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
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions