Fairy and Butterfly Cakes

Little fluffy fairy cakes topped with sweet glace icing make a soft, delicate treat.

Preparation time: 20 minutesCooking time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: EasyMakes: About 18 cakes


For the cakes:

  • 200g/7oz/1 cup of caster sugar
  • 115g/4oz/1/2 cup of butter or margarine (room temperature)
  • 2 eggs
  • 225g/8oz/just under 2 cups of self-raising flour (or 225g plain flour + 3tsp baking powder)
  • A pinch of salt
  • 120ml/1.2dl/just under a 1/4 pt/1/2 cup of of milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp lemon juice (optional)

For buttercream (enough for 6 butterfly cakes)

  • 150g/5oz/2/3 cup pf butter or margerine (room temperature)
  • 300g/10.5oz/2 1/3 cups pf icing sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp milk

For icing (enough for 6 fairy cakes)

  • 130g/4.5oz/1 cup of icing sugar
  • 1 tsp water

For dusting (enough for 6 fairy cakes)

  • 2 tablespoons of icing sugar

Make it vegan: Use plant based margarine and soya, almond or oat milk instead of dairy milk for the cake mix and buttercream. Replace the two eggs in the cake mix with aquafaba (3tbsp of aquafaba per egg), or with flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax seed mixed with 3 tbsp water per egg.)

Special Equipment:

  • A large mixing bowl
  • A sieve
  • A wooden spoon
  • A whisk or electric whisk
  • Two 12-hole cupcake tins
  • 18 small paper cupcake cases


  1. Line the cupcake tins with 18 small paper cake cases.
  2. Preheat the oven to 175’C/350’F/Gas Mark 4.
  3. Using a wooden spoon or whisk, cream together the butter, sugar and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Stir the eggs (or egg substitute) and half of the milk into the butter mixture. Then sift in the self-raising flour and mix everything together thoroughly.
  5. Add the rest of the milk to the mixture if it seems too dry. Then mix in the vanilla and lemon juice (if using.)
  6. Spoon the cake mix into the cake cases and pop them in the oven.
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes, turning halfway through cooking if necessary. The cakes are ready when they’re light brown and spring back to the touch.
  8. When they’re ready remove them from the oven and leave them to cool.
  9. Meanwhile, make the buttercream by whisking together the butter and icing sugar until the mixture is smooth and without lumps. Then whisk in a little vanilla and milk.
  10. To make the icing, stir the icing sugar and water together until well combined. Stir in more icing sugar if the mixture is too watery and add a little more water if it’s too thick.
  11. When the cakes are cool, use a sharp knife to cut out a large circle from the top of six of the cakes. Cut the circles in half. Spoon some buttercream into each hole, then stick the semi-circles on top of the buttercream, at an angle so they look like butterfly wings.
  12. Gently spoon some icing evenly over six of the remaining cakes.
  13. Lay the sieve on a plate next to the remaining six cakes. Spoon a tablespoon or two of icing sugar into the sieve, then gently pick it up and shake it over the cakes in order to dust them with icing sugar.
  14. Bon appetit!


  • The toppings ingredients listed are enough to make 6 butterfly cakes, 6 iced fairy cakes and 6 dusted fairy cakes- you can make more or less of each depending on how many of each type of cake you’d like to make.


Home: England

Relatives: Cupcake (USA) Petits Fours (France) Queen Cakes (UK)
Pronunciation: /ˈfeəri keɪk/ (feh-ree keyk)

Fairy cakes are a type of cupcake. The latter were first popularised in the U.S.A. in the late 18th century: their earliest mention appears in Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery. Published in Connecticut in 1796, this was the first ever cookbook to be written by an American. Simmons’ recipe, which doesn’t mention the word ‘cupcake’, is describes petite cakes baked in small cups. The first recipe to actually mention the word ‘cupcake’ appeared in 1828, in Eliza Leslie’s Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats: Leslie’s version seems to have been quite strongly flavoured, as she called for white wine, cinnamon, nutmeg and ‘pearl-ash’ (potassium carbonate salt) as ingredients. By 1919, cupcakes were commercially available in the U.S.

It’s not really clear when English fairy cakes were developed from American cupcakes, which they differ from in a few ways: they’re smaller and a little less rich, and tend to be topped with simple glace icing as opposed to large amounts of buttercream. It’s believed that butterfly cakes were developed from fairy cakes that had risen too much- the tops were removed so the cakes could be iced, after which wings were added.

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