Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Family harmony

We had guests for dinner last Saturday night. A few days beforehand, I was pondering what to make; Miss B and DP, knowing my ways in these matters, asked one night over dinner what Saturday’s menu would be. Both seemed particularly interested in dessert.

I, who have a seven-kilo box of crisp orchard apples awaiting my attention and an insatiable appetite for fruity desserts, was considering something appropriately autumnal. “I was thinking about an apple pie,” I mused.

The response to this was somewhat half-hearted. “Why, what do you guys think I should make?” I asked, hoping to generate some enthusiasm.

This time the response was immediate, loud, and unanimous. “CUPCAKES!” they shouted. “Make cupcakes again! With lots of frosting! Colored frosting!”

“Cupcakes?” I replied incredulously. “When we have people coming? I know you guys liked those cupcakes I made for Easter, but is that really something we should be giving company?”

“YES!” they bellowed.

What could I do? I bowed to familial pressure. And, after all, I’ve never met anyone, of any age, who doesn’t love a cupcake. Our guests were no exception.

Anytime Cupcakes
This recipe is based on the classic proportions of an English Victoria sponge—all you need to remember is 4/4/4/2 (using imperial measurements) for the usual four ingredients (although I’ve added a few extras) to produce exactly one standard 12-cup tray of cupcakes. For some reason, knowing this makes whipping up a batch of cupcakes seem like not so much of a big deal. The cupcakes will be on the short side, but since they’re really just a vehicle for frosting, I wouldn’t expect any complaints on that score.

4oz/100g all-purpose/plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
4oz/100g butter, softened
4oz/100g granulated/caster sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Fluffy buttercream frosting*
2oz/50g butter, softened
Pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla
8oz/200g confectioner’s/icing sugar
2-4 Tbsp milk
Food coloring (optional)

Line a cupcake pan. Preheat the oven to 350F/180C.

Mix the dry ingredients and set aside. Mix the milk and vanilla and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs, one at a time. Alternately mix in the dry and wet ingredients and beat just until combined.

Scrape cake mixture into cupcake papers and bake for 15-25 minutes, rotating the tray once halfway through.

To make the frosting: measure the first four ingredients into a large bowl and mix with a hand beater to combine. Add milk cautiously and continue beating until you have smooth, fluffy frosting.** Divide up the frosting into separate bowls if you want to dye more than one color, then color as desired.***

Frost cupcakes and serve. Watch whoever you serve them to revert to acting their shoe size.

* If you really want to go to town on the frosting, double all of the measurements and you’ll be able to put an inch-thick lid on each cupcake.
** The more liquid you put in, the runnier the frosting gets. Fluffy is good, especially if you want to pile it on.
*** This is a very minor extra step which delights people (the baker included) out of all proportion to the effort required.


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