12 years, though. 12 whole years! I can’t actually believe it’s been that long since I sat at my enormous, clunky computer in that little house down a long drive in County Dublin and listened to it making that weird, warbly dial-up sound connecting to our bloody awful internet connection. They say the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step and for me, my journey really began when I started writing down my thoughts about moving our young family to Ireland. This led on to being a part of the very early blogging community in Ireland, and from there – well, you know the rest! And what better way to celebrate with you than with cake and sprinkles, and to give you, dearest reader, the most precious of gifts: the best vanilla cupcake recipe I own!
I do love a good muffin, don’t you? Here’s a quick muffin vs cupcake factorama for you: muffins are different from cupcakes because a) they don’t have a big swirl of icing or frosting on top (but they can be glazed), b) the texture is denser (wet ingredients are stirred briefly into dry, rather than creaming butter and sugar) and c) they tend to be much less sweet. Anyway, I wanted to do something with a bit of a Halloween twist involving the cupcake’s less sweet, denser, unfrosted cousin, but I’m absolutely no good with novelty things (as evidenced by these rather clumsy Halloween cupcakes back in 2013), so I decided on chocolate orange drizzle muffins basically because chocolate orange is my favourite flavour combo and also because the drizzle seems suitably autumnal and pumpkin-coloured (I’m always thinking about the ‘gram). I used cacao powder because I think it gives a better chocolatey hit than cocoa, but feel free to use either.
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) is 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.
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