Vanilla Cupcakes with Swiss Meringue Buttercream

I’ve discovered that I can’t seem to make macarons in my current oven. Mega sad face. I’ve made several cracked pied-less batches but I can’t quite figure out what I am doing wrong here, or what exactly is the difference between my old oven and this one.

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On the other hand, I have had a lot more success with cakes. I decided to bake a batch of cupcakes to cheer myself up with the failed macaron attempts, and used some cute new polka-dot pattered cases.
DSC_0457I decided to try out a new recipe for meringue icing from Dan Lepard’s Short and Sweet. Although I freaked out slightly at the part where I had to cook egg whites and sugar in a saucepan, it was suprisingly easy. An extra bonus is I find this creamy buttercream far more palatable than the traditional half butter to icing sugar kind.

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I didn’t have my usual star-shaped nozzle to hand so splodged the buttercream on with a plain tipped  one instead, and had a bit of fun with the mini gummy sweets…

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I wasn’t totally happy with my icing technique, but A took some photos where they do look very pretty in their sweet swirly glory. Plenty of practising still needed, and considering the wedding cake I’ve been comissioned for has turned into cupcakes, there will likely be many many more cropping up onto this blog in the next coming twelve months. So be prepared for cupcakes galore!

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Running is Baaack!

As you can see from my blogging history, my last running post was a while back. March 2013 in fact. After that, it just trailed off, and eventually I just stopped writing about it.

It’s not that I stopped. I still did an odd 5km here and there. But I didn’t really feel the joy from going outdoors in my trainers from before. It had become a chore – I was obsessed about speed, intensity, distance, and when it didn’t hit the mark, I got pissed off.

So I took a break for 12 months, and just concentrated on plodding through.

But now, I’m optimistic that my mojo is finally back! The endorphins are buzzing, I’ve started timing my runs again, really pleased with the pace (though I’m never going to be a speedy bean). Now that the evenings are getting lighter too, I’m thinking of prolonging my distances, and hopefully entering an Autumn race if all works out. 🙂

Anyway, you know this blog is very much about the baking so I’m also going to post about these flowery fairy cakes. I made them a while ago for my work colleagues, and as an experiment in trying out ways of reducing butter in baking.

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Fairy cakes are really great, as they are just the right size for a few mouthfuls. This is based on the usual fairy cake recipe, but I replaced half the butter with natural yoghurt. It worked out beautifully, the cakes were texturally extra light, yet moist. I’d accumulated a lot of sugar flowers, so plonked them on top of the icing.

Yoghurt Fairy Cakes

Makes 16-18 cakes

For the cakes:

  • 65g unsalted butter
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 65g natural yoghurt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • 65g wholemeal self-raising flour
  • 65g self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

For the icing:

  • 100g butter
  • 200g icing sugar
  • splash of whole milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla paste
  • food colouring (optional)
  • sugar decorations

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a bun tin with fairy cake cases.

Beat the butter and sugar together until creamy, then add the yoghurt. Beat this in well, then add the eggs one by one, followed by the vanilla paste. Then, add the flour, baking powder and salt, and gently fold together until combined. Plop a dessertspoon of cake mixture into each paper case, then pop into the oven for around 12 minutes until golden-brown, risen and springy. Put the cakes onto a cooling rack and wait until cold.

Make up the icing by beating together the butter and icing sugar until combined, then adding in a little milk, drop by drop, and beating in until creamy and spreadable. Add the vanilla paste and taste. Add more or less depending on how you like it. Pop a spoonful of icing onto each of the cold cakes, and ssing a small palette knife, spread it to cover the top of each cake completely. Decorate however you fancy – they went down really well at work!

Banoffee Cupcakes

I find my job pretty hardcore, but I don’t think I could ever work with food professionally. The thought of the stress, and even earlier morning wake up calls is beyond hideous to imagine. However, whipping up a quick batch of cakes in my home kitchen, the radio on, and work behind me, now that’s a wonderful way to relax.

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We are real banana fanatics in this house. They go so fast, you have to eat them green, or simply go without. I surreptitiously hid a banana behind some baking stuff to let it finally ripen into brown-speckled sweetness, purely so I could make these banoffee cupcakes.

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Make sure the cakes are completely cold before filling them with gooey caramel. Otherwise the warm cakes melt the caramel, so it runs into the crumb of the banana sponge rather than staying put as a gooey blob in the centre. Not that I did this of course…

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Banoffee Cupcakes

Makes 10-12 cupcakes

  • 110g soft butter/margarine
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, lightly whisked
  • 1 small ripe banana, mashed
  • 110g self-raising flour
  • 1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 jar thick caramel sauce
  • 300ml whipping cream, whipped into firm peaks
  • 4 squares dark or milk chocolate, shaved into shards

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Line a muffin tin with cupcake cases.

In a bowl, combine flour, bicarbonate of soda, and salt together. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy, then slowly whisk in the eggs. Beat in the mashed banana. Fold in the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt until just combined. Fill the cupcake cases and bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the cakes are golden and springy. Put on a cooling rack, and cool completely.

Using a sharp knife, carve out a circular hollow in the centre of each cupcake. Put a spoonful of caramel into the hollow. Pipe a whirl of cream onto the top of each cake, and toss some chocolate shards over to finish off.

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Look at that caramel oozing its way out. Yum.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cake. A hit-and-miss bake for me.

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The deep red colour of red velvet cake is oddly appealling. I first ate one at the Hummingbird Bakery, and I rather liked the unusual taste – a little bit of vanilla, hints of chocolate, and something else I can’t put my finger on. Perhaps it’s the red food colouring. The quantity that goes into these cakes is always quite horrifying!

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Last time I tried these, they didn’t rise properly, and they tasted a little funny. This time they rose like a dream. They were almost a little too light. I know it’s traditional, but I’m tempted to get rid of the step where you mix bicarbonate of soda with vinegar, and replace this with baking powder.

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Originally I was going to pipe the icing on, but I put the wrong nozzle on the piping bag, so in the end went for Hummingbird Bakery style swirls. I feel there was still a little something missing in the taste of these, though they were certainly better once cold, and the icing had set properly. I’m not sure what – I have seen lots of rave reviews for the Hummingbird Bakery recipe (which is what I used) but I might have to try a few others and compare them all.

Still they photographed well. I totally missed the boat for a Valentine’s Day post, but simply couldn’t resist a bit of a romantic theme for these. Come on, they’re red cakes! So out came the rose, and the petals, and I had my fun. Oddly for this time of year, and considering the stormy weather, there was still one perfectly formed red rose clinging to the bushes. So there it went into the photo. Mwah, mwah. Feel the lurrve.

The Return of the (Carrot) Cupcake

Currently re-reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. It’s amazing how many new layers you can uncover about a book when you pick it up again after years. I’d never noticed before quite how funny Austen’s satire genuinely is.

Going back to oldies but goodies, after a long hiatus, I baked cupcakes. As anything with a bit of autumnal spice is floating my boat at the moment, it was time to grate the carrots!

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The first time I made these carrot cupcakes, I forgot to add any baking powder. They’d already been in the oven, so cue gnashing of teeth and googling “what-to-do-with-unrisen -cakes” (but in the end the family human dustbin ate them). Batch 2 fared better, I didn’t forget any raising agents, and they puffed up like little cakey beauties.

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The Hummingbird recipe remains my favourite – see this post for all the reasons why. I got 7 cupcakes out of my mixture, which is based on one third of all the ingredients in the full carrot cake recipe.

Carrot Cupcakes

  • 1 egg
  • 100g light brown sugar
  • 75ml vegetable oil
  • 25ml milk
  • drop of vanilla extract
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1/3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/3 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of ground ginger
  • pinch of salt
  • 100g carrots, grated
  • 30g walnuts, chopped

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Beat the egg, sugar, oil, milk and vanilla extract together with a whisk until smooth. Sieve over the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, ground ginger and salt, and fold in with a large metal spoon. Fold in the carrots and walnuts. Fill the cupcake cases, and bake for 20 minutes until springy and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Ice when cold, I used the standard Hummingbird Bakery cream cheese icing. I’m a bit weird, and it’s a real waste of food, but I’m one of those people who love slathering a cupcake with icing (it looks prettier, see?) but then I scrape it all off when it comes to the eating. Sorry.

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Despite the cream cheesyness of the icing, do not refrigerate these cupcakes. The cooler temperature for some reason I cannot fathom, makes the sponge lose some of its light fluffiness. You have been warned.

Borough Market and more

I hear from foodie bloggers that Borough Market is more of a tourist destination that food nirvana these days. Whilst there was much to tempt the eye and the other senses, I was certainly fighting my way past the heavy tide of tourists.

Unfortunately, this trip was more under than over-whelming. There was major disappoinment from a promisingly-named kangaroo burger, which lacked any distinctive flavour, basically tasted like a cheap beef burger, and perhaps it really was. Certainly there were many delicious samples of cheese, charcuterie, oils, spreads, turkish delight and chocolates, but so much was over-priced beyond imagination. For instance each portion of baklava commanded £6 apiece. I’ve made a mental note to seek out decent Comté cheese next time I am in France.

Anyway, onwards we headed and in Chinatown we found much more reasonably priced (and tasty) nibbles. Also bubble tea – I love that stuff!

London is one of these places where there is always something bizarre and entertaining happening round the corner. We came across a completely random epic pillow fight taking place in Trafalgar Square. Brilliant! Feathers flying everywhere (including sticking en masse in my hair) we fled via Boris Bikes onwards through to the Royal Parks.

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I’m afraid I made a detour to pop by Ottolenghi – as I wanted to satisfy my curiosity – having never paid a visit to this foodie emporium before. I came out significantly poorer, and slightly disappointed by the offerings, but I’m glad I tried it at least!

To end the day off we curled up with Borough Market bread, pate and Ottolenghi salads, watched Never Let Me Go, which was horribly sad. Finally finished off with super quick baking spree for tomorrow. I’m moving houses soon, and fairy cakes are a great way of using up the contents of the baking cupboard. This particular batch was very girly, but I did another (more manly) lot in yellow fondant icing with melted dark chocolate writing piped on top. Brilliant fun.

Fairy Cakes

  • 2 large eggs (record their weight)
  • the weight of 2 eggs in soft margarine, caster sugar and self-raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • apricot jam
  • ready-rolled fondant icing
  • edible lustre
  • writing icing
  • wafer daisies

Preheat the oven to 180˚C and line 2 bun tins with fairy cake cases. I get 16-18 cakes.

Whisk the margarine and sugar together until soft and fluffy. Put the eggs into a jug, and break up with a fork. Then gradually dribble the egg into the other bowl, little by little whilst whisking by mad to stop the mixture from separating. Whisk in the vanilla extract.

Dump the flour and baking powder into the bowl, and fold it in gently with a big metal spoon. Using the spoon, place a spoonful of cake mix into each paper case, and pop into the oven for 12- 15 minutes until risen and nicely golden on top. Set out to cool on a cooling rack.

Brush the top of each cake with warmed apricot jam. Roll out the fondant icing onto a surface sprinkled with icing sugar, and cut out circles with the aid of a glass, or cookie cutters. Stick the circles onto the tops of the cakes. Brush with a little edible lustre, pipe on some writing and stick on the wafer daisies.

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Hazelnut Cupcakes

Thanks to my successes so far with the recipes from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook, I couldn’t help but give another one of them a go this weekend. This time, it was the turn of the hazelnut cupcakes, which looked and sounded divine. I love the flavour of hazelnuts, and if it came in a cake, well how could that go wrong?

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The method is slightly different from my usual cakes, and it did require a lot of elbow grease to bring it together, but they went into the oven, and away they rose.

At first, I thought they had gone completely wrong. The cakes started to peel away from their cases the moment they exited the oven. The flavours were delicately nutty, but it didn’t pair well with the heavy and dense texture of the sponge. I wasn’t sure if they had been underbaked, although they all passed the skewer test upon exiting the oven. Disappointed, I boxed them up, and baked another batch with yoghurt instead of sour cream.

Happily, they worked beautifully. The texture of the yoghurt cupcakes is much lighter and fluffier than the original version. It is still quite a close crumb, but works very well in the setting – reminding me of a hazelnut-flavoured financier. Batch 2’s cupcake cases didn’t peel at all. I used a different set and from browsing online, it appears that using poor quality cupcake cases is the culprit here.

To give an extra happy ending to this process, and extra tick boxes for Ottolenghi, Batch 1 micraculously transformed overnight into an incredible gustatory delight. The sponge remains dense, but in a highly delicious manifestation. They were very rich, far richer than the yoghurt version, so I would prefer them in petit-four, as opposed to cupcake sized portions.

Hazelnut Cupcakes

Makes 6

Adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

  • 75g butter
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp hazelnut oil
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 75ml plain yoghurt
  • 90g plain flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 22g toasted hazelnuts, coarsely ground

Preheat the oven to 170˚C. Cream the butter, sugar and hazelnut oil thoroughly together until pale and fluffy, then gradually add the egg little by little until well-incorporated. Whisk in the plain yoghurt.

Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, and mix in the ground hazelnuts. Add this to the creamed mixture in one go, and fold in gently with a spatula. Divide between 6 cupcake cases. 

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top. Leave in the tins to cool for 10 minutes, and then transfer onto a cooling rack to cool completely. Best eaten cold.

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Ballgowns and Baking

I spent a very pleasant Sunday – starting off with a good run around the park, then I popped out to see the ballgowns exhibition at the V&A. It was a little pricey, but the dresses were gorgeous.

Sadly we weren’t allowed to take any photos whilst in the exhibition, but there were dresses in there worn by several celebrities, including Princess Diana, Daphne Guiness, Helen Mirren, and Leighton Meester in Gossip Girl.

After that, I went for a leisurely wander around Hyde Park to see all the remaining Olympics bits and pieces, and did a spot of hardcore shopping. Bought a pair of gorgeous pale pink ballerina flats from Zara, which I certainly HOPE I will wear. I have a bad habit of buying shoes that aren’t black, and never wearing them. Having said that, when I do like something, I definitely wear it to death. Longest standing pair of shoes are seven years old, and still going!

Finally, I finished off my day with some domestic doings in the kitchen. I whipped up some tried-and-tested fork biscuits by Queen Mary of Berry and they went down a treat, as well as a batch of pretty vanilla cupcakes.

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The Hummingbird Bakery strikes again!