What better way to pop my proverbial tutorial cherry than with a baking post!
So I know that cupcakes are a little passé, but no one ever turns them down when offered. They are a regular crowd pleaser and so darn easy to throw together.
To keep things simple I am going to divulge my very own vanilla sponge and vanilla buttercream recipes which have never failed me and can be adapted with flavours and different toppings, you name it, you can tart this basic sponge up! Then we will turn them into salted caramel and vanilla cupcakes with a bit of cheating.
We are going to make a dozen* so you will need the following ingredients:
For the sponge:
190g unsalted butter at room temperature
190g caster sugar
3 large eggs
190g self-raising flour
1tsp vanilla essence
For the icing:
100g unsalted butter at room temperature
250g icing sugar
1-2tsp vanilla essence
Salted caramel desert sauce (Tesco do an amazing one in their finest range – picture 13 if you scroll down)
Malteasers to decorate (picture 14 if you are unsure!)
You will also need 12 paper muffin cases
Now a quick note about your ingredients.
Please don’t use margarine. It’s not big, and it’s not clever and what’s more, the baking fairies will ensure your cakes never rise again. The only exception to this is if you are making dairy free cakes and then butter can be substituted – I would cautiously recommend ‘pure’ sunflower spread as the lesser of the evils.
Invest in your eggs – free range please preferably organic. Happy hens = happy eggs = happy cake.
Buy the best vanilla essence you can afford. A little goes a long way – I particularly like the paste versions, but remember to check the label to see if you need to increase or decrease your quantity based on strength.
Equipment you will need:
You definitely need a cupcake/muffin tin or you will really struggle to bake these little beauties.
You need the bare minimum of: scales to weigh ingredients, a couple of bowls, a fork, a teaspoon and a wooden spoon. Anything extra is a bonus!
Now, let’s get on with it.
1. Preheat your oven to 180 / 170 fan, approx gas mark 4.
2. Put butter and sugar in a bowl and cream the living daylights out of it. I recommend a mixer or any other device that can do this without expanding man power! You will know when to stop as the mixture will turn a pale yellow, the graininess of the sugar will go and it will be smooth with no lumps. (picture 2 – not beaten enough, picture 3 – just right)
3. Break your eggs into a separate jug / bowl (my mum always made me do them one by one but I will let you judge the risk of a bad egg yourself)! Beat your eggs please with a fork. One egg beaten is worth more than two unbeaten! (picture 4)
4. Add eggs and flour to the butter/sugar mixture and gently combine.
5. Add the vanilla essence and mix
6. Now the consistency you are trying to get to is a ‘soft dropping’ one. So you will need to add some milk. I have never measured how much, I’ve always just added a little and mixed then repeated till I got a nice mix. Hopefully the picture will help you. (picture 6 is of ingredients combined but no milk added picture 7 is milk added to correct consistency)
7. Carefully spoon into the cases in the tin. Try not to spill down the sides. Try to get an even amount in each case – a heaped dessert spoon is usually about right. (picture 8 & 9)
8. Time to bake! Put your cakes in the oven on a rack at the lowest level possible in the oven. This will mean they will bake evenly and not spring up like little volcanoes. (picture 10)
You need to bake them for 18-26 minutes depending on your oven.
They will be springy to the touch and golden when done. You can even stick a skewer in and check it comes out clean!
9. Once baked leave to cool, preferably on a wire rack.
Now let’s make the best vanilla buttercream in known existence.
1. Put butter, sugar and vanilla into a bowl/ mixer.
2. Add a splash, and I mean a splash of boiled cooled water ( basically whatever’s in the kettle).
3. Carefully begin to cream the ingredients together. Once they have pulled together you can beat, beat, beat the mixture hard!
4. When you think you have creamed the ingredients together – you need to beat them some more! (picture 12 – it should look like this! Smooth and pale)
There is nothing worse than grainy buttercream. Like the first steps of the sponge method, the mixture will go pale and creamy. Stick your finger in and try it. If you can taste the grain of the sugar then you need to add more elbow grease!!
Once you are satisfied with your icing and your cakes are cool you can begin to assemble them.
For ease there are no piping bags in sight, all you need is a spoon.
1. Take a blob of icing and add to the top of the cupcake. Smear it round with the top of the spoon whilst rotating the cake. Should look a bit like this:
2. Then add a small blob of salted caramel sauce and do a similar action with the back of the spoon. The effect you are trying to achieve is that of a caramel streak. Imperfect is good as long as they all look roughly the same.
3. Strategically place a Malteaser (or two).
Now stand back and admire your creation – you made those, they look amazing, smell divine and taste flippin’ awesome.
Go on – dig in.
*when I made these for this tutorial I made two dozen which is why my mixtures and quantities look bigger.