Lakeland spice cupcakes

Remember last year’s baker’s pilgrimage to King Arthur Flour in Vermont? The trip itself is but a distant memory now, but luckily my nearly $200 worth of purchases live on and get lots of use, especially my trusty KAF shopping bag.

Still, I’d love to go back and stock up again. More extracts, more specialty flours, that thistle shortbread mould I wanted but didn’t buy the first time around… Of course, I know another visit to Vermont isn’t going to happen for years, so it was a thrilling discovery to find a Lakeland shop in nearby Stratford-upon-Avon last weekend. Lakeland is the UK’s closest KAF equivalent. It’s a kitchenware shop, not just a baking one, but it boasts an immense range of baking equipment, ingredients and novelty items. Plus the shops are light, bright and well merchandised. And isn’t their branding cute?

After overdosing on Japanese food and Shakespearean history, my friend Helen and I had reserved half an hour for some special shop visits at the end of the day. While she headed to H&M, I headed to Lakeland. In very restrained fashion, I came out with nothing more than a cupcake piping set, disposable piping bags (awful for the environment but sooo handy) and some boring old parchment paper, which I needed anyway.

Back in Rugby, I decided to put my icing set to use immediately with my sort of cupcake recipe. (My sort of cupcake is the antithesis of the storebought cupcake, for those who missed the Great Calgary Cupcake Debacle of 2010). I wanted something autumnal, but with canned pumpkin being non-existent in this town, I defaulted to spice instead. These cupcakes are fabulous, if I do say so myself – moist, beautifully scented and very grown-up in flavour. The sour cream icing that accompanies them is a little bit like cream cheese frosting – it’s got a tang that cuts the sugar and balances the rich flavours in the cupcakes. Never mind that the frosting doesn’t actually pipe that well, given its soft consistency. They still looked and tasted great.

For serious spice lovers only!

Spice Cupcakes with Sour Cream Icing

This recipe easily doubles to make a two-layer cake. Bake the layers in two 9-inch round pans for 35 to 40 minutes. You will also need to double the icing recipe.

Makes 12 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups all purpose (plain) flour
1/4 cup walnuts or pecans, coarsely ground
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg or mace
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup tightly packed brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup semi skimmed or full fat milk
3 Tbsp sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C. Line a 12-cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, ground nuts, spices, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a glass measuring cup mix together the milk and sour cream. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a handheld mixer, cream the butter until soft. Add the brown sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Beat the eggs in one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. With the mixer on low, add the flour in three additions and the milk in two, starting and ending with the flour. Don’t overwork the batter – when the flour mixture is mostly incorporated turn off the mixer and finish mixing by hand, until everything is just incorporated.

Fill the muffin cups most of the way to the top, then bake them in the centre of the oven for about 20 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle of a cake comes out clean and the top springs back lightly when touched. Cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before turning out the cupcakes to cool completely. Ice the cupcakes once completely cool.

Sour Cream Icing

Makes enough for 12 cupcakes

1/3 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups icing sugar, sifted
1/4 cup sour cream
squeeze of fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/8 tsp pure almond extract (optional)

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a handheld mixer, beat together the butter with one cup of the icing sugar. This can create a big cloud of icing sugar dust, so I usually cover the bowl with a tea towel to contain it. Once the icing sugar is incorporated, add the second cup and beat to blend again. The mixture will be thick and clumpy.

Now add the sour cream, lemon juice, vanilla extract and almond extract (if using) and beat until the icing is smooth and spreadable.