Let’s Be Pen Pals

Hello Lovelies. How was Christmas? We had such a wonderful time with my parents and all of our chickies at home in the nest, including our sweet granddaughter who was undoubtedly the star of the show. As we all sat around the dinner table, my husband noted that there were four generations of family together. How good is that? We are blessed indeed. 

 This year I kept things simple. No dessert tables, no fancy set up. To my slight horror, I didn’t even get my camera out to photograph the table, which was set up quite nicely with it’s tartan fabric, red charger plates and rustic wreath in the centre. I wanted to enjoy Christmas for what it is and not purely as a styling/blogging opportunity.  {Yes, the struggle is real}

Family first.   

And so, after a busy, yet delightful Christmas day, I can finally breathe today and sit down with my second pot of tea and share this delicious cupcake recipe as a special gift to you all. I know it’s too late for Christmas, but I want you to pretend I am boxing you up a cupcake (with a tartan ribbon and homemade tag of course) and giving you a hug to say thank you for reading my blog in 2017. 

 This recipe evolved in my head over the Christmas season. I became fascinated by the look, shape, texture and most significantly the smell of star anise and just knew it would make a deliciously festive cupcake. Then began the experimenting. Of course this all happened in tiny snippets in between the hustle and bustle of the silly season. I made a few batches here and there, which weren’t quite what I wanted, threw them out or gave them to unsuspecting friends, until I finally came up with this recipe. The flavours are subtle. It is basically a vanilla bean cupcake with a delicate hint of licorice spice, black tea and orange zest. The trick here is to infuse the milk with star anise, cinnamon sticks, tea leaves,  vanilla seeds and pod, preferably overnight. 

Star Anise Christmas Cupcake

An authentic vanilla cupcake infused with a hint of spicy licorice, black tea and orange zest.
Cook Time 18 minutes


  • 3/4 cup full cream milk
  • 1 packet star anise (or up to 12 stars)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla pod, scraped, with seeds in milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon black tea leaves

For the cupcakes

  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 tub sour cream (or 125g)
  • 1 vanilla pod scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 cup infused milk, strained Leave 1/4 cup for frosting
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar
  • zest of one large orange, rubbed into sugar


For the Infused milk

  • Place all ingredients except tea in small saucepan. Heat on low until simmering. Stir in tea leaves and turn off heat. Leave to cool while you make the cupcake mixture, or ideally, overnight in fridge. 

For the cupcake

  • Preheat oven to 180 C
    Line one muffin tray with cupcake papers
  • In a medium bowl, using a hand whisk, mix together egg, oil, sour cream and vanilla.
  • Add 1/2 cup infused milk, strained. Reserve 1/4 cup for frosting.
  • In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and bicarb soda.
  • Rub orange zest into castor sugar until fragrant. Add to flour mixture. Stir until all combined.
  • Slowly add wet mix into the dry mixture. Hand whisk until well combined.
  • Scoop mixture into cupcake papers. 
  • Bake in moderate oven for 18 - 20 min or until lightly brown or firm to touch.
  • Put on a wire rack to cool.
  • Frost with Swiss meringue buttercream
  • Makes 8 - 12 cupcakes

Swiss Meringue Buttercream

A silky smooth vanilla buttercream with a hint of spicy licorice.
Prep Time 30 minutes


  • 1 1/4 cups castor sugar
  • 325 g butter, chopped at room temperature Or 1 and 1/4 blocks of butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1/4 cup infused milk from cupake recipe


  • In an electric mixer bowl, hand whisk together egg whites and sugar until well combined.
  • Place bowl over a medium saucepan with 1 inch of boiling water.
  • Whisk lightly for a moment until well combined, then leave for about 5 minutes or until the syrup is smooth and not grainy. I find the best way to check this is to lift a whisk out of the mixture and rub the syrup between two fingers to check there are no sugar grains left. It is hot, but won't burn. Just be careful.
  • Turn heat off and place your mixer bowl into the electric stand mixer. 
  • Using the whisk attachment, whisk syrup on high speed until a stiff meringue forms, about ten minutes.
  • Change to paddle attachment and turn mixer onto the lowest speed. Gradually add the chopped butter, one piece at a time, then leave to mix on low for about 5 minutes, or until silky smooth. 
  • Note: The buttercream will look soupy at first, then like scrambled eggs. This is all normal. Just make sure you keep the mixer on the lowest speed. It will eventually come together and look smooth. 
  • Add vanilla bean paste.
  • Add remaining 1/4 cup of infused milk and keep mixing on low until it is well combined and smooth.
  • Your Swiss Meringue Buttercream is now ready to use.

Now that the Christmas rush is over, I am taking things easy before getting stuck into some creative holiday projects that are mulling around in my mind. It feels soo good to stop, sit down and reflect on the year that was, and look towards the clean slate of the New Year. I hope you will all join me in 2018 as we continue to bake, create and share the cupcake love.  xx


  • It doesnt say how many egg whites for the buttercream?

    • A
      Anna Hogbin

      Hi Rebecca, yes, it looks like I didn’t put the SMBC recipe in with that recipe. (It is one of my earlier ones). I apologise. I can’t attach a link here, so if you can look up the Chair Spice cake recipe, you will see the Swiss meringue recipe there. (Just omit the caramel). I hope this helps. regards, Anna

  • Rose Atwater

    I hope you had a beautiful Christmas Anna! I’ve never had star of anise (and I’m not sure where to get any) but the cupcakes look and sound amazing!

    • A
      Mama Bear

      Hi Rose, we had a beautiful Christmas, thank you. Hope yours was specialtoo. Star Anise has a delicate licorice flavour, which is a nice compliment to other Christmas spices. xx

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