Saturday, 3 March 2012

Mary Berry's Vanilla Cupcakes

A good rule of thumb, as most people know, is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".  This has become increasingly apparent as  I've been on this journey of trying new recipes.  Most of what I've cooked has been pretty new to me.  Other recipes, however, are me seeking an even better alternative to my staple recipes.

For example, I adore Angela Nilssen's  Ultimate Chocolate Cake.  I recently tried Nigella's Chocolate Fudge Cake as an alternative.  I didn't like it, everyone at work politely ate it (probably fearing that if they dissed it, they'd never get cake again) and then I got the husband's brutal assessment of it.  I can't repeat what he said here, but he didn't like it.

Ladybird cupcakes
Not one to pull his punches, never ask him for an honest opinion on something if you're not fully prepared to hear the absolute worst.  In fact, we now have a new method of me garnering his opinion on something.  If he doesn't like it, he'll say so in his own inimitable style.  If he doesn't pass comment, then the item being assessed (food, clothes etc) ranks anywhere from passable to sublime in his opinion.

Anyway, I digress (as I always do).  There are some things that are new recipes to me where I've tried several different versions before settling on a recipe that I like.  There's the meatball odyssey - Rachel Allen's got a thumbs down; BBC Good Food Chipotle Meatballs are good; Waitrose met the husband's seal of approval and now I'm never allowed to cook him any others.  And the naan bread quest.  When Sainsburys stopped selling the Sharwoods Naan packet mix, I tried one from my 'Breads of the World' book ("old boot leather") before happening across THE BEST NAAN RECIPE EVER, courtesy of the lovely Dan Lepard (he followed me on Twitter today. Cue girly squealy excitement!)

Collapsed grass
But I'm getting the feeling that sometimes it's better to know when to stop.  Mary Berry's Hokey Pokey cake is not a patch on my own coffee cake recipe.  And I'm sorry, but the vanilla cupcake recipe just doesn't do it for me either.  Don't get me wrong, they're pleasant enough but I much prefer my trusty Hummingbird Bakery recipe.  It's so good, it's published in both the original Hummingbird Bakery book and Cake Days.

For me, the word cupcake signifies a light, supremely soft, melt on the tongue cake, topped with a tooth-rotting swirl of buttercream.  Whilst these cupcakes where spongy enough, they just reminded me of an overgrown fairy cake or a small version of a Victoria sponge.  I think the slightly crispy exterior coupled with a dense interior just didn't enrapture me enough.

That's not to say that the Hummingbird recipe is perfect.  It drives me to distraction that I can't stack them on top of each other in the freezer box without them becoming stuck together - for some reason there's always a slightly sticky residue on the top of the cakes.  But I've had so many genuine compliments on them and requests for the recipe that I doubt I'll try another recipe from elsewhere.

Couldn't bring myself to eat the little critter
I do also like that these are fling-it-all-in-the-bowl-and-mix cupcakes.  Great when you need to knock up some cupcakes quickly whilst trying to stop your toddler from cleaning the windows with a piece of left over cookie dough.  The Hummingbird recipe is far more involved with lots of beating and scraping and adding bits of this then mixing then adding some of that then mixing blah blah blah.  But that's probably the difference between the two - more care, more air.

My other gripe is that it only made nine cakes instead of 12.  With the Hummingbird recipe, I always manage 12-16 cakes.  Then again, in some ways I'm glad.  I was trying to do some 'get ahead baking' for Miss A's birthday but I would rather bake the Hummingbird cupcakes to share so these will be good ones to practice icing techniques on.

The buttercream I used for the grass was just some leftover, bog-standard two parts sugar to one part butter buttercream but it proved to be a little too soft for my new grass making icing nozzle.  I've been informed that mashed potato is a good substitue for practicing icing techniques however I'm not sure how the husband would take to spud-topped cupcakes!


  • 100g butter or margerine
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence.

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c/160c fan/Gas 4.  Line a muffin tin with paper cases.
  2. Mix all the ingredients together into a smooth, even batter.
  3. Divide the mixture between the cake cases, filling each one to about 2/3 full.
  4. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden and firm to the touch.
  5. Cool on a wire rack before icing.


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