While I love cake, and enjoy cooking, I wouldn’t say that I have any particular skills in cake-making.  So when I tried to think about what kind of cake to make for the first birthday picnic-party for our playgroup bubs (hooray!), I felt a bit at sea.  Worried about the risks of a saggy centre and undercooked batter in attempting a large cake for 20-odd parents (and their curious babes), I decided to try my hand at vanilla cupcakes.  And what fun this undertaking turned out to be!

There is an amazing amount of specialised experience about the cupcake that’s being recorded in the blogging world (here’s an example, and here’s another).  While there are so many enticing and imaginative cupcake creations out there, I was looking for something that a cupcake-novice could tackle, that had kid-friendly flavours, and that would be hardy enough to take to a picnic.  In the end, I settled for a Nigella Lawson recipe (from my recently acquired Feast), quite simply because it didn’t begin with the dreaded instruction to ” beat butter and sugar together until pale and creamy”.  I have little enough patience to soften the butter to room temperature, let alone to cream the butter till it has lost all its yellowness and the sugar has dissolved.  These here are food processor cupcakes, a breeze to make, and delicious. ( If you don’t have a food processor, I’m sure you could use the conventional method too, using an electric mixer.)

There was also the contentious issue of icing (the presence of which is undisputably essential atop a cupcake, in my humble view).  But should it be buttercream? Royal icing? Ready-made, ready-to-roll? Fondant? I even flirted with the idea of trying to recreate the gorgeously decadent frosting from the Magnolia cupcakes, but then just couldn’t bring myself to do it when I saw just how much icing sugar was involved.   I’ll just have to treat myself to one next time I’m on Bleecker St.  Instead I opted for a cream cheese frosting style – which uses 1 part butter to 2 parts cream cheese – and considerably less sugar.  Along with these (marginal) health advantages, my mother-in-law also pointed out that this type of frosting is likely to be more stable and transportable than a pure buttercream frosting, as butter can spoil much more easily in the heat, while cream cheese frosting can hold its shape and texture a bit better.  Perfect for a picnic!

Curious?  I recommend these cupcakes heartily.  Enjoyed by big and little people, and fun to make.  A brief word on quantities: I was aiming for at least 30 cupcakes, so I tripled the cupcake recipe to make 3 dozen.  Amazingly, a single quantity of the frosting was plenty to frost this number of cupcakes.  So for simplicity, the recipes below are in their original scale, despite a mismatch in yield.  Scale up or down as you need.  Here are the recipes without further ado.

Nigella’s Food Processor Cupcakes
aka ‘love buns’, from Feast

This recipe makes 12 cupcakes.  Leave out the butter and eggs for a decent stint beforehand, to get to room temperature.  You want to be able to poke your finger in the butter with ease.

125g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
2 eggs
125g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp vanilla
3 tbsp milk

Preheat the oven to 200C, and line a 12-hole muffin tin with patty cases.

Put all the ingredients except the milk into the food processor, and blend till smooth.  Add in the milk and pulse, to make a batter with a smooth dropping consistency.

Divide the mixture between the cases, and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are lightly golden and a little risen.  Let them cool in the tin for a few minutes, then cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Top with cream cheese icing and decorations* of choice.

Cream Cheese Icing (Vanilla and Chocolate)

This recipe ices 36 cupcakes.  See the cupcake recipe headnote about softening the butter: the same applies here to the butter and cream cheese.

125g unsalted butter
250g cream cheese (I used a low-fat version)
1 tsp vanilla
4 cups icing sugar, well sifted

Beat the butter, cream cheese and vanilla with an electric mixer for 3 minutes.  Gradually add icing sugar and beat until incorporated.

If you want to make half the icing chocolate-flavoured, divide the icing into 2 bowls, and into one of them add 1/2 a cup of well sifted cocoa powder, beating well again.

Refridgerate the icing for at least an hour before using.

* A special thanks to my mother-in-law is due here, as she gave me lots of ideas for cupcake decoration during her recent visit.  And it probably should also be said that these cupcakes simply would not have happened without her so ably looking after my bub during the baking.   Thank you!