix all the ingredients and then a piping bag and nozzle to apply.)
Place your butter and icing sugar into the mixer. Start the mix on a slow setting at first. Wait until the mixture has blended together and then add your vanilla extract. Keep mixing at the same speed for another minute or so.
Now add your colouring drops. Start by a couple of drops at first, and then add more if desired. When you’re happy with the colour of the mix turn up the power to three quarters capacity and leave for at least two to three minutes.
Now at this stage your mix should be ready. However, if you want to add extra milk or cream you can do so. This will add an extra smoothness to the cream and makes your mixture go that little bit further. Add milk/cream a little at a time (2-3 dollops) and turn the mixer onto full power for a couple of minutes.
Empty the contents of the mix into your piping bag. Piping bag should already have nozzle in place, to do this just snip the tip of the icing bag with a pair of scissors and drop your nozzle down into the bag. Once the mix is in the bag, twist the top of the bag nice and tight and your ready to pipe!
If you have never piped before whole the twisted top of the bag in either your right or left hand, depending on which is your dominant hand. You will be using only the hand at the top of the bag to squeeze, the other hand will be placed nearer the bottom of the piping bag but will only be used to direct the movement of the bag (no squeezing with this hand thank you!)
To create a raised cone of butter frosting that builds to a peak, start at the outside edge of the cupcake, squeezing continuously form the top of the bag as you move your nozzle around the outside edge of the cupcake. As you reach the point at which you started piping move inwards and continue around the cupcake as you did before. Repeat this in a continuous flowing circle inwards, raising your nozzle away from the cupcake as you go.
To create a flat, more flower-like icing, start in the centre of the cupcake, working in a continuous movement pipe in a circle outwards towards the edge of the cupcake. Do not raise the nozzle away from the cupcake but keep it the same distance from the cupcake all the way around. These should allow you to create two different looks for your piping.
The first thing to do is to break your sugarpaste (Wiltons Rolling Fondant) into manageable ball sizes and roll them in your hands to warm them up so they become pliable. Note: Only ever take out how much you are going to use, as sugarpaste hardens or becomes crusty when exposed to the air. I suggest wrapping remaining unused sugarpaste in clingfilm and storing in an airtight container.
Tip: Sometimes your sugarpaste can get stuck inside the cutter you are using so it is useful to have a tool like a toothpick or a chopstick to help you with this.
I used the Wiltons Heart Cutters set to create hearts of different sizes. I then used them in a variety of different ways. I placed a small heart on top of a larger one in contrasting sugar paste colour, I also just sprinkled some butterfrosting with the small hearts. I even placed four small hearts on top of a cupcake with fondant icing with all the points of the hearts facing each other. You could even use three of them to create a Shamrock effect for St. Patrick’s Day cakes or even four leaf clovers!
Use the Wiltons Flower Cutters again to cut out flower shapes of various sizes. With the smallerr ones I rolled very small balls of pink sugarpasted and placed them in the centre, to look a little like daisies. I also took a small one and placed it on top of a larger one, slightly offset so the petals were interwoven to look like a larger flower head.
Remember that sugarpaste will harden as you leave it in the air so I curled up the petals of a smaller flower and placed a little piece of pink sugarpaste in the centre, then placed the whole thing onto a flat, larger petal to create a sort of lotus blossom effect.
These can be a little bit tricky and take a little practice but trust me they are so worth it in the end. You'll need to roll 5 small balls of sugarpaste (about the size of a chickpea), all of even size. Flatten a ball with your thumb until it is flat and even thickness. (not too thin, it will become flimsy and over pliable) about the thickness of a 1 penny piece and slightly larger in diameter. Roll this flattened piece of sugarpaste until it curls up.
Take your next ball of sugarpaste and flatten (as above). When you have done this you will need to wrap it around the original piece. The first piece will have a join mark where it finished rolling, you will need to cover this with your second piece. Continue to do this until all 5 balls have been used.
I add an extra dimension to my sugarpaste roses by gently squeezing the edge of the petals between my thumb and forefinger to create a subtle point in the leaf giving the rose a look and feel of an antique rose. This is purely just an extra embellishment and not actually necessary to the creation of a sugarpaste rose, but I think it looks smart.
Ice Cream Cone
You will need to balls of sugar paste, each of a contrasting colour. I used white and pink but when I have made these before I used yellow (for the cone) and white (for the ice cream – with a couple of small red balls to add as cherries on top). Take the ball of sugarpaste you want to use for your cone and flatten it out (not so it is thin, keep it flat but thick), then using your fingers work it into a triangular shape. This is pretty much your cone. For the ice cream you can do one of two things – you can either roll 3 small balls of sugarpaste, flatten them out and place them on top of the cone like ice cream scoops or you can take one ball of sugarpaste and roll it in the palm of your hand until it is very long and thing and then just apply it, Mr. Whippy style as I have done.
There is really no end to the variety of decorations you can create for yourself with a few key cutter shapes and a little imagination! Enjoy your cupcakes – and if you do make any I would love to see your photos. Don't forget to tune in to the Cake Crafting at 7pm on US Craft Day!
Have fun – I know I did!