A touch of frosting: How Britain became smitten with American cupcakes

Mrs Beeton would be turning in her grave. Her sensible muffins, crumpets and tea cakes and loaves studded with dates and raisins have been staple bakery favourites since 1861, when her seminal Book of Household Management began teaching Britons how to live "economically, tastefully and well". A century and a half later, these pantry treats are being overlooked in favour of doorstop-sized cupcakes in lurid shades of pink, green and red, crowned with inch-thick smears of sugary frosting and sprinkled with chocolate vermicelli and enamel-cracking gold and silver dragees.

Cupcakes, it should be noted, are a different genre of sponge fancy to the fairy cakes we bake for children's parties. They are larger, and as much a grown up indulgence as a child's. The sponge is mixed with a combination of butter and oil or butter and milk. The "frostings" are whipped up from icing sugar and butter with milk or cream cheese, a superior, though equally sickly, concoction to the icing sugar and water mix stained with a few drops of artificial dye we pour over fairy cakes.

The search for something to sweeten dull winter days must have fuelled the rush for cupcakes, though the trend has been bubbling under for some years. This year Marks & Spencer, a trustworthy arbiter of national tastebuds, has caught on, and is bringing cupcakes down from their pretty glass stands in expensive cake shop windows and into high street stores. At the same stroke comes The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, from the chic Notting Hill bakery which kicked off the craze in Britain.

The cupcake hails from the US and is such big business over there that the so-called "cupcake wars" hit the headlines late last year, when Californian celebrity cake haunt Sprinkles started issuing trademark lawsuits against baking rivals.

The Hummingbird Bakery and others such as the Primrose Bakery, Peyton & Byrne, Candy Cakes and Outsider Tart are the result of Americans or Americanophiles chasing their cupcake-filled fantasies on these shores.

Tarek Malouf dreamt up his Hummingbird Bakery in 2002 after spending Thanksgiving in North Carolina devouring desserts. "At that point, cupcakes seemed to be unknown in London," he says. "As soon as the shop opened, a lot of high-profile customers began to write and speak about it. Tourists flock to Portobello Market and they were soon queuing up to try our cupcakes."

The book, out next week, features recipes for a variety of cake and dessert recipes; most are wildly indulgent, like the Brooklyn blackout and coconut meringue cakes, and Mississippi mud and key lime pies. The cupcakes come in every creed and colour from vanilla to peaches and cream, lavender, ginger and the cult red velvet, a knockout rich red sponge cake with white cream cheese frosting. The vanilla cakes with pink frosting sell best.

Malouf went to baking classes in New York to perfect his American baking techniques. The M&S team did the same, but have amended their recipes to suit British tastebuds, adding a dollop of filling to strawberry, raspberry, lemon and chocolate cupcakes, though the carrot is all sponge. "American cupcakes are very sweet and the fruit compote cuts through this," explains Alison Delicia. "We wanted people to be able to eat a whole cake!"

The official cupcake dimensions stand at one third frosting to two thirds sponge. Most shops now offer mini cupcakes which are a perfectly respectable size and will play less havoc with your waistline, but developing a cupcake habit will also weigh heavily on your bank balance. Hummingbird's kick off at £1.55 for a standard cake and Primrose Bakery's are £1.75. Outsider Tart, who provided cakes at London Fashion Week, go for £2.25, but the Venti Espresso and Lemon Rum creations do sound like the sort of cake worth making the effort for. Candy Cakes are £2.90.

M&S's range will launch in April with the easier to digest price of £2.99 for four. Waitrose have been selling cupcakes at their bakery counters since 2007. Individual cakes start at 79p but the pretty lemon & lavender, cherry & geranium, banana & toffee and chocolate & peppermint cakes are 99p each. Packs of four are £2.99.

If you're still not sure, maybe you will be tempted by the fact Victoria Beckham has been a cupcake devotee since Heidi Klum bought her a year's supply for her birthday last summer. I'm not suggesting you copy Mrs Beckham's style, but if a woman who normally survives on edamame beans, seaweed shakes and frozen berries can't say no to a cupcake, can you?

Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform