Saturday, 27 September 2008

Classic Cupcakes

When my twin (not actual, but we are v.similar) and her lovely boyfriend came to stay i thought it was only right to bake some cupcakes. A heavy night of drinking lay ahead and something sweet always goes down a treat. Now, i was pondering on making yummy pistachio or rosewater cupcakes, but in light of the 'credit crunch,' which i'm sure your all sick of hearing about, i decided to make use of the ingredients i had in my store cupboard.

Using my recent purchase of 'More from Magnolia' as inspiration i decided to make vanilla cupcakes and mini chocolate cupcakes topped with yummy vanilla buttercream.

Base - 12 standard size vanilla cupcakes
125g soft butter
125g vanilla caster sugar
2 medium eggs
125g self-raising flour
2 tbsp milk

Base- 24 mini chocolate cupcakes
125g softened butter
125 g caster sugar
2 medium eggs
2 tbsp milk
100g self-raising flour
3 tbsp cocoa

For the buttercream topping (this should be enough for both batches)
175g softened butter
350g icing sugar
3 tbsp boiling water
Vanilla extract
Pink food colouring
Butterfly sprinkles

As always start with pre-heating the oven till 190c, whether you choose to do both batches or either. Purely because of space issues in my teeny-weeny kitchen i chose to do one batch at a time, but both batches only require 12-15 minutes baking time.

Add the butter and sugar together mixing till nice and fluffy. Depending on which base you choose add the reminding ingredients one at a time mixing until light and smooth in appearance. One tip i really recommend is to always use organic ingredients if you can, whether it be Green & Blacks chocolate or M&S organic vanilla. Another gem is to seperate the egg yolk and whites, adding the yolk first and adding the well whipped egg whites once the other ingredients have been mixed together. This creates a lighter sponge once the cupcakes have been baked.

Once your cupcakes have been seperated into cases and baked, its time for my all time favourite bit... the vanilla buttercream icing! I love buttercream, i could eat it on its own and I all too frequently do in my more 'Nigella' moments, it really is the best kind of cupcake topping.

For the buttercream, i really do think its best to use either unsalted or lightly salted butter, otherwise the cakes can end up far too salty! All you need to do is mix the icing sugar, butter, food colouring and boiling water together and you're done. Finally, add some pretty sprinkles, on top and you're done!

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Gluten Free white chocolate & hazlenut cookies

Yet more birthdays in the month of September... My best friend's birthday is today and to add to the baking challenge, she doesn't eat wheat!!

Now i have never used gluten free flour before and was a little concerned that with cupcakes, the sponge wouldn't rise well, so i decided upon some cookies adapted from Nigella Lawson's 'How to be a Domestic Goddess'

The actual recipe is for White Chocolate & Pistachio Biscuits (page 205 of Domestic Goddess) which does sound completely yummy, but as i'm a little short on pennies i decided to go for hazlenuts instead.

100g unsalted butter
125g caster sugar
100g soft brown sugar (i used the light brown variety)
1 teaspoon of organic vanilla extract
1 large egg
150g gluten free plain flour (you can get this from Doves Farm)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
100g ground hazlenuts
125g whole hazlenuts
125g organic white chocolate

You will also need 2 lined baking sheets

Note on the ingredients - i always choose organic ingredients where i can as i believe makes the result much tastier. You can get some really lovely organic white chocolate with Madagascan vanilla extract from Green & Blacks and organic vanilla extract from M&S. Lastly, i did use gluten free plain flour for the recipe, but the original recipe is made with normal plain flour.

Now the recipe does state that it makes for around 36 cookies, HOWEVER...i found this to be too much and despite using less mixture the cookies did get a little squashed together.

Anyway, with that in mind, preheat the oven to 180c

Firstly mix the butter, caster sugar and soft brown sugar together until soft and creamy. Next you need to add the vanilla extract along with the egg, then the bicarb and gluten free flour. Whip these ingredients until you get a smooth dough.

Finally, add the ground hazlenuts, whole hazlenuts and chopped white chocolate and stir in well to get an even mix. Here, i think its best to use halved hazlenuts rather the whole as i think it would make the cookies look much prettier.

Then to make the cookies you need to pinch off the dough and create walnut sized balls with your hands. Nigella certainly isn't lying when she says they need to be well spaced and i think this is the most important part of the recipe to follow loyaly!!

When you have between 24-36 cookies (depending on the size of your baking trays) pop in the oven for 10-12 minutes. The cookies will be done when they are a pale golden colour, slightly darker around the edges.

Once baked, leave to cool on the baking tray for a couple of minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

As these were for a birthday i used a cheapish cake tin from Tesco and wrapped the cookies in tissue paper to make them more present-like.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Apple and cinnamon cupcakes

As mentioned in the Red Velvet post, quite a few of my friends are September babies, so i've turned to cupcakes as the ideal present solution!

My friend is totally obsessed with cinnamon so i made her Apple and Cinnamon cupcakes with pretty purple icing, which went down a treat.

This recipe makes 12 standard size cupcakes:

125g soft light brown sugar
125g lightly salted butter
125g sifted self raising flour
2 tbsp cinnamon
1 bramley cooking apple
2 medium eggs

350g fondant icing sugar
3-4 tbsp of boiling water
Aubergine food colouring
Purple sprinkles

Firstly pre-heat the oven to 190c

Its best to core, peel and grate the bramley cooking apple first before getting down to the business of baking, that way if your in a teensy kitchen like me, you wont get in a muddle later in the process!

Ok so, pop the light soft brown sugar and butter into a bowl and whip until creamy. Then seperate the eggs and add the yolks to the mixture. Next add the sifted self-raising flour and cinnamon to the mix together and mix until smooth. You can now add the grated bramley cooking apple and again mix in well. Finally, fold in your whipped egg whites.

Place the cupcakes in the oven for approximately 12-15 minutes, but please be aware that the mix will be slightly 'wetter' than normal because of the addition of bramley apple. But seriously, the delicious smells coming out of the oven are something else...almost worth baking as a type of room scent!!

Ordinarily, you could go for a muffin-vibe with these cakes but as these were for a birthday i decided to go with traditional glace icing to decorate.

Glace icing is just too easy for words, just add around 350g fondant icing sugar to boiling water and then chuck in the desired amount of food colouring. My new cupcake friend, fondant icing sugar gives an extra glossy shine, so buy, buy, buy!!!

As it was an extra special occassion i used my Momiji bake set and decorated the cupcakes with purple sprinkles and 'Happy Birthday' flags - brilliant!

Red Velvet cupcakes

Ah September! What a month for Birthdays....we're only a week in and i already have very few pennies in my purse! Which brings me to the point of this weeks first cupcake recipe...Red Velvet cupcakes with vanilla buttercream for hubby's friend.

To make 12 standard size cupcakes you will need:

125g softened butter
125g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
3 tbsp organic cocoa powder
2 tbsp milk
2 medium eggs (seperated)
2-3 tbsp red food colouring

For the buttercream topping
175g softened butter
350g fondant icing sugar
3 tbsp boiling water
Organic vanilla extract
Red sprinkles

Firstly pre-heat that oven to 190c (cooking times will vary depending on model etc)

Mix the caster sugar and butter until softened before adding the sifted self-raising flour, 2 egg yolks, sifted cocoa powder, 2 tbsp milk. Once these ingredients have been well mixed, fold in the whipped egg whites. Finally, for the magic of red velvet, add a few drops of red food colouring.

Bake in the oven for around 12-15 minutes until the sponge is springy. A good way to check if the cupcakes are done is to place a cocktail stick in the centre, if it comes away clean then they're perfect!

After you have cooled the cupcakes on a rack for around 30mins to an hour, its time for the yummy vanilla buttercream icing. Seriously, i excelled myself this time...the buttercream was amazing and as i'd 'accidently' made far too much, hubby and i thought it was only right to finish off the leftovers. More a case of licking the bowl and not the spatula...oh dear!

I think the main difference this time was using posh organic vanilla extract from M&S, this is a world away from the cheapy vanilla flavouring from the supermarket. Secondly, Silver Spoon have started doing a new range of icing sugars and the super glossy fondant variety seemed to work wonders!

So, Vanilla buttercream is super easy to do, simply pop the sifted icing sugar, vanilla extract, boiling water and butter into a large mixing bowl and whip until lovely a creamy. You can then pop the buttercream into an icing tube (i chose the star nozzle) or even use a knife if you don't have an icing kit, to decorate the cupcakes. This whole pro-icing lark is quite new to me and having recently received an amazing icing kit from Pampered Chef, i'm having quite a bit of fun practising!!

Finally decorate with red sprinkles to make it look all pretty!

Friday, 5 September 2008

I love Nigella

Nigella is literally my idea of the perfect wife, i was watching the repeat of her Nigella Express show on BBC 2 on Tuesday and i almost felt like taking notes!

Every little detail is thought of, like laying the table and creating quick and easy table decorations. Couldn't believe how quickly the woman can put together a 3 course meal...30 minutes for those of you who haven't seen it!

I am now begging hubby for a walk-in pantry, although in our teensy flat i think i may have to make do with one small cupboard for now.

I have her book 'How to be a domestic goddess' and have just bought Nigella Express off Amazon, so watch this space for some Nigella-esque recipes very soon....

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Mansfield Park

Now i love a good period novel, but I just finished reading Jane Austen's Mansfield Park last night and i have to say, i was more than a little disappointed with the ending.

Of course, taking into consideration the time it was written, it was published in 1814, Mansfield seemed too restrained and serious. The plot never really picks up momentum and the main character, Fanny, is too timid and judgemental.

I almost wished that Fanny had married Mr Crawford, at least she could of have a bit of fun and lived a little! It was frustrating that Edmund hadn't paid any attention to Fanny until the very ending of the book. In my opinion, Edmund was a selfish character who would have married Miss Crawford had it not been for the scandal towards the end of Mansfield Park. Fanny was almost an afterthought to him, there was never anything but brotherly regard for her throughout.

A modern version of Fanny would have given up on Edmund, or at the very least given him a good old shake and told him exactly how she felt!But that, i guess, is the difference between modern woman versus Regency period woman. At the time women were seen as delicate creatures, who were expected to be accomplished in needlework and music, not speak their own mind openly.

Mansfield Park was published after Sense & Sensibility and Pride & Prejudice and at the time was highly praised for its moral theme. It is seen as her first 'grown-up novel' which she wrote after the death of her father. Jane Austen even wrote to her brother Frank in 1813 'I have something in hand - which i hope on the credit of P&P will sell well, tho' not half so entertaining.'

On a more positive note i did like the description of day-to-day Regency life. The custom of afternoon tea and the descriptions of how women spent their evenings (Mainly playing cribbage and doing needlework) made it easy to imagine what it was like to live a wealthy existence in Regency England.