If there were a turf war between the oversized American cupcake and the humble British fairy cake the smaller species would have suffered the same fate as red squirrels at the hands of their grey cousins. A similar fortune has befallen the sugar sprinkled ring doughnut; now little more than a memory as the green and white Krispy Kreme stands have marched their sugary march through our station platforms and supermarket aisles.
Not that I’m complaining. I have been charmed by the enemy, defected and emerged as a staunch supporter of the opposition. Any fond childhood memories of fairy cakes at birthday parties and village fairs faded into the recesses of my mind when my teeth first sunk into an offering from the Hummingbird bakery.
Before this moment I wouldn’t have thought to complain about the paper cased treats I had greedily gobbled, but with hindsight they were not exactly gourmet. Sometimes they were show stoppers, topped with all manner of decorous sugary glazes, sprinkles, sparkles and spots. Yet often a solid chunk of slightly charred Victoria sponge cake lurked beneath, concealed by a dollop of hastily mixed butter icing, made with granulated sugar, leaving grains in your teeth. The lavish decorations and liberal doses of food colouring were I think an attempt to induce a sugar and colour rush precisely to disguise the sad little sponge beneath.
The Americans have nailed it though. Their supersize version is a light, airy, sweet sponge; the soft texture melting on your tongue like candyfloss, hardly requiring a chew. On top a gluttonously thick layer of fluffy smooth icing makes you wish for a bowl of the stuff and accompanying spoon.
Hummingbird and Magnolia bakery books have been on my shelves for months and each time I’ve flicked through their appetising pages something has stopped me from attempting to recreate these regal cakes. If I’m honest I didn’t think for a second that my own version would rival the heavenly heights of those in the bakery itself.
Amazingly though the Hummingbird vanilla cupcake recipe is without a doubt the easiest and most successful cake recipe I have ever tried (I’ve tried a lot). There is no beating, creaming or sifting; just a few blasts in the blender. And resisting all my instincts to change the method to something more traditional as I went along paid off because I bet the results would have passed a comparison test in the bakery’s window.
In fact it did make me wonder how publishing the book has affected their sales.
Better still the recipe works as a larger cake. Doubling the quantity, splitting it between three tins, filling them with homemade blackcurrant jam and topping with vanilla butter cream resulted in the most well received cake I've ever produced. Seriously, this triple layered beast of a cake seemed to have magic properties, is highly addictive and has already resulted in two job offers. Try it!
Hummingbird Vanilla Cupcakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 ½ tsp baking powder
40 g unsalted butter
½ tsp vanilla extract
250g icing sugar
80g unsalted butter
½ tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a muffin tray with 12 paper cases. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together then flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter until just combine and sandy in texture. With the mixer running add half of the milk and mix until just combined. Beat the egg, remaining milk and vanilla together and gradually pour into the mixer while it’s running and continue mixing until smooth. Pour or spoon into the paper cases and bake for about 20 minutes.
To make the buttercream sift the icing sugar into the mixer, add the butter and beat until smooth, scraping in any mixture from the sides of the bowl. Gradually add the milk and vanilla extract and continue beating until light and fluffy.
When the cakes are cool spoon the buttercream on top.