American-o-phile 4th July vanilla cupcakes

My friend Paul is special to me for a few reasons. He introduced me to torta dolcelatte cheese and red wine - from a recreational point of view I have never looked back. He introduced me to the Rolling Stones and as such, on a musical level I have never looked back. He introduced me to my husband and what can I say? I owe him one.

Paul is a bit of an American-o-phile. Now I know that's not a word, but you get what I mean. He loves San Francisco in particular. I think it suits his teachery, coffee drinking, sitting in a cafe, reading books and listening to cool new music ways. So I thought I'd make him some cupcakes to celebrate him moving into a lovely new home and also to celebrate that it's almost the 4th of July. American cupcakes for my friend Paul and his lady. Enjoy dudes! (The dude bit was my nod to American culture though I may have failed miserably and offended a nation.)

- 115g Stork margarine
- 115g caster sugar
- 115g self raising flour
- 2 large eggs
- 5mls vanilla extract
- 50g red white and blue sprinkles (or just a dot of blue and red food colouring)

And for the icing:
- 175g soft soft butter
- 350g icing sugar
- 5mls vanilla extract
- 50g red, white and blue spinkles
- 50g white chocolate mini stars

Oh you know the drill. I tend to make throw it all together cakes so, quite simply, do that. Preheat the oven to Gas 5, make sure two of the racks are placed towards the middle of the oven and line two cake tins with paper cases to total 14 - I leave the sides of my tins without cakes as that's where my oven hot spots are. Oh and you could use the big muffin cases but I didn't; I wanted something a little more dainty to counteract the stark primary colours. 

Next take the Stork, sugar, flour, eggs and extract and beat for about 4 minutes with a handheld mixer until the mixture has gone a little lighter in colour and looks fluffier than when you started. Then spoon 1 teaspoon into each of the cases, add a few of the sprinkles or dots of food colouring, then top with another teaspoon of cake mixture. Use your finger to swirl the top until it's flattish and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes or until the tops are golden and the peaks bounce back a little when pressed. Bigger cases = longer cooking, for obvious reasons.

In the meantime make the buttercream icing. I use my trusty Kenwood as it has a shield that stops that annoying spray of icing sugar that so often adorns my kitchen (and me) in a snowy fashion after I use the handheld mixer. Now I leave my butter out overnight to get that softer than soft texture but if you give it short blasts in the microwave that has the same effect. Just don't be an impatient fool like me, blast it at full power and end up with liquid butter. Not good. 

Okay - the buttercream. Put the butter, icing sugar and extract into the mixer and beat until it's light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides if escaping butter has managed to creep upwards. Then spoon into a piping bag with a star nozzle ready for icing. When the cakes are ready, remove them carefully from the tins and let cool in the paper cases on a wire rack. Once completely cool the best and most satisfying bit begins - the decoration. 

Now piping swirly icing is easy peasy but looks impressive so for anyone who has the equipment but hasn't had a go yet, do it. Twist the top of the icing bag and place one hand at this end, to squeeze as you go. Then use your other hand to hold the icing bag at the bottom gently and just start from the outside of each cake, piping slowly and keeping the icing bag upright. Always pipe slightly more over the edge of the case than you think you need to. I don't know why but I tend to pipe naturally towards the centre and I've heard others say the same. Then as you work towards the centre push a little more buttercream out than usual and press the nozzle down slightly to get a star point in the middle. To finish add sprinkles and stars and make sure you wear your cheer leading outfit to serve. Or at the very least your majorette one. 

NB: If this icing description isn't as clear as mud either watch a youtube clip or adorn your cupcakes with dollops of icing and smooth with a knife. It all tastes the same after all.

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