Easter Bunny Cupcakes
It seems that quite a few people have been trying out the kasutera/castella recipe recently, and running into problems. Castella is not an easy cake. So, since it's Easter, I thought I'd haul this out of the archives attic. These little Rich Tea Cupcakes are much easier to make, and while they have an entirely different texture they are really quite delicious. I hope you'll give them a try! The cupcakes are delicious unadorned, but the icing is dead easy, and the fondant is not too hard if you can get a hold of the glycerin. Alternatively you could start with readymade fondant, available from some specialized food stores, or use store bought Easter themed cake decorations. Originally published in March 2005, as part of the late lamented Is My Blog Burning food blog event; edited and updated.
One of the first attempts at baking that I remember tackling on my own was cupcakes iced with pale pastel icing. I had seen a picture of them in one of my mother's magazines, and they looked so elegant to me. The one thing I remember about those cupcakes is that they tasted peculiarly like uncooked egg - I think I hadn't whipped the eggs enough or something. But the whole process of making the icing, tinting it with food coloring that I had begged my mother to buy for me, and swirling it on the tops of those cakes, was quite fascinating.
This isn't quite an attempt to remake those cupcakes. For one thing I now know how not to make cakes that taste overly eggy. But I did want to make something pastel colored and kawaii (cute) -- and, since it's Easter time, pink and blue bunnies and pastel colored mini-eggs seemed like perfect embellishments.
I'm not a big fan of buttercream icing unless it's very chocolatey, but chocolate was out of the question since I wanted that pastel color scheme. So I've avoided this usual cupcake topping; instead I've used a much easier royal icing, which is just powdered or icing sugar mixed with lemon juice. It's appropriately shiny and translucent and adds a little tang to the whole experience. And it's dead easy to apply - just drizzle a spoonful or two on top of each cupcake. At this point you can just leave it as is, or use any kind of colorful decoration that strikes your fancy: the icing acts like a sort of glue for the embellishments too. I made some bunny heads and eggs with fondant, but this is a bit fiddly. In Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess has all kinds of ideas for decorations on top of the icing (she uses plain water for the icing though) such as little candies, a cherry, a knot of cream, and so on. Of course standard cake decorations such as sprinkles and other sugar ornaments work too. I was originally planning on using small chocolate eggs, but then I thought of the bunny theme - and the cake decorating sections of the supermarket are sadly lacking in bunny-themed items. Besides, I just love that pale, half-translucent quality of fondant. The soft, melt-in-your-mouth sugariness is a perfect match for the top of this cupcake too.
I'm calling the base cake recipe without the adornments Rich Tea Cupcake, since the original cake recipe is adapted from one for a tea cake. I'm not sure what exactly a "tea cake" is (a term seen often in British cookbooks) -- I presume it means it's good for serving with tea. (For the matter, I'm unsure about what a "coffee cake" is either, and how it differs from any other cake....) This is rich yet fairly simple to make, apart from the beating the eggs and sugar vigorously over hot water (or bain marie ) part. This step is common in a lot of European cake recipes, and makes for a cake crumb that is quite crumbly and delicious, with not a trace of raw-egginess about it. The cupcake sans icing is delicious just plain or with an apricot or red currant jam glaze on top. It's very mildly spiced with lemon peel, nutmeg and vanilla, and is not overly sweet. Yes, it has 4 egg yolks plus 4 whole eggs in it.
Recipe: Rich Tea Cupcakes
- 250g / 8 oz unsalted or salted butter (I used unsalted, since salted butter is not common here)
- 2 tsp finely grated lemon peel
- 1 tsp real vanilla extract
- 4 egg yolks from 'large' eggs
- 4 whole 'large' eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plain white flour)
- 2 Tbs cornstarch (cornflour)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- a pinch of salt if you used unsalted butter
- 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
Preheat the oven to 150°C / 350°F. Make ready the cupcake cups. Hint: if you stack 3 paper cupcake cups together, they are sturdy enough to hold their shape when you pour in the batter without needing muffin tins or something. Sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
Put the butter in a bowl and microwave it on low setting for a minute to soften it. You don't want to totally melt it but it should be easy to cream. Add the lemon peel and vanilla.
Heat up a pan of water to simmering point. In another bowl, beat together the egg yolks, eggs and sugar. Put the bowl over the water, and let it come to lukewarm temperature. Beat this mixture over the hot water vigorously (an electric hand mixer helps a lot, or you can think of it as good toning exercise for your arms) until it's about tripled in bulk and is a pale lemon yellow. When you lift your beater, the batter should form a thick ribbon.
Take off the heat and add the sifted together flour mixture slowly, Don't overbeat. Add the butter mixture bit by bit too until it's all incorporated.
Spoon or pipe the batter into the cupcake linings about 2/3rds full. (Hint: this goes a lot faster if you use a plastic bag as a "piping bag". Put the batter into a plastic zip bag, push the batter towards one corner, and holding the bag ready to go over a cupcake liner quickly cut off that corner with scissors - just a small hole does it! You'll fill the cupcakes up in no time.)
Bake in the preheated oven for about 15-25 minutes, depending on the size of the cupcakes, until a skewer inserted in the middle of one comes out clean. Let cool completely before applying the icing.
Recipe: Lemon Icing
This amount will be enough to cover 12-16 medium sized cupcakes, depending on how generous you are with the icing.
- 250g / 8 oz icing (powdered) sugar
- 2-3 Tbs lemon juice, strained of all pips and pulp
- additional water or lemon juice if necessary
Mix together the sugar and juice until it's quite runny. The amount of juice or water seems to vary on how humid the weather is. It should form a slightly runny paste, and drop slowly but easily off your spoon when it's ready to go. You can color it with food coloring if you like.
Drizzle with a spoon over the tops of the cupcakes.
Fondant is the stuff that covers those almost unreal-looking, smooth wedding cakes that you see in glossy magazines. It's also used to cover petit fours. It's not that hard to make, though a bit fiddly. The only special ingredient you need is liquid glycerine, which you can get at a pharmacy (drugstore). Be sure you get pure liquid glycerine, which is safe to eat, not something pre-formulated for cosmetic use! You can use this as a cake icing, or to make cake decorations as I have here, or even on their own as little 'fancies' or candies.
- 500g / 8 oz icing (powdered) sugar
- 50g / 2oz liquid glycerine
- 1 Tbs. egg white (approximately the egg white of one 'large' egg)
- Food coloring of your choice
Mix together the ingredients until all the liquid is incorporated. Knead for a few minutes until totally smooth. Don't worry if it's a bit sticky, but if it's too dry add a tiny bit more egg white. Let rest in a plastic bag for at least an hour or overnight in the refrigerator (this seems to make it a bit easier to handle).
To make the fondant decorations, take a small bit of the fondant and color with the food coloring. There are different kinds of coloring, but the key is to always add a tiny bit at a time. I prefer to use paste or powdered food coloring, which gives me more control than the liquid kind.
The bunny heads are made by making a small, thick sausage with a fat middle and tapering ends. Fold this over and pinch the middle to make the face. Pinch the ends to make the ears. Smooth out any cracks with your fingers. Prick out the eyes and mouth with a toothpick.
The eggs are rolled balls shaped a bit to resemble eggs.
Prepare these in advance and leave out to dry a bit. Apply to the cupcakes while the lemon icing is still wet.
Leftover fondant can be frozen; just defrost at room temperature - never defrost in the microwave! Knead well after it's defrosted until it's supple. Or, it will keep for a couple of days well wrapped in the refrigerator.