I know that it’s been a while. I slipped into my old habits of trying to do too much, while feeling convinced that I wasn’t doing enough, which – as was inevitable, I suppose – led to falling prey to the flu. It’s been a while since I felt like eating, much less cooking. BUT the only good thing about getting sick is that you feel SO good when you’re better. And so I emerge full of resolutions to not work so hard, to eat more fruit, to train more, to read more poetry. To play more and to draw, to sing and to dance, as soon as I can breathe properly again.
It’s been so long since I baked, that on Friday I was overcome with a nostalgic longing for that homespun satisfaction that comes from filling the house with a delicious aroma. So I turned into Super-Mom and whizzed up THE most divine cupcakes. Pillowy and delectable, more flavourful than sweet (although they are sweet, as cupcakes should be), and oh-so-pretty lapped with butter icing and coloured sprinkles. I got creative with the sprinkles and put a different combination on each cupcake so we get the exquisite anticipation of “oooo, which one should I choose?”. Even I like these, and I don’t much like sweet stuff.
After my daughter pronounced the day One of the Best Ever (it’s not often one comes home from school to these), I pulled a bottle of champagne out of the fridge, and convinced my wonderful neighbour to come over and help me drink it. As soon as the bottle was on its last drops, her husband showed up bearing a bottle of gin, and the party went on until the wee hours of the morning. Getting better is a LOT of fun.
Some other time I’ll tell you about the champagne cocktails that we ended up making. And about how creative we got with the bottle of gin. But today, let’s stick with fluffy wholesomeness and talk about cupcakes. These cupcakes. Moist, soft and difficult to put down, they lift spirits and smooth rough edges and add a bit more colour to the world. The original recipe comes from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, and since I can’t imagine an easier path to greatness and legend, I am grateful.
125g soft butter
125g self-raising flour
1-2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¼ cup milk
Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Bung everything into the food processor, and blitz.
Line a 12-cupcake tray with paper liners, divide the mixture among them…
and bake for 15-20 minutes.
Let cool completely before frosting. If you’re in a hurry (as in, you suddenly realise that the school bus is due in about 20 minutes), you can put the tray outside on the windowsill to accelerate the process (yay, winter!), or, if you absolutely have to, in the fridge.
Note: I make this in the food processor. It works, it’s fast and it leaves the KitchenAid bowl free for the icing, recipe to follow. You can make this with beaters, just beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy, then add the eggs, then the flour and salt. Leave out the extra baking powder. Then some milk, mix, dollop and bake.
The icing is also really easy, and the best butter icing I’ve ever had.
170g soft butter
1 ½ tbs heavy cream
1 ¼ vanilla extract
¼ tsp salt
170g icing sugar
Beat together the butter, cream, vanilla extract and salt for about 2 minutes. Add the icing sugar, and mix on low speed for about 4 minutes, until it no longer threatens to cover your kitchen in a fine layer of white dust.
Then increase the speed to medium, and beat. Lots. That’s the secret, beating for about 8-10 minutes. You’ll see the icing get fluffier and whiter and thicker. If you don’t have a KitchenAid, it’s almost worth getting one just for this icing.
Note: the original recipe, from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book, gives double this amount, which is apparently enough for a layer cake. I found that half (= the quantities given here) is just enough for 12 cupcakes.
Another note: you may think that vanilla cupcakes paired with vanilla icing is too much vanilla. To which I respond: are you mad? No such thing as too much vanilla.