Banana & Toffee Cupcakes

The last month has been crazy, full on crazy. I went to Stockholm a couple of weeks ago, and it was glorious. I never get tired of visiting Scandinavia, it’s like this paradise where everything is just lovely and full of coffee and pastries, and they have museum exhibitions about brewing beer (yes!). It also looks like this:

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On returning, we had friends staying for the Bank Holiday weekend, and then had a huge pizza party which was great, albeit very messy, because when you make 3kg of dough, and get your approx. 20 guests to all make their own pizzas, it gets…ugh. My kitchen. It was the biggest clear up job ever, and mad props to Laura and Hayden who did loads of it whilst I was still at the pub. We had some cool pizzas though – including macaroni cheese pizza, potato pizza, and banana and harissa pizza (which surprisingly worked).

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Anyway, now that I’m finally less insanely busy, it’s time to write about those banana and toffee cupcakes I mentioned a while ago. I love banana cake, and I’m always looking for variations to increase its general awesomeness. This is a tale of first world problems, whereby the little Waitrose near my house stopped selling the banana and toffee cupcakes I had grown to love. They still sell them at the one 4 miles from my house, but that is no use to me. So I decided to try and make some myself. I’ve made these a couple of times, and I will say it’s still a work in progress. I think I’m basically hoping that one day they’ll taste exactly like the Waitrose ones, but in the meantime, these work pretty damn well as a substitute.

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The Reintroduction

Welcome. It’s been about 18 months since I last did this properly. I’ve resolved now to reform the habit, and stick at this. During the time I’ve been gone, I forfeited my domain, and now find it taken away from me. That’s kind of cool though, because I’d been wanting to drop the ‘bakery’ part of the name for a while (we’re now theplumtree.co, in case you didn’t notice). Not that this isn’t going to be about cake any more, because that would be pure madness. But, maybe sometimes it’ll be about other things too. I also considered starting afresh in a new place, but then I thought, hey, I’ll have to go somewhere else to find the link when I want to reminisce about the time I made a crepe cake. That’s no fun.

So, here I am. I’ll be doing some baking, and then writing about it. I’ll be doing this at least once a week for the foreseeable future. I feel like it’s good to make a commitment right at the start, no shitting about. People have asked me a lot about doing this again recently, and now after all the moving about and having my mind consumed and zapped by postgraduate study, I am ready again.

The evidence of things I’ve cooked over the last 18 months can be found on my Instagram, if you’re interested (lately it’s more pictures of pizza really), and I’ll probably keep putting other stuff up there too. A few days ago I made some not-photogenic banana and toffee cupcakes. This weekend’s task is to make some more photogenic ones. See, you already have something to look forward to, and so does my stomach. Good.

Laters.

Gingerbread Cupcakes

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It’s now December, which means tis the season (despite the fact that I’ve done Christmassy recipes the last two weeks). I have my advent calendar (Peppa Pig, chosen by my housemate), and we’re putting up our decorations next week! The semester is almost over, which means I have more essays to write, but I’m really looking forward to having a break and have time to catch up on some reading.

For one of my seminars each week someone presents, and whoever is presenting brings cake. This week was my week, and I wanted to make something very seasonal, so I decided on gingerbread cupcakes! These are delicious – and not only because they have cream cheese icing on. I’d never thought about making gingerbread in cupcake form before, and I’m really glad I came across this recipe!

The icing was supposed to have lemon zest in, which sounds like an excellent addition, but I forgot to put it in because I was so preoccupied with my icing becoming lumpy. Try mixing 600g icing sugar into 100g butter by hand – then you will feel my pain. I felt like my arm was going to fall off, and then I added the cream cheese and there were lumps and it felt like a disaster at the time, but once I’d iced them it wasn’t noticeable. Phew. I swear I used to be able to make cream cheese icing without anything going wrong, but the last few times I’ve made it, something has always gone wrong, which has made me reluctant to ever make it again. I probably need a hand whisk back in my life.

The original idea was that I’d decorate these cupcakes with the gingerbread men I made last week. That didn’t happen – not least because I iced the cupcakes so beautifully (if I do say so myself) that I didn’t want to ruin it by plonking a gingerbread man on top. That said, both cupcakes and gingerbread were well received separately – I think if I make the cupcakes again I might make some smaller gingerbread decorations to go on, like little circles or stars or something. Continue reading

Plum Cupcakes

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This week I spent a few days staying with Laura in Gloucestershire. Laura lives on the edge of the Forest of Dean, where  everything is beautiful and green and just downright lovely. We picked plums in her garden and made perhaps the tartest plum crumble ever. When I start picking fruit I never want to stop if there’s more to pick – which lead to us picking about 3-4kg of plums – including some that weren’t quite ripe enough…hence the tartness. But the joyous result of my excessive picking was that I got to bring some back home with me! So on Friday I got down to making a small batch of plum jam (also a little tart), which I then used to make plum cupcakes. I still have another 500g or so of plums left, so they’ll be used to make plum pie next week. 

I’m also moving next week, and so I’ve spent the last couple of days going through things and packing stuff in boxes. My room looks bare, and there’s an ever-increasing pile of boxes in my living room. You never realise how much stuff you have until you have to pack it all up. I haven’t even started on my kitchen yet (that’s not happening for another week or two), and so by the time I’m all done, the pile will probably have doubled. I’m trying to reduce the amount of stuff I have, but as a lifetime lover of books and CDs, some things are just too hard to part with. The only good news is that most of the stuff I’ve accumulated over the two years of living here is useful stuff, like kitchenware, rather than just random crap. 

But back to lovely plum cupcakes! Despite my complaints about Hummingbird the other week, I have gone back to them, yet again. I’ve messed about with the recipe a bit though, and I thought the cupcakes looked so good with jam oozing out of the top when I took them out of the oven that I decided not to ice them. They’re sweet enough already, who needs vast quantities of icing? 

Next week: Plum pie

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Plum Cupcakes (adapted from ‘Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days’ by Tarek Malouf)

This made 12 + 1 tiny one, but I used large muffin cases, so it’d probably make about 16 if you’re making little ones.

120g butter, softened

340g plain flour

1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

360g soft light brown sugar

180ml buttermilk

200g-270g (approx.) plum jam (if you want to make your own, see here)

1. Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5 and line a muffin tin (or two) with paper cases. 

2. Using an electric whisk (or your fingertips), mix together the butter, flour, baking powder and salt until like crumbs. In a separate bowl whisk together the sugar, eggs, buttermilk and 120g of the jam until all ingredients are combined. Add half of this to the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated, then add the rest and mix until smooth. 

3. Fill each paper case 1/3 full with batter, then top with 1 tsp of jam, followed by a similar quantity of batter, so the cases are about 2/3 full (my jam filling ended up a little higher than this). The jam will create a filling as the cakes bake. Bake for around 20 mins, or until the tops spring back when pressed. Leave to cool slightly before transferring to a wire rack to cool. 

 

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

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This week the lovely Laura came to visit me. She had just returned from living in Paris for the last two years, and came covered in bags full of stuff. I do mean covered. It was her birthday a few weeks ago, and I sent her a wooden pop-out cupcake in place of a real one, because it’s not exactly efficient to post cake to people living in a different country. However, I did make up for it this week by making her these delicious Chocolate Chip Cupcakes. They have the most incredible chocolate glaze on top, which I was a bit apprehensive about at first, because I don’t remember ever putting egg in icing before, but it turned out beautifully – so glossy and delicious, but not too rich. There was, however, far far too much of it – I think I only used about half of the amount that I made. So later I’m going to be making a sponge cake to use up the rest of it, and the strawberries I picked in Oli’s parents’ garden yesterday.

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The adorable cupcake cases and toppers came from Jordi a while ago, and I’ve been saving them for some kind of special occasion, and I thought Laura’s belated birthday cake should definitely be it.

These cupcakes are not only delicious, but also a good way of making yourself feel better after seeing ‘The Fault In Our Stars’, which Laura and I sobbed our way through on Thursday night. I think I cried the most out of everyone – at one point I blew my nose quite loudly and people turned around and looked at me. BUT it is an incredible film and everyone should go and see it (except for people with hearts of stone, because you won’t enjoy it).

Next week: Blueberry Cake

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Chocolate Chip Cupcakes (from Baked in America by The Outsider Tart)

Makes 12-14 cupcakes

175g plain flour

340g light brown sugar

3/4 tsp bicarb of soda

115g butter, chilled and diced

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

175g sour cream

3tbsp whole milk

250g dark chocolate chips/finely chopped chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas 3. Line a cupcake tray with paper cases.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, put the flour, bicarb and sugar. Mix on a low speed until well blended. Add the butter about a tbsp at a time, and continue on low speed for about 2 mins until the mixture resembles coarse meal.

3. Add the egg and vanilla and blend thoroughly. Stir in the sour cream and milk until the batter looks even. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate chips. Using a large spoon place a heaped spoon of batter in each case until about 3/4 full.

4. Bake for about 25 mins or until the tops feel firm and a skewer comes out clean. Cool for about 10 mins on a wire rack.

 

Dark Chocolate Glaze (this is the full amount, but if you don’t want to have tons left over, I’d do about 1/2 to 3/4 of the quantities below)

60g granulated sugar

175ml water

340g dark chocolate, chips or finely chopped

1 large egg, gently whisked

1. Prepare all your ingredients first so you can add them to the mixture once everything reaches the right temperature.

2. In a saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a light simmer. If the mixture comes to a boil, wait 2-3 mins before adding the chocolate. Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate. Allow it to sit in the hot water for 4 mins or so before stirring to combine.

3. Once all the chocolate is melted and combined, slowly add the egg, stirring constantly. The heat from the liquid will cook the egg and you must constantly stir to ensure you get a thick, smooth and glossy glaze. This thickens as it cools so use immediately if for a smooth finish. Either dip into it or pour it on. Otherwise it can be spread on once cooled.

 

Black Bottom (Cup)Cake

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On Friday it was my friend Julian’s birthday, and so, of course, I made him a birthday cake. Black-bottom cupcakes (from the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook) are one of the recipes on my list, but I decided it wouldn’t be that much different if I just made it as one cake instead of 12 tiny ones. It tasted really good, but the distribution of the two different layers didn’t work quite as well as I’d imagine it would in cupcake form – there seemed to be a LOT more chocolate than cheesecake. Anyway, it turned out pretty good, despite my oven’s bizarre quirks – if you’ve used it earlier, and then turn it off, if it hasn’t cooled down completely before you switch it back on, then it just switches itself off again until it’s cooled. Which, as you can imagine is really useful. Anyway, the result was that the cake took twice as long to cook because of this, and ended up slightly overdone because I was watching Clueless…shhh.

One of the happiest achievements of this cake was that the cream cheese icing turned out okay! I can’t remember if I mentioned my recent terrible failings with cream cheese icing, but basically I made it a few times recently (after having made it many, many times before and it turning out fine) and it would just curdle or be really lumpy or too liquidy, and I thought “damn you cream cheese icing, NEVER AGAIN!”. Until I realised there was a recipe on my list with it on. But now, I’m back on the cream cheese saddle, and it’s pretty good.

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the recipe:

Chocolate sponge:
190g plain flour
120g caster sugar
40g cocoa powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
40ml sunflower oil
1½ tsp white vinegar
½ tsp vanilla extract

Cheesecake:
140g cream cheese
60g caster sugar
1 egg
½ tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
100g milk chocolate chips

Icing:
300g icing sugar
50g unsalted butter
125g cold cream cheese
**note: as is the case with all Hummingbird icing, the quantities given are overly generous – half of these quantities was enough for me to ice the top of the cake, and I’ve always found that 3/4 is enough to do 12 cupcakes, unless you like way more icing than cake.

Hummingbird like to tell you to do everything with an electric mixer, which I don’t have, so just for the record, it’s not that hard to do it by hand. Yeah, I’m old fashioned.

  1.  Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3. For the chocolate sponge base put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and mix with a handheld electric whisk on slow speed until all the dry ingredients are well incorporated.
  2. Put the oil, vinegar, vanilla extract and 125 ml water in a jug and whisk to combine (you might need a bit more water to combine everything properly). While the electric whisk is running in the flour bowl, slowly add the contents of the jug, increasing the speed of the blender as the mixture thickens. Continue to beat until all the ingredients are incorporated (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula).
  3. Line a 12 hole cupcake tray with paper cases. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and set aside.
  4. For the cheesecake filling beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, vanilla extract and salt in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until smooth and fluffy.
  5. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand until evenly dispersed. Don’t overmix, otherwise the cream cheese will start to split.
  6. Scoop about 1 tbsp of the cheesecake filling on top of the cupcake mixture and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes are firm to the touch and they have an even golden colour on the cheesecake filling. Don’t overcook as the cheesecake will become very dry and crumbly.
  7. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  8. For the cream cheese frosting beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.
  9. When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the cream cheese icing on top, if using, and decorate with a light sprinkling of cocoa powder.

(Sadly I only have uninspiring photos of this cake before it was iced, because I forgot to take any afterwards because I was watching Bridesmaids/drinking beer/generally celebrating Julian’s age)

Next week: Peanut Butter Cookies

Chocolate Cupcakes

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This is the second batch of cupcakes I’ve made this week, and I’m so happy with them! Sometimes one of several things occurs: the cupcakes are too firm, the icing to cake ratio isn’t quite right, or the icing is just too sickly sweet. But not these. Oh no. I have finally found the perfect combination of amazing icing (that is just as nice soft as it is straight out of the fridge) and delicious light, fluffy sponge that makes, in my opinion, the perfect cupcake. And just like it should be, the recipe is a combination of my old favourite, Peyton & Byrne, and my new favourite, Smitten Kitchen. 

 

My mum gave me edible flowers for my birthday from Wild Country Organics, and I thought they would add a perfect summery feel to my cupcakes (to see the vanilla ones, scroll down a little). 

 

Without further ado, here is the recipe:

CAKE:

100g softened unsalted butter

175g caster sugar (substitute 75g for light brown sugar when making chocolate ones)

2 eggs

150g self-raising flour (substitute 37g for cocoa powder for chocolate ones

60ml natural yogurt

1tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas Mark 3

2. Cream together the butter and sugar. Mix in the eggs one at a time. Sieve the flour (and cocoa) in, and mix well. Then add the yogurt and vanilla, stirring until just combined.

3. Line a cupcake tray with 12 cases, then spoon in the mixture. Bake for 15-18mins or until springy to the touch. Leave to cool in the tray for 5 mins, then turn out onto a cooling rack. 

 

ICING (enough for 12 cupcakes with a little over)

I’m going to apologise right now for having half this recipe in cups and the other in grams. Sorry. I hope it works if you need to translate things about. 

6oz dark chocolate, melted and cooled (if you want chocolate icing)

2 1/4 cups icing sugar

3oz softened unsalted butter

3 tbsp whole milk or half-and-half (or if you’re me, 1 tbsp milk and 2tbsp of double cream)

1 tbsp vanilla extract

1. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the icing is smooth. (If you’re doing it by hand, it pretty much works the same way).