I think I've mentioned before that J is an alien creature who often resembles a normal fellow but occasionally exposes his true color (green, naturally). One of his little oddities I discovered recently is a propensity to refer to cupcakes as "fairy cakes."
Though there's a little friendly debate about what constitutes a proper fairy cake in the comments over at Becks & Posh and Cupcakes Take the Cake, the Wikipedia lumps cupcakes and fairy cakes together on the same page.
When it comes down to it, the difference between a fairy cake and a cupcake actually seems to be geography.
I believe that J might insist that the true fairy cake — that is, the most correct example of the genre — is the one that's exactly to his taste: Simple. Petite. Spiced with an unexpected hit of ginger. Something to enjoy with his pot of afternoon tea, perhaps.
Lemon-Ginger Fairy Cakes (Makes about a dozen)
3 cups all-purpose or pastry flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup lemon zest (from about 3 lemons)
2 Tbsp crystallized ginger, chopped finely
3/4 cup lemon juice
3/4 cup buttermilk
1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease the cups of a muffin pan or line them with wrappers.
2. In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In a separate bowl, cream the butter with the sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy, then add the vanilla, lemon zest, ginger and the eggs, beating well.
4. Add about a quarter of the flour mixture into the butter mixture, blending well. Blend in about a quarter of the buttermilk, then continue alternating the flour mixture and buttermilk, incorporating everything until just blended.
5. Pour the batter into the muffin cups to about 2/3 of the way full. Bake cupcakes for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a toothpick poked in the center of one comes out clean.
6. Remove from oven and cool in the pan 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to finish cooling. Ice with simple cream cheese frosting (below) and share with people you like.
Across the pond, I think the cakes (fairy and otherwise) tend to have more conservative icing than the mountains of fluffy frosting you see on cakes hereabouts. If you've seen Nigella Lawson's pretty little tabletop-flat cakelets, you'll know what I mean.
But I just can't be satisfied with a thin icing. Truthfully, I'm devoted to cream cheese frosting. It's rich, smooth and tangy and it tastes good on everything from carrot cake to devil's food.
For a recipe like the one above, I add a bit of lemon zest, but I'd resist that urge for cakes of a chocolate persuasion.
Simple Cream Cheese Frosting (Makes enough to frost a 13" x 9" cake or about a dozen cupcakes.)
1 8oz package cream cheese, softened
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar (or more, to taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbsp lemon zest (optional)
In a mixing bowl, blend the butter and cream cheese. Slowly blend in the powdered sugar, beating until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Blend in the vanilla extract and lemon zest (if using).
Cheers to you and all the fairies in your life!