National Cupcake Week: The history of the cupcake and a simple recipe

National Cupcake Week: The history of the cupcake and a simple recipe
Yes, I will eat that (Picture:  Michael Gottschalk/Photothek/Getty)

This week is National Cupcake week so rejoice and visit your local cupcakery – or get out the flour and bake some yourself.

There will be plenty of opportunity to eat your way through every flavour of cupcake imaginable, but maybe you can do more than just eat them and go through the process of lovingly baking some fairy cakes yourself.

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Cupcakes are also known as fairy cakes, queen cakes, buns, or patty cakes and the first mention of a type of cupcake was in 1796 when a recipe for a ‘light cake to bake in small cups’ was written in American Cookery by Amelia Simmons.

National Cupcake Week: The history of the cupcake and a simple recipe
Although these historical cupcake recipes sound less than exciting you should try your hand at creating your own cupcakes this week (Picture: Getty)

The recipe said: ‘Half a pound sugar, half a pound butter, rubbed into two pounds flour,
one glass wine, one do rose water, two do. emptins, a nutmeg, cinnamon
and currants.’

The light and airy delights where first called cupcakes in 1828 by Eliza Leslie’s cookbook, which detailed a recipe of ‘five eggs; two large tea-cups full of molasses (treacle); the same of brown sugar, rolled fine; the same of fresh butter; one cup of rich milk, five cups of flour sifted, half a cup of powdered allspice and cloves; half a cup of ginger.’

Eliza Leslie’s method was to warm the butter in the milk, then warm the molasses and stir the sugar in gradually, then let it cool.

Beat the eggs very light and stir them into the cooled mixture with flour; then add the ginger and other spices and vigorously stir.

The recipe then chronicled the formation of the cupcakes by instructing to ‘butter small tins, nearly fill them with the mixture, and bake the cakes in a moderate oven.’

At this time in history, there were no cupcake or muffin baking tins widely available and so people baked the cupcakes in individual ramekins, molds or pottery cups.

As the use of the name progressed, it stood to mean any cake that was the size of a teacup.

A standard cupcake recipe is made up of butter, sugar, eggs and flour, which is the same as a basic cake recipe.

Since cupcakes are in small individual sections of the baking tin they cook much faster, taking about 10 to 15 minutes in a 180 C oven.

Nowadays, cupcakes can be masqueraded in a variety of ways with some ingenious icing techniques.

When cupcakes first came into popular use in the 19th century the same ingredients weren’t widely available to make innovative designs atop a humble fairy cake.

Sugar was an expensive ingredient in short supply compared to the present day, so people couldn’t be as inventive as putting mermaid tails, unicorns and emojis on top of their creations.

In recent years cupcakes have become incredibly fashionable in the food industry with whole bakeries opening up that only make cupcakes.

Here is a simple cupcake recipe to get your baking started:

You will need: 

  • 250g (8oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g (8oz) caster sugar
  • 250g (8oz) self-raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 4 tablespoons milk
  • 2 Cupcake tins, lined with cupcake cases.

What you need to do:

Preheat your oven to 190 C, gas 5.

Take the softened butter and beat until creamy.

Add the sugar, flour, salt, eggs, and milk and whisk until the mixture is smooth.

Spoon an even amount of cupcake mixture into each paper case, filling the case two-thirds of the way.

Bake the cupcakes in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, then swap the trays and bake for further 3- 7 minutes.

Remove from oven when the cupcakes are a light golden colour.

Leave the cupcakes to cool in the tins for a few minutes before safely removing from the tin to a wire rack.

You can then ice the cupcakes as you desire.

Some icing ideas:

Whip up some cream, add a spoon of Nutella and whip again once to combine -Voila: Chocolate hazelnut icing.

Make a buttercream icing by beating 140g (5oz) the butter in a large bowl until soft then add 140g (5oz) of icing sugar and beat until smooth. Then add another 140 g (5oz) of icing sugar with one tablespoon of milk and beat until creamy and smooth. You can add a dab of food colouring to the mixture for some colourful icing.

You could put some delicious chocolate ganache atop your buns by heating 235ml of double cream until it comes to the boil, then pour it over 250g of chocolate and whisk until combined. Allow cooling before using it on top of your cupcakes. If you want it to be fluffy wait until it has cooled slightly and whip it again.

MORE: 20 decadent cupcakes to celebrate National Cupcake Day

MORE: 20 decadent cupcakes to celebrate National Cupcake Day

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