I've never fallen more in love with a city at first sight than when I touched down in London. It's been a long time since I visited, but I still cackle with delight when I come across my favorite UK goodies in specialty stores (Cadbury Snaps, anyone?). In all honesty, my time in England fell right in that "I'm much more interested in drinking than eating" phase of life, and really, there's not a better place to be in the world when you're in that phase. As a result, there wasn't much fine dining or bakery visiting done during my stay. But I did recently remember a certain British cake that I thought would be perfect to recreate for this blog.
Fairy cakes are Britain's answer to America's huge, hyper, cloyingly sweet cupcakes. They are traditionally smaller, slightly denser cakes topped with a modest layer of thick, sweet-tart fondant icing, which is often made simply by blending confectioner's sugar (icing sugar, as the Brits call it) with citrus juice, traditionally lemon. These cakes are so easy to make, I dare you to not run off to the kitchen upon reading this post.
Just the thing for your afternoon coffee break (or tea, if we're going to keep it real), fairy cakes are the ultimate pick-me-up--a simple confection that is adorable to look at: the pastel fondant icing lies pretty and polished on each cake, creating a perfect platform for a precisely placed dragee or candy flower.
For the Cakes:
4 1/2 ounces unsalted butter, softened
4 1/2 ounces superfine sugar (I take granulated for a quick spin in my clean coffee grinder)
2 eggs, at room temperature
4 1/2 ounces self-rising flour
1 teaspoon good vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and set the rack to the middle position. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or generously butter the tin.
Begin by creaming the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition, then add the vanilla, beating to combine.
Sift in half of the flour and fold to combine. Add the milk and the rest of the flour, and stir until fully incorporated.
Divide the batter equally into the muffin tins, and bake until the cakes are golden on top and puffed, about 12 minutes. Let the cakes cool in the tins on a rack for ten minutes, then remove the cakes from the tins and cool completely before icing.
For the Icing:
4 ounces powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon or orange juice
Edible baubles for decorating (dragees, candied or sugar flowers, etc.)
In a small bowl, beat the sugar and the fruit juice, a little at a time, until a thick fondant forms. It should be a thick paste with a bit of shine, not a drizzling glaze. Add a bit of food coloring at this point, pastels are best to keep this treat traditional.
Drop a dollop of the icing on each cake, and give it a minute to spread to the cakes' edges. For a more finished look, you can smooth the icing on the cakes with a knife dipped in hot water. Top each cake with some kind of cutesy edible bauble. The flavor of the icing improves even further as it sets.