This photo taken by Mitsu before all the entries were displayed shows just how many cupcakes there were:
Thirty four entries meant there was a lot of tasting to be done...luckily, we don't shirk from a challenge...we simply grab a fork and get stuck in:
What a tour of the world the cupcakes took us on; from Japanese green tea to Moroccan spices, there were cupcakes representing 19 real countries and one fictional (Oz!). The night was also educational – before cupcakes showed us the way who knew that Ghana’s main export was cocoa? Or how to write “vinegar” in Chinese? I can see an ICL ‘big book of facts’ materialising before long…..
After a mammoth tasting session (by which I mean there were a lot of entries to taste…no one actually submitted mammoth flavour cupcakes…maybe if we ever have an “Ice Age” theme?) that teased and tantalised the taste buds the votes were tallied and the top three on the night were declared…drum roll please:
Winner – June’s Japanese Matcha and chocolate cupcakes with Matcha cream cheese frosting
These cupcakes were stunning – to describe them fully they were matcha and chocolate cupcakes filled with a bean paste mousse topped off with matcha cream cheese frosting. Up until tasting all the Japanese themed cupcakes entered, I would have said that I didn’t like green tea…but the ICL bakers changed my mind. The flavour was delicate and perfectly matched the soft, spongy cupcake. June’s very simple presentation mirrored her Japanese theme and the little pink flower was the perfect topper.
Here's June looking (rightfully) very happy to be declared the winner:
Second place – Marisa’s Swiss truffle cupcakes
Topping a rich, gooey, delicious chocolate themed cupcake with a whole Swiss truffle is never going to hurt your chances where I’m concerned and the voting public agreed! This was the sort of cupcake that you bite into then just have to go “Yummmmm” in a very satisfied way! Marisa even made the cute little Swiss flag. Sometimes an intense hit of chocolate makes everything right…these should be available over the counter at Boots!
Here's Marisa being awarded her runner's up prize:
Third place – Eloise’s German black forest cupcakes
Eloise almost managed to be the first person to successfully defend the ICL title – close, but not quite! These were a triumph of contrasts – the sweet cherry cutting through the rich chocolate all topped off with a lovely whipped topping. Intense and delicious.
So, that was our top three as voted for by all attendees on the night. Here are the rest…there really is something for everyone so have a drool..I mean read… and see which three you’d have voted for!
Emma’s French chocolate and fleur de sel salted caramel cupcakes
I’m a recent convert to salted caramel and love the way the flavours tease the palate and come through at different times. Emma got the salting just right – first you got the rich chocolate and your mouth felt sweet and sticky, then the salt cut through it all but still retaining some sweetness. All this was offset with thick frosting – having sampled four of her entries now, I can categorically declare that Emma makes awesome frosting!
Claire’s Canadian Maple and pecan cupcakes
A classic combination that never disappoints this was packed with flavour. The so-whipped-it-was-frothy frosting was divine and worked beautifully with the cupcake. Sometimes, when you use viscous ingredients such as maple syrup the result can be sticky or heavy – not here! The pecans on top provided some texture and we all fought to get them!
Elaine’s South African Koeksisters cupcake
If you’re wondering what a koeksister is it’s a small fried syrup coated doughnut – these were dipped in ginger sauce and cinnamon. Have you noticed the plaited design Elaine worked into it? These cupcakes combined pretty much all my favourite things into one – there was the cinnamon and ginger cupcake topped with Swiss meringue buttercream (like velvet!) topped off with the magnificent koeksister. We all gasped when Elaine started plating these up!
Elaine’s South African Rooibos and chocolate cupcakes
Elaine did South Africa proud at ICL! Rooibos is red bush tea (as favoured by Ma Ramotswe in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency). The rooibos and chocolate cupcake was topped with a rooibos Swiss meringue buttercream that had a delicate flavour. The first flavour you got was chocolate then the rooibos came through leaving a lovely, almost bitter, taste that was most refreshing. I’d not tasted rooibos in a cake before and think it was a triumph.
Elaine’s South African Peppermint crisp, caramel and coconut cupcake
The cupcake was coconut and topped with a peppermint crisp and caramel cream, with peppermint crisp sprinkled on top. This provided a lovely contrast of textures. I’ve never teamed coconut with peppermint before but will now – the sweet flavour and texture from the coconut came first, then the peppermint came through and the combination was gorgeous!
Fiona’s Japanese Dark chocolate and green tea sushi cupcakes
When I set the “cupcakes of the world” challenge I thought of it solely in terms of ingredients. I love that Fiona took the theme through to the visuals too, topping her cupcake with individual pieces of “sushi” (not really fish – but beautifully modelled sushi from sugar paste and fondant; I mean, just look at the detailing on the prawn!) sitting on sticky rice. The delicate green tea lifted the rich chocolate – quite a delightful combination.
Fiona’s French Champagne cupcake
Pretty as a picture and with all the lightness and fizz you’d expect from a glass of good bubbly! These were a stark contrast to Fiona’s chocolate and green tea entry – so delicate. In fact, the right term – seeing as they contained champagne – is probably quaffable!
Chrissy’s Magical world of Oz
Now this one took me by surprise! I didn’t anticipate that we would have entries representing fictional countries! This entry is, of course, in homage to the famous scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy’s house squashes the Wicked Witch and only her legs and feet are visible. I think I’d prefer this witch’s fate and have a divine chocolate and cherry cupcake fall on me! Stunningly inventive visual aside, the chocolate Ganache on this cupcake was amazing – so smooth and rich. The cherries were juicy and sweet and it was a perfect combination. One lady saw this cupcake being photographed and got concerned as she thought that Dave, our star camera man, had trashed the cupcake! When we pointed out to her it was meant to be like that she visibly relaxed!
Katy’s Greek Yoghurt and honey cupcakes
Classic Greek ingredients combined to make a cupcake so fluffy and with frosting so whipped that I could’ve eaten loads of these! I particularly loved the way that the acidity of the yoghurt cut through the honey meaning that both flavours were so clearly defined in your mouth.
Abi’s Caribbean coconut cupcakes
Can you see what Abi’s done here? The topping is part beach, part ocean – how cute is that? I am a coconut addict and never find things coconuty enough – these were perfect. I loved the crunch from the ‘beach’. My nephew Max, who won’t ever touch coconut, tucked into this without knowing what it was and thought it delicious. When I told him it was coconut he smiled and said “but it’s lovely!” I noticed his fork heading back to it time and time again! Thanks Abi – you’ve helped to create another coconut-lover!
Hannah’s Indian Cardamom and pistachio cupcakes
This was an extremely popular cupcake within my tasting group as the flavours were subtle but distinct. I always like the colour that pistachio adds to a cupcake and Hannah cleverly picked out the colours of the Indian flag for her decoration for a very elegant look.
Heather’s Zambian Honey cupcakes
I had no idea that Zambian honey was so prized for it’s smoky taste or that honey was such an important source of income for Zambians. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again - cupcakes are educational. This cupcake captured everything about honey – the sweet flavour, the sticky texture, the gorgeous amber colour. It also left a beautiful taste in your mouth to savour!
I gather from reading her blog that Heather is soon heading back home to the US, so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank her for her attendance and entries at Iron Cupcake London and wish her well for the future.
Rosie’s Chinese sweet and sour cupcakes
Apparently – and I’m trusting you here, Rosie – the word on the cupcake is “vinegar” representing the more general concept of sourness. The sweet was provided by ginger, the sour was lemon. These had a lovely crumbly texture which worked really well with the zingy flavours. I love it when flavours come through at different times and the ginger hit first before the lemon cut through. I bet Rosie never thought her Chinese degree would be put to such good use!
Amanda’s Moroccan orange and cardamom cupcakes
OK, let’s start with the Fez. Have you ever seen anything cuter in your life? The cupcake was a heady mix of Moroccan flavours. The cupcake and the curd filling were both flavoured with orange and cardamom and the almond buttercream topped it off. This tasted exotic and one bite made you imagine yourself walking around a busy market place buying carpets and lanterns!
Amanda’s Spanish Cinnamon and chocolate cupcake
This shows how food is similar yet distinct around the world. Similar in look to Elaine’s Koeksister, but quite different in taste, this cupcake cleverly used the elements of churros. The cinnamon and chocolate cupcake was filled with the type of chocolate sauce you’d dip your churros in, the delightful churro sat atop of the cupcake nestling in a sea of Ganache.
Amanda’s American Peanut butter and jelly cupcakes
The first inkling you got of these was the intense peanut aroma – it made me want to hasten the fork to my mouth! I have to confess to not being a peanut butter fan when it’s on toast or in a sandwich but in a baked item it’s lovely, somehow tasting more peanutty than peanuts! Special mention must go to the dinky little American flags topping these cupcakes – so beautifully modelled out of sugar paste.
Kat’s Jamaican ginger cupcakes
These were everything that a good Jamaican ginger cake should be – dark, glossy, and so juicy that it’s sticky. The rich ginger cake was complimented perfectly by the lighter frosting which lifted the whole taste. I am a sucker for a good ginger cake and this was a very good ginger cake!
Eric’s Japanese Green tea cupcake with sweet red bean frosting
Firstly, kudos to Eric for being only our second ever male entrant! Secondly, kudos to Eric for the origami bird on top of the cupcake – I did ask whether it was edible (it wasn’t) to avoid any potential embarrassment of Eric seeing me trying to eat his paper bird. Thirdly, kudos to Eric for the cupcake – I had no idea what to expect from the red bean frosting as it’s not a flavour I recognise but the overall effect was divine – delicate and exotic. Green tea works so well in baking – I am such a convert!
Nikki’s Indian Chocolate curry with creamy Korma coconut icing
Possibly the most shocking of our entries – by which I mean it’s the most challenging and outrageous. But it worked! This was an extremely inventive and clever piece of baking because it tasted unmistakably of curry, yet was sweet and so obviously a cupcake. I am not a curry fan as I find the flavours overwhelming and too strong; that wasn’t the case here – the spices were flavoursome and tasty. I don’t know how Nikki achieved it – she is clearly a mistress of the spice cupboard! My nephew Max described it perfectly, “shocking, but in a really good way”.
Katherine’s Mexican Chilli and chocolate cupcakes
If we had an award for the blingiest cupcake then no doubt this would win it! I’ve never seen edible glitter used to such beautiful effect – it was the cupcake that Goldfinger would choose on his visit to the bakery. Katherine spiced these perfectly so that the initial hit of chocolate gave way to the warmth of the chilli. The chilli continued to come through and ended up quite strong but in a lovely warming way.
June’s Mexican Coconut cupcake with mango cream cheese frosting and guava jam
This was a heady cocktail of sweetness and tropical flavours. The whipped cream cheese frosting was a triumph and soooooo easy to eat! The frosting was dusted with cinnamon sugar which added a nice contrast to all the fruitiness.
Kayla’s American Burger cupcakes
Stunning in look and flavour – how cute (and effective) was it to sprinkle sesame seeds over the bun? The ‘bun’ was a vanilla cupcake and the ‘burger’ was a chocolate brownie. The textures were possibly my favourite aspect of this cupcake as I loved biting through the light sponge and then hitting rich, fudge-like brownie. Again, I have to defer to Max’s opinion here: “best cupcakes ever”!
Kayla’s Japanese Green tea cupcakes
As you are probably realising, Japan was the most popular country choice on the night and I’m not surprised as Green tea and sponge works so well together – the lightness of the sponge compliments the delicacy of the green tea in a way I would never have imagined. These cupcakes tasted so refreshing, which is an unusual thing to say of cakes…but they did!
Kayla’s American Peanut butter cupcakes
I think Kayla was spot on to make these as mini cupcakes as they were such an intense hit of flavour that it was nice to treat them like a shot! The rich cupcake topped with the salty peanut butter frosting was quite different to the other peanut butter entries that we had and that’s the great thing about ICL – the same ingredients produce such different results for each baker. I love the way Kayla piped the frosting for these – for some reason I see Marge Simpson’s hair!
Kate’s Ghanaian Cocoa and orange cupcakes
I was further educated with these – Ghana’s main export is cocoa. Who knew? Apart from Kate, obviously who told me! Both flavours were instantly identifiable and well balanced. Decorated simply with a slice of chocolate orange that disappeared into Max’s mouth in seconds followed by a “yummmm, I love chocolate orange”!
Kate’s Sicilian Lemon cupcakes
Packed with juicy lemon and interestingly sweet and sour. Sometimes lemon can be over sweetened and become almost syrupy, or else it will be so tart that you feel it’s burning off your tooth enamel – this was neither. It had a real lemony punch and Soo, my lemon loving friend, kept nudging me saying “that is really good. I mean reaaaaallllly good”...maybe they'd made her an offer she couldn't refuse?
Mitsu’s Japanese Matcha and chocolate cupcake
Mitsu’s entry was 100% vegan friendly. Often you think of such food as being different to ‘normal’ food but Mitsu proved that is not the case. Her creamy chocolate frosting was divine and I loved the way she layered it with the sponge to create a stunning pagoda of tastiness! I can’t wait to see what vegan delights Mitsu creates for future challenges.
Emma’s American Peanut butter and strawberry jelly
That’s not just a slice of strawberry on the top – oh no, can you see what Emma’s done? It’s a pretty little heart. Awwwww! The frosting was intensely strawberry and a gorgeous texture. The initial flavour was the strawberry but then the peanut butter came through. I found it a lovely combination as the flavours were strong but not overpowering.
Kelly’s American Boston cream pie
What’s not to love about a Boston cream pie – sponge, custard and chocolate! Ticks all the boxes! The chocolate Ganache was deliciously rich and smooth and all the flavours worked so well together. A classic cake turned into a classic cupcake!
Eloise’s Caribbean Pineapple, coconut and lime cupcakes
I have been lucky enough to visit the Bahamas on several occasions - one bite of Eloise’s Caribbean cupcakes and I was back there. Each of the flavours was separate but complimentary. The texture of the shredded coconut topping was divine and the little sugar paste flower – I’m sure it’s a Hibiscus – finished the look perfectly.
Alisha’s Nepalese (via Starbucks!) Chai tea latte
I have never tasted chai tea before so wasn’t sure what to expect. What I got was a scrumptious whipped frosting with a delicately spiced cupcake. Soo, who was a huge fan of the Starbucks chai tea latte and still laments its demise, thought that the cupcake perfectly captured the warmth of the flavour of chai tea. And don’t fret – Alisha warned everyone that it was a cinnamon stick and not a flake…not that it stopped Max having a gnaw on it!
So there you have it – all 34 entries. The cupcakes took us on a whirlwind trip around the globe and invited us to dip our taste buds into other cultures. I know we’re four challenges in now so I should know what to expect but I still marvel at the inventiveness and quality of the entries.
Thank you to all the talented bakers who entered their miniature works of art, and thanks to our appreciative (and hungry!) eaters for attending so loyally. Without the bakers and the eaters there would be no Iron Cupcake. I think this proves how well all the entries were enjoyed:
Of course one person cannot run such a big competition alone, so I must extend my heartiest thanks to my ace team of Soo, Paul, Max and Dave. Hopefully they can recover and dust themselves off for the next challenge…
As usual, all photos (except where indicated) are the property of Dave Shipman and are reproduced here with his kind permission.
Here’s to the October “booze” challenge on Monday 5th October…further details to be announced shortly…
I leave you with our winner and runner up: