My lovely mum, English Grandma, has got a bit of a thing for lemon curd, so when I invited her over for a Mothers’ Day cuppa, I thought I’d treat her to some lovely lemon curd and strawberry fairy cakes. I use a standard ‘pound cake’ recipe for fairy cakes, weighing the eggs, then adding the same amount of the other ingredients. This one had a few squished up strawberries added too, and a lemon curd filling, topped off with a strawberry buttercream. Here’s how I did it.
Everyone loves making cupcakes, don’t they? Flora have a really easy peasy cupcake recipe on their website, which is perfect for everyday baking at home. But how do you ring the changes? Maybe you’d like to make some cupcakes as a gift for someone special, or for some sort of celebration? Flora challenged me to create four seasonal cupcake recipes to give you some inspiration for your own home baking throughout the year, so here, for your delectation, are my four very easy but good enough to share seasonal recipes:
As you know, every year I try and remind myself that life should be about snapshots, and not about stuff. When we’re old and grey, we won’t look back on our lives and remember that nice sofa we bought in the sales in 2015 (ahem), we’ll remember time spent with family and friends, visiting incredible places and enjoying new experiences.
One of my absolute favourite adventures while we were in Walt Disney World was a special, money can’t buy visit to Chef Jeff, Executive Chef at Disney’s beautiful Contemporary Resort, one of my top five Walt Disney World resort hotels. Chef Jeff and his team are responsible for all the patisserie for the resort, from gorgeous special occasion cakes, to the wonderful cupcakes available in the café.
Regular English Mum readers will know that Ireland means a lot to us all here at English Towers. In fact, it’s the reason why this little part of the interwebz even exists. Long, long ago (eight whole years to be precise) we set off on a new adventure to the Emerald Isle and spent many happy years living first in Dublin, then later Meath and finally beautiful county Cavan.
Mr English is of Irish descent and the boys are proud of their heritage. Charlie can even wow you with a bit of Gaeilge if you ask nicely (although it’s mostly swears) so when Paddy’s Day approaches, it instills in us all a mixture of nostalgia and longing for places and friends left behind.
Firstly, I’d like to say – for the purists out there – that of course I know a REAL red velvet cupcake needs proper cream cheese icing. Sadly, the object of my affections dislikes cream cheese icing. And in fact buttercream too, so I have to be a bit more creative. Using a marshmallow appeals to my lazy, cheaty side, and if you time it right, makes a deliciously gooey topping. They’re obviously not going to look the same as a perfect swirl of cream cheese, but they taste divine so it doesn’t matter.
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!
This meringue frosting (or icing) i a nice, light alternative to ganache or buttercream (although there is a buttercream version which is deliciously sinful). 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 light 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:
Now, just make a basic meringue mix. If you want to go mad and pipe them in an exuberant, English Mum-type fashion, you’ll probably need 4 egg whites and 225 caster sugar. If you’re just going to dollop some meringue on each and fluff it into little peaks, you could probably use half these amounts.
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. I added a bit of pink food colouring paste here, but of course you don’t need to.
Then, when it’s all lovely and glossy, just pipe (or dollop) the meringue onto the cupcakes, being careful to enclose the lemon curd so it doesn’t dribble down the outside.
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.