Never place a thin or doubtful icing on a cake. Do everything you can to thicken it before taking this step.
Cupcakes are the craft fad of the baking world.
Kath posted an exhaustive list of cupcake inspiration last year, and Alicia recently posted about this lovely new Chronicle book. Regular visitors to my flickr page might be mistaken in imagining my life to be one big round of parties, cute babies and cupcakes (with some knitting on the side.) Right now, when everything seems so hard, it’s good to remember that last year I celebrated four or five cupcake-worthy occasions.
The first was my friend Anne’s 40th birthday. The icing was a chocolate buttercream and the flowers were made from miniature marshmallows. Cutting them in half created a satisfyingly petal-like shape, and the petals lifted nicely when an M&M was pushed down in the center.
The red & white cupcakes were in honour of the South Melbourne Football Club, in the grand final for the first time since 1933. All were demolished by tense television spectators before making it to a serving plate. The red dot is a Jaffa, an iconic Australian confection, famous for being rolled down the aisles in picture theatres. (Why? I don’t know.)
The pink flowered cupcakes were for my sister’s wedding in November. We made over a hundred.
The Christmas cupcakes were made by my Mum with a buttercream icing. The leaves are cut pieces of candied angelica. A long debate was had during Christmas lunch over whether or not angelica is candied celery. Finally, in between courses, someone leapt up to consult the internet. Verdict: Angelica is a celery-like herb, commonly used in its candied form.
A note on the icing: the white icing on the Jaffa and wedding cupcakes is from the 1953 edition of The Joy of Cooking. I was desperate one day when I realized that my pack of icing sugar didn’t have a recipe for icing printed on it. I don’t think I’ve ever used this cookbook before (not having any urge to make aspic or stewed tripe) but this icing has made me a convert. The recipe for White Icing I (page 694) makes a wonderful glossy, marshmallow-like icing. It is the kind of icing you see in photo spreads in 1950’s magazines, with a housewife in a tightly-belted New Look-style dress, gesturing to a perfect bouffant of a cake. [This is the recipe that Julianne Moore’s character should have used in the birthday cake scene in Far From Heaven.] Like I said, I was desperate, and willing to take a punt despite the intimidating tone of the text. Irma S. Rombauer and her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker are, at least in the 1953 edition, very keen on rules. There is a Rule for Cup Cakes (page 660) and a Rule for White Icing (page 693.) The latter rule involves boiling the sugar syrup to an exact consistency, which should be reached at approximately 238ºF. This, I guess, is less intimidating if one owns a confectionery thermometer. I do not, so there were some anxious moments trying to guess whether or not the “sirup” [sic] was “threading” or not. Perhaps it’s just beginner’s luck, but I’ve had success three times in a row now. It’s an icing that actually tastes good, and doesn’t make you feel like you’ve just eaten a stick of butter. And if this isn't joy enough, Ginnie Hofmann's illustrations in this edition are so wonderful that they make me feel like I might turn my hand to making that aspic after all.