Now I’m not the world’s most creative person (as some of my photos on here will testify), but as I mentioned the other day, I was desperate to make some pumpkin cupcakes. Charlie’s buddy James is 16 this week (more of this later) and I thought I’d knock up a couple for him to take to the party (obviously first checking that this was ‘the done thing’ – it’s okay, apparently it is, as long as they’re ‘not crap’).
I started out with a basic sponge cake mix and added some little fudgey chunks. Once the cakes were baked I got busy with the fondant. I coloured the fondant with tangerine colouring paste (my hands are now a fetching shade of orange) and pushed the marks into the pumpkins with a spoon. I made the brown stalk colour by adding a bit of navy to some tangerine fondant. Add a bit of green buttercream, a few spooky sweets, et voila!
Italian meringue frosting is an easy meringue icing which is a nice, light alternative to ganache or buttercream (although there is a buttercream version which is deliciously sinful). It seems to have an unlimited amount of names: Italian meringue icing/Italian meringue frosting/7 minute frosting… but it all amounts to the same thing. It’s slightly similar to Italian Meringue in that the egg whites are ‘cooked’, and it forms a nice, stable easily-piped, fluffy icing which keeps its shape well and is beautifully white (which also means it holds paste colours well and keeps true, should you wish to colour your icing).
If you use brown sugar (as I’ve done to top these dark chocolate fairy cakes, topped with fudge pieces), it imparts a gentle, toffee flavour into the icing. You can also add a teaspoon of vanilla extract, or other flavourings, but wait until the end and briefly beat it in (I think rose would be lovely, with a delicate pink colouring paste). Be careful of adding too much liquid, as this will mess with your quantities.
You will need:
2 large free range egg whites
225g caster sugar
Pinch of cream of tartar
So basically just pop all the ingredients into a heatproof bowl, place the bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water (as always with a bain marie, don’t let the water touch the bottom of the bowl) and whip the bejaysus out of it for, suprise surprise, seven minutes. A word of warning, though, if at the seven minute mark, your icing isn’t really thick, glossy and standing up in stiff peaks, keep going. Also, be careful to get the whisk right to the bottom of the bowl and around the edges, otherwise you can get lumpy bits.
Once the icing has reached this stage, take it straight off the hot water and pop it straight into the icing bag (or spread onto your cake). As it cools it will set a little, so use it straight away.
British summertime means strawberries, and for me, that means making the strawberry scented fairy cakes I remember baking with my Mum. If you’re surprised that this recipe contains sour (or ‘soured’) cream, you’ll soon realise that its fresh flavour is the perfect complement to sweet, summer strawberries. It also has the added benefit of making sponge cakes tender and light.
Lovely Yeo Valley have just added a soured cream to their range and gave me some to play with (check out the funky packaging) and it’s incredibly versatile. It’s fabulous for dips, sauces, baked potatoes and dolloping on a spicy chilli con carne, but it teams equally well with fruit: think hot apple pie with a mountain of cinnamon-laced, slightly tangy soured cream. It also whips quite well. You won’t get the volume of double cream, but the texture is lovely. After whipping, fold through a couple of tablespoons of icing sugar for an almost cheesecake-like flavour. Perfect with berries and crushed meringue for a different take on Eton Mess.
For the fairy cakes, you’ll need:
170g butter, softened
170g caster sugar
3 free range eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
200g self raising flour
100g strawberries, mashed
4 tbsp sour cream
For the glacé icing:
5 tbsp icing sugar
Beat the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy.
Crack the eggs into a bowl, add in the vanilla and lightly mix with a fork. Add it to the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time, mixing well.
Stir in half the flour, then add in the mashed strawberries. Stir in the rest of the flour and finally the sour cream.
Bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for 20 minutes until just golden. Allow to cool, then sift the icing sugar and add just enough water to make a thick paste.
Dribble onto the cakes and finish with a small strawberry.
I’ll be honest, I lost my baking mojo for a while. Not even really sure why. And it’s actually the weirdest thing that has inspired me again: Instagram.
My hideous Blackberry (well, Blackberries, I had four, all in all) was finally replaced by my phone company (they were sick of the whining… and the crying… I was on first name terms with every call centre member) by a really stonkingly handy and practical Samsung Galaxy S2. I’m LOVING it. The emailing, Twitter and Facebook are all top drawer and – finally – I can have Instagram! Taking pictures has become fun again. I’ll leave you to judge how I’m doing, but here’s my first recipe photographed, and edited with Instagram and Pixlr-o-matic.
These are slightly different, and a bit easier, than the lemon meringue fairy cakes using lemon curd as a filling. I like those too, but to quickly whip up on a lazy Sunday afternoon, this recipe can’t be beaten. It’s a really simple ‘pound cake’ or fairy cake recipe, enhanced with lemon, and topped with fluffy meringue.
You will need:
170g softened butter
170g caster sugar
1 lemon, zested and juiced
170g self raising flour
So firstly, beat the butter and sugar until very pale and creamy (or whiz it in the food mixer). Then break the eggs into a bowl and gently mix in the lemon zest and juice with a fork. Add this, a little at a time, to the mixture, making sure it comes together. It’s a good idea to have the flour already weighed out, so if it starts to look a bit curdly, you can add in a tablespoon to bring it together again.
Plop a tablespoon of the mixture into each of 12 paper cases (I used my new Tala bakeware – it weighs a ton, but is so hard wearing and easy to clean – a must have for us cakey bakers) and bake at 180/gas 4 for 15-20 mins until they’re just springy when touched. Set aside to cool while you make the meringue:
You will need:
2 egg whites
115g caster sugar
If you want to go mad and pipe them in an exuberant, pillowy clouds, then double up, but I used this amount and it covered 12 cakes.
It’s best not to pipe the meringue into too much of peak anyway, as it then burns under the grill before the rest of it has had a chance to colour, so try and keep your piping quite ‘flat’. Using a large star shaped nozzle, start at the outside and work in.
Anyhoo, so using a food processor, or just a very clean bowl, a whisk and lots of elbow grease, whip up the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Now you can start to add the sugar, a spoonful at a time, while continuing to whisk. Check occasionally that all the sugar has ‘melted’ into the meringue. It shouldn’t feel gritty to the touch. Because you’re piping, I give it an extra whizz in the machine to make sure it’s really thick and holds its shape.Then, when glossy and smooth, just pipe (or dollop) the meringue onto the cupcakes and pop them under a very hot grill (or have a go at them with a blowtorch if you’re hard core) until they’re nicely caramelised, but hopefully not burnt. The usual warnings about people who shouldn’t eat raw eggs apply here.
So it’s English Grandma’s birthday, and I really wanted to take some time and make her some absolutely beautiful cupcakes. I love pistachio (and, more importantly, I know she does too!), plus it has the added bonus of making the sponge a delicate green colour. This pistachio recipe is adapted from Xanthe Milton’s amazing Eat Me recipe book.
For the white chocolate and lime ganache, I’ve done it a little differently. Usually I would just melt the chocolate, then whisk the cream in until I get the texture I need, but I wanted the lime zest to infuse into the cream, so I heated the cream, then stirred in the white chocolate. You’ll need to chill it down, then whip it to get a lovely texture for piping.
For the cupcakes:
250g golden caster sugar
120ml Greek yoghurt
170g self raising flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
50g pistachios, ground or whizzed (plus a few extra for decoration)
So preheat the oven to 180 degrees/gas 4 and pop some cupcake papers in a 12 hole muffin tin.
Beat the butter and sugar in the food processor or with an electric hand whisk.
In a different bowl, beat the eggs then beat in the yoghurt.
Set the beater going again and beat the yoghurt mixture into the butter mixture.
Sift the flour and baking powder into the mixture, then add the pistachios and stir it all until just combined.
Plop a tablespoon of the mixture into each cupcake paper, then bake for about 15-20 minutes. As with all cupcakes, take them out when they’re only just done, as they’ll continue to cook a little bit when you take them out of the oven. As soon as the sponge springs up again when you press it, whip them out.
Allow the cupcakes to cool, then pipe on the white chocolate and lime ganache:
200g white chocolate
100ml double cream
Zest of 1 unwaxed lime
So as above, just warm the cream in a saucepan with the lime zest. Pop in the white chocolate then allow to cool. Chill very well in the fridge, then when properly chilled, whisk until light and fluffy and pipe or spread onto the cooled cupcakes.
Happy birthday, Mum!
So after promising my lovely cousin, Moon and his wife Miska that I’d make cupcake towers for Mattie’s Christening, I’ve been having Laura-like cupcake anxiety dreams for the last week – nightmares about everything from collapsing towers to rock-hard icing have plagued my sleep. I was almost glad when Saturday arrived and I could stop worrying and get on with it. Brace yourself, then, a few gazillion photos to follow…
When I’d asked Moon and Miska what they wanted, they said ‘really bright colours’, so I chose base buttercream colours in violet, tangerine, lime and ice blue, topped with flavoured fondant in chocolate, sherbert lemon, fizzy orange and strawberry (not too much pink, obviously). I spent a nice relaxing couple of days cutting out loads of stars and circles and also made some stars on ‘springs’ made of florist’s wire to dangle over the edge of the towers.
I was a bit disappointed as the fondant dried considerably lighter in colour, but hey, I decorated some of the stars with very dodgy ‘M’s and pearlised white writing icing and sprinkles and was quite pleased with the end result:
I then spent a very sweaty couple of hours in the kitchen baking the vanilla cupcakes, then mixing up the buttercream in batches and blending it with the colouring paste.
After the buttercream icings were completely chilled, I whipped them up again and piped them directly onto the cooled cakes. I did some with traditional swirls, some with little star clusters and a few ‘turds’, as my lovely son nicknamed them. It started to go slightly wrong at this stage because the kitchen was so hot that the buttercream was starting to melt, so after a quick panic call to my Dad, he arranged for me to get into the venue and we transported all the cakes into their fridge – just in the nick of time.
The next morning I went and decorated all the cakes in situ and I have to say I left for the church feeling really proud of myself. The buttercream stayed really vibrant, and it didn’t seem to matter than the fondant was slightly lighter in colour:
The actual Christening was wonderful. Little Matty behaved so well and the Vicar was really lovely:
Everyone was so nice about the cupcakes and I absolutely adored watching this little girl concentrating so hard on choosing which one she’d have:
Matty was an absolute trooper, giving constant smiles and cuddles to everyone…
He showed off his walking:
and even gave his Dad a quick round of applause after his speech:
The hubster popped in to say hi on his way back to work:
And I was so proud of my fellas and my beautiful niece Lu, who were a great laugh and absolutely lovely company:
A special thank you to Helen at Aardvark Cakes for emergency Twitter panic support and her invaluable help and advice.
Also big thank you to Renshaw for the lovely flavoured fondant (my favourite was the lemon sherbet!). Check out their amazing website: http://www.mybakes.co.uk/
The cupcakes were just basic vanilla sponges made in batches of 6 eggs (weighed in their shells), then equal weights of butter, caster sugar and self-raising flour. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs a little at a time. Add 2tsp vanilla extract and then stir in the self-raising flour. Spoon into 24 muffin cases (1tbsp mixture into each) then bake at 180/gas 4 for about 20 mins. NB: if you add a tray of water into the bottom of the oven, the cupcakes stay nice and flat on top.
The buttercream was 500g butter and 1kg icing sugar (per 24). Cream the butter then gently add in the icing sugar and a splosh of milk and beat until soft and fluffy. Add in about 1/2 tsp of colouring paste (use less for pastel colours), beat again, then refrigerate. Before piping, whip until soft.
So after all the emotional turmoil of Monday’s blog post (thank you, from the bottom of my heart, if you took the time to comment), my thoughts obviously turned to cakey buns. What I needed was some serious yummage. Stat.
Firstly, a little admission: they went wrong. Oh yes, spectacularly so. What I intended was a soft chocolate spongey muffin, topped with a dollop of salted caramel and enveloped in a gorgeous piped swirl of chocolatey meringue icing.
Sadly, my meringue icing ended up looking like a large pile of gritty snot in the bottom of the KitchenAid.
Ah well, onwards and upwards. I whipped up some ganache, dolloped it on and it was just as good. Just don’t ask me to make meringue icing EVER again. Mkay?
For the muffins, then, you’ll need:
200g chocolate, melted (half of this is for the ganache)
170g butter, room temp
150g caster sugar
150g self raising flour
1 heaped tbsp cocoa powder
Basically, just cream the butter and sugar together until it’s really light and fluffy. Mix the eggs gently with a fork, then dribble them slowly, a bit at a time, into the mixture until they’re all combined. I find sometimes that if you lob in a whole egg it can curdle the mixture (although, this can be rescued with a spoonful of flour, admittedly).
Now stir in the flour and sifted cocoa, then fold in half of the melted chocolate. Dollop a tablespoon of mixture into each of 12 muffin cups placed into a muffin tin and bake at 180/gas 4 for about 20 minutes or until just springy to the touch.
For the ganache, you’ll find the recipe here.
When the cakes are cool, dollop a teaspoonful of Marks and Spencer’s quite delightful salted caramel sauce (an extortionate 4 Euro a pop – no wonder I felt the need to use it up), then cover with a blob of your cooled ganache (feel free to pipe it – I’d lost the will to live by this stage).
Stuff into face, sighing gently and pondering the meaning of life, the universe and everything. A cup of tea can help too (it was too early for gin).
As I sit here, simmering in my sun-baked conservatory and squinting at the dusty screen, I’m really beginning to believe that summer’s in full swing. Here and there at farmers’ markets and farm shops, the glossy punnets of British strawberries are stacked up high, making it the perfect time to treat your loved ones to some pretty strawberry cupcakes.
I like this recipe as it perfectly demonstrates how easy it is to fling together your own recipes. Don’t listen to those people who say that baking is a science and everything needs to be exact. Fancy adding something to a recipe? Whop it in. If it turns out wrong, well, as my good friend Coastal Aussie said after her recent Kiwi Meringue Pie disaster, ‘it wouldn’t be fun if I didn’t experiment’.
Here, then, is the result of my own experimentation: a strawberry sponge as light and fluffy as a cloud, topped with a swirl of creamy white chocolate ganache. Pandering both to my sweet tooth and my eye for the pink and pretty.
For the cupcakes:
170g caster sugar
6 or 7 fresh strawberries, washed and hulled (about 100g)
Squeeze of lemon
3 free range eggs
170g self raising flour
For the ganache:
200g white chocolate
Small tub double cream
First then, beat the butter and sugar together until it’s really pale and fluffy. Next you need to purée the strawberries with a squeeze of lemon. If you’re using a large blender (my stick blender with the handy little cup attachment blew up quite recently), it’s easier to blend the strawberries together with the three eggs as the volume is larger and you’ll get a smoother finish, but if you don’t mind the odd lump, you can just as easily mash them with a fork.
Add the strawberry/egg mixture to the butter and sugar fluff little by little, beating all the time. Don’t worry if it curdles – you can usually get it back by adding a tablespoon of the flour and beating it again. Keep adding until all the strawberry mixture is combined into the batter. Now just gently fold in the flour. The result is so deliciously light and fluffy, and smells so scrumptious, that you might have to give yourself a stern talking to in order to avoid eating it all right now. However, if you’re one of those strange people who are repulsed by raw cake mixture you should be fine. Weirdo.
And now, by some mystical baking magic, (and if you haven’t eaten it all) it will transpire that there is exactly enough mixture to fill 12 cupcake papers with exactly a tablespoon of mixture. Pop them in your preheated oven (oh I forgot that bit – gas 4/180 degrees. Sorry) and bake for a scant 20 minutes until the tops just spring up when pushed. Better to be slightly underdone than over, though, you want these sponges light and airy.
While the cupcakes are baking, make your white chocolate ganache. Melt a 200g bar of white chocolate in a bowl over some barely simmering water (turn the heat off when it’s bubbling). When it’s melted, allow to cool a little then whisk in a few tablespoons of double cream (every time I do this I curse the fact that I never remember to measure it). It will thicken up, then loosen again. You just want it the consistency of softened butter, I guess. Whisk it up to incorporate loads of air, then either pipe into thick swirls, or just speak generously over the cupcakes
and top with a strawberry.
Pink perfection in a paper case. Try saying that after you’ve been at the cooking sherry.
My lovely commenter Jen contacted me on Twitter yesterday and said she’d just made some of my lemon meringue cupcakes. I was inspired to knock up a batch, but when I went to find the recipe of course they weren’t here as I’d done them as a guest post for Rosie Scribble back in March.
Anyhoo, if you haven’t seen them, they SO deserve another outing. In fact, even if you don’t bother to make the meringue bit, do make the cupcakes and the lemon curd. They’re rather lip smacking, even if I say so myself:
You will need:
170g softened butter
170g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
170g self raising flour
So firstly, beat the butter and sugar until very pale and creamy. Then beat in the eggs, one at a time, giving the mixture a good mix in between. Add in the vanilla extract, then gently fold in the flour until well combined.
Dollop the mixture into 12 muffin cases (about 1 tbsp each) and bake at 180/gas 4 for 15-20 mins until they’re just springy when touched. Set aside to cool while you make some lemon curd (you can buy it, but home-made is just so much nicer, and very easy):
2 lemons, zested then juiced
150g caster sugar
2 whole eggs plus one yolk (keep white for the meringue)
Take a saucepan and put in the butter, lemon juice and zest and caster sugar. Melt it all together slowly, stirring until the sugar is all dissolved. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and yolk until well combined. Now, take your warm, lemony, butter mixture and gently pour a little bit into the egg, whisking all the time, then a bit more, then a bit more, until you’ve combined about half of it with the eggs. Don’t bung it all in at once or you’ll get lovely bits of scrambled egg floating around in your lemon curd.
Now bung that lot back into the saucepan and keep whisking and simmering until the mixture thickens. Turn off the heat and leave to cool. It will thicken a bit more when cooled. Oh and remember to just stir it occasionally to keep it from getting a skin on.
When it’s about room temperature, and the cakes are cooled, you can add about a tablespoon (or as much as you can balance without it dribbling off the edge of the cupcake) onto each cake:
Finally, just give your meringues a very quick go either (carefully!) under a hot grill, or give them a blast with a kitchen blowtorch, just to ‘set’ the meringue and very gently brown the tops.
Feel free to leave your cupcakes bare, but they’re crying out for all manner of silly glittery, hearty, pink decoration (or is that just me?).
Oh and make sure any leftover lemon curd is refrigerated and used up within a couple of days (I never have that problem).
Seriously, if you’re a bit of a cupcake afficionado like my good self, Eat Me!: The Stupendous, Self-raising World of Cupcakes and Bakes According to Cookie Girl is the book that you will cherish, love and continually be covering in dropped splodges of buttercream. It’s one of those books that’s just so lusciously pink and pretty, so inspiring, so flippin’ cute, that you’ll adore it forever.
The story behind the book is just as unique as the book itself. Turns out, Xanthe Milton started her cupcake career by selling her wares door to door in West London dressed in the kind of Alice in Wonderland/Nell Gwynne costume that must have had the fellas wanting more than her cupcakes. She really does make baking sexy. And I love Xanthe’s writing too, it’s difficult not to admire someone who pours so much love into every pink-iced morsel:
“…when making cupcakes for a wedding, it is essential to think thoughts of love, future happiness and prosperity for the bride and groom… never bake out of a sense of obligation or when feeling sad or stressed. No good will come of it – the milk will sour and the butter will go rancid”
So far, I’ve made about three of the recipes. I particularly loved the Pistachio Lime Cupcakes and the little lemon biscuits (for sheer quirkiness, though, check out the Jack Daniels Cupcakes!) and the book delivers on the quality of the recipes as well. It’s a win/win. Rush out and buy it now.
EAT ME! The Stupendous, Self-Raising World of Cupcakes & Bakes According to Cookie Girl by Xanthe Milton is out now, Published by Ebury Press, priced at £15.00.
So today is a happy and a sad day. I’m happy, because I love all things Irish, and we’d always have a wonderful day out at a pararde or a mad boat race or somesuch nonsense, and then a special St Patrick’s Day dinner at English Towers to mark the occasion. Sad, because I miss our lovely Irish home and even lovelier Irish friends. So this post is dedicated to all of them: wonderful, bonkers Jen, D&D Next Door, to the scrummy Mrs Lovely, and to Poppy’s Mum. I miss you all.
Guinness cupcakes, then. This idea was more to emulate the ‘look’ of Guinness, rather than the actual taste, which I have to admit I’m not a great fan of. Still, their dense gingery fudginess is certainly Guinness-like, and the light, soft topping of whipped cream adds to the effect. They don’t taste too bad, either, which is a bonus.
You will need:
170g Irish butter, softened
200g dark brown soft sugar
2 tbsp black treacle
170g self raising flour
2 tsp ground ginger
First, then, beat the butter and sugar. Soft brown sugar is the way to go here – you want the toffee, fudgy taste that it adds:
Make sure it’s really pale and fluffy before you move on to the next step:
Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well between each addition, then add the black treacle. Mix well.
Now, sieve the flour and ginger, and add in to the mix.
Stir gently, without overworking the mixture. Spoon into muffin cases and bake at 180 degrees/gas 4 for about 15 – 20 minutes until just springy in the middle. Remove to a rack to cool.
Meanwhile, if you want to make cream cheese icing, just whisk about 100g of cream cheese like Philadelphia with a squeeze of lemon and 200g sieved icing sugar. Or you can just spoon over some whipped cream. Or ganache. Or just normal glacé icing. Or just leave them plain. I’m all-encompassing on the topping front. It’s just how I roll.
Obviously you can use ganache (click here for how-to guide with Green & Black’s), but then you’ll lose the ‘pint of Guinness’ effect:
If you’ve got far too much time on your hands like certain people I know *cough*, then you can make really pathetically bad shamrocks out of chocolate to adorn your cupcakes, or pop on a little bit of greenery (make sure it’s edible – this is lemon thyme).
NOTE: As a little trial, I did reserve a bit of the mixture and add in a couple of tbsp of Guinness. The result is pleasingly earthy and not at all unpleasant. I would suggest that it was more of an adult taste, but well worth a try.
However you make them, and wherever you are in the world, I hope you enjoy them and have a wonderful St Patrick’s Day.
Oh, and this is especially for my wonderful BFF, Jen:
(See, Jen, all your teaching wasn’t in vain – look at those ‘fodders’! LOL xxx)
UPDATE: Okay, so the results are in. And yes, I know, I know, this is just a bit of fun, not a competition, but Toria has chosen her faves:
1st Heather’s from Eggs, Cream and Honey. They look mouthwateringly gorgeous and I want to stuff my face with them! Yum
2nd Mummy Limited’s heart cupcakes. Loving the sparkliness with the glitter and hearts that look fab on the cream frosting. Too pretty to eat so that’s why 2nd
3rd Rosie Scribble’s cupcakes for their drizzley randomness and nowt to do with the subliminal cakes. Promise
Happy Valentine’s Day! Romance is alive and well at English Towers this morning and after swearing blind that we weren’t going to do anything for V-day, I was woken from my slumber with a kiss and an armful of beautiful rosebuds.
On to the challenge then. Luckily, my beautiful mate V from Scrummy Cupcake has volunteered to judge. I’ll keep adding them on as fast as I can so you can see every single entry. Apologies for the differing sizes, but if you try and enlarge the smaller ones, they just get all distorted. Let’s roll ‘em out then…
First up, we have Amy Lane’s beautiful Valentine’s cupcakes:
Jelly Monster’s gorgeous red velvet cupcakes with marshmallow cream cheese frosting:
Drina’s cute pink little cupcakes:
Mummy Limited’s fabulous heart cupcakes:
Working Mum on the Verge’s frankly stunning cupcakes made for Bloggers for Haiti (she raised £100!):
Little Miss Working Mum on the Verge’s beauties too:
Knackered Mother is next with her beautifully decorated little babies (I’ve got my eye on the marshmallow ones at the back):
Snaffles Mummy added Lovehearts – perfect!:
Tara at Sticky Fingers made these stunning cupcakes with her daughter:
And so did Rosie Scribble:
and here’s Madame Scribble’s less than subtle attempt at subliminal messaging for the judge:
And here are Heather’s from Eggs Cream and Honey – I love the texture on these :
There are from Hannah at HomeBaked online (whose red velvet cupcakes were much redder than mine!):
and here are Not such a yummy mummy’s beautiful bunch of cupcakes:
And here are Jo’s stunning pink cupcakes (no boob jokes, Jo, I promise):
and these gorgeously coloured cupcakes are from Lucy over at Teen Baker:
and these heart-shaped beauties are from Erica at Little Mummy:
These are from Me, The Man and The Baby (I love that your hubby thought you’d cut yourself!):
And these are from fellow Disney blogger and all-round good egg, Exmoor Jane (I want some of that food colouring stash you’re hiding!):
These are from Helen (@ChepstowCupcake) via Twitter:
These lovelies are from Audrey, c/o SWSurreyHomeEd.co.uk
And these gorgeous sparkly heart-adorned babies are from Little Dude’s Mummy:
And this enormous great beauty is from the incredibly talented daughter of Toyjeanius:
So as you know, I kinda lost my blogging mojo.
It all started to really bug me. I mean, what am I exactly? A foodie blogger? In which case, should I concentrate on food, and not talk so much arse? Or am I a ‘mummy blogger’ (how I hate the term)? A foodie mummy blogger? A foodie blogger who’s also a mummy? A doggy blogger? A foodie doggy mummy blogger? A blogging mummy foodie… er… dogger?
I think I’m kind of ‘none of the above’, really. I’m a blogger who happens to be a mother of two ridiculously fantastic and hilariously funny boys of whom I’m immensely proud. And I’m a foodie. But I’m also a wife, a very occasional journalist (One article this year so far, count it: one.), and a daughter of quite the most spectacularly mental parents you could wish for. I write about food, yes, and I write about kids, but then I write about all sorts of old rubbish besides those two things and an awful lot more besides: greyhounds, chickens, ‘bollocks’ pies, sexual gymnastics…
So I decided I wouldn’t pigeonhole myself. I would let my verbal vomit run free. I would practice ‘no holds barred’ blogging – ‘blogging sans frontieres’, if you would. And do you know what? My mojo came back.
The return of the missing mojo was also partly due to the lovely chaps at Green & Black’s sending me a mahoosive parcel of chocolate. I mean, whose mojo could remain missing when surrounded by about ten different flavours of the most fabulous chocolate in the world?
And seeing as we’ve got the ginormous Cupcake Challenge in the offing, I thought I’d say a few words about chocolate and a few more about ganache:
Chocolate, especially decent chocolate like Green and Black’s needs gentle treatment. That means that melting it in the microwave is a bit of a no no in my book, as the microwave can create hotspots and burn the chocolate or turn it grainy. The best way is to place it in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of hot water. Make sure the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl, and when the water starts to bubble, just turn it off and allow the chocolate to melt gently. I’m a bit anal, but I don’t like to stir until it’s completely melted:
Furthermore, there’s no point in bunging in a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (as nice as it is) – you need something good quality with a high cocoa content, and for cooking, good cocoa butter content will make for easier melting. I tried Green and Black’s Milk Cook’s Chocolate (one of many in my stash) and was really pleased with the result: melted easily? Check. Nice milky taste? Check. No hint of graininess? Check. Furthermore, each little square weighs exactly 5g. Magic!
There’s some kind of ridiculous snobbery about ganache. I mean, just because it’s got a poncy French name it doesn’t mean it has to be poncy itself: it’s just cream and chocolate for goodness’ sake. If you make it runny you can pour it over things as a glaze, or if you make it stiffer you can make truffles, you can chill it and whip it and then pipe it on things too, but it’s still just chocolate and cream.
Anyhoo, so just whisk your cream into your melted chocolate until you get the required consistency (as above), then pour or spread over your cake as required. For piping, bung it in the fridge, then give it a whisk before filling your piping bag.
Et voila. Ganache. Magnifique, n’est-ce pas?
(Oh and these little beauties are red velvet cupcakes, taken from an awesomely, beautiful new book called ‘Eat Me’ by Xanthe Milton which is due to be published on Mar 4th – and guess who’s getting a review copy?!)
So I’m a bit bleurgh about blogging at the moment.
I have no inspiration.
I’ve lost my mojo, as it were.
So I thought ‘ooh, I know, I need a little bit of reader interaction’. And so I went in the bath (mango and lime bubbles, if you must know) and had a think. And here’s the plan. I’m setting you a challenge.
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to make me some cupcakes (well, not me exactly, I don’t want you to post them to me or anything). Seeing as Valentine’s Day is coming up and it’s always a huge anticlimax, I thought you could make Valentine’s Day cupcakes. I want real effort here, now – none of this watery icing and sprinkles nonsense - proper, beeyootiful cupcakes.
If you’re a blogger, then you can post a picture on your blog, or if you’re not a nerd you can just email me a picture to be posted, proudly, on englishmum.com on Valentine’s Day.
What do you think, then? You up for it?
Oh and while you’re at it, if you’re truly proud of your pic, you can enter it in this month’s Home Baked Challenge, the theme of which is ‘love’ and of which I happen to be a judge. I won’t be biased. Honest.
So, chocolate muffins, then. I make them more times than I care to admit to and, as a dabbler, tend to add at least one extra little something: some chopped white chocolate, maybe, or some orange zest… dried cherries are surprisingly nice… sometimes I’ll decorate them with ganache, or just melted chocolate, and sometimes I just leave them alone and unadorned. This version came about after making muffins and wishing there was something else I could pipe onto them apart from buttercream, which I love, but Hubby detests. So first up for the muffins, you’ll need:
170g butter, softened
170g caster sugar
115g self raising flour
55g cocoa powder
So preheat the oven to 180/gas 4 and beat together the butter and sugar until they’re really light and fluffy. Add in the eggs one at a time, beating really well after each addition, then sieve the flour and cocoa into the bowl and fold them in gently. If the mixture’s a bit thick, add a slosh of milk.
Put paper muffin cups into the holes of a muffin tray and put a tablespoon of the mixture into each one (it should make about 12). Bake them for about 15/20 minutes until the centre springs back up when you push it with your finger. Leave them to cool on a wire rack:
Now, get cracking on the meringue:
Take a really clean bowl and whisk up two egg whites until they’re really stiff (yes, yes, you can do the ‘holding the bowl over someone’s head’ thing if you like). Now whisk in 115g of caster sugar one tablespoon at a time, whisking really well between each spoonful until the meringue is thick and glossy.
Now comes the fun bit. Preheat the grill to medium and then you can just dollop the meringue on top of the muffins, or you can crack open the piping kit (yay!) and pipe little swirls of meringue over the muffins. Once they’ve been piped, it’s your prerogative as Head Chef to pipe the rest of the meringue straight into your mouth. Now just let them heat gently under the grill until they’re kind of golden with a few darker tips – watch them carefully as they burn really easily. BTW: If you’re worried about eating raw eggs, you could always pipe them onto greaseproof paper on a baking tray, then bake them in a really low oven, and just stick them on top of the muffins with a spoonful of whipped cream. Yum. I was also thinking these would be lovely made without the cocoa (make up the difference with flour) and with a tsp or two of vanilla extract, then you could even add a hint of pink food colouring into the meringue – fab for a girly party.
And there you have it. Gorgeous, gooey meringue and rich chocolate cake. A mixture, I think you’ll agree, made in heaven. As I always say, there aren’t many things in this life that can’t be improved with a big dollop of meringue.
So this week, Mr Lovely (D next door’s brother in law – it’s all so incestuous round these parts) turned 40. Mrs L has been, somewhat reluctantly it has to be said, planning a big party and we had a little brainstorming evening to sort out the finer details. Seeing as Mr L is a fireman, it made sense for someone to bake a fire engine cake. Mrs Lovely didn’t volunteer. Neither did I. It turned into a bit of a staring contest and then we decided that we’d pursue other avenues – both of us being severely cack-handed in the cake decorating department. We were chatting about cupcake towers and the like and looking on the internerd when it dawned: cupcakes…loads and loads of little cupcakes each decorated with a teeny fire engine. Mrs Lovely vowed to have a crack at a fire engine cake too. The nutter.
Saturday morning dawned, then, and I started on the cupcakes. While I baked batches of 24, passing children were enlisted to help melt chocolate and whisk ganache and stick on the little rice paper/icing cake-toppers that Mrs L ordered and had delivered to her sister in the UK, along with a big list of other baking stuff that’s hard to find here (she got stopped coming through customs with a big block of royal icing – ‘no officer, it’s not semtex – honest’). We decided to stick to vanilla cupcakes with white chocolate ganache, and chocolate cupcakes with dark chocolate. But honestly, after a while, it all kind of got a bit confused and anyone that happened to have made a bowl of ganache dolloped it on the nearest available cakes.
So for the vanilla cupcakes, then, you need
125g caster sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
1 tsp vanilla extract (leave out for the chocolate ones)
2 large eggs
125g self raising flour (replace a heaped tbsp with cocoa for chocolate ones)
Couple of tbsp milk
Firstly, try to make sure everything is at room temperature. Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, add the vanilla extract and then the eggs, beating well after each addition. Don’t worry if it curdles – that’s such an old wives tale – just add some of the flour and carry on. Then gently fold in the flour (if you beat the hell out of it you won’t get a lovely light sponge) and lastly the milk – just enough to make the batter plop softly off a tablespoon into the cupcake paper. Bake at 180/gas 4 for about 18 minutes until golden – they should spring back when lightly pressed. Cool on a wire rack. This amount will make about 12 cupcakes. Remember you don’t want them too high, or the ganache won’t completely cover them.
For the ganache:
200g bar white chocolate
2 tbsp icing sugar
About 100ml double cream
Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let it spit everywhere as you risk getting water in the chocolate, in fact, once it’s boiled just turn it off – the chocolate will still melt). When just melted, take it off the heat and sieve in the icing sugar. Gently start to whisk that in, then while you’re whisking, pour in the cream until you have a thick, glossy bowlful – about the same consistency as melted chocolate. Pour a generous tablespoon of it over each cupcake – ideally so that it just about reaches the top of the paper case. Then just leave them naked or decorate with whatever you like: mad, printed cake toppers…grated chocolate… a big swirl of whipped cream… jelly beans… whatever.
Multiply that recipe by about 8, blow up your food mixer, scoff any disasters, make a few more and there you have it. A 100 cupcake birthday extravaganza. Happy birthday, Mr Lovely! Oh, and she never did make that fire engine cake, y’know. Great party though.
So you’ll like this. For my new job, I do all sorts of bonkers things (like cooking Christmas dinner in October, but that’s another story), but it does give you lots of new ideas. I’ve been working on cupcakes recently, and this is how I started with the Bounty cake idea. I was trying to think of a nice icing to go with a coconut cupcake. I have a really nice lemon cream cheese icing recipe, which would be fab with ginger or carrot cupcakes but somehow it just didn’t seem right with the coconut. And then it hit me: what better combination is there than coconut and chocolate? And so the Bounty cupcake was born. This is its older brother: just as nice, you just get to have bigger portions. Result.
For the coconut cake:
150g soft butter
250g caster sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
300g self-raising flour
40g desiccated coconut
250ml buttermilk (if you can’t find it, make your own by squeezing the juice of half a lemon into 250ml milk)
For the ganache:
175g bar dark chocolate (or white would be lovely)
Leftover buttermilk (or cream)
So preheat your oven to 180/gas 4 and line a baking tin with greaseproof paper (one with a removable bottom – ooer – is good here). Give it a brush round with some soft butter too, just to make doubly sure it won’t stick. Whack it in the mixer, or just beat the butter and sugar until they’re light and fluffy, then add in the vanilla and the eggs, beating well after each addition. Then just bung in all the dry ingredients, pour over the buttermilk and stir gently until just combined. Pour the mixture into the buttered tin and bake for about 40 minutes until the top is golden and a knife poked into the centre comes out clean. Mine was going a bit too brown on top, so I covered it with foil for the last 5 or 10 minutes. (Obviously if you’d prefer, you can spoon the mixture into about 12 cupcake papers. They’ll only take about 20 minutes to cook.)
Take the cake out and leave it somewhere to cool. Then make your ganache. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water (turn the heat out once the water is bubbling otherwise it will spit boiling water at you). As soon as the chocolate’s about there, take it off the heat and let it cool a bit, before whisking in a splosh of buttermilk, then another, until the mixture gets to a spreadable consistency. Put the icing in the fridge. You’ll get the same result if you use cream, but somehow the buttermilk gives it a more ‘grown up’ tang which works well with the dark chocolate.
When the cake is cool, take the icing out of the fridge and whisk it, preferably with an electric whisk. This will incorporate a bit of air and make it fluffier and paler. Don’t worry if you whisk too far and it goes grainy and solid – splosh a bit more buttermilk in, whisk it a bit more and it’ll recover. Spread all over the cake, sprinkle on some desiccated coconut and stuff into face, preferably with a latte, a roaring fire and a very fat, spoilt greyhound for company.