Bonne anniversaire à une vraie amie!
My friend Yvonne turned 20 a few days ago, and I decided to make some unicorn cupcakes in her honour (it’s a long story). I’ll admit that I was a bit stumped as to how to make a cupcake unicorn-themed, but after many hours of Pinterest research, I came across the instructions to make a unicorn out of fondant icing. Huzzah! Several hours and much food dye later, I had created a little unicorn cake topper (pictures below), and to complement my little sugary character, I came up with this cupcake recipe. With a light lemon flavour and swathes of melt-in-your-mouth buttercream frosting, these are quite possibly the best cupcakes I’ve ever had. The unicorn decorations are optional but highly recommended.
There are two tricks to making amazingly soft buttercream. Firstly, it is important to beat the butter with an electric mixer until it is pale and white before adding any other ingredients. The second trick is to double-sift the icing sugar. If the idea of double-sifting something makes you roll your eyes and sigh defeatedly, you’re not alone. I, too, despise the sifting process, but in order to get a velvety smooth buttercream it really is necessary. Trust me on this one. All your hard work will pay off when you’re greedily eating buttercream off the spatula.
Another pro tip regarding buttercream: as most gluten-free foodies are aware, not all gluten-free flours were created equal. Our flours come from a wide range of grains, and different flour blends contain different proportions of each flour. As a result, some flour blends have a slightly gritty texture, which often doesn’t sit well with people who are used to eating wheat flour. Personally, I’m so used to gluten-free flours now that I barely notice this phenomenon, but if I’m baking something for a group of people that includes gluten eaters, I’m always aware that they might not be used to this texture. One simple solution I’ve discovered is to add a decent dollop of icing (where appropriate) to whatever it is you’ve baked. A beautifully soft icing can offset the effect of a less-than-perfect flour blend, and its hard to find fault with something that’s as delicious as buttercream.
You can’t really taste the almonds in this recipe; I added them more for the effect they have on the crumb of the cake (I wrote more about the effect of ground nuts in baking in this post). However, if you need this recipe to be nut free, you can simply omit them from the batter.
Gluten Free Almond and Lemon Cupcakes (Unicorn Cakes)
makes 12 cupcakes
1.25 cups gluten-free self-raising flour
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup + 2tbsp milk
1/2 cup oil
1 egg, beaten
2-3 tsp grated lemon zest
1/4 cup finely ground almond meal
- Preheat oven to 160ºC and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases.
- Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir well. Add oil, egg and milk and stir to combine. If the mix is a little thick, add extra milk in drizzles until you have a thickly pourable batter.
- Spoon batter evenly into muffin cases, and bake for 30 minutes or until the bottom of the cupcakes sound hollow when tapped.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before icing.
100g butter, softened
1 cup icing sugar, double-sifted
red food colouring (optional)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using a hand-held electric mixer and a large mixing bowl), beat butter on low speed until it is smooth and almost white in colour.
- Add most of the icing sugar to the butter, reserving a few tablespoons. Beat on low until the sugar has been roughly incorporated, then beat on high for 3-4 minutes until the mixture is completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally to make sure all the sugar has been mixed in. Add the reserved icing sugar and repeat.
- Once all the icing sugar has been mixed in and the buttercream is completely smooth (i.e. you can’t feel any lumps of sugar in the icing when you taste it), add a drop or two of red food colouring (if using). Stir through with a spatula, then beat for a further 2 minutes, until the buttercream is uniform in colour.
- Spread or pipe buttercream onto each cake, and decorate with fondant unicorns and rainbows (this part is optional, but you know you want to).
Keeping time: keeps for 3 days in an airtight container in the fridge. The icing will harden in the fridge, so bring the cakes to room temperature before serving so that the icing can soften up.