There comes a point, when you’ve absent-mindedly eaten half a bowl of raspberry flavoured buttercream icing while spooning it ungracefully into an icing bag and are starting to feel a touch queasy, where you start to question the rationality of embarking on cupcakes at all. Luckily cupcakes are pretty things and the sight of them makes you remember why.
Can you tell where I started getting ideas above my station?
I’ve spent the last two days prepping for and working at the Big Day Out music festival in Auckland and partway through all the madness it seemed like a brilliant idea to make cupcakes when I returned to Wellington. It was a fantastic, and I think successful day, but also very very long and draining, and I haven’t been feeling so well this week. For some reason my brain delivered me “cupcakes” as the comedown cure for all this. Who am I to argue with myself? It has been a long time since I’ve made any- the last time would have been when my flatmate was filming the intro to the Rising Star award for Handle The Jandal and needed my assistance.
I use a recipe of Nigella Lawson’s, and variations or repeats of it appear in every last one of her books. I often wonder about cupcakes, (especially given what I guess you could call their pop-culture status) whether they were invented by some entrepreneurial type who hooked their thumbs thoughtfully into their belt-loops, rocked back and forward and then said in an auspicious manner, “Team: today we sell sponge cakes. Tomorrow we’re going to make them one twelfth of the size but sell them for six times the price. Trust me. People will blog exclusively about them, replace their wedding cakes for them, and consume them in an influential manner on shows about sassy New York women in high heels.” I mean I wonder, but not enough to actually google the history of the cupcake in case my well-rounded theory gets shattered. I’m tired. Let me have this.
The making of these cupcakes meant I got to try out two of my Christmas presents – a jar of vanilla paste and an icing kit. The vanilla paste is summin’ else, its intensely vanilla fragrance rising up and curling round your head as soon as you open the jar lid. It’s a thick syrup, dark and gritty with vanilla seeds and smells so heavenly that I sincerely want to smear myself with it and run down the streets flinging it at people by the spoonful. Luckily for the good folk of Wellington, it’s too expensive for that kind of behaviour. The cupcakes were gratifyingly studded with vanilla seeds, almost as though someone had dropped iron filings into the batter (not entirely implausible, knowing how clumsy I am.) You can find some mighty tempting and elaborately iced cupcakes in shops, but these are a humble and relaxed version. And they’re not audaciously priced.
Spot the vanilla seeds!
From every single Nigella book in existence.
- 125g soft butter
- 125g sugar
- 125g self raising flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 Tablespoon milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract, optional
Set your oven to 200 C or 390 F and line a muffin tray with paper cases. Or in my case, use the very nifty silicone cupcake liners gifted by family members a year or two back. Put all the ingredients in the food processor and blitz till it’s looking good and batter-y; or do as I do and cream the butter and sugar, and once they’re light and airy beat in the eggs. Add the flour, the milk and the vanilla and beat together. Drop spoonfuls into the paper liners and bake for 15 – 20 minutes till golden and puffy. Allow to cool before icing however you like.
These are wonderfully buttery, tender, spongy little cakes, and the vanilla flavour really shone, through the simplicity of the ingredients. Topped with pink, raspberry flavoured icing they’re quite the delightful mouthful. They’re not exactly useful, but they do taste fantastic and I feel distinctly soothed and defrazzled now that I’ve made them, like someone has taken a GHD straightening iron to my life. That said, I’m still not 100% unsick. These cupcakes are more palliative than completely restorative in nature but it’s a start.
Title comes at you via: Morrissey’s song Such A Little Thing Makes Such A Big Difference, which you can find on his gem of a live album Beethoven Was Deaf. a typically cumbersome-of-title tune. Like the cupcakes, it’s been a while since I’ve quoted Morrissey and it’s so rainy and cold here in Wellington even though it’s supposed to be the middle of summer that it just felt right to put him in here.
On Shuffle while I type/sneeze
Downtime by locals Kidz In Space from their EP Episode 001: Chasing Hayley, who were seriously fantastic while occupying our stage at BDO. A head-nodder if ever I heard one.
Gershwin’s Stairway To Paradise as sung by Rufus Wainwright. Tim and I, (both feeling under the weather) were watching a Broadway documentary and it occurred to me that I hadn’t listened to any Gershwin in too, too long. A difficult choice but I think Stairway To Paradise is my favourite song of theirs. So optimistic…so beautiful.
Next time: well, hopefully I’ll not be feeling so seedy. I really don’t like being sick in the middle of summer (admittedly, the weather here in Wellington is hopeless) but unfortunately my immune system is unmoved by the stern telling off I’m giving it. I’m usually fairly robust so I’ll surely bounce back from whatever this creeping malaise is. I’ve also bought what’s probably the last of the season’s asparagus to make what Nigella calls Pasta Salad Primavera…which is making me feel perkier just typing it out.
11 thoughts on “such a little thing makes such a big difference”
Hope you are feelin' better soon and that the vanilla seeds help cure your “seedinesss”. Love the look of the cupcakes too.
Hope you feel better soon! I can't imagine anyone not feeling cheerier at the sight of your pink cupcakes 🙂
Howdy Laura! Been a wee while since I commented (wrist-slap!). How are you? I hope you are feeling less frazzled and everything post-BDO is calm. Cupcakes looked delightful!! So pink. Are you and Tim going to be about this weekend? I am planning on returning to Wellington for a visit (actually going on a date, with a late-20's English doctor!) and thought Roxy might be in order! Need to rejuvenate myself with hash browns. Text me xo
The cupcakes look delicious! Btw…I love the Rufus Wainwright version of “Stairway to Paradise”! 🙂
Mum: Cheers 🙂 me too…
Hannah: Thanks – and yeah, they are pretty uplifting to look at 😀
Scotty: Yay would be awesome. Tim starts at 11 on Saturday and 2 on Sunday so maybe Sunday would be better??
Chef Aimee: Thanks, and me too – one of my favourite versions of that song 🙂
Very cute cupcakes! I've seen vanilla paste in the shops but never splashed out on it, hehe.
The pasta salad primavera is delicious, but it has to be seasoned liberally (salt and pepper and chives!!!). I'm sure it will make you feel better.
Oh and btw, GLEE won the golden globe for best comedy/musical show. Did you watch? They all looked so lovely!
so lovely Laura! cupcakes are just fun to make and look at after aren't they? but i know that queasy feeling. i get it all the time since i over-stuff myself on sugar so much. poooo! still gotta love having a sweet-tooth, it's so much fun! x
Hope you're feeling better! those cupcakes are making me sooo hungry!
Sarah: I found it needed quite a bit of seasoning too. But sooo good. YAY for Glee at the Golden Globes! I was so happy for them 🙂
Diva: I swear my sweet tooth will be my undoing some day…but in the meantime, eh. Bring on the cupcakes!
It's a shame vanilla is so expensive – it would be so funny if you acted on your wish!
Hope you're feeling better soon.
Ah, your cupcakes are so pretty!