Elephant Cupcakes

I’ve noticed that as I’ve become busier in other areas of my life, I’ve found less time and less inspiration to challenge my baking skills. I’ve tended to bake old favourites which I know are easy enough that there’s pretty much guaranteed success.

But I know that it’s good to occasionally push the boundaries and do something new, so when Cake Decorating Store offered to send me some surprise baking goodies with the challenge to whip something up with them, I said, ‘Challenge accepted!’

When the package arrived, I opened it and saw some cute jungle animal cookie cutters, an edible ink pen, and a packet of coloured fondant.

So many options, so many choices! I gave some thought to what I could do with the materials and remembered that L’s birthday was coming up. She loves elephants so I stole a bit of inspiration from the back of the cookie cutter package and decided to make some little blue elephants out of the fondant, and attach them to the top of cupcakes.

I’d never worked with fondant before so I read up on how to handle it, how to blend colours and how to roll it out. It turned out to be easier than I expected, though I found out the hard way that it can be quite brittle once it’s dry and crack if you’re not careful! I also learned that I needed to keep the fondant wrapped well when not using it, otherwise it will dry out and become difficult to work with.

While the toppers looked great, I’ve never really liked the taste of fondant so the cupcakes themselves were the real star for me. I made some lemon cupcakes with a vanilla buttercream icing and gently pressed the cupcakes toppers on the icing. I loved the zesty flavour of the lemon cupcakes, but most importantly, the birthday girl loved them too!

Lemon Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting and Elephant Cupcake Toppers

For the cupcakes
115g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
190g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
120ml milk
zest + fresh juice of two medium lemons

For the frosting
230g butter, softened
360g to 400g icing sugar
60ml milk
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt, to taste

For the toppers
About 200g white fondant
About 50g blue fondant (or you can increase the amount of white fondant and use blue gel food colouring instead)
Cornflour for dusting
Elephant cookie cutter
Edible ink pen

1. Make the cupcake toppers at least the night before you want to use them. To make the cupcake toppers, reserve some white fondant for your elephant ears. Start with a small amount of blue fondant and knead it together with the rest of the white fondant until it is all one colour. Keep adding more coloured fondant until the mixed fondant is the colour you want.

2. Using a rolling pin dusted with some cornflour, roll out the fondant on a cornflour dusted surface until it is about 5mm thick. Cut out the elephant shapes with the cookie cutter, and set aside to dry out. Use the remaining white fondant to make the ears (I just cut out circles and used my fingers to mould them into the shapes I want, but you can also use a teardrop cookie cutter if you have one). Use water to adhere the ears to the elephant shapes. Using the edible ink pen, draw an eye on each elephant. Set aside to dry overnight.

3. To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 160ºC. Prepare a 12-hole cupcake tin with liners. Using an electric beater, cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light in colour and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat until everything is combined. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. Set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in 3 additions, beating on low speed after each addition. Beat in the milk, lemon zest, and lemon juice on low speed until just combined – do not overmix.

5. Spoon batter evenly into the 12 cupcake liners. Bake for about 20 minutes, but start to check at 18 minutes to see if they are done. Test using a skewer to see if it comes out clean when inserted into the middle of a cupcake. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.

6. To make the frosting, beat softened butter with an electric beater until smooth and creamy. Add icing sugar, milk, vanilla extract, and salt with the mixer running. Increase the speed and beat until well combined. Check the consistency of the icing and add more icing sugar if it is too thin, or add more milk if it is too thick.

7. To assemble, ice your cooled cupcakes with a piping bag or spatula. Take one of your elephant cupcake toppers and press it gently onto the icing to make it stick. Store in an airtight container.

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