Lemony Snicket

Now, I’ll admit, this is from the Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. I held off on buying this book for ages, because everyone has it, and also when I said I liked making cupcakes, the first question I was always asked was “ooh! Do you have the Hummingbird Bakery book???!” Other cupcake books are available. So, I kept my head down and refused to look at it. Anything that widely owned can’t be good, and I’m a great one for avoiding trends until they’ve JUST gone out of style, and then I’ll jump on that bandwagon, goddammit it. I did it with GHDs. I did it with Ugg boots. (Ssh. I threw them away, ok? I am not, and never will be, an Australian surfer, which is the only way wearing them would be ok.) In fact, the times I get swept up on the ol’ bandwagon before it left the station (c.f. Lady Gaga, tops with crazy shoulders a la Rihanna, 80s revivals etc), I get so jealous and annoyed when other people discover MY new thing too, I can’t bear it and I run away crying.

That’s enough about my neuroses. Enough time had elapsed between the HBB madness and now for me to pick it up and scrutinise it with my beady eyes. In the end, it wasn’t the recipes that swayed me, it was the 100 free beeeeautiful cupcakes cases that came with it. Actually, the week before last, I popped into Hummingbird for a red velvet cupcake. It was good. Not mind-blowing, but satisfactory. I was a bit disappointed in the limited flavours they had on offer, but the nice little box they packed my cake in won me over. Fickle, me.

Today I’m road testing their lemon cupcake with lemon icing. ‘BORING’, I hear you cry, slapping your head and gurning in irritation. ‘Where have your weird alcoholic cakes gone? Your ugly meringues? Your floral fruity frippery? You used to be cool, man!’ Well, children. I shall be cool again, but not today. (Nota bene: I read Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck cookbook. Prepare yourselves. I have some crazy plans for cakes. That WILL be cool.)

Cupcake ingredients
120g plain flour
150g caster sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest, plus extra to decorate
40g tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
120ml whole milk
1 egg

1. Preheat oven to 170C.

2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, lemon zest and butter in a bowl and beat on slow speed until you get a ‘sandy consistency’. Sand, eh? Nom nom nom. Actually, Hummingbird suggest you put it in your ‘freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment’, which we all know means…..*angelic chorus, drums beating, clapping, cheering* A KITCHENAID MIXER. Rub it in, Hummingbird. You know I don’t have one. You know I want one more than I want a cat. (i.e. REALLY BADLY.)

3. Ahem. Back to life, back to cupcakery: gradually pour in milk and beat until just combined. (HB say: ‘incorporated’, but that sounds like business jargon to me)
4. Add the egg to the flour mixture and continue beating until just “incorporated”. Continue mixing for a few minutes until the mixture is smooth. As smooth as Michael Buble.

5. Spoon mixture into paper cases until two thirds full and bake for 20-25 mins, or as HB says, until the cake ‘bounces back’. Bounces back like Wayne and Colleen post-major cheating allegations…

Ta da!!

Lemon frosting ingredients
250g icing sugar, sifted
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsps grated lemon zest
Couple of drops yellow food colouring (optional)
2 tablespoons whole milk1.Beat together the sugar, butter, lemon zest and yellow food colouring with your handheld whisk. Or Kitchenaid, yes yes yes, I heard you. Anyway, mix on a medium-high speed.

2. Turn the mixer to a slow speed and slowly pour in the milk. Ha – I just typed ‘milky’. Tired? Or is my language slowly peeling away?
3. Beat for about 5 minutes, while singing my classic whisking anthem, ‘beat it’.

4. Wait till the cupcakes are cold, then spoon lemon frosting on top and decorate with a little zest.

Gosh, what a terribly long blog for what was a terribly short recipe…

Sunday in the park with George…

…and Sunday in the kitchen with me. Today I will be making three types of cupcakes, because one doesn’t quite seem to satisfy. You know how it is…you start out with a fairy cake, maybe a butterfly cake, if you’re pushing the boat out. Next come the fancifully decorated cupcakes. And then, one day, they find you, cake wrappers all around you, icing sugar smeared on your face, buttercream icing clinging to your fingers, spacing out on spacedust, all pie-eyed and drunk on ganache.

Um, anyway….on today’s pink glittery menu is lemon cupcakes with lemon icing, blackberry cupcakes with a caramelised apple topping and caramel glaze, and vanilla cupcakes with a mystery topping that I haven’t decided on yet. I’ll be doing an X-Factor style campaign to decide, so the result will be in in a couple of months. Votes in now.

Valentine Warner’s Lavender Meringues

Like the yummy Valentine Warner himself, these are classic but still slightly unusual. Don’t be put off by the idea of lavender – it actually comes out as a really subtle flavour, a bit sugary, a bit fragrant. Valentine actually sandwiches these together with cream, but as I was using them as part of afternoon tea, along with two other confections, I decided to keep them pure and simple, just like Valentine…

3-4 fresh unsprayed lavender stems, flowers only
2 large egg whites
3 1/2 oz caster sugar
Purple food colouring (optional)
5 fl oz double cream (optional filling)
1/2 tbsp icing sugar (optional filling)
1. Preheat the oven to 130C and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Grind the lavender with a pestle and mortar for between 1 and 2 minutes, or until it becomes fragrant.
3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites into stiff peaks. If you’re an ultra domestic goddess like me, you’ll save the egg yolks to use for a nice lemon or passionfruit curd…
4. Gradually whisk in the caster sugar, a tablespoonful at a time, until all the sugar’s in and the mixture looks thick and glossy.
5. Sprinkle a tablespoonful of the lavender into the mixture and whisk until combined, then add your food colouring, if you so choose.
6. Alrighty then – you all know the saga of my poor, broken piping bag, so please excuse the following sorry excuses for what should be beautifully piped meringues. But you should manage better, just pipe away.
7. Look at them. Faces only a mother could love.
7. Pop them in the oven and reduce the temperature down to 100C, and bake your meringues for two hours, until they’re crisp but not coloured. Turn your oven off and leave your little beasts in there until it’s cooled. Then pop them in an airtight container and don’t give them another moment’s thought.
8. If they’re just not decadent enough, then whip the cream and sift in your icing sugar, then sandwich the meringue halves togther. Hey presto!

Gypsy creams

Wild, dark, slightly bitter and slightly sweet…this recipe is everything a biscuit (and indeed, a gypsy?) should be. The trick is not to overcook the biscuitty outsides, and to put far more ganache in the centre than you think you actually need…
This yet again comes from ‘Eat Me!’ And, dear reader, I did.
Biscuit ingredients
50z unsalted butter (room temp)
20z soft dark brown sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
80z plain flour
1oz cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 170c, and lightly grease a large baking sheet.
2. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy, then add the egg and vanilla extract. Mix VERY well.
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt, and add to the butter mixture, then stir until combined.
5. Take a heaped teaspoon of the mixture and roll in into a ball, then flatten with the palm of your hand . Looks like a big malteser, doesn’t it? Mmm.

6. Repeat until the mixture is used up, and bake for 10-15 minutes until the biscuits look cooked through.
 For the Ganache filling:
90z plain chocolate, broken into pieces
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp caster sugar
10floz soured cream1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. Then whisk in the salt, sugar and soured cream. Allow the filling to cool until it’s thick enough to spread – pop it in the fridge to hurry this process along2. Spread the filling over half the biscuits, and top with the others to make sandwiches, then dust with a little icing sugar. Despite my overzealous filling with the ganache, I still only used half of the mixture. So, I’d say you can either halve the quantities, or you can save it for the next day, make up a new batch of the biscuits, and share it with other people!

Happy baking!

Passionfruit and peach layer cake

This cake is a helluva babe. If it was a woman, it would be Lady Penelope. It would be Grace Kelly after a few cocktails. Or it would be Marilyn, reclining in front of a fan in Tom Ewell’s apartment in The Seven Year Itch. All that aside, this is a very yummy cake that is surprisingly easy to make but looks impressive. It’s from a beautiful little book called ‘The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Cookbook’. Catchy, eh? http://www.amazon.co.uk/Crabapple-Bakery-Cupcake-Cookbook/dp/0143004948/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284396561&sr=8-1
It’s an Australian book, which I didn’t realise, and thought the author was a bit nuts talking about the passionfruit trees growing in her back garden. Anyway, it’s an entirely lovely book with the BEST and most successful recipes I’ve ever made.
Sponge ingredients
6 eggs
4oz caster sugar
2oz cup plain flour
2oz self-raising flour
1oz cup cornflour
1oz custard powder
1. I’ll warn you – this mixture will seem a bit weird. That’s because it’s a whipped sponge, meaning it’s light, butter-free, and just perfect for putting with cream and fruit. Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C. Lightly grease three 20cm round cake tins.
2. Get ready for serious arm ache. I’m not kidding; perhaps you might like to do a few limbering up exercises first? You’ll need to beat the eggs for 1 minute on medium speed. Don’t get too cocky. Now beat that for 15 minutes on high speed. Gradually add the sugar. Still feeling limber? Good. Because once you’ve added the sugar, please beat for another 10 minutes. It’s really worth it, I absolutely promise.
3. You little star! That’s your workout done for the week. Now it’s time to combine all your different flours and your custard powder, and sift them together THREE TIMES! Yes! Three please. It’s like something out of a fairy tale, isn’t it! Three wishes. So sift three times….then use a slotted metal spoon and fold the flour mixture into the egg mixture until just combined.
4. Divide the mixture evenly between three tins. Bake for 20 mins, or until the sponges have just started to come away from the sides. Remove from the tins STRAIGHT AWAY and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before filling.
Filling and decoration
2 cups whipped cream
peaches (recipe says strawbs, but choose your fave)
Lemon curd
50g softened butter
1/2 cup fresh passionfruit pulp
4 cups icing sugar
1. Mix the butter, passionfruit pulp – yes, sounds delicious, doesn’t it – and icing sugar together to form the icing.
2. Then pop your first sponge on a plate (we’ll start you off easy). Spread with cream then put your peaches/fruit of choice on top of the cream.
3. Take the next sponge, and spread lemon curd on the underside (easier than trying to put it on top of the fruit, see?) Then add that layer on top, and do the cream and fruit thing again.
4. Step back and admire. (Compulsory step, do not miss.)

5. Smooth the passionfruit icing over the top.
6. Then decorate to your heart’s content! Being a frivolous, fanciful type, I added a rose. But you may do as you please. Whatever that is, have tremendous fun!

(virgin) Margarita cupcakes

To buck my trend of boozy cakes, I decided to make margarita cupcakes. Virgin style (there is an alcoholic option available, if you really can’t help yourself.) This comes again from ‘Eat Me!’ by Cookie Girl: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Eat-Me-Stupendous-Self-Raising-According/dp/0091925118/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1284395018&sr=8-1
As I mentioned earlier, my stupidly expensive icing kit has given up the ghost, so I’m on my own. Hence these rather messy looking cakes, which I’ve only allowed you a brief glimpse of at the end. Still, the taste made up for their hideousness. I loved them unconditionally, as I would my future hypothetical socially inept children. (I joke, I joke. It would be social services for them.)

Sponge ingredients
4oz unsalted butter, room temp
4oz sugar
2 large eggs
4oz self raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp lemon juice
Makes 12

1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. Fill a 12 hole muffin tin with paper cases.

2. You got this down now. Cream butter and sugar together in a large bowl until fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, then sift in the flour and baking powder. Then add your lemon juice and mix until smooth.

3. Put a tablespoon of mixture into each cake case, and bake for 15-20 minutes until as springy as a spring lamb.

Filling ingredients
1oz butter
2 fl oz fresh lime juice
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
4oz caster sugar
grated zest of 2 limes
(1-2 tbsp tequila….optional. I don’t judge. You total alcoholic)

1. Prepare the filling. Ok, so, you put the lime in the coconut and….not really. Sorry. But that’s in your head now, isn’t it? What you ACTUALLY do is heat the butter and lime juice in a pan over a medium heat until the butter melts.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together. Then add the hot butter mixture slowly to the egg mixture. Pour all of this back into the pan and continue cooking over a medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon until it reaches boiling point and thickens
3. Take it off the heat and stir in the lime zest. If you were to opt for tequila, you could stir it in just about now, you old smoothie.

Icing ingredients
4oz unsalted butter, room temp
4oz cream cheese, room temp
1lb icing sugar, sifted (I just make up quantities, but this is your actual proper recipe measurement)
Juice and grated zest of 1 lime
1 tbsp triple sec
Green food colouring
Sea salt flakes, to decorate
Grated lime zest, to decorate1. Ooh, you lucky thing. It’s your favourite bit, isn’t it! The bit where you get to keep ‘tasting’ it to make sure it’s ok, and eating half the bowl in the process! Yes, everyone loves icing. Beat together the butter and cream cheese, beat it more than Alex Reid gets beaten in a fight. Yeah! I’m topical (ish). Add the icing sugar and mix well, then add the lime juice and zest, Triple sec and green food colouring.

2. I did something a bit cheaty and bad. Yes, dear reader, I will confess all to you. My hideous secret, you’ve dredged it out of me….the idea that sparked all this was a £3.99 bottle of margarita mix (sans tequila) in Waitrose. I KNOW! I hate ready mixed, ready made, pre-prepared rubbish. It makes me no better than Delia. I will NEVER do it again. But I used this mix in place of the triple sec and lime. (It’s really hard not to type ‘triple sex’. Try it)
3. When the cakes are cool, remove the inside with a spoon or a knife. Or a knifey spoony. Fill them with your sweet, sweet, limey filling. Then spread the icing on top, sprinkle with lime zest and add a bit of salt. (I used Jamie Oliver’s pink himalayan sea salt. It rocked my world. Get it? Rocked? Salt? Oh, come on.)