Last Saturday, I woke up as excited as a child on Christmas morning. The day had finally arrived! After months of waiting, Helen and I were finally off to our cupcake decorating class at the Make Lounge. Our class was led by Janine Rose, who runs a bespoke cake business and was the sort of excellent teacher who made everything look easy.

The Make Lounge is a lovely place, where you find yourself believing that all manner of crafts are perfectly possible, if only you had access to the supplies conveniently offered in their shop, and a patient teacher. And maybe some sort of manual dexterity. After we and our classmates were ushered into the long, light workshop, our first task was learning how to quickly and easily make a piping bag from a piece of baking parchment. I was dangerously close to losing my enthusiasm straightaway, as I battled with my paper before finally, with a bit of help, ending up with something that might do the job.

Using these bags, we then practiced piping lettering with buttercream. I can sort of see how I might learn to do this in a more accomplished fashion if I had a never-ending supply of buttercream and a steadier hand, but my efforts mostly looked like a shaky old lady’s handwriting. I apologise in advance if you get a cake from me while I’m still learning.

The most exciting part of the class was decorating our cupcakes (we were given seven to customise and take home) with coloured, piped buttercream, as a base for further embellishment:

The first stage

We were let loose on a variety of paste colours, resulting in some outlandish colour combinations around the table. Once the buttercream was in place, it was time to really go to town with sprinkles, glitters, and dyed marzipan hearts, stars, and flowers. All restraint disappeared at this stage:

My favourite!

I can wholeheartedly recommend this class – it’s not cheap, but you’re given all the guidance, techniques, and tools you need to produce a box of cupcakes that you’ve decorated entirely by yourself. I splashed out a bit in the shop afterwards on heart- and star-shaped plunge cutters (those things are amazing), and am confident that I’ll be able to recreate something suitably lurid and sparkly at home now. I’ve never found making the cakes themselves as much of a challenge as making them look pretty, but I definitely feel like I’m a step closer.

I’m definitely more of a baker than a cake decorator (although fingers crossed that will all change after the cupcake decorating workshop I’m going to at The Make Lounge this Saturday), so I had to enlist some help when making moustache-themed cupcakes for this year’s Movember appeal. With the lovely Vicky to make stencils and provide inspiration (the name, which I’ve borrowed as the title of this post, was her particular stroke of genius), and Paul’s infinite patience and steady hand to cut out icing shapes, I was free to make some plain but hopefully tasty sponges and go a bit crazy with my new collection of food colouring pastes.

 

'Tachetastic

 

If you fancy making a donation to a very worthy and hirsute cause, all proceeds go to The Prostate Cancer Charity, and the cowboy in the picture below has a fundraising page at: http://uk.movember.com/mospace/26607/

If you’re wavering, just gaze in awe at my colleagues and their moustache-growing prowess:

 

 

One of the perks of knowing cakey people is the wonderful presents, like this one presented to me at my birthday party on Saturday by the lovely Helen from the Poppyseed Bakery (who I’m lucky enough to actually know):

l–r: apricot and almond flapjacks; millionaire's shortbread; personalised birthday cupcakes; brownies with white chocolate and raspberries; and chocolate tiffin

l–r: Apricot and almond flapjacks; millionaire's shortbread; personalised birthday cupcakes; brownies with white chocolate and raspberries; and chocolate tiffin

I got a lot of lovely presents for my birthday, but this really took the biscuit (you’ll have to allow me that one). The brownies, which were apparently inspired by the mention of some similar ones on this very blog, were the best I’ve ever had, and everything else was even more delicious for the unexpectedness of this perfect gift. Thanks, Helen!

Ah, Fridays: pretty much half-day closing for my work-brain over the summer. And what better way to spend the afternoon than indulging in a spot of tipsy baking? Two cake-obsessed women + one bottle of rosé prosecco = a bake-fest of extreme (and very gooey) proportions.

Armed with a copy of Leila Lindholm’s A Piece of Cake, we set to with gusto. We quickly settled on a plan: one batch of Leila’s classic cupcakes and one batch of raspberry ones, so we started off by making a double helping of her basic cupcake batter. In spite of the slightly unusual recipe – which called for melted butter to be mixed into the beaten eggs and sugar rather than creaming the butter and sugar together first – and several aching arms between us, we soon ended up with a successfully uncurdled batter. This was no thanks at all to the typo in the first line of the recipe, where the word ‘butter’ was substituted for ‘sugar’…

The next stage was to add fresh raspberries to half of the mixture, and bake both batches.

A lesson in why you shouldn't bake when you're tipsy

A lesson in why you shouldn't bake when you're tipsy

After a lot of messing around with temperatures, swapping the trays around in the oven, and generally being impatient (in our defence, they did take a lot longer than the specified 15 minutes), the cakes were ready.

Are they cool yet?

Are they cool yet?

We’d been horribly frustrated in our attempts to get cream cheese for the two icings – white chocolate and cream cheese for the plain cupcakes, and raspberry and cream cheese for the fruity ones – and ended up having to settle for the extra-light version. Not ideal, but they weren’t likely to last that long in any case.

Beautiful!

Beautiful!

 

They were pretty while they lasted…

They were pretty while they lasted…

 

An excellent afternoon's work

An excellent afternoon's work

 

Our willing tester prepares to take the first bite… impatience and a searingly hot kitchen made for runny icing.

Our willing tester prepares to take the first bite… Impatience and a searingly hot kitchen made for runny icing.

Even after last week’s giant cupcake extravaganza, I was monumentally excited to hear that a new cupcake shop would be opening in Covent Garden’s piazza this week. Yes, you can always make your own, but sometimes you need a quick fix of sugary, cakey perfection, and Ella’s Bakehouse can certainly help you out on that score.

At £2 a pop, these delicious morsels are just the right size, with a perfect icing-to-cake balance (take note, Peyton & Byrne. There shouldn’t be more icing than there is cake). We settled on a selection of three cupcakes between the two of us, purely in the interest of research, of course.

First up, the red velvet

First up, the red velvet

The red velvet cupcake was gorgeous, and tasted just as good as it looked, with smooth, sweet cream cheese icing and chocolatey red sponge.

My favourite was to follow, however: the peanut butter cupcake. I’m only really a fan of peanut butter when it’s offset by something sweet – chocolate, most often – and so the salty, nutty chunks worked a treat alongside the topping. The edible glitter was just the icing on the cake (forgive me that one).

Clockwise from left: red velvet; peanut butter; ginger with white chocolate icing

Clockwise from left: red velvet; peanut butter; ginger with white chocolate icing

The ginger cupcake with white chocolate icing was the least successful of the three. Although still perfectly cooked and textured, I would have liked some more ginger flavour; perhaps a few little chunks of crystallised ginger in the sponge for a bit of fiery zing. Still polished the whole thing off, of course. Is it wrong that I ate it for breakfast?

P.S. I went back for mini vanilla cupcakes with buttercream a few days later…

P.S. I went back for mini vanilla cupcakes with buttercream a few days later…