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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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

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

On Learning Stuff

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Last week I went to a sugarpaste decorating class. I’ve never used sugarpaste before and it seemed like it was about time I did, if not just for fun, then to increase my general cake decorating skills – which, I have to say, are slowly but surely improving (as in, I can ice a batch of cupcakes and they all look roughly the same level of goodness rather than half of them being squiggly and weird).

Incidentally, it’s quite difficult to not want to eat icing when you are surrounded by it. At first I was like, man, this looks really tasty – luckily by the end I’d become more concerned by how pretty everything was, which then overrode my desire to eat it all.

First we were shown how to deal with sugarpaste – how to colour it and make it more manageable when it started to dry out. Then we were given cutters and moulds and I made about a billion sugarpaste flowers and leaves and cherries. I was really impressed with my cherries, just because I didn’t think you could put two different colours of icing into a tiny tiny cherry-shaped mould and it would actually come out looking like cherries, but it did! It did!

Next we started covering cupcakes, making stripes and spots and in my case, a basket-weave style thing that I was super impressed with (this was the most artistic thing I achieved all evening). I decorated 10 cupcakes in the end, all in varying degrees of good-ness. It was so incredibly hot, and the icing was sticky and so I wasn’t really feeling my most artistic, which kind of ended up meaning that everyone else’s looked a lot more impressive than mine.

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It’s a fantastic thing to learn and I did enjoy it, but I realised that sugarpaste isn’t really for me. I prefer simple cakes – ones that look pretty good but taste incredible – and it’s so rare that you get cakes that look and taste incredible (I mean in a elaborately and beautifully decorated kind of way, not in a “I would totally eat that right now” kind of way). So I’m sticking with my buttercream and sprinkles for now, and hopefully they’ll get me somewhere.

 

I’ve been doing some other learning recently too, which is only slightly cake-based – the practicalities of setting up a business. It’s an incredibly overwhelming thing to try and do by yourself, to think of all the things you need to know and research and discover before you can even really start is unbelievably daunting. Some days I feel like I’m making progress, and other days I feel like I’m going to be sitting at my dining table forever trying to work out how much I would have to sell in order to make a profit. Today is one of the ‘other days’. But we’ll see. Updates will occur regularly and hopefully by the end of the summer I will have reached some kind of quantifiable achievement.

Strawberry Jam Cupcakes

One day I would like to own a shop like this, and when I do, these lovely Strawberry Jam Cupcakes will be front and centre of the display. Image

I’m not going to write out the recipe here, but they have an awesome kind of icing I have never made before, which is kind of meringue based, which involves whisking egg whites and sugar, then adding butter, and most importantly, crushed strawberries! The results are fantastic and delicious, and I can’t wait to make more. 

Emergency Chocolate Cake

It’s 8am and my house is filled with the smell of delicious melted dark chocolate. Finishing off a cake that was requested by Catherine yesterday for today. She didn’t ask for anything specific, and I didn’t have anything in mind either. That was when I remembered that a couple of weeks ago I made a flourless chocolate torte for my friend and now former colleague, Ryan, as a goodbye cake. It was the fastest cake I have ever made (apart from cooking time, which is an hour or so), and all it contained was chocolate, sugar, butter and eggs. So, I thought, why not make another one?

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This time it was a little different – the one I’d made for Ryan was in loaf form, but I wanted to make a proper round cake with icing etc – I found another recipe, this time using ground almonds. It was so quick to make, and this one only took 40 mins in the oven, which was even better. I had meant to do the glaze for it last night, but whilst waiting for it to cool decided it would be a good idea to watch the West Wing in bed, after about 20 minutes of which I fell asleep, only to wake up three hours later and find it was 1am. Not really icing making time for me…

Luckily the glaze is as fast to make as the cake, so this morning I got up, heated some cream and melted the chocolate in it, and bam, done. I think chocolate torte will now be my go-to emergency cake, because not only is it quick and easy, but it tastes really good too.

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Sweden was incredibly beautiful. It was good to spend some time away, and now I’m back and ready to bake more. I love autumn, and I’m really looking forward to being able to make lots of apple, pear and blackberry based things soon.

Recipe for Glazed Chocolate Almond Torte

300g dark chocolate

250g butter

5 eggs

4 tbsp sugar

100g ground almonds

150g self-raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

Glaze

100ml whipping cream

125g dark chocolate

1. Preheat the oven to 160C or Gas Mark 3. Melt the chocolate and the butter in a saucepan until smooth. Let it cool.

2. Beat the eggs with the sugar until foamy. Add the ground almonds, flour, baking powder and melted chocolate and mix. Grease a 23cm cake tin and pour in the batter. Bake for 40-45 mins. Let the cake cool in the tin and then remove.

3. Heat the cream in a saucepan over low heat and add the chocolate. Stir until melted and smooth. Pour the glaze over the cake and serve.