Sunday, 26 February 2012

Chocolate orange cupcakes

Spring has been in the air this week - and it's amazing how a bit of sunshine can lift your mood.

Chocolate, of course, is another well-known mood enhancer, so really it's no surprise that I've been doing a lot of smiling today!

Since last weekend's carrot cupcakes - with the very subtle orange flavouring of their cream cheese frosting - I've been dreaming up my very own milk chocolate orange frosting recipe. Chocolate and orange has to be one of my very favourite sweet flavour combinations.

My new icing nozzle arrived this week, so it was a perfect excuse to try both things out. And I can say, without hesitation, that I adore them both.

I decided to use a chocolate sponge to accompany the frosting. I think orange cupcakes (plain sponge flavoured with orange zest) would probably work well too. This particular chocolate sponge is really light and moist, and contains melted chocolate, so is more flavoursome than one which has only cocoa powder in the batter.

I've added my frosting recipe after the one for the sponges, so if you're planning on making them, please don't forget to scroll down...I'd hate you to realise too late that you're missing half the ingredients and end up cursing me.

Chocolate orange cupcakes
(sponge recipe adapted from 'Cupcakes from the Primrose Bakery')
Makes 14-16 cupcakes

For the sponge:
115g good quality 70% cocoa chocolate (I always use Green and Black's)
85g soft unsalted butter
175g soft light brown sugar
2 large eggs, separated
185g plain flour
¾ teaspoon bicarb of soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
250ml semi-skimmed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract/paste

Preheat the oven to 170°C (gas 5). Line some muffin tins (you will probably fill a 12 hole muffin tin and then need to use a few more cases in a second tin).

Put the broken chocolate into a bowl and place over a pan of barely simmering water to melt. (Alternatively, microwave on medium heat, stopping every 20-30 seconds to stir, but be very careful it doesn't burn.) Set aside while you get on with the next bit.

Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl for 3-5 minutes, until pale and fluffy, using the paddle attachment of a freestanding mixer, or a handheld electric whisk.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks for 4-5 minutes using an electric whisk. Pour the beaten yolks onto the butter and sugar mixture slowly, while beating. Do the same with the melted chocolate.

Sieve the rest of the dry ingredients (flour, salt and leavening agents) into a third bowl and mix.
Measure the milk into a jug and add the vanilla.

Now, add a third of the combined dry ingredients to your chocolate mixture, and beat gently until just incorporated. Then add a third of the milk and vanilla, and beat gently again. Repeat, alternating dry and wet ingredients, a third at a time, until everything is mixed.

In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with an electric whisk until it starts to form soft peaks. GENTLY fold the egg whites into the batter. Go easy so that you don't knock all the air out of the egg whites.

Spoon the mixture into your cupcakes cases so that they are approximately two-thirds full (no more or they will rise over the top of the cases, which isn't a disaster, but doesn't look as good).

Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a cake skewer inserted into the middle of one of the cakes comes out clean. Take out of the oven and leave in the tin(s) for 10 minutes, then remove them and allow to cool on a wire rack.

For the chocolate orange frosting:
25g milk chocolate, broken up
25g 70% cocoa chocolate, broken up (if you prefer to use 50g of the dark chocolate and leave out the milk chocolate, go ahead - it should be just as good)
3 tbsp cocoa powder
100g cream cheese (full fat)
100g soft, unsalted butter
350g icing sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract/paste
1 teaspoon orange extract
2-3 teaspoons (approx) water

Melt your chocolate together, in the same way as you did for the cakes.

Beat the cream cheese and soft butter together with an electric whisk or the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until combined.
Add the melted chocolate, vanilla and orange extracts, and mix well.
Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa powder on top and beat, first at low speed and then a little higher, for a couple of minutes. Add a teaspoon or two of water while whisking, to make the icing a little softer.

Then comes the fun bit - decorating your cupcakes.

You can either pipe the frosting on or slather it on with a palette knife, and add any decorations you like - or leave the orangey chocolate (which smells as amazing as it tastes) to speak for itself. I used a Wilton 2D piping tip for these, to get the rose swirl effect.

Hungry yet?!

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese and white chocolate frosting

Yes, I know. They don't look much like carrot cakes. But that's only because I opted not to make little orange-coloured decorations, and went for fondant flowers instead.  Let me tell you though, these are chock-full of carrots. While I won't lie and attempt to convince you that they're a health food, it's no exaggeration to say that these are among the best carrot cakes/cupcakes I've ever tasted. And therefore any perceived health benefits, or lack thereof, are irrelevant.

The cream cheese frosting too is divine. If I was really gluttonous I could probably sit and eat a small bowl of frosting all by itself (and then feel queasy, but that's hardly the point).

I made these in the morning, while simultaneously making breakfast for my kids and trying to get ready for work. Because of the rush I didn't take any pictures of the actual process, but rest assured, this recipe is really, really simple. I don't think you could mess it up if you tried.

Here it is.

Carrot cupcakes with cream cheese and white chocolate frosting

  • For the cakes:
  • (Makes 12-15 cupcakes)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 225 g caster sugar
  • 50 g brown sugar
  • 120 ml sunflower or corn oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 240 g grated carrots
  • 120g crushed pineapple (you can buy this in tins from Waitrose, maybe other supermarkets too)
  • 190 g plain flour
  • 1¼ teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 50-70g chopped walnuts, according to preference

For the frosting (makes a lot): 
60g white chocolate
225g cream cheese, softened
115g unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon orange extract (Lakeland do a good one, and Sainbury's sell Valencian orange extract, which is the one I used. It's much cheaper and is perfectly adequate for this recipe.)
500g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 175°C (Gas 4) and line a muffin tin with 12 muffin cases.

Beat the eggs and two sugars together in a large bowl and mix in the oil and vanilla extract. Fold in the grated carrots and pineapple. 

Sift the flour, bicarb, salt and spices on to the top of the mixture and stir in gently until evenly mixed. Finally, fold in the walnuts.

Fill your muffin cases two-thirds full and put in the oven for around 25 minutes, or until a skewer inserted in the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack.

While the cakes are cooling, make thc frosting. First, melt the white chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water. Allow it to cool.

Beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth (or smoothish, anyway...mine still had lots of tiny lumps in but once I added the sugar they disappeared). Mix in the white chocolate, vanilla and orange extracts. Gradually beat in the icing sugar until the mixture is fluffy.

Put the icing into a piping bag - or just spread on with a spatula - and decorate as you wish. You could keep it simple and just scatter some more chopped walnuts on top. I used sugar flowers that I'd made a couple of days previously, as I had to get to work and didn't have time to make miniature carrots. 

Happy baking...

...and eating!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Blueberry buttermilk cake

Mmmm, this is a good one!

This blueberry buttermilk cake isn't fancy - it's not the kind of thing you'd serve at a dinner party - but, light, bursting with fruit, and truly scrumptious, a slice of this is perfect with a cup of tea in the afternoon. What's more, it's simplicity itself to throw together.

I found this recipe when I was trawling the internet for ways to use up some buttermilk I had in the fridge. The original one uses raspberries, but any soft fruit will do - and as it happened, I had some blueberries in the freezer, just waiting to be put to good use.

(Recipe adapted from Gourmet magazine, 2009)

130g all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
60g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar, plus 1½ tablespoons extra for sprinkling on top
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon or lime zest (optional)
1 large egg
120ml well-shaken buttermilk
140g blueberries or raspberries (fresh or defrosted - my blueberries were only semi-thawed when I put them in and they were fine!)

Preheat oven to 200°C. Butter and line a 9-inch round cake tin.

All you do is sieve the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together and set aside.
In a bigger bowl, beat the butter and 150g sugar until pale and fluffy, then beat in vanilla and zest (optional). Add the egg and beat well.
At low speed, mix in a third of the flour, until just combined, then a third of the buttermilk, and keep alternating until you have used all the flour and buttermilk.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and smooth the top. Scatter the fruit evenly over the top and sprinkle with the rest of the sugar.

See? Told you it was easy.

Bake on the middle shelf of the oven until it's golden. Take out and cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

Serve warm, with a cup of tea - or why not crack open a bottle of bubbly and make it a champagne afternoon tea (now there's an idea...)? After all, with all that fruit in it, this cake just has to be good for you, right?

This photo isn't a good one, but trust me, the cake is!

Almond Bakewell cupcakes

 OK, I admit it - these almondy, flourless little cakes aren't going to win any prizes for authenticity. They're pretty yummy though, if you like Bakewell tart, almond macaroons and that kind of thing. And I, for one, most definitely do.

I made these as a bit of an experiment, adapting a recipe from 'Cupcake Magic', by Kate Shirazi, for the sponges, and then mixing up a bit of raspberry buttercream and rolling out some shop-bought fondant icing to decorate them.

You'll see the buttercream ingredients are approximate; that's because I just threw in some icing sugar and butter and beat it with an electric whisk until it all came together. You can use roughly equal proportions of sugar and butter if you prefer.
For the cake:
4 large eggs, separated
    175g caster sugar
    225g ground almonds
    8-10 drops almond essence
    1 teaspoon baking powder

For the raspberry buttercream:
Approx 350g icing sugar
Approx 200g soft butter
Approx 2 teaspoons seedless raspberry fruit spread/jam

You will also need:
2-3 tablespoons of raspberry fruit spread/jam (optional)
A 500g pack of fondant icing
Some food colouring - preferably paste colours (optional)
Extra icing sugar for rolling out the fondant icing.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (Gas 6) and line a 12-hole muffin pan with cupcake cases.

First, beat the egg yolks and caster sugar together until pale (see photo).

In a clean, dry separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mix, then fold in the ground almonds, almond essence and baking powder.

Spoon the mixture into your baking cases and bake for 15-20 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don't burn, as burnt almonds taste very bitter.
Cool on a wire rack.

While the cakes are cooling, you can make the buttercream. Place the soft butter and icing sugar in a bowl and use an electric whisk to beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add the raspberry jam and beat briefly again.

Now: here's the optional bit. When the cupcakes are cool, use a sharp serrated knife to carefully cut a hole in the top of each cupcake, about 2cm x 2cm. 

Spoon ½ a teaspoon of the jam into the hole. It should look something like this.

Alternatively, you could put in a dollop of raspberry buttercream icing.

Now replace the piece of cake you cut out to cover up the hole.

When all the cakes have been filled, spread a thinnish layer of buttercream over the top of each and smooth with a spatula. Don't go right up to the very edges of the cake, or you won't get such a neat finish. The buttercream will ensure your fondant icing has something to stick to.

Sprinkle your work surface with icing sugar. Colour some of your fondant icing, and roll it out. Using a circle-shaped cutter or a glass, or whatever you have handy, cut out a circle that is about the same size as the surface of your cupcakes. It's best to do one at a time and cover the rest of the fondant in clingfilm in the meantime, to stop it drying out.

Place the circle of fondant icing on top of the buttercream and smooth it down on top and around the edges with the palm of your hand. You might also like to cut out smaller shapes, like flowers, and use a tiny dab of water to stick them to your circle of fondant icing.

I admit, these aren't the easiest cakes to top with rolled fondant, as they are very light and fragile, but persevere! (Either that or go down the easier route of just pouring some simple glacé icing - icing sugar mixed with water - on the top, and forgetting about the buttercream and fondant altogether.)

Repeat with all the other voila!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Chocolate and Guinness cake

Hmm, I thought, when I spotted this recipe while leafing through The Hummingbird Bakery's 'Cake Days' book. Chocolate cake I like...but Guinness?

I will admit I had serious reservations about this cake, not being a fan of stout. As it turns out, I needn't have worried.

This is a moist, chocolatey, rich yet light-crumbed cake, with a sweet, tangy cream cheese frosting that complements it perfectly. The Guinness lends an extra depth of flavour, but in a blind tasting, you'd be hard pushed to correctly guess the identity of the mystery ingredient.

It's an incredibly easy cake to make. Chuck all the ingredients in, bung it in the oven, and hey presto! You can even use butter straight from the fridge (butter that isn't soft enough is the bane of my domestic existence) because you have to melt it anyway.

I found the cooking time recommended in the book wasn't long enough. After 45 minutes it was still liquid in the centre, so I left it an extra 15 minutes and then it was perfect.

This is a cake I know I'm going to make again and again - news my husband will be delighted to hear!

Chocolate and Guinness Cake
(adapted from 'The Hummingbird Bakery - Baking Days')

For the sponge
250ml (9 fl oz) Guinness
250g (9 oz) unsalted butter
80g (3 oz) cocoa powder (I used Green & Blacks)
400g (14 oz) caster sugar
2 large eggs, ideally at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla essence/extract
140ml (5 fl oz) buttermilk
280g (10oz) plain flour
½ tsp baking powder

For the frosting
50g (1¾ oz) soft unsalted butter
300g (10½ oz) icing sugar
125g (4½ oz) full-fat cream cheese (eg Philadelphia)
Cocoa powder, for dusting (optional).

One 23cm (9in) diameter spring-form cake tin

1. Preheat oven to 170°C / Gas 3, then line the base of your tin.
2. Put the Guinness and butter into a pan and gently heat until melted. Take off the heat and stir in the cocoa powder and sugar. Mix together the eggs, vanilla and buttermilk by hand in a jug or bowl, and then add this to the mixture in the pan.
3. Sift together the rest of the sponge ingredients into a big bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the mixer with a paddle attachment or hand-held electric whisk, set on low, pour in the contents of the pan and mix until you have a smooth (very runny) batter.
4. Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for about 45-60 minutes (mine took an hour on the middle shelf of the oven) or until the sponge bounces back when lightly pressed, and a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Set aside to cool, and then remove from the tin to a wire rack. Make sure it's cold before you attempt to frost it.
5. Using the electric whisk or freestanding mixer with paddle attachment, mix the butter and icing sugar until it becomes a sandy mixture with no big lumps of butter. Add the cream cheese and mix on low, then turn up the speed to medium and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.
6. Top the cooled cake with the frosting. You can make pretty swirls on top with a palette knife, or just smooth it. Add a light dusting of cocoa powder if you want to.

Iced Valentine's cookies

These hearts are pretty cute, huh?

The approach of Valentine's Day was all the excuse I needed to try out my first ever batch of iced biscuits, using the heart-shaped cookie cutter that's been lying idle in the kitchen for months.

I'm a huge fan of Peggy Porschen and her exquisite creations, so I followed her recipe for basic sugar cookies, and her instructions for decorating using royal icing - piping the outline first, and then "flooding" the centre with the slightly watered down gloop.

The designs in her book are more complicated than this, but considering this was the first time I'd used royal icing, I decided to keep it simple.

I even made my own disposable piping bags from baking parchment for the first time, an idea that had intimidated me slightly, until I went to get my reusable bag and discovered it was missing, leaving me no choice but to make my own. Actually, they were much easier to make than I'd anticipated; so much so that I'm not going to bother buying a new reusable one. In any case, when you're decorating with a variety of colours - as I plan to next time - it makes sense to have several disposable bags.

I'm really pleased with the way these cookies turned out. They taste delicious. I'm already scouring Ebay for egg-shaped cookie cutters so I can make something more elaborate for Easter!

Basic Sugar Cookies
(adapted from Peggy Porschen's 'Pretty Party Cakes')

200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
400g plain flour, plus more for dusting
1tsp vanilla extract

1. In a stand mixer or electric mixer, cream the butter with the sugar and vanilla extract until well mixed and just creamy in texture. Don't overmix or the biscuits will spread while baking, and you won't get a neat look.
2. Beat in the egg until well-combined. Add flour and mix on low speed until a dough forms. With your hands, form it into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and refridgerate for at least an hour.
3. Knead the dough briefly on a floured surface. Roll out to an even thickness. Approximately 5mm  thick is ideal.
4. Cut shapes out and place them on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Put the sheet of cookies back in the fridge for half an hour. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 180°C or gas 4.
5. Bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on size, until golden-brown at the edges. Cool on a wire rack. Once cold, store in an airtight tin.