Sugar and spice and all things nice – that’s what the best cupcakes are made of!  While baking a test batch of vanilla cupcakes this week for a dear friend and bride-to-be I couldn’t resist whipping in a sprinkling of spice. Since my two whirlwind work trips of the ‘Spice Islands’; Seychelles and Zanzibar (which both happened in the space of 4 weeks – I know, I’m such a jet setter!), I’ve found my spice drawer overflowing with the most beautiful cinnamon quills, nutmegs, cloves, cardamom, juicy vanilla pods and white peppercorns.

The markets in Zanzibar and Seychelles are packed with spice stalls and the heady aroma hangs in the thick humid air – it’s intoxicating! The vendors all haggle for your attention and you’re encouraged to get the best bargain whether it be in Seychelles rupees, Zanzibar shillings or dollars. Compared to Seychelles, the spice sellers of Zanzibar are far more persistent and I found myself purchasing spices I didn’t even need just so we could continue our tv shoot in peace!

The cinnamon quills were my favourite treasure – long, golden and perfectly curled they’re unlike anything we get here in South Africa. Cinnamon is actually one of the spices first used in antiquity (along with frankincense and myrrh) which of course only adds to it’s charm. I love how it laces everything it’s added to with a deep warmth. Vanna Bonta said it perfectly; ‘Cinnamon bites and kisses simultaneously’. And I don’t know about you, but I quite like the idea of being kissed by a cupcake!

Chai Cupcakes with Marshmallow Frosting

Makes 12

 

125g butter

150g castor sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 eggs

1 cup self-raising flour

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp chai spice*

 

Marshmallow frosting

2 egg whites

1/2 cup caster sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

 

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs and beat well. Sift over the flour and spices and beat again. Spoon into a muffin tin lined with cupcake wrappers and bake at 180C for 12-15 minutes or until golden and a skewer comes out clean.

Make the frosting by whisking the egg whites in a heatproof bowl until soft peak stage. Add castor sugar and whisk over simmering water until the meringue is hot to the touch. Remove from the heat and beat on high with a hand mixer until cool. Whip in the vanilla. Place in a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes immediately.

 

TIP To make the chai spice mix, combine 1 tsp each of ground cinnamon and cardamom then add 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/4 tsp each of ground cloves, ground nutmeg and ground white pepper. Store in a sealed jar. I like to grind the whole spices myself in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar as the flavour is far more punchy than the store-bought ground stuff.