Cupcake heaven
Published:  13 August, 2010

Thirty cupcakes in 90 minutes that was the constitution-challenging mission we set our judges. Insulin injections were on hand in case they fell into a diabetic coma. While the pros struggled to contain the dizzying sugar rush, they trooped on gamely through the avalanche of cake, and British Baker's health insurance was not called upon.

British Baker launched National Cupcake Week last year to support the trade in capitalising on the fashion for cupcakes. The cupcake has done more than any other product of late to attract people into the baking profession. It is notable that all seven of the winners, one to inspire bakers on each day of National Cupcake Week including an Overall Champion, are recent start-ups, showing that there is a healthy grassroots of emerging talent.

Judging venue

Due to the high volume of entries this year, 30 giddily enthusiastic bakers were invited to attend the tasting session at the five-star Rafayel Hotel on the Left Bank in London itself home to cupcake boutique MyChelle's. Entrants had to be trading in cupcakes and the whole of Britain was represented, from Devon to Glasgow. But it wasn't all about start-ups Asda and craft bakery chain Coughlans submitted creditable entries that showed attractively-made cupcakes were not the reserve of the boutiques.

The event was ably judged by patissier Eric Lanlard, who recently fronted a Channel 4 series on desserts; British Baker Masterclass contributor Chris Bachmann of Bachmann's Patisserie in Thames Ditton; Ruth Stead, marketing and innovations controller at bakery ingredients specialist Renshaw; and former patissier Mike Wescomb of sponsor Chevler, the cupcake cases supplier. Picky sorts that they are, they were ultra-demanding with their criteria of what makes a perfect cupcake and didn't hold back when they thought recipes could be improved.

While all of the cupcakes were beautifully finished, a common gripe was that the toppings often contained too much sugar undoubtedly due to the American influence on recipes. But nobody could doubt the passion, creativity and effort that went into their exceptional finishing and presentation.

TV channel Food Network (Sky 262) filmed proceedings, so look out for coverage during National Cupcake Week, 13-19 September, including footage, no doubt, of some bilious-looking post-cake-binge judges.

l For cupcake recipes and information, visit: www.nationalcupcakeweek.co.uk or follow us @CupcakeWeek on Twitter


Monday: Chocolate Ginger Cupcake (vegan)

The Cupcake Theatre has hit the ground running, having been awarded a business start-up grant in May, and has devised a good way of getting customers to try new flavours in the gifts and special occasions market. "We gift mini-samples with orders to encourage customers to try something different. This has proved highly popular," says Lisa Harris. "As a ginger fanatic, this is my personal favourite. This little cupcake has won over those who really don't like ginger," she says of her winning cake, adding that customers are often astonished to find they are vegan. It is now in talks to supply high-end coffee shops.
Ingredients: Crystallised ginger is incorporated into a chocolate sponge, topped with ginger confiture and chocolate ganache, with a small swirl of whipped chocolate ginger frosting, finished with a piece of crystallised ginger and a chocolate curl.
Location: Bournemouth, Dorset
Web: www.thecupcaketheatre.co.uk
What the judges said:
Eric: "A great combination of the chocolate and the ginger. It was very rich, so difficult to eat a whole one! It used real chocolate and the ginger wasn't too overpowering."
Ruth: "It was nice and balanced with real warmth from the ginger. Really tasty and probably my favourite."
Chris: "There was a nice heat to it, but a gentle heat."


Tuesday: Tropical Explosion

Natalie Penzer and Rachel Brown run the community-focused Cupcake Garden, which has been trading since May. A self-confessed "cottage industry", its tropical cupcake was a world away from its rural base in Dorset. "The butter icing swirl resembles a tropical island with its combination of colours, and is flavoured with passion fruit arome. We wanted to provide a cupcake different from the norm!" says Penzer. Its cupcakes are packaged in their own individual plastic dome containers, which come with a packet of wildflower, vegetable or fruit seeds for recycling them into plant pots.
Ingredients: Apple, cherry and strawberry popping candy on the outside of the vanilla sponge, which has a mango coulis running through it.
Location: Beaminster, Dorset
Web: www.cupcakegarden.co.uk
What the judges said:
Chris: "This was surprising, because I really thought I wasn't going to like it. But the topping even though there was too much of it had a natural flavour and aroma. The whole thing was pleasant to eat and this one was in my top two."
Mike: "The passion fruit topping was very light and the injection made it nice and moist."
Eric: "It's interesting I thought it looked too artificial. But this changed when I bit into it."
Ruth: "It takes you straight to a beach in the Caribbean."


Wednesday: Ernest Hemingway

Sweet Tooth Cupcakery's effort is the cupcake version of the classic Floridian key lime pie. "It's inspired by a Mancunian hankering for some Floridian sun and a passion for surprise, sophistication and innovation," says baker Vicky Parker. Her business opened in 2008, having been inspired to create a Cupcakery/Milk Bar with friendly staff, for local residents and friends to enjoy. It now has two locations. All 100-plus of the company's cupcake flavours are named after famous people.
Ingredients: a cheesecake-style base with a ginger crumb, vanilla sponge, finished with a swirl of hand-whipped and hand-toasted meringue frosting and garnished with fresh lime zest. Within the sponge is a homemade zesty lime curd.
Location: Chorlton, Manchester
Web: http://sweettoothcupcakery.co.uk/chorlton
What the judges said:
Chris: "I like the fact they tried to be a bit different with the meringue topping. It was a bit light on the toasting it could have been more golden. This tasted gingery, which left an unwelcome taste at the end. But the concept is really nice and very adventurous."
Ruth: "It could have used a blend of shortcake or something clean, as well as the ginger."
Eric: "It just needs to be tweaked, but it's a great idea."


Thursday: Cosmopolitan

Since starting out just two years ago, The Butterfly Bakery has worked with brides, corporate clients and local residents. From the start of this year, it has introduced online ordering. "This Sex and the City-inspired cupcake is flirty and sassy and features a cranberry and orange-infused sponge with an orange liquor frosting and a zingy lime twist," says Stephanie Sippitt.
Ingredients: Cake flour, butter, caster sugar, eggs, cranberries (dried), orange zest, raising agent; topping butter, icing sugar, lime juice, Cointreau.
Location: Poole, Dorset
Web: www.butterflybakery.co.uk
What the judges said:
Eric: "The colour was a little too bright for me, but it wasn't too sweet. I wasn't too keen on the dried cranberries at the bottom. A jelly or a compote would have been better. But altogether it worked and it was a great idea."
Ruth: "I loved the bright pink, girly colour. The lime flavour came through particularly well."


Friday: Sweet & Wicked Mojito

Sweet & Wicked is a small artisan business that has been trading for eight months, selling at farmers' markets, delis and direct customer sales. Its USP lies in making filled dessert cupcakes, many inspired by cocktails, combining exotic flavours and textures. "Unlike many others, we use classical British cake methods, rather than American-style cupcakes," says baker Susan Angoy. Her Mojito-inspired cocktail was "a cupcake with the freshness and kick of a Mojito cocktail, inspired by my tropical origins, herb garden and love of Mojitos!"
It features a delicate lime, rum and mint sponge with a creamy mint, lime and verbena-infused filling, laced with Havana rum, topped with a swirl of mint and lime and rum buttercream frosting and a mint sprig, finished with the firm's signature butterfly and glitter.
Ingredients: butter, sugar, flour, eggs, fresh mint, lemon verbena, lime, milk, rum, vanilla, mascarpone, baking powder, food colour.
Location: Camden, London
Web: www.sweetandwickedcupcakes.co.uk
What the judges said:
Eric: "Mojito is my favourite cocktail. The look was too green, but the taste was very good."
Chris: "The topping was quite granular and it could have been smoother, and maybe a little lighter, but it was good."
Mike: "It's a grown-up taste, not too sweet."
Ruth: "I could have done with a real one on the side!"


Saturday: Banana & Mango

Inspired by "sunny days", David Bennett of the Sunshine Bakery won the overall crown for his Banana & Mango Cupcake. The ex-restaurant chef, converted to baker, is now running a local small bakery producing breads, cupcakes, patisserie, sandwiches, teas and coffees.
"We stand out because we only use natural ingredients and make everything from scratch using French gastronomic recipes," he says.
Ingredients: for the sponge he used toasted ground almonds, banana purée, mango purée, muscovado sugar; for the topping, mascarpone, caramelised banana purée, muscovado sugar and rum.
Location: Chapel Allerton, Leeds
Web: www.sunshinebakeryleeds.co.uk
What the judges said:
Eric: "This was the winner, straight away, for me. It was light, fresh, not too sweet compared to a lot of the other cupcakes we tasted. I thought it was a breath of fresh air an interesting combination using fresh produce."
Mike: "Tastes as good as it looks, with unusual ingredients."
Ruth: "It tasted refreshing and indulgent at the same time."
Chris: "It had a lovely balance and a nice acidity to complement the sweetness. You could eat it as a cupcake or a dessert."


Sunday: Sticky Toffee

The Little House of Cupcakes has been trading for over two years and its shop in Thornton, Dorset recently celebrated its first birthday. Its customers come from as far north as the Lake District and Manchester, but it has a loyal customer base of local people made up of all ages. "I have recently become addicted to sticky toffee pudding and that inspired me to give this traditional dessert a modern-day twist," says Katie Rawcliffe, baker of this simple cupcake made with a rich toffee sauce centre, decorated with duo buttercream and topped with homemade fudge.
Ingredients: butter, brown sugar, eggs, self-raising flour, bicarbonated soda, vanilla extract and a little milk. Toffee centre: butter, brown sugar and double cream; buttercream: half chocolate and half vanilla (butter, icing sugar, vanilla, chocolate, cocoa powder); homemade fudge to decorate.
Location: Thornton, Lancashire
Web: www.thelittlehouseofcupcakes.co.uk
What the judges said:
Mike: "Nice crumb texture, a good injection of toffee in the base and the fudge decoration was a pleasing extra. However, it may be too sweet for the adult palate."
Chris: "This made it in, mainly due to a nice caramelly flavour and it was well -presented."
Ruth: "A moist sponge with a good flavour it had a proper sticky toffee filling, which was a pleasant surprise, with excellent flavour delivery overall."




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