There was a time in London where vertiginous cupcakes were everywhere you looked. I would often see people walking through the city on the way to their offices, carrying boxes with sugar-hued icing swirls, ready to delight their colleagues. When there was nobody on hand to make them, companies could send boxes of them directly to your desk, decorated with everything from edible glitter to fondant handbags. The Hummingbird Bakery, arguably the pioneer of London’s cupcake fixation, became a household name and sold thousands of cookbooks. We were hooked.
It all makes perfect sense really, as the cupcake trend came at roughly the same time as the recession hit London. It was the perfect environment for small, affordable treats to take hold. Bakery windows across the city were filled with these brightly coloured treats, ready to lift us out of the gloom of the dire economic climate. As well as this, people were baking more, inspired by shows such as The Great British Bake Off. The cupcake seemed unstoppable.
Inspired by this wonder-product, many tried to supersede the cupcake with other baked goods. I remember the campaign to crown the whoopie pie as the new king of the shelves. The macaron was hailed as a classier alternative, and the craze for the cronut in New York sent many London bakeries into a spin trying to replicate it. After a few years of reigning supreme, the cupcake was knocked off its perch, but it never really went away.
This week is National Cupcake Week, which was started by industry magazine British Baker and is “designed to promote the popularity of cupcakes in order to help bakery businesses boost their sales.” As well as this, they aim to raise money for the charity Wellbeing of Women through encouraging the public to fundraise with bake sales. For the rest of us, it’s an excuse to bake and eat.
I volunteered to bake some cupcakes for the office this week in celebration of National Cupcake Week. These chocolate orange cupcakes were baked by Jo Wheatley on the second series of The Great British Bake Off. They are a soft chocolate sponge, brushed with an orange juice and granulated sugar soak whilst warm, and topped with a delicate orange buttercream. This recipe makes eight if you use normal-sized muffin cases, or will make 12 if you use the smaller cupcake cases. Don’t be shy with the orange sugar soak, it makes the cupcakes wonderfully moist.
Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
For the cakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g dark chocolate, melted
1 large egg
120ml whole milk
1 orange, juice only
3 tbsp granulated sugar
For the buttercream
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
2 tbsp whole milk
50g white chocolate, melted and cooled
Zest of 1 orange
Dark chocolate, for grating
Preheat the oven to 175ºc and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases or cupcake cases.
Place the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl. Rub in the butter until fully combined. In a jug, whisk together the eggs and milk, then stir into the dry ingredients. Mix in the melted chocolate.
Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling them two-thirds full, and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes. Mix together the orange juice and granulated sugar and, once the cakes have been removed from the oven, brush the mixture over them whilst still hot. Set aside to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Do not throw away the orange juice mixture.
To make the buttercream, beat together the butter and icing sugar in a bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer, until light and fluffy. Beat in the milk, white chocolate and orange zest.
Brush another layer of the orange juice soak over the cooled cakes, then pipe or spread the buttercream on top. Finish with some finely grated dark chocolate.