Why I'm making cupcakes for Easter
Every Easter weekend my baking plans seem to get left to the last minute, even when I know in advance what we’re supposed to be doing. So it gets to Saturday morning and I’m prowling the supermarket aisles looking for inspiration, and those Easter eggs that are more cardboard and plastic than chocolate just seem too depressing to give to anyone vaguely adult. It’s early springtime, and food needs a little joy and freshness to reflect the season, so cupcakes are the answer this year.
For last-minute baking that looks impressive in a flash, cupcakes have the advantage as they’re quick to make, bake and cool down for decorating. With larger cakes there’s hidden time that doesn’t get mentioned in recipes - whether it’s lining the cake tin or waiting for the cake to cool - all extra stress you don’t need when you’re busy. Cupcakes also suffer less from the physical dynamics of baking, as the small size and crust-to-crumb ratio means they’re much less likely to sink if the ingredient measurements are slightly out.
Decorating can be very easy and has the added bonus of helping to balance the flavour. Before icing a cupcake I like to taste it first and see if it needs something. If the spice hasn’t come through, or if the flavour is a little too plain, I’ll make the icing richer or flavour it strongly. You can use up small amounts of sprinkles or chocolate left in the cupboard so long as they're not stale or discoloured, as variations look good on a plate of cupcakes.
One challenge to watch for is dryness, as cupcakes can over-bake easily and suffer more from staling because of their size. Grated carrot and other root vegetables, apples and unripe pears help, as does dried fruit as the fructose it contains helps to attract moisture into the crumb. Another trick is to replace some of the butter in a recipe with full-fat cream cheese as this helps the crumb taste moist when you bite into it.
Any cake recipe you’re happy with can be used to make cupcakes by just reducing the baking time. I find that for muffin-sized cupcakes about 25 minutes at 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas 4 is a reliable starting point for the first tray, perhaps peeking in a few minutes before the timer finishes to check. Small fairy cake-sized cupcakes need much less time.
I've come up with some special cupcakes for Easter this year: a spelt carrot cupcake with cream cheese frosting, a mini-simnel cupcake and a spiced Easter “bun” cupcake made in a fraction of the time it takes to whip up a batch of the traditional yeast ones. So what are you baking this Easter?
Dan Lepard is a food writer for the Guardian and a baking expert.