Monday, November 29, 2010

Canary Cupcakes

If my family needed any solid proof that blogging has made me batshit crazy, I think they got it during my Malaysian holiday. My Mum, confused as to how I had managed to completely fill my suitcase (which was empty at the start of the trip), picked up a cardboard box and opened it up to find a birdcage. Yes, I'm the type of nutjob who sees a little birdcage in a store while on holiday and thinks, "Ooh that would make an awesome prop for photos!". So of course, once I had the birdcage, I had to made a bird cupcake of some sort. I'm a huge bird-lover, growing up with pet budgies and still owning one 10 year old budgie and a cute cockatiel. Canary cupcakes were my first choice, because canaries aren't too complicated feature-wise. (I'm lazy like that)
So once I decided I would make canary cupcake, I tried to think about what flavour I would make them. Well with their bright yellow colour, lemon seemed like the obvious choice. Lemon and poppy seed somehow seemed like the cupcake flavour that canaries would be if they were a cupcake flavour. Plus I've never done a lemon poppy seed recipe on this blog before and I've had a lovely sounding lemon poppy seed cake bookmarked for ages.
"Oh noes! You're stuck in a cage!"
It was difficult figuring out how to decorate my canary cupcakes. As per usual, this would have been so much easier and neater to do with fondant, but my recent encounters with fondant covered cupcakes have only reaffirmed my stance against it. NO to fondant on cupcakes! Icing and buttercream all the way! Since I knew that I would be sticking random things on to my cupcakes for the bits & pieces of the canaries, I decided to use a lemon royal icing, which would hopefully set and hold everything in place. It worked out pretty well, I ended up using white chocolate Lindt balls covered in the royal icing for the head, with mini m&ms and some sugar coated fennel seeds for the eyes and the beak. The tail was made out of sponge finger biscuits which were carved into triangle shapes and then brushed with the royal icing. A commented that they were dangerously close to looking like rubber duckies, but that doesn't make them any less cute right? The icing is a little messy to work with and hard to get smooth, especially when you have to handle the icing covered head and attach it to the cupcake, so you can see a few cracks and rough bits. But if I wanted smooth, perfect surfaces I could have just used fondant. Bleurgh.
"Don't worry, I'll save you by breaking into the cage with this spoon!"
As for the cake, the recipe sounded so fluffy and moist with all those egg whites and buttermilk. It didn't disappoint on those fronts, especially the day after baking. The cake was super fluffy and moist, though I think it could have done with a bit more lemon. I think if I was to do the recipe again, I might include some diced up pieces of candied lemon peel, I always love that in my lemon poppy seed muffins. I got lazy and only decorated 6 of the cupcakes like canaries, the rest I just covered with a thin glazing of lemon icing. They were delicious!
Lemon Poppy Seed Canary Cupcakes
(adapted from this recipe, makes 18 cupcakes)
3 cups plain flour
2 cups sugar
4½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
3 tbsp poppy seeds
2 sticks (225g) unsalted butter
1 large lemon, zest and juice
1¼ cups buttermilk
5 egg whites
1/3 cup water
Optional: 2 tbsp candied lemon peel, finely diced

To decorate:
2 egg whites
4 cups icing sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
Yellow food colouring
Lindt white chocolate balls or marshmallows for canary head
Mini M&Ms or other sugar coated candy for eyes and beak
Wafers or sponge finger biscuits for tail

Heat the oven to 180 degrees C. Line cupcake tray with papers. Combine the flour, 1 3/4 cups sugar, baking powder, poppy seeds and salt in a mixing bowl. Mix gently to combine. Add the butter, lemon zest and 1 cup of buttermilk to the flour. Beat on low until completely mixed. Raise the speed to medium and beat for 1-2 minutes until lighter in colour.

In a medium bowl, combine the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup buttermilk, whisk to blend thoroughly. Add the egg white mixture to the batter in 2-3 additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating only enough to incorporate the mix. Add in candied lemon at this point if you want to include it. Spoon batter into the cupcake papers, filling up until about half a centimeter to their tops.
Bake for 20-25 minutes until the cakes are golden brown, spring back when touched lightly in the centre, and a cake tester comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pans for 5 minutes before removing and placing on a wire rack. While the cupcakes are cooling, make a lemon syrup. In a small pan combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, water and lemon juice. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Generously brush the cupcakes with the lemon syrup while they are still warm. Then allow the cupcakes to cool completely.

Beat egg whites in a clean bowl until it reaches soft peaks. Gradually sift icing sugar into the egg whites and mix until combined. Add food colouring and lemon juice and stir until smooth. Use icing to coat the candy you are using for the canary heads and the biscuits you are using for the tails and place on a sheet of baking paper to dry. Decorate canary heads with eyes and beaks (I used brown mini M&Ms for the eyes and orange sugar coated fennel seeds for the beak). Spread a layer of icing over each cupcake, allow to dry for 10 minutes, then place head and tail on top of each cupcake. Spread extra icing on each cupcake for the wings. Leave on a wire rack for half an hour to set. Can be stored in an airtight container overnight.


  1. haha how cute Steph, hope you had a lovely holiday

  2. Oh god, it's so cute I could die!!! Why do you make such gorgeous, delectable cupcakes that are too damn adorable to eat! You rule :D

  3. Steph! These are the cutest cupcakes ever. I LOVE the birdcage and great idea with the fennel seeds for the beak. Totally agree with the fondant thing. So pretty looking but tastes like bleurgh >_<

    And oooh, your photos are fabulous!

  4. That birdcage is TDF! The birdies are pretty good, too, especially the colour and the tails (imagine biting off a bit of sponge finger tail, yum).

  5. SO cute!! Haha I love the commentary too! Seriously, you are insane and a genius! I'm not a fan of birds, but I'd be happy to eat them in cupcake form :D

  6. after spending a weekend with fondant, I am on your side of the fence. Fondant and I, we are not on speaking terms at all!

    These cupcakes are the most adorable little creatures I Have ever seen - your styling skills are honestly the bomb diggety!

  7. Super creativity equals super cute cupcakes! I think these birdie cupcake pets are way better than real birds, you can eat them =D

  8. Tweet, tweet! Sooooo cute and, most importantly, tasty due to the avoidance of fondant =D

  9. You may be nuts, but they are CUTE!!

  10. So adorable! I can't eat the fondant on a cupcake either, too sweet for my tastes, just love butter cream though!

  11. These are sooooo sweetie.... I would like to eat them but on the other side... they are so sweet... it would be a pity!!! Fantastic

  12. I never figured younfor a bird lover Steph but looks like you did em proud! The heads look scary on their own in one picture. But in a funny way. But put together they look fantastic! Great job. But now that you've made the cupcakes what you going to do with the birdcage? :)

  13. Oh my gosh they are cute! The pictures look amazing, I love the one in the birdcage.

  14. Love these photos! The cupcakes are way too cute to eat!

  15. I love these! They're absolutely adorable!

  16. They are just too cute!!! That loast image is my favourite! Although I think the picture of the heads waiting for a body is just adorable too! What a great post :)

  17. These are ridiculously cute! And don't look too difficult to make!

  18. LOL I can just imagine the customs officer's face whilst you're going through secutiy at the airport, wtf birdcage? Since when are you lazy? probably one of the most creative eprson I've known. Can't wait for more crazy nutjob baking

  19. OOhh these are just tooo cute hahah! Although the heads by themselves are a bit creepy :P ahha

  20. Such a brilliant idea, don't blame you for stopping at six though, they look like a lot of work! : D

  21. The photo of the half-formed birds makes it look like they are evolving right before our eyes!

    You are awesome, these are really so very fabulous! Hooray for deliciously edible decorations too. Double hooray for putting a bird cage in your suitcase. That is the coolest thing I've imagined all day.

  22. Dang! This looks amazing. I’m with you on buttercream icing- hands down. This would def send me to food rehab. :P

  23. i agree! i despise fondant - icky! buttercream all the way!

    very cute cuppy cakes :)

  24. These little guys are just so adorable Steph!! The bird cage is such a great prop, fantastic photos.

  25. Oh my god these are SO cute!!!!! I love them. Very creative!

    I love the background too.

  26. Adorable little canaries! Love the prop too - would've been hilarious to see the interchange between you and your mum when she found it!

  27. That cage is uber cute though, a good thing to find on holidays!

  28. Love it, not only the cupcake but the shots too.

  29. AHHAHAHAHAA thats hilarious!!! loving the birdie cuppies! ..and dw theres nothing wrong with birdcages.. they are cool and hip now ;)

  30. Steph, you are so creative! I love how you stick to your royal icing and not moving across to fondant and yet they look absolutely adorable!!

  31. I love the cupcakes, very very cute!
    I was just wondering where you got the covered fennel seeds which you used for the beaks?????

  32. steph - they should be available from any indian supermarket :) if you can't get a hold of them, try using an orange skittle cut in half!

  33. So glad I stumbled upon your blog. These are the coolest things ever! They are so cute, I want to take them home and name them. They do look delicious though...

  34. The disembodied heads are a bit creepy, but the end result is very cute Steph :)


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