Wednesday, April 22, 2009


I lived in London for a few years (I'm American) and while I was there, I have to admit - and my sincerest apologies to any Brits reading this - but I had pretty bad experiences whilst exposed to English baking. There was just something I didn't GET. From the Christmas puddings to the dense, dry cakes; I suspect I just didn't know where to find GOOD bakery because the local shop on the high street just wasn't it.

So when I started investigating these cupcakes and discovered the glaze-like icing more or less classified it as traditionally British and therefore a "fairycake", I got a little nervous. I did a little further investigation and found that "fairycakes" are kind of just what the British call cupcakes and there's no set recipe or characteristic to the cake itself. A weight was lifted. So I chose something light because, you know. Fairies. (C'mon; I was getting in the spirit!) I found a White Velvet Butter Cake recipe in Rose Levy-Beranbaum's Cake Bible and was intrigued by her endorsement as "the softest and most delicate of all butter cakes". Perfect!

Now, one characteristic that DOES seem a standard of fairycakes is baking the cake small and low enough so the runny icing can be caught by the cup sides and it makes this darling-looking cupcake. Well. I thought I filled them low enough but the damn cakes just rose and went all normal on me. Next time, I'll try half full or maybe even less than that!

I was pleasantly surprised with the cake, though. Rose wasn't lying; it's lovely and soft. AND despite it being soft, it worked; sometimes, when cupcakes are too soft, they're hard to handle or can't take the weight of even a basic buttercream or frosting. Because I was using such a light icing, the soft cake was perfect.

However, the icing didn't come out tasting as I expected. I'll chalk that up to inexperience. I used just powdered sugar and lemon juice, expecting the sugar to dull out the lemon. Yeah, that didn't happen. So instead of just being a sweet icing, it's lemon icing. But that's okay because the cake itself isn't too sweet and the two go well together (but lemony).

So, I have the powdered sugar sifted and the lemon juice waiting to put together for the icing when I realize I have no sprinkles. That was the whole point of these things - that you just sprinkle pretty sparklies on top and they sink into the thin icing while it's wet and it still looks adorable! And I have NONE. So. Plan B. I whipped out my white chocolate, melted it, added some coloring and started using toothpicks to put it in these tiny flower molds. I was surprised to see how cute they came out looking (especially since I had nothing else).

It's my birthday today so these are kind of perfect to post. Because they're pink and fun and wee!

Source: The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

4 1/2 large egg whites
1 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter (must be softened)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a medium bowl lightly combine the egg whites, 1/4 cup milk and vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and remaining 3/4 cup milk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Increase to medium speed (high speed if using a hand mixer) and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to aerate and develop the cake's structure. Scrape down the sides. Gradually add the egg mixture in 3 batches, beating for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Scrape down the sides.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pans and smooth surface with a spatula. The pans will be about 1/2 full. Bake cupcakes 15 to 18 minutes (or two 9-inch by 1 1/2-inch pans greased and bottoms lined with parchment then greased again for 25 to 35 minutes) or until a tester inserted near the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. (Cake will be light and will not brown even when done.) The cakes should start to shrink from the sides of the pan only after removal from the oven.

Let the cakes cool in the pans on racks for 10 minutes. For 9-inch pans, loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and invert onto greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert so that the tops are up and cool completely before wrapping airtight.

Sift powdered sugar to remove lumps. Mix with freshly squeezed lemon juice until icing is in a thick but runny enough consistency to slowly run over top of cupcakes.
Add small amount of coloring if desired.


Grace said...

no ma'am, there's nothing wrong with a little lemony icing, especially atop such a glorious cupcake! if your pictures are any indication, your creation is perfection itself.

Niki said...

Thanks, Grace!! Yes, the lemon's got a zing to it but there's so little of it, the cake itself helps to soften the taste. All in all, I like how they came out! :D