The term “butterfly cake” can refer both to a full-sized cake shaped and decorated like a butterfly, and to a special type of cupcake which is served in Britain. In England, where cupcakes are known as fairy cakes, butterfly cakes are viewed as a special treat, and they can get quite elaborate. This type of cupcake is also relatively easy to make, and it can be a fun way to impress or amuse guests who might be tired of traditional basic cupcakes.
To make butterfly cakes, cooks start by making regular cupcakes and allowing them to cool. Once the cupcakes have cooled, the top of each cupcake is carefully scooped out with a spoon and cut in half, creating two rough half-circles of cake. Then, the hole in the butterfly cake is filled with jam, frosting, whipped cream, or another thick, sweet substance, and the two halves are carefully replaced so that they look like the wings of a butterfly.
When a butterfly cake is made with a skilled and steady hand, it does sort of look like a butterfly has landed on top of the cupcake for a moment, and the illusion can be enhanced with the use of decorations which can be used to create fake antennae or to embellish the wings of the butterfly. It is also possible to hold a butterfly cake decorating party, allowing people to customize their own versions of the butterfly cake before eating them.
Any number of cupcake recipes can be used to make butterfly cakes, and there are all sorts of ways that the basic design can be played with. For example, the cupcakes could be lightly frosted to create a green background, making it look like the butterfly has landed on a leaf, and butterfly fanciers could decorate their butterfly cakes with biologically accurate colors. Given the myriad of butterfly species in the world, one has a number of patterns and colors to choose from.
Butterfly cakes are more fragile than regular cupcakes, which can make them a bit difficult to transport. It's a good idea to use a covered container; some companies actually make containers specifically designed for carrying cupcakes which will keep them from sliding and preserve the top. Once these cupcakes arrive at their end destination, they can be laid out on regular serving plates, with some cooks choosing to arrange butterfly cakes around a larger cake for greater effect.