I’m giving out books as part of World Book Night tomorrow. (I have increasingly mixed feelings about this. More on that over the weekend.)
And I’m giving out cupcakes along with my books.
So, in honour of the incomparable pleasure that is Eating Cake While Reading A Good Book, I offer you my failsafe ‘Vanilla Variations’ cupcake recipe.
To make a dozen cupcakes you will need:
125g butter at room temperature
125g caster sugar (I use golden)
125g self-raising flour
A tablespoon of vanilla extract (not essence)
A glug or two of full fat milk
muffin cases (not cupcake cases. This matters: it gives you the optimum cake to icing ratio.)
Heat the oven to 160 degrees celsius or so. Beat together the butter and sugar until it’s really, really pale, or get a machine to do it for you. Add and egg and half the flour and beat it in slowly. Then the other egg and the other half of the flour, then the vanilla, then enough milk to make a soft dropping consistency – take a spoonful of the mixture, hold it sideways over the bowl, and if it falls off within 3 seconds that’s what you’ve got.
Divide the mixture between the cases and put them in the oven. Take a look at them after 15 minutes: they should be pale gold and spring back to the touch. If in doubt, give them another 5 minutes. Remove the tray from the oven and leave the cakes in there until they are cool.
Now, the topping. This is where the variations come in. Try any of the following. As a general rule, the longer you mix the toppings for, the better they’ll be.
Basic icing: 200g icing sugar and a little cold water. Vary this by replacing the water with lemon or orange juice, or adding a drop of rosewater. Golden caster sugar will give a hint of caramel.
Royal icing: start by whisking an egg white until it’s foamy then add 200g icing sugar. This gives you a crunchier icing when it sets. You can add any flavouring to this one, and try it with golden caster sugar too.
Traditional frosting: use 100g cream cheese (such as Philadelphia), 50g butter, 200g icing sugar and a glug of vanilla extract.
Add 2 tablespoons of good quality cocoa powder to any of the above.
Try mixing lemoncurd with thick greek yoghurt and putting a raspberry on top, but you’ll need to store these in the fridge and eat them quickly.
Beat 100g Nutella with 200g icing sugar.
Melt 200g good quality dark chocolate, 50g butter and 100g double cream. You’ll need to leave this to thicken before you use it and keep these in the fridge.
Once you have the icing and the cakes are cool, put the icing on and spread it around, and put something yummy on the top. Raspberries, chocolate buttons, sugar roses, dolly mixtures, flaked almonds (good with rose icing), those chocolates in the shape of seashells – they’re all good.
(You may also like to try my rosemary and orange cupcakes, or the frankly ridiculously good cinnamon and white chocolate ones.)