The jewel-like small-scale perfection of a well-decorated cupcake is one of their greatest attractions. Their small size shows most kinds of ornamentation to good advantage, from textured patterns in the icing to lavish buttercream flowers. If you want to create memorable cupcakes but don't have superior decorating skills, consider baking them in decorative teacups instead of paper-lined muffin pans. Your teacups provide the visual appeal, so the cupcakes can be decorated very simply.
A Piece of Cake
You can use any reliable cake recipe to make your cupcakes, or if your baking skills aren't entirely reliable a boxed cake mix will also work. It's best to use recipes or mixes that produce a light, soft-textured cake. Teacups are deeper than either standard muffin pans or standard cake pans, so a densely-textured butter cake or pound cake batter might be overbaked and hardened at the edges before the middle is properly risen and set.
Adjusting Your Volume
Your mix or recipe won't make as many teacup cupcakes as it says, because you'll need a larger volume of batter for each serving. A standard muffin pan requires 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter per cupcake. Teacups vary from 4 to 6 ounces in volume, so filling them two-thirds full requires 1/3 to 1/2 cup of batter per cupcake. If you're unsure how much batter to allow, or if you're using teacups of varying sizes, fill them all to the two-thirds mark with water and then pour the water into a measuring cup. That tells you how much batter you need to make.
Picking and Choosing
Not all teacups can survive the heat of baking, so don't use the heirloom set from your grandmother. Instead, assemble a collection from your favorite thrift store. Modern dishwasher-safe teacups are your best bet, though most older teacups will also work. Some teacups, or their companion dinnerware pieces, are specifically marked as oven or microwave safe. Avoid the thinnest and most delicate cups, which are more fragile. Antique teacups are also problematic. Aside from their cost, some older teacups might use lead-based glazes. In the oven's heat some lead from the glaze might leach into your cupcakes. If you want the cuteness without the complications, some companies manufacture special paper or silicone "teacups" specifically for baking cupcakes.
Getting it Done
Bake your cupcakes directly in the teacups, rather than trying to make a paper liner fit the teacups' non-standard sizes and shapes. Grease the insides with butter or shortening to help keep the cakes from sticking, unless you're using a sponge cake or angel-food cake batter. Those support themselves by clinging to the sides of the baking pan, so they need ungreased cups. Cupcakes in teacups are larger than conventional cupcakes, so they'll usually need 4 to 7 minutes more baking time. Test them with a toothpick or wooden skewer, to be sure they're done in the middle. Cool them on a rack or towel in a draft-free location. so a cold counter or draft won't shock the hot teacups and make them crack.