Saturday, 31 March 2012

Many years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I used to wear a perfume called Deci Dela.  And (call me an Ad Man's dream) I originally bought it because I LOVED the packaging, there's a link to it here so you can see - a hot pink matte glass bottle with gold embellishments.  And there was a hot orange matte bottle too...but I don't remember what the differences were between the two options.  Anyway, I have always carried the design around in the junk drawer that is my right brain.  Today, I opened the junk drawer...and some decorated cookies fell out!  Now, the cookies themselves are truly delicious, you could easily enjoy them without the decoration.  But I can't leave well alone and had to whip up a batch of royal icing.  I'm including the cookie recipe today and will endeavour to blog the royal icing bit tomorrow...or the next day.  Believe me, it's important to be precise with the icing part so I'd rather devote a whole post to it!  It's perfectly OK to allow these cookies to sit in a tin for a few days (or the freezer for a few months) before you decorate them, so there's no rush to complete them all in one go.  Oh, and the smell of these cooking is divine.  Divine I tell you.  Try it, and tell me I'm wrong!
Orange Nutmeg Cookies:
120g / 5oz unsalted butter, softened
100g / 4oz Trex or Cookeen or Shorteen or Crisco (butter flavour is the best option)**
250g / 10oz caster or superfine sugar
1 large egg
1 tblspn runny honey
Zest of 2 medium oranges (use a microplane, and only get the orange part)
1 nutmeg grated (or 1 tsp of ready ground)
3 cups plain or all purpose flour + 1 tsp baking powder
  1. Beat together the butter, shortening and sugar until it is very light and fluffy - about 3 minutes.
  2. Add the egg, honey, orange zest and grated nutmeg.  Beat again for about 1 minute until everything is very well combined.
  3. With the mixer on slow, gradually add the flour and baking powder.  Mix only until everything is combined and the dough starts to clump around the paddle.
  4. Divide the dough into 2 pieces, wrap each piece in cling wrap, squash down into a fat disc shape, then refrigerate for at least 30 mins.
  5. Preheat the oven to 170 C / 350 F.  Line at least 2 baking sheets, maybe 3 with baking paper or parchment.  Remove the dough from the fridge and its wrapping.  Scatter some plain or all purpose flour on the kitchen bench. Knead the dough lightly but firmly.  This will be tricky at first and the mixture may be quite crumbly.  Don't worry, keep going until everything comes together.  
  6. Roll the dough out until it is roughly half a centimetre / quarter of an inch thick.  Using your cutter of choice (mine are eggs because it's nearly Easter and that cutter was on the top of the pile!!) cut out as many shapes as you can from the first piece of dough.  Lift them onto the baking sheet with a bench scraper or palette knife.  
  7. Wrap the dough scraps in a piece of cling wrap and set aside.  Repeat steps 5 and 6 with the second piece of dough.  Now, combine both lots of dough scraps, lightly knead them together, re-roll and cut out as many shapes as you can.  Any scraps left over from this cutting should be binned, the dough will be too tough if you roll and cut it again.  Bake the trays of cookies for 10-15 minutes depending on your oven, the cookies should be just golden around the edges.
  8. Allow them to cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.  They can be stored in an airtight tin for a week quite happily in their un-iced state, though if it's going to be longer than a week before you get to them I would recommend that you wrap them in cling wrap (in little piles of 5 or 6) and freeze them.
**  Since moving to Australia I haven't been able to find Trex, Cookeen, Shorteen or anything similar...until...I found Crisco in the USA Foods shop.  Can you hear angels singing??'s just me then.  Finally my cookies are light and crisp, just as they should be.  USA Foods offer a delivery service, and the website can be found here.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Festive Treats Part 3:  Ooey Gooey Chocolate Cupcakes!
Now I do realise that this time of year is mostly for children - and believe me, my kitchen is full of bunny ears, baskets and painted eggs - but there comes a point when you just have to wrestle some of the goodies back for yourself.  Most festivals are celebrated with either cake or chocolate, so I went all out with one of the chocolatey-est chocolate cakes I could put together.  And seeing as they're cupcakes, there's an in-built serving size (assuming you stop at one!) so my conscience is completely mostly nearly clear.  So, imagine a darkly dense chocolate cake, studded with choc chips, topped with smooth rich ganache, all topped off with a bit of seasonal whimsy made with whipped ganache.  I know they look like kiddy cakes...but you've heard of a wolf in sheep's clothing right?
For the Cupcakes:
  1. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.
  2. This is a 2 egg mixture from the cake mix matrix which can be found here.  You need to make the chocolate version (swap 30g/1oz of dark cocoa for 30g/1oz flour), add 4 tblspns milk to the mixture, then stir in 50g/2oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips.
  3. Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake at 160 C / 320 F for 15-20 minutes depending on your oven.  In any event, they should pass the clean skewer test.
  4. Allow to cool completely in the muffin tin.
For the Ganache:
250g / 10oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate.  You must use bar or slab chocolate not chips.
250ml / 1 cup double or heavy cream
25g / 1oz butter
1 tsp instant espresso powder (or 2 tsps instant regular coffee powder)
  1. Break the chocolate up into squares or medium sized chunks and set aside in a heat proof bowl.  Heat the cream and butter together until simmering, whisk in the instant coffee powder, then pour over the chocolate pieces.  Allow to stand for 5 minutes then stir with a spatula until the mixture is smooth and velvety.  Allow to cool for 15-20 mins so that it thickens slightly.
  2. Turn each cupcake upside down and dunk it in the ganache making sure the top of the cake is well coated.  Place (the right way up) on a cooling rack or serving plate.  Allow to set for about 30 mins.  Leave the rest of the ganache to cool while the cakes are setting.
  3. Now, if you use a free standing mixer transfer the ganache to the mixing bowl and (using the whisk attachment) whisk for a couple of minutes until the ganache is lighter in colour and fluffier in texture.  A hand held mixer will do equally well, just make sure you whisk all the ganache and scrape down the sides of the bowl intermittently.
  4. Place the whisked ganache in a piping bag and pipe a nest on the top of each cupcake.  I like to use a coupler and 2 different tips (a small open star and a plain one to create the twiggy effect) but a couple of swirls with an open star piping tip would do equally well.
  5. Finally, place a sugared almond chick in the middle of each nest, (there are details on making the chicks here).
  6. Wait until the kids are in bed.  Make a cup of tea.  Have a little piece of decadence all to yourself.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Festive Treats for Everyone - Part 2
I think I've probably been making Krispie Treats since I was about 6...and that's a lot of Treats!  Today's post is almost a replica of the Easter Nest I made all those years ago, the only difference being the chick inside the nest.  Back in the day it was always a sugar coated chocolate egg but I've found it quite difficult tracking those it's a sugared almond instead.  Now, the idea for the chick came from Sugarbelle's bluebirds which can be found here except that we don't get bluebirds like that in Australia, so I turned them into little yellow and white chicks. I iced the beaks on with some left over orange icing, but you could just as easily draw them on with food-safe markers.  Once again, these are great for the kids to make, little hands are particularly good at squishing the treats into the cupcake cases!
For the Nests:
25g / 1oz butter
2 tblspns golden syrup / dark corn syrup
100g / 4oz dark or semi sweet chocolate
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
12 sugared almonds (or something similar) with faces drawn or iced
  1. Line a muffin tin with 12 cupcake cases.
  2. Place all the ingredients in a microwave safe bowl and heat in 30 second bursts, stirring the mixture well each time, until everything is melted and well combined.
  3. If the mixture is hot, allow it to cool for about 10-15 minutes...but the chocolate will melt pretty quickly so it should really only be barely warm at this stage.
  4. Place about a tablespoon of the mixture in each cupcake case and press down and out to form a shallow cup or nest shape.
  5. Push a sugared almond gently into the centre of the nest and allow to set for about 30 minutes.
  6. That's it.  You're done.  How easy was that?!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Festive Treats for Everyone - Part 1
Now this is not strictly baking, it's child friendly no-bake baking.  And the good news is, these treats incorporate just about everyone: they're designed to celebrate Spring and Easter, but with a couple of small modifications they're also Passover friendly, dairy free, gluten free and nut free.  Not bad for kids' treats.  More good news: if you're looking to involve children in the process, the Krispie Treats are ideal:  everything happens in a big bowl with a big spoon, in a microwave, and with your hands.  Oh, and there's very little chance of sticky fingers being wiped on clothes or surfaces because they'll be thoroughly licked clean!!  I'll start with the easy ones first: the idea for the sheep was inspired by The Decorated Cookie's lambs made from cake, which can be found here.  But I wanted my 3 year old to be involved and rolling small amounts of sponge cake without squishing it into oblivion may be beyond I went for Krispie Treats instead.
For the sheep:
150g / 6 oz mini marshmallows
25g / 1 oz butter
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
12 pretzel sticks - swap for 24 matchsticks for the Passover/gluten friendly option.
6 sugared almonds - swap for full size marshmallows for the nut friendly option.
2 squares of white chocolate melted - swap for melted marshmallows for dairy free.
  1. Place the butter and marshmallows in a microwave friendly bowl and cook on high in 30 second bursts, stirring each time you check them, until you have a light liquid consistency.
  2. Add the Kripspies and stir thoroughly until they are all coated.  Make sure you use a BIG bowl otherwise the cereal will go everywhere.  Allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes.  If you're using pretzel sticks, cut each one in half so you have 24 pieces.
  3. Pour about a teaspoon of oil onto a paper towel and lightly rub it over the palms of your hands.  Then, take a couple of teaspoons of the mixture and roll it into an oval or egg shape, squeezing the mixture together as you do so.  Push 4 pieces of pretzel (or 4 matchsticks) into the krispy ball to act as legs.  Try your best to get them roughly even although sheep that look a bit tipsy are very cute!  Leave the shapes to dry on a lined baking sheet for about 30 minutes.
  4. Finally, dip a sugared almond - or full size marshmallow - in a little melted white chocolate and press on to the body.  You will need to prop up the sheep until the chocolate sets as the almond makes the front of the sheep heavy.  I propped mine up on a little stack of cupcake cases.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Simnel Cake: For My Mum With Love
You can take the girl out of England...but you can't take England out of the girl!!  A few days ago it was Mothering Sunday in the UK, which is different to Mother's Day everywhere else.  So I looked up the origins and...(now for a very quick bit of the liturgy):  Lent is the 40 day period immediately before Easter, and Mothering Sunday is the 4th Sunday in Lent.  In centuries past, children were often sent away into service.  The tradition was that you attended the parish church closest to where you lived (this would be the 'daughter' church) but once a year you returned to your home church - which would be the 'mother' church.  Children who had been sent away to work were granted the day off to return to visit their mothers and mother church, the two events collided and this once-a-year reunion became Mothering Sunday.  Happily, the traditional Lenten Fast was relaxed for the day so a celebration cake was definitely in order.  Now, with Mothering Sunday being so close to Easter, Simnel Cake has become traditional for either or both celebrations.  The only difference being the mode of decoration - crystallised flowers for Mothering Sunday and moulded marzipan for Easter.  And all of that brings me to today's recipe: this is the kind of cake my Grandma used to serve with a cloth on the table, a big pot of tea, and the best china.  I should point out that the marzipan in the photo below has NOT been toasted or burnished, so it looks a wee bit pasty.  Unfortunately I can't fit a cake under my grill and my kitchen blowtorch picked the least convenient moment run out of gas.  It still tastes gorgeous though...I've just finished a piece! 

For the cake:
150g / 6oz unsalted butter, softened
150g / 6oz soft light brown sugar
3 large eggs
zest of 1 lemon
2 tblspns milk
200g / 8oz plain or all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsps cinnamon
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp powdered ginger
400g / 14oz mixed dried vine fruit (any combination of currants, sultanas, raisins)
100g / 4oz craisins...this is not traditional but it makes the cake so yummy!
400g / 1 lb marzipan or almond paste**
Small amount of cornflour/constarch for dusting the kitchen bench
  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 320 F.  Grease and line an 18cm or 7 in round cake tin.  I prefer a spring clip tin but please use whatever style of tin you're happiest with.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together, they don't need to be light and fluffy but they do need to be well blended.
  3. Add the eggs to the mixture, one at a time, and beat well between each addition.  When they're all combined add the lemon zest and the milk, beat well.
  4. Next add the flour, the spices, and the baking powder.  Mix thoroughly but don't overwork the mixture or it will become tough.  Finally, add the dried fruit and mix again.
  5. Now, place roughly half of the mixture in the prepared cake tin and smooth the surface.  Dust the kitchen bench (or a rolling mat) with a small amount of cornflour.  Roll out the marzipan/almond paste until you have a circle which is about the same diameter as the cake tin, then place it on top of the cake mixture in the tin.  Spoon the remaining cake mixture into the tin, level the surface then make a slight dent in the centre, you want the cooked cake to be as level as possible.
  6. Bake for 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 140 C / 280 F and bake for a further 70 minutes.  The timings will depend on your oven - in any event the cake should pass the clean skewer test.  Allow the cake to cool completely in the tin, then remove it and place it on a serving plate.
For the decoration:
400g / 1 lb marzipan or almond paste
Small amount of cornflour for dusting the kitchen bench
1 tsp jam or jelly - anything without seeds will do
Small fresh flowers (optional)
Piece of wide ribbon (optional)
  1. First, cut about 100g / 4oz of the marzipan from the block and reserve it.  
  2. Gently warm the jam or jelly by placing on a saucer and microwaving for about 10 seconds.  Brush it all over the surface of the cake.
  3. Dust the kitchen bench or a rolling mat with a small amount of cornflour.  Roll out the larger piece of marzipan until it is the same diameter as the cake - if you used a spring clip tin, you can use the loose bottom plate as a template.  Place the disc of paste on top of the cake and gently press down to ensure that it sticks to the surface.
  4. Next, either pinch off 11 equal sized pieces of marzipan from the remaining piece - or - roll the smaller piece of marzipan out flat on the kitchen bench then take a small cookie cutter and cut 11 identical shapes, discarding (or eating!!) any trimmings once this step is complete.  Roll the 11 pieces into balls and arrange them evenly around the edge of the cake.  Once you are happy that they are all evenly spaced, dab the underside of each ball with a little of the jam/jelly and press lightly onto the surface of the cake.
  5. At this point you have a choice: you can either place your cake under the grill / broiler for a couple of minutes to toast the surface of the marzipan; or you can gently burnish the entire surface with a kitchen blowtorch.  I prefer the blowtorch option - I find the heat is much more easily controlled.
  6. Finally, If you are using fresh flowers (please make sure they're edible ones!), arrange them in the centre of the cake and tie a wide ribbon around the edge, finishing with a generous bow at the front. 

** I choose to use the natural colour marzipan, i.e. there are no colours added.  However, the marzipan of my childhood was a somewhat violent yellow colour and there are times when I get all nostalgic for it.  So, if you prefer the yellow variety please go right ahead and use it...I would if I could get it!

Friday, 16 March 2012

Easter Cupcakes
So Easter in Australia is a funny thing - a bit like Christmas here is a funny thing too.  While the rest of the world is revelling in the fact that Spring is either sprung or about to, we're moving into Autumn.  Somehow the chicks, rabbits, and blossomy type flowers look a bit odd when the leaves are turning brown and falling off the trees!  But, there are some conventions I'm happy to continue...however odd they look.  I'm planning to post a few Easter recipes over the next week or so and here is the first - a cupcake, to ease myself in gently. 
I think I can safely say that these meet all of my criteria for an appropriate seasonal offering: there's chocolate in a couple of forms, there are the obligatory spring flowers, and that grass is the required luminous green!  I chose to pipe the grass with a simple buttercream frosting - because I'm a cake-geek and I have a grass piping tip - but you could just as easily colour a bit of shredded coconut green and get the same effect.  There are instructions for colouring coconut in the Sesame Street cupcake recipe which can be found here.

And so to the recipe:  it uses a 2 egg mix (from the cake mix matrix which can be found here) but I've made the chocolate version, so swap 30g /1oz of cocoa for the same amount of flour.  Bake the cupcakes at 170 C / 350 F  for about 15-20 minutes depending on your oven.  Allow them to cool for 5 minutes in their tins, then cool completely on a rack.

Icing - this is enough to ice the cakes as in the photo, you will only need about a third of this amount if you plan to use coloured coconut.
100g / 4oz unsalted butter softened
250g / 2 cups icing or confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Green colouring (I prefer to use the concentrated gels so that the icing doesn't become too soft)
  1. With the mixer on slow, beat the butter and sugar together until they are well combined.  Then increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes until the mixture is pale and fluffy.  
  2. Now, start adding the colouring a drop at a time and allow the mixer to thoroughly combine it before you add more.  When you have a shade of grassy green that pleases you, add the vanilla and beat briefly.
  3. Spread a small amount - about a teaspoonful - over the top of each cupcake and smooth it with a palette knife, this will provide something for either the piping or the coconut to stick to.
  4. If you're piping the grass, place the rest of the icing in a bag fitted with suitable tip (I'm afraid I can't remember the number of it) and start in the middle and work outwards in circles.  This way you won't crowd yourself and bend your beautiful blades of grass over!
Royal icing or fondant flowers
12 Sugar coated chocolate mini eggs
  1. Luckily, I had a million little spring flowers already made from scraps of fondant I used a few weeks ago so I used those but you could just as easily use pre-made royal icing flowers that are available from every supermarket (or cake decorating shop).
  2. Finally, take a mini egg and push it gently but proudly into the centre of each cupcake...and congratulate yourself on producing a masterpiece!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Easy Cheesy Pepper Loaf - Or a Taste of Ireland
We're coming up to St. Patrick's Day which has reminded me of a driving holiday I took with a couple of friends a few years ago around Ireland.  Being tourists we (of course) did the Ring of Kerry, Moll's Gap and made an attempt at Blarney Castle - but it was absolutely rammed with other tourists, so we took in the beautiful grounds and gardens before heading off again! Then on down the west coast to Bantry, Kinsale and Cork - although I may have that in the wrong order.  We stayed in small hotels, pubs and guest houses along the way, it was completely brilliant.  Now, Irish hospitality is the stuff of legend, so I expected us to be well fed and cared for...what I didn't expect was the amazing array of breads, cakes and scones that seemed to appear out of thin air as soon as we arrived anywhere.  Mostly, they seemed to be based on a Soda Bread style of loaf but with a million variations! So, in honour of St Patrick's Day I offer my best attempt at copying one of those quick breads.  The easy cheesy part is entirely authentic though I must confess the addition of roasted peppers is my could add some chopped chilli or jalapeno too for a bit of bite.  See what I mean?  A million variations present themselves from a basic recipe!
400g / 3 cups plain or all purpose flour
1 tsp bicarb / baking soda
2 tsps cream of tartar
1 tsp fine or table salt
2 large roasted red peppers (from a jar in brine not vinegar, or home roasted fresh ones)
150g / 6oz good strong cheddar style cheese, grated
25g / 1oz of the same cheese, grated, for sprinkling on the top
75g / 3oz unsalted butter, melted
265ml or 1 cup + 1 tblsp milk at room temperature
  1. Preheat the oven to 190 C / 375 F and line a large loaf tin.
  2. Chop the roasted peppers, then thoroughly mix them with the flour, bicarb, cream of tartar, salt and 150g of cheese.
  3. In a separate bowl mix the melted butter and milk, then pour them onto the dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly but don't over-mix them as this will make the loaf tough.  The mixture will be fairly sticky.
  4. Turn into the prepared tin, level the surface, then sprinkly over the remaining 25g of grated cheese.  Bake for 30-35 mins depending on your oven, or until it passes the clean skewer test.
  5. Cool the loaf a little (say for 15-20 mins) before slicing thickly and serving on its own, as part of afternoon tea, or with soup.  

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Can you tell me how to get...
I have seen these character cupcakes all over the internet for a while and thought they were fabulous so of course I had to make them - it's a structured activity for junior and lots of fun for me (yeah, 'cos I really need an excuse to make cupcakes!!).
I used a 2 egg mix (from the Cake Mix Matrix) which you can find here and just added a couple of things:
For The Cakes:  
  1. Once the cake batter is made add 2 drops of Americolor Electric Pink colouring gel and mix well. 
  2. Divide the mixture between 12 cupcake cases and bake at 170 C / 250 F for about 15 minutes depending on your oven.
For The Icing:
50g / 1/2 stick unsalted butter softened
120g / 1 cup icing or confectioners sugar
2 tsps milk
Red, blue, and yellow liquid food colourings.
  1. Beat the butter and sugar together (using the paddle attachment) until it is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Add the milk and beat for a further 30 seconds.
  2. Divide the icing into 3 bowls.  To the first 2 bowls add a little blue or red colouring and beat well until you achieve your preferred colour.  To the 3rd bowl add several drops of yellow colouring, beat well then add a single drop of blue and beat again.  Keep adding colourings in this ratio (say 3 yellow to 1 blue) until you get a happy olive green colour.
  3. Spread each colour icing fairly thinly over 4 cupcakes.  You may well have icing left over, it keeps happily in zip lock bags in the fridge for a week or so - certainly long enough to make another batch of cupcakes!
For The Toppings:
100g / 4oz shredded coconut
Red, blue, yellow liquid food colourings
4 orange peanut M&Ms (for Elmo's nose)
2 Oreos carefully cut in half (for Cookie Monster)
5cm / 2" piece of liquorice strap cut in 4 (for Oscar's eyebrows)
24 white chocolate buttons or candy melts for the eyes
Black writing icing (in a tube, from the supermarket) or small pieces of black fondant
  1. Divide the coconut between 3 small zip lock bags.  To each bag add a squirt of food colouring, seal the bag and massage the coconut well so that it takes up the colouring evenly.  Remember that the green needs to be more yellow than blue so add the 2 colourings in the same proportions as for the icing.  Now, tip the coloured coconut onto 3 separate small plates or saucers.  Pick up a cupcake, turn it upside down and roll the iced top of it in the relevant coloured coconut (so, red for Elmo, green for Oscar).
  2. Next, take a small sharp knife and cut mouth shapes for Cookie Monster.  I find it easiest to put the knife into the cake vertically and cut rather than sawing across the top of the cake.
  3. Dab a small amount of icing onto the back of the chocolate buttons or candy melts, position them on the cakes for eyes.  Push a peanut M&M into each Elmo cake for his nose.  Take a half piece of Oreo, smear a little icing along the cut edge and press it into the mouth shape you cut for Cookie Monster.  Bend the thin strips of liquorice strap so that they curve slightly and push them into the icing for Oscar's eyebrows.
  4. Finally, take the black writing icing and pipe the pupils onto the chocolate buttons.  Elmo tends to look straight ahead, Oscar tends to look down, and Cookie Monster's eyes are all over the place!  At the same time you can pipe a smile on the Elmo cakes, and a straight or slightly curved downwards mouth on the Oscar Cakes.
And there you are - your kids (or grandkids) will be impressed, and so will you!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Red Velvet Mini Cupcakes

I thought I might have to encourage, bribe and generally cajole my kids into learning to cook.  I needn't have worried - my 3 year old clearly sees baking as some kind of magical alchemy or advanced chemistry where you get to eat the results of your experiments...which can't be bad!  Of course he finds food colourings endlessly fascinating and asks for rainbow cake on a weekly basis, I'll include a recipe for that soon.  Meanwhile, he helped me develop my own version of Red Velvet Cake - which is light and fluffy while still maintaining that deeply seductive crimson crumb.  Since he would much rather have several teeny tiny cupcakes than one standard sized one, I made them in the smallest cupcake liners I could find: they are about 3cm or 1 inch in diameter...perfect for little hands and mouths, but please feel free to make them in a more grown up size!  When it comes to the food colouring I find that red (in general) has a bitter after-taste.  So, I would recommend that you use either Wilton No-Taste Red or Americolor Tulip Red, neither of which have any after-taste at all.

Now, I started with Nigella Lawson's recipe which can be found here and I tinkered with it a bit (of course!) and my version of it is below:
For the cake:
50g / 2oz unsalted butter, softened
100g / 4oz caster or superfine sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
60 mls / 4 tblspns natural yogurt
30 mls / 2 tbspns milk
125g / 5oz plain or all purpose flour
25g / 1oz dark cocoa (dutch process is good here)
2 tsps concentrated red colouring gel (such as Wilton or Americolor)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp white balsamic vinegar (or dark balsmic if you can't get the white one)

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C / 320 F and line at least 24 mini muffin cups with cup cake cases.
  2. Beat together the butter and sugar until they are pale and fluffy - about 2 minutes.  Add the egg and vanilla, beat again until well combined. 
  3. In a small bowl or cup mix the yogurt, red colouring and milk together well until they are smooth, then add to the batter and mix thoroughly.  At this point I recommend you take the bowl off the mixer and continue by hand as you really don't want to overmix the batter.
  4. Add the flour and cocoa and stir thoroughly until they are incorporated, be particularly careful to scrape the bottom of the mixing bowl as you stir, to ensure that there are no scraps of white batter left down there.
  5. In a small bowl or cup mix the baking powder and balsamic vinegar - while it is still foaming mix it into the cake batter working quickly.
  6. Now, tip teaspoons of the mixture into the prepared muffin tins and cook for approximately 10-12 mins depending on your oven.  The tops of the cakes should be springy when you press them lightly.
For the icing:
250g / 2 cups icing sugar or confectioners sugar
75g / 3oz Philadelphia (or other) cream cheese - this MUST be soft
50g / 2oz unsalted butter softened
A variety of sprinkles, dragees, or pre-made icing sugar shapes** to decorate

  1. Place the sugar, cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a mixer and (using the paddle attachment) beat together on slow for about 30 seconds until everything is well combined.
  2. Increase the speed to medium and beat for a further 2 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.  
  3. The plain white icing looks great on these cakes but if you would prefer a bit of contrast, take a couple of tablespoons of the icing and add a drop of pink food colouring.

To decorate:
I prefer a softer look for these cakes, so I just take a teaspoon of icing and swirl it on top of each cupcake.  However, if you would like a more defined/piped effect, I would recommend that you refrigerate the icing for at least 1 hour before proceeding.  Finally, sprinkle over your adornment of choice.  **Every so often I like to make decorated sugar cookies, and I always have royal icing left over.  I pipe this onto pieces of waxed parchment paper and leave them to dry for future use as cupcake toppers etc.  In the photo above, you'll see that I also sprinkled edible glitter on the wet royal icing...sometimes more really is more!!!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Coffee Cupcakes - Literally!

So you know how an idea pops into your head, and then you can't think of anything else until you've done it...or at least tried it?  I was in a cafe a couple of weeks ago and thought how fabulous it would be if you served coffee cakes in a coffee cup - either a demi tasse or one of those take-out espresso cups.  So, I asked the cafe they would consider donating a couple of cups to the cause (that was a big fat "No") then ended up buying 6 of them....obsession is a terrible thing!  Of course I had to have a go at replicating some of the more recognisable coffee combinations and these two were the most successful:

 Classic Capuccino on the left and Very Vanilla Chiller on the right.

This is a 2 egg mixture (see the Cake Mix Matrix) which will happily make 6 quite large cupcakes in these cups plus some extra standard or minis.  I also substituted the milk from the base recipe for dissolved coffee so that the consistency wasn't too soft.
For the base cake:
2 eggs
50g / 2oz unsalted butter - softened
50g / 2oz caster or superfine sugar
130g / 5oz plain or all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 tblspn instant espresso powder dissolved in 1 tblspn hot water then allowed to cool
  1. Preheat the oven to 170 C / 350 F.  Either place your free-standing espresso cups on a baking sheet, or line a muffin tin with cupcake liners.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until very pale and fluffy, then beat in the eggs in 2 batches) until they are incorporated.
  3. Seive together the flour, baking powder and salt then add to the butter/sugar mixture all in one batch.  Beat only until all the ingredients are combined.  Add the cooled coffee and stir briefly but thoroughly with a spatula ensuring that there is no unmixed batter left at the bottom of the bowl.  
  4. Fill the espresso cups about half full or cupcake cases 1/2 - 2/3 full.  Bake for approximately 20 mins or until they pass the clean toothpick test (depending on your oven).
  5. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.

150g / 6 oz unsalted butter - softened
450g / 1lb icing or confectioners sugar sieved
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 2 tsp vanilla extract
Milk (to achieve a piping or spreading consistency, between 1 tsp and 1 tblspn)
Drinking Chocolate powder - for sprinkling on the Capuccino cakes.
  1. Beat together the butter and icing sugar on slow.  If you're using a free standing mixer you may want to drape a clean hand towel (or something similar) over the mixer until the sugar has stopped rising in clouds!  Increase the speed to medium and continue beating for 2 minutes until the mixture is very pale and fluffy.  
  2. Reduce the speed to slow and add the vanilla plus a tiny amount of milk until the consistency is that of spreadable cream cheese.  
  3. For the Capuccino cakes, spread the icing over the cupcake and sprinkle with drinking chocolate powder.  
  4. For the Vanilla Chiller cakes, pipe a swirl of icing (I used a medium open star tip) onto the cupcake and garnish with a piece of drinking straw!