I'm often asked how I come up with ideas for cakes and cupcakes. Their flavours, how I decorate them etc. Sometimes the idea starts off with a single element. Maybe a flavour. So if the beautiful plump raspberries caught my attention while at the grocery store, raspberries will stick in my head. Then I'll add another element to it, and another and another until I've come up with something like a vanilla bean cupcake filled with a raspberry curd and topped off with marshmallow frosting swirls. That's a fairly common creative path for me.
The other way I'm inspired might be a little more unusual. Well, I don't know, maybe this happens to many other bakers out there, but I haven't really investigated this issue so for now I'll assume my strange little brain is just slightly unique :P
Props. Plates. Serviettes. Cupcake wrappers. Cake decorations. Anything non-edible is often my biggest source of ideas.
Okay, let me explain.
I'll come across a packet of pink polka dot serviettes, and from there my brain will leap into action. Pink polka dots... Oh! Cake. With pink sprinkles. On a plain white cake stand. Maybe white frosting. Pink polka dot serviettes folded and waiting on a stack of white side plates. I'll imagine what the finished bake will look like once photographed, serviettes included. So the scene is set.
Next comes the flavours.
White frosting... Vanilla? White chocolate? White chocolate. Vanilla sponge. Pink raspberry curd filling, 'cause obviously there needs to be something pink in there. Well, not obviously, but it would be nice to tie in with the pink sprinkles. Et voilà! A white chocolate and raspberry cake all thanks to some pink polka dot serviettes.
I know, that's working a little bit backwards, but it's quite often how I do it. And it seems to be working for me, so I'll stick with it.
The caveat in this method is that I end up hoarding all sorts of things. It's like a to-do list, except it's a to-do cupboard, brimming with cupcake liners and sprinkles and whatever else. It tends to take up a lot of space, but I'm convinced I'll one day get to them all. So far, the collecting is far outweighing the doing.
That brings me to the inspiration for these somewhat "old school" cupcakes and the simple recipe for their frosting.
I had a set of Peter Rabbit and friends miniature books when I was younger. I loved the drawings, they were so sweet and whimsical. When I found a gorgeous set of cupcake wrappers and toppers with the same gorgeous Beatrix Potter characters, I just had to have them!
And then my brain started doing its thing. Swirls of Swiss meringue? Buttercream rose swirls? Then it veered in a different direction. Beatrix Potter = me as a kid. Me as a kid = simple cupcakes with very simple icing. Very simple icing = glacé icing. I won't step you through the whole brainstorming, but you get the idea. Of course, I wouldn't be me if I just slapped on some plain white icing, skewered them with their toothpick toppers and called it a day. Just because I wanted simple cupcakes didn't mean I wanted uninteresting cupcakes! And, if I do say so myself, I think I managed a good balance between simple yet pretty.
A little bit of food colouring and matching shiny drageés, oh, and of course, a bit of flavouring as well, and those simple cupcakes from childhood become "shabby chic" or "vintage" or whatever the trendy term is these days for things that are whimsical and old looking. Yes, I'm rolling my eyes a little, I'm not much of a trend buff!
Oh, and if you're wondering why I haven't posted the recipe for the actual cupcakes. Quite simply, I decided to go old school baking with them, and to be quite honest, they were nasty. I guess not all things from the past are good! Should have stuck with my favourite vanilla cupcake recipe instead. Next time!
As for the icing on my cupcakes, I decided to use milk instead of water as the milk makes the icing more opaque. Then I used strawberry essence for the pink icing and vanilla for the blue. For the green, I found an interesting green apple flavouring on the same site as the Peter Rabbit cupcake set so gave that a go. Very tasty! And for the yellow, I used water instead of milk and only half the amount because for the other half of the liquid needed, I used fresh lemon juice. Tangy!
One last thing, this is one of the rare occasions where I've used one of my collected goodies almost immediately and so I can actually pass on the details of where to get the very cute Meri Meri Beatrix Potter cupcake set, yay! Well, almost. They have another very similar Meri Meri Peter Rabbit set available as of me posting this recipe, but keep an eye out, they may bring the other ones back. Finally, one of my "to-do" items has been used! I actually need to get another box of them, my friend saw them and fell in love with them too, so she's asked for cupcakes as well. Anyway, they're over on CakeMart or their main site MeinCupcake but I've posted exact links at the end of this post.
Enough for 24 cupcakes. Halve the recipe to cover 12 cupcakes.
|250g||9oz||Icing Sugar, sifted|
|3-4 Tbsp||3-4 Tbsp||Milk or Water|
|¼-½ tsp||¼-½ tsp||Flavouring of choice (vanilla, almond, orange etc.)|
|Gel or Paste Colouring|
- Combine icing sugar with 3 Tbsp of the milk or water (milk gives you a more opaque glaze) and mix with a small whisk or fork until smooth
- Add your flavouring of choice. Start by adding a small amount tasting as you go along, adding more flavouring if needed, until you're happy with the flavour
- Add the remaining tablespoon of milk or water a small bit at a time until you've reached desired consistency
- Tip: If you've used a very liquid flavouring (lemon/orange juice), the consistency should be nearly right, but if using a strong extract (almond/vanilla etc.) then you'll add a bit more
- Tip: The consistency does depend on the look you're going for. Thinner leaves a thinner glaze that runs off the cupcake, very thick and you will need to spread it on the cupcake with a knife or spoon. In between is what I used for my cupcakes. So when spooned onto a cupcake, it very slowly spreads out by itself but comes to a stop before completely running right off.
- Add a small bit of gel or past colouring with a toothpick and mix in. Add more colour if needed until you're happy with the strength of the colour
- To ice your cupcakes, have them cooled and ready, then drop a slightly generous ½ Tbsp of icing onto the top of a cupcake. Tip the cupcake from side to side so that the top is mostly evenly coated, then set aside and leave icing to settle
- Repeat with remaining cupcakes
- If adding sprinkles, do so while icing is still wet and hasn't formed a crust
Meri Meri Cupcake Kits, loads of lovely vintage looking kits that you can use for old school cupcakes :)
You can make the glacé icing ahead of time, if using water, even up to a week ahead. Keep it refrigerated in an airtight container, and I like to put a piece of clingfilm right on the surface of the icing to make sure it doesn't form a crust.
If using fresh orange, lemon, lime juice or similar, start off with half the amount of water needed, add the juice, then add more water if needed.
I find almond extract goes a long way, so ¼-½ is more than enough in most cases. Vanilla can be stronger so ½-1 tsp.
Other flavour ideas: Coffee, various flavoured oils/extracts, brandy, cordials or fruit juice concentrates. Of course, some of these will be coloured so will colour the icing as well.