Bakers get set for cupcake Olympics

PUT calorie counting aside for a moment, and enjoy little cakes decked in icing and beautifully finished with sugar decorations, which have become the latest American export to take off in Ulster.

With their influence growing, a conference is to be held in Belfast later this month where fans will gather to pay tribute to the treats.

In the 1940s, American GIs charmed the local population by bringing cans of coke, chewing gum and stockings. Now, a wave of north American baking enthusiasts, as well as locals, have started a fever for cupcakes.

Differing from normal buns both in size and in decoration, a cupcake is usually around the size of a muffin and often consists of flavoured sponge, colourful icing or buttercream and decorated with sugar flowers or sprinkles.

More adventurous bakers also use fillings such as jam, cream or chocolate as well to make the taste experience even more sumptuous.

The term cupcake comes from how they were initially made using a cup as a mould, before muffin trays became more commonplace.

They have been an American secret but now the whispers have spread across the pond helped by their mention in popular television exports such as Sex And The City where the fab four girls are known to enjoy the little cakes.

A growing number of cupcake bakers, both professional and enthusiasts, have come together to hold Northern Ireland's first Cupcake Camp.

Up to 100 participants are expected to attend the event at Blick Studios on Malone Road in Belfast on Saturday, August 15.

Tickets are fast selling out for this cupcake equivalent of the Olympics which will include baking competitions, displays, tip-swapping and tastings.

Similar events have taken place in 16 cities across North America with the biggest in the Canadian capital Ottawa attracting 1,000 people.

The organiser of the Belfast Cupcake Camp, Ciaran Madden, said some of the best bakers in Ulster will take on the north Americans to see who makes the best bun.

Sarah Landstreet, 24, from London, Ontario in Canada will be one of the bakers taking part.

She set up the cupcake company Marshmallow Grove from her flat in the Stranmillis area of south Belfast in January giving up a lucrative career working as a mechanical engineer.

"I quit my job in London, UK because I wanted to start my own business and thought this is something I would enjoy and that could do well in Belfast.

"Cupcakes are big in North America and they are growing in popularity in London but at the time I arrived here they were not really in Northern Ireland yet.

"First I went to St George's market and set up a stall which I still run on Saturdays, from there I started getting orders through word of mouth and set up a website.

"I bake for weddings, corporate events, children's parties, baby showers and two weddings."

Sarah makes a range of flavours from Orange Blossom and Vanilla to Strawberry and Cream, Chocolate and Honeycomb as well as a green tea flavour which she said was her personal favourite.