I don’t usually like cupcakes much. I find them too fussy: too sickly sweet and over-the-top. Artificially coloured, overly-sweet icing piled on top of a dull sponge, topped with more artifice in the form of neon sugar shapes. I have had actual debates with friends about cupcakes, but in general I’m just not on board (sorry, Albert).
These are a bit different, though. The focus is on the delicate, subtly zesty Earl Grey sponge – the icing is there to complement. They’re not overly sweet, and are made entirely with natural flavours: no food colouring in sight. To me they’re much more beautiful than the usual cupcakes.
Ingredients (makes 15):
– 125ml milk
– 4 Earl Grey teabags
– 200g slightly salted butter, softened
– 250g caster sugar
– 3 large eggs
– zest of 1 lemon
– zest of 1 orange
– 250g self-raising flour
– ½ tsp baking powder
For the lemon mascarpone buttercream:
– 40g butter
– 250g icing sugar
– 125g mascarpone
– juice of ½ lemon
– zest of 1 lemon
1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk until it just starts to boil (watch it carefully!), then immediately take off the heat. Add the Earl Grey teabags and put the pan lid on, then set aside for 30 minutes. Remove the teabags – squeezing out as much liquid as you can – and set aside to cool.
2. Preheat your oven to 180°C, and place 15 cupcake cases across two muffin trays (if you only have one tray, don’t worry – just bake a batch at a time). In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until your arm aches. The mixture should be very pale, light and fluffy (if it isn’t, your arm doesn’t ache enough).
3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and stir in the lemon and orange zest. Gently fold in the flour and baking powder, mixing just until there are no streaks. Stir in the Earl Grey milk.
4. Fill each cupcake case 2/3 full, smooth the tops, then bake for 20-25 minutes, until just beginning to colour. A knife inserted into one of the cakes should come out clean. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
5. To make the buttercream, gradually beat the icing sugar into the butter until smooth (an electric whisk makes this job much easier). Whisk in the mascarpone until smooth and creamy, then add the lemon juice and whisk again.
6. Spoon the buttercream onto the cupcakes, then use the back of the spoon to smooth. Sprinkle over the lemon zest and serve.
Tip: When zesting your lemon for the decoration, drop the zest immediately into a jug of cold water – this will make it go super curly. Dry off with some kitchen towel before using as normal.