Wednesday, 12 January 2011

What's in a name- Fairy or Cup

Thanks to a character in Sex in the city, they're fashionable. There are even machines to help you make them in minutes. So what are they? According to Wikipedia, the ubiquitous cupcake traces its roots back to the 18th century - "The first mention of the cupcake can be traced as far back as 1796, when a recipe notation of “a cake to be baked in small cups” was written in “American Cookery” by Amelia Simms."

MWNN recently asked me how cupcakes differed from fairy cakes. I couldn't tell him but I know someone who can.

"They are very different,"
says Mich Turner, of the Little Venice Cake Company. "For a start, cupcakes tend to be much larger", and more importantly, in Mich's opinion, "they have the wrong icing: great wodges of lurid buttercream, rather than the traditional non-fat glace stuff." Talking to her, the cupcake, in all its garish permutations, suddenly seems faintly repulsive.

For me, the fairy cake is synonomous with children's tea and birthday parties. They're small sponge cakes, topped with light fondant icing and/or hundreds and thousands (sprinkles).  They do not, as some have suggested, have little cut pieces of cake arranged as 'wings' on top - that's butterfly cakes.

So, cup or fairy? I think it all comes down to age and fashion. No streetwise young person would admit to eating fairy cakes. Cupcakes are the IT confectionary of the decade, joining other American imports of the fast food industry and driven by marketing fuelled by American media imports on TV and film. How do I know this? My Italian neighbour bought both her daughters (21 and 18 ) cupcake-making machines for Christmas and the younger daughter came to borrow eggs at 11pm on Saturday night. I suspect she would not have done so if she had been making 'fairy cakes'.