Traditional British Butterfly Cakes or Fairy Cakes (Cupcakes)

If you want to have an ex-pat Brit begin to wax nostalgic, just mention Butterfly Cakes or Fairy Cakes. However, mention them to a non-Brit and they will probably give you a tilt of their head and look of confusion.

As a child growing up in the UK, these were standard fare at birthday parties, and practically everyone’s mum made Butterfly Cakes; it was just a given. These are another example of a classic yet simple favorite food of many Brits which, like so many other creations “across the pond”, never caught on in the US.

Each time I’ve made these delicate, fairy-like creations, they are met with gasps of delight. And if you think they’re just another “pretty cupcake”, think again, because inside is a bit of raspberry jam hiding below a dollop of freshly whipped cream! The flavor is beyond fabulous!

Please don’t think that Butterfly Cakes are difficult to make as they are truly one of the easiest cupcakes to decorate; even children can make them. You can use any flavor of cake, but I think they look the nicest when using a white or vanilla cake (light colored).

Tradtional British Butterfly Cakes (Cupcakes)

makes 3 dozen cupcakes
cake recipe adapted from Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Desserts


  • 1 3/4 cups (14 oz) sugar
  • 1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, good quality at room temperature
  • 3 cups (16 oz) flour, good quality
  • 1 cup (8 oz) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 large eggs, room temperature

To decorate

  • raspberry jam, good quality (I like Bonne Maman)
  • 1 cup (8 oz) heavy whipping cream, whipped
  • powdered sugar for dusting

Prepare cupcake tins with paper liners. Preheat oven to 350º F (175º C)

Place the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; set aside.

In a large bowl (preferably in a stand mixer), cream the butter and sugar, slowly for 2 minutes. Increase to high and beat for another 8 minutes, or until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl occasionally.

Add the 2 of the eggs, one at a time, clearing after each addition, then add half of the flour mixture, scraping the sides with a spatula if needed.

Add half a cup of the buttermilk and mix well, then add another egg. Continue to mix; then add the remaining milk, egg, vanilla and flour. Mix on high for 2 minutes, scraping sides with a spatula at least once.

Fill the cupcake liners half full with the batter and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when placed in the center of a cupcake. Place on cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

When ready to decorate, cut out the center of each cupcake, angling the knife at a 45º angle

(see the photos below), then cut the pieces in half to resemble butterfly wings.

Place a small amount of jam in the center,

followed by a dollop of cream (or buttercream, if desired),

then place the “wings” on top.

As you can see, I piped some buttercream into the center of a few of the cupcakes, just because I had some on hand. This also works, and tastes good, but the authentic way (and my favorite way) to make Butterfly Cakes is to use cream.

Repeat with all of the cupcakes, then dust each one generously with powdered sugar.

Serve immediately, especially if using fresh cream, as it can spoil quickly,

especially in warm weather. Keep refrigerated if you do not serve them right away.

NOTE: it appears (from comments on Facebook), that in England these are called “Fairy Cakes”, whereas in Scotland, Fairy Cakes are cupcakes with plain icing on top. Let me know if you have more insight on this in the comments below. Ta!

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25 Responses

  1. wrote on

    How beautiful! I have seen such cupcakes in baking books.. but haven’t tried myself, would be perfect for some special occasion!

    • wrote on

      They are lovely and yes, perfect for a special occasion, too. Thanks, Medeja!

  2. wrote on

    Hi Christina, I saw your post last night in bed with my Kindle and I was amazed! I love these little Butterfly cakes. I kept thinking of them all night. They are beautiful to look at and they must be awesome to eat one or maybe two.Never would have thought there was jam in the center, what a surprise for people who have not ever had this little winged dessert before. I think I am going to make these as soon as I can. Great job in the description of “How To”. Your photos are always so easy to follow along, thanks for sharing, blessings…Dottie :)

    • wrote on

      Thanks ever so much, Dottie! Please come back to let me know if you do make them! :)

  3. wrote on

    So true, no birthday party was complete without butterfly cakes! Along with the cheese-and-pineapple on sticks, sausages on sticks and iced gems! I have found American cake recipes too soft and squishy for making good wings, so I am looking forward to trying your recipe!

    • wrote on

      Yes!!! Oooh, Iced Gems! I still buy a package of them when I go back home, I just love them and my kids don’t understand why! :( I think you’ll love this recipe…my daughter even complimented them, which is saying something! ;)

  4. wrote on

    I can’t wait to make them! They look so delicate. Thanks for sharing.

    • wrote on

      Great! Let me know how you like them, Mary! CC

  5. wrote on

    WOW! This Midwestern girl hasn’t seen anything like that before. Very clever idea. Next time I make cupcakes I am making your butterfly cakes.

    • wrote on

      You are a very well-travelled Midwestern girl, but you probably never went to any British birthday parties as a little girl :) Do make them, Cathy, yours will probably put mine to shame! CC

  6. wrote on

    Where’s the cupcake fairy when you need her? There was nothing under my pillow and was hoping for whipped cream and raspberry jam.

    • wrote on

      So glad she missed your pillow! Send her on a detour to the kitchen…much less messy! :) CC

  7. wrote on

    They are beautiful Christina, I have heard of them but never saw before. What a lovely cake and I can see why no party would be complete without them. Love the jam inside and such a great way to use that cake that is left, fashioning into wings.

    • wrote on

      Oh, you’re missing out if you’ve never tasted these! Like a miniature British sponge cake, complete with raspberry jam and cream!

  8. wrote on

    I always learn something new when I read your posts! So pretty and delicate looking!

    • wrote on

      Oh, that’s so nice of you to say, Kim! Thank you so much!!

  9. Joy North Burchett

    wrote on

    Christina, this is a great recipe. So rich and fluffy. My family in the UK makes them and I think this is better than the Victoria Sponge they used. Funny that you should post the recipe on my birthday for this ole Brit. This a tradtional cupcake to see at Teas and Church events.

    • wrote on

      Oh dear! I am just seeing your comment, now, Joy. Happy belated birthday! I will be back in the UK soon and hope to have a butterfly cake during my travels! Thanks for stopping by! CC

  10. Franki

    wrote on

    Hi Christina, in England (UK) more than eighty years ago, we used to call fairy cakes any small (cupcake-like) cakes. They could even be vanilla with currants and no icing, but sometimes these were referred to as queen cakes (not to be confused with queen of cakes, or queen pudding…) The ones with wings we called butterfly cakes (or buns in the north). Most sources say that there is no distinction between American cupcakes and British fairy cakes, but this is incorrect. If you check the traditional fairy cake recipes you will notice that for fairy cakes we use far less sugar and more fat (butter or margarine). This has evolved to become more or less equal quantities of fat (usually butter, not margarine), flour and sugar. But the American cupcakes appear to use more sugar and less fat. This will obviously affect the texture. I would love to know if there is a difference in the keeping qualities, as we used to have baking days (to save on fuel) and keep all the cakes, including fairy cakes, in a tin for the week. I also remember that generally the butterfly cakes didn’t include the jam, but when they did, they had a flat top, that is, the circle wasn’t cut in half for the wings, but placed as a complete circle on top of the cream. I think the wings on butterfly cakes has led people to think that fairy cakes are so called because of the wings, but I believe it was due to their small size. Hope this helps. And now I have a decision to make as to whether to bake muffins, cupcakes or fairy cakes as I need to store them for five days – and freezing isn’t an option. :)

  11. Nicola

    wrote on

    Not sure how I stumbled across your website but SO glad I did! I was just watching the great British baking show (comic relief edition) and they made fairy cakes (no wings, with wings are butterfly cakes) and I said to my boys that I made them all the time with my mum when I was little and now they want to make them. I struggled finding a recipe in u.s measurements so this is like gold for me. Guess what we’ll be doing after school today

    • wrote on

      Your comment just made my day, Nicola! Hope you and your boys had a lovely time making them! (Sorry for the late reply, but I was on a trip to Jamaica.) :) CC

  12. wrote on

    Thank you ,I will try to do it.

    I have never tried cake , These cake looks awesome!


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