Happy Christmas Cupcakes

Now, I know my next sentence is going to make a lot of you never want to read my blog again, but I’ll type it anyway:  I don’t like mince pies or Christmas pudding, or anything that tastes like them.  There, I said it.  (I hope Father Christmas still brings me my presents tomorrow after I have admitted to such a heinous Christmas crime!)

Of course this means I have spent my whole life missing out on traditional cakes at Christmas.  That is, until I lived in Germany for a year, and discovered a truly great love – Lebkuchen.  It’s a very similar taste to English gingerbread, warm and spicy but with a slight twist (which –  I have discovered this week – is honey and almond) and the consistency varies depending on what sort of Lebkuchen you are buying.  For example, anyone who has ever visited a German Christmas Market will have seen the large brightly coloured biscuits below –

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These are called Pfefferkuchen but are basically large Lebkuchen biscuits.  Smaller chocolate covered Lebkuchen tend to be much softer and airy –

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You can also get Lebkuchen loaf cakes, sometimes called Hoenigkuchen (honey cake), as well as more modern versions such as Lebkuchen tray bakes.  Of course, I decided to go for Lebkuchen cupcakes!

All the Lebkuchen recipes I have come across have had varying ingredients, although all of them have involved honey and almond, and so when I was deciding on my recipe I mixed honey and almond extract with traditional Christmas spices and lemon.  I also chose vanilla buttercream to top the cupcakes, to balance out the spice of the cupcakes with something a bit sweeter.

So to everyone who isn’t a fan of Christmas pud and fancies having a go at making something different between Christmas and New Year, here is my recipe for Lebkuchen/Christmas Cupcakes.  Please feel free to chop and change the spices to your taste; after all, every Lebkuchen recipe is different!

INGREDIENTS

For the sponge:

  • 8oz unsalted butter
  • 8oz golden caster sugar
  • 8oz self raising flour
  • 2tbsp clear honey
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 2tsp almond extract
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1tbsp lemon juice
  • Half tsp black pepper
My choice of spices

My choice of spices

For the buttercream:

  • 5oz unsalted butter
  • 10.5oz icing sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tsp milk (optional)

METHOD

For the sponge:

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees (fan) and line a 12 hole cupcake tin with muffin (or large cupcake) cases.

2. Make sure your butter is at room temperature, cut it into cubes and cream until smooth.  Add the caster sugar, and mix with the butter until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3. Whisk the eggs well in a separate bowl or jug, then pour them into the butter and sugar mixture, and whisk until smooth (if there are a few lumps, don’t worry).

4. Sieve the flour into the mixture, then add the honey, almond extract, spices, pepper, lemon zest and juice and stir them through the mixture well.  Don’t over beat at this stage!

Add the honey, lemon, almond extract and spices

Add the honey, lemon, almond extract and spices

 
5. Using a desert spoon, divide all of the mixture between the cases evenly.
 
6. Bake for 20 minutes.
 
7. Once 20 minutes is up, take the cakes out of the oven and do the cocktail stick test.  The cakes should be a lovely golden brown colour from the honey and spices.
Golden brown cupcakes straight from the oven

Golden brown cupcakes straight from the oven

8. Leave the cakes to cool in the tray for a few minutes, and then transfer them on to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

For the icing:

1. Cube the butter and cream until smooth.

2. Sieve the icing sugar in to the bowl and mix with the butter.

3.  Mix in the vanilla extract.

4. You can either pipe the icing on to the cakes using a piping bag a nozzle or spread over the top using a knife.

5. If you like, add Christmas decorations to make them look  more Christmassy.

Finished cakes on rack 

Finished cakes

Classic Victoria Sandwich

This morning I woke up wanting to bake a Lemon Drizzle Cake.  But when I mentioned this to my other half, he said, “I like Lemon Drizzle.  But I prefer Victoria Sandwich.”  I couldn’t really argue with this; so I put the lemons back in the fridge and got out the jam. 

Victoria Sandwich is an absolute classic.  Named after Queen Victoria, who apparently was partial to a bit of sponge with her afternoon tea, the recipe has changed a bit over the years, but it’s still perfect with a cuppa.  It’s simple to make, plus (as far as I’m concerned anyway) it’s about the taste, not making it look perfect – which is good news for messy bakers like me!

For this recipe, I use two 8 inch cake tins with bottoms that can lift out – spring form tins are also good to use here too, or even silcone if you can get your hands on some.  If you have tins larger that 8 inches wide, that’s not a problem – just increase the amounts in the recipe otherwise you’ll have a very thin cake!

INGREDIENTS

For the sponge:

  • 8oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 8oz golden caster sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 8oz self raising flour
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 2tbsp milk

For the filling:

  • 3oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6oz icing sugar
  • 1sp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp raspberry jam

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 170 degrees.

2. Grease the baking tins and line the bottoms with baking paper.  (To get a perfect fit, draw around the bottom on the baking tin with a pencil and cut it out.)

Draw around the base of the tin

3.  Mix the butter and sugar together until the are light and fluffy, whisk the eggs in a seperate bowl/jug, and then whisk them in to the mixture. 

4.   Add the vanilla extract and milk and stir well.   

5.  Sift the flour and baking powder in to the mixture, and fold in gently.

6.  Divide the mixture equally between the two tins, making sure it is spread right to the edges, and place in the oven for approximately 25 – 30 minutes.

Divide the mixture equally between the tins.

Divide the mixture equally between the tins.

7.  When the sponge has risen and is golden on the top, take it out and test it – a cocktail stick should come out clean and it should be soft and spongey to the touch.

Take the sponge out of the oven when it is risen and golden.

Take the sponge out of the oven when it is risen and golden.

8.  Let the sponge cool in the tins for 5 minutes and then carefully transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

9.  Whilst the sponge is cooling, mix together the butter and icing sugar, then the vanilla extract, until it is well whipped and will be easy to spread.

10.  Once the cakes are fully cooled, cover the top of one with the buttercream, and the bottom of the other with the jam.

Spread the buttercream and jam on to the two sponges

Spread the buttercream and jam on to the sponges

11.  Carefully tip the top sponge on to the bottom sponge, and voila!  Your cake is done!

DIFFERENT FILLINGS

You don’t have to use this buttercream and jam filling if you fancy something a bit different.  Experiment with fresh whipped cream, different flavour jams, fresh fruit, and whatever else you fancy – see what you like best!  A good friend of mine uses fresh whipped cream, jam and fresh raspberries and strawberries in the middle and on the top, and it looks delicious!

Cake

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Red Velvet

When I want to make something a little bit different and special, Red Velvet cupcakes are always my first choice. 

Chocolate sponge, tinted red, looks different, and the cream cheese frosting instead of the normal buttercream makes the cakes taste different; combine them both and you have cupcakes that look and taste like you’ve put that little bit of extra effort in (when actually, you haven’t – shhhhhhh!) and they taste that little bit more indulgent.

So, when it was my other half’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, I went down the Red Velvet route. 

My recommendations for this recipe:

  1. Don’t be tempted to save calories by using low fat cream cheese – let’s face it, that’s not what cakes are about and they won’t taste as good.
  2. Use red gel colouring as opposed to a liquid one – you need to use quite a lot and the liquid will make the cakes too wet.
  3. Consume the cakes within 2 or 3 days, you’re running the risk of the cream cheese going off after this, and keeping them in the fridge dries out the sponge (as I learnt the hard way!)

INGREDIENTS

For the sponge:

  • 8oz unsalted butter
  • 8oz caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 6.5oz self raising flour
  • 1.5oz cocoa
  • Red gel food colouring
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

For the cream cheese frosting:

  • 4oz unsalted butter
  • 8oz icing sugar
  • 4oz cream cheese
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • Decorations (optional)

METHOD

1.  Preheat your oven to 170 degrees (fan).  Make sure the butter is at room temperature.  Cube and then cream until smooth.  Add the caster sugar and mix together until light and fluffy.

2.  Whisk the eggs well in a seperate bowl, and then whisk them in to the butter and sugar mix.

3.  Put the flour and cocoa through a sieve and add to the mixture.  Mix well.

4.  Add the vanilla extract and then add the gel colouring bit by bit until the mix has a rich reddy-brown colour.  Divide this equally between the cases.

Place the reddy-brown mixture in to the cases

5.  Put the cakes in the oven for 20 minutes.  When the time is up, test them with a cocktail stick to make sure they are done all the way through.  Depending on how much colouring you used, your cakes may need a few more minutes – put them in for a minute or two and test them again.  Repeat until the cakes are done. 

6.  Once the cakes are done,  leave them in the tin for a few minutes and then transfer them to a wire rack to cool.

Allow the cakes to cool for a couple of minutes in the tin before tranfering them to a rack

7.  Whilst the cakes are cooling, take the butter for the icing and cream until smooth (make sure there are no lumps at all) and mix with the cream cheese.

8.  Put the icing sugar through the sieve, and add to the mixture, along with the vanilla extract.

9.  Put the mixture in to the fridge for approximately half and hour to stiffen.

10.  Either pipe the cream cheese frosting on to the cakes, or use the back of a spoon to swirl the frosting on, bringing it to a peak at the end.  If you want to use decorations, put them on at the last minute (the cream cheese will make them go soggy if they aren’t eaten straight away).

Cherry Bakewell cupcakes

It’s been a very busy week, but unfortunately not with baking!  Work has been manic, plus it was my dad’s and my other half’s birthdays on Sunday – and I didn’t even get a chance to bake them birthday cakes!  Never have I wished more that I could bake for a living…  Anyway, it’s the start of a new week and to make up for the lack of an entry last week, this week I promise two. 

In my last blog I mentioned baking the cupcakes for the winner of the Sands Auction – chocolate fudge and Cherry Bakewell.  Cherry Bakewell cupcakes are one of my absolute favourite cupcakes to make and to eat for three reasons: the almond extract smells absolutely delicious when they are baking and tastes delicious when you’re eating them; the ground almonds make the sponge lovely and moist; and the little chunks of cherries add something special to the color, texture and the sweetness of the sponge that you just don’t get from other cupcakes.  In short, they are pretty amazing and if you like Cherry Bakewells, you will love the cupcake equivalent.  I promise.

INGREDIENTS

For the sponge:

  • 8oz unsalted butter
  • 8oz caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 8oz self raising flour
  • 1tsp almond extract
  • 40z glace cherries
  • 4oz ground almonds

The cherries and ground almonds

For the buttercream:

  • 5oz unsalted butter
  • 10 1/2oz icing sugar
  • 1tsp almond extract
  • 12 glace cherries, to decorate
  • Non-toxic or edible glitter, to decorate

METHOD

For the sponge:

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (fan) and line a 12 hole cupcake tin with muffin (or large cupcake) cases.

2. Make sure your butter is at room temperature, cut it into cubes and cream until smooth.

3. Add the caster sugar, and mix with the butter until the mixture is light and fluffy.

4. Whisk the eggs well in a separate bowl or jug, then pour them into the butter and sugar mixture, and whisk until smooth (if there are a few lumps, don’t worry).

5. Sieve the flour into the mixture and mix well, until smooth.

6. Take the glace cherries and chop into small pieces.  They tend to get very sticky at this point, but don’t worry because they will separate once you stir them in to the sponge mixture. 

Chop the glace cherries up into small pieces – don’t worry if they get sticky!

7.  Add the almond extract, grounds almonds and chopped cherries and stir them through the mixture well.

Stir the almond extra, ground almond and chopped glace cherries into the mixture

8. Using a desert spoon, divide all of the mixture between the cases evenly.

9. Bake for 20 minutes.

10. Once 20 minutes is up, take the cakes out of the oven and do the cocktail stick test (see my first entry Blue for a Boy to find out what the test is if you’re not sure!). 

11. Leave the cakes to cool in the tray for a few minutes, and then transfer them on to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

For the icing:

1. Cube the butter and cream until smooth.

2. Sieve the icing sugar in to the bowl and mix with the butter.

3.  Mix in the almond extract.

4. You can either pipe the icing on to the cakes using a piping bag a nozzle or spread over the top using a knife.  (Again, see my Blue for a Boy blog entry for more information on how to do this part if you’re unsure.)

5. Top each cupcake with a cherry and edible glitter.

Chocolate chip cookies

Today, I have the baking bug. 

This morning was spent making both chocolate fudge and cherry bakewell cupcakes for the winner of the Lemon Squeezy Baking cupcake lot on the Sands Auction (which, by the way, has raised an AMAZING £3800!  Well done to my wonderful friend Lucie for making it all happen and raising such a huge amount of money for a truly deserving charity). 

This evening I have been baking delicious chocolate chip cookies, which as I type are still a little warm from the oven and going down excellently with my cup of tea. 

Since the blog so far has been quite cupcake and muffin heavy, I’ll give you the recipe for the cookies, and save the cherry bakewell recipe for during the week.  Of course, if you fancy the chocolate fudge cupcakes now, the recipe is on my earlier blog entry Sunday Comfort Food: Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes

These cookies are moist and squidy in the middle, and especially sweet from the treacle.  The recipe I use is from the Good to Know Recipes website, which I would recommend anyone to have a look at for baking recipes as well as other food recipes.  I stick to the recipe more or less exactly, with only a few small amendments, and it is my slightly amended recipe I’ve put here.  To see the original, click here

INGREDIENTS

Makes 12 cookies

  • 125g unsalted butter
  • 100g light brown soft sugar
  • 2 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 160g self-raising flour, sieved
  • 150g chocolate drops or chunks, of your choice – I always use 50g white chocolate drops, 50g milk chocolate drops, and 50g dark chocolate chunks

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line 2 to 3 baking trays with baking parchment.

2. Mix together the butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy.

3. Add the golden syrup and vanilla extract and mix well. 

Add the golden syrup

4. Take 50g of dark chocolate from a bar, and use a sharp knife to chop roughly in to different sized pieces. 

Chop the chocolate up into different sized chunks

5. Add the flour, dark chocolate and milk and white with the chocolate drops to the mixture and mix well. 

NB:  I prefer to use chunks as opposed to drops for 50g of the chocolate allowance as the larger chunks go soft and gooey and make a real difference to the taste and texture of the cookies.  I wouldn’t recommend using chunks for any more of the chocolate allowance as the cookies tend to split when they are being transferred to the cooling rack. 

6. Use a desert spoon to take out some of the dough, roll it into a ball using your hands and flatten slightly.  Place it on to the prepared baking parchment.  Repeat with the remaining dough, making sure there is plenty of room in between so that they can spread (hence preparing more than one tray with parchment!).

Space the dough out on the tray so there is plenty of room for the cookies to spread

7. Place the cookies into the oven (in batches if you have used a lot of trays and can’t fit them all in) and bake for 12 minutes.

8. Take the cookies out of the oven and leave on the baking tray to cool slightly.  They should be soft and squidgy to the touch at this point – press on the edge of one to see what I mean. 

9. When 5 minutes has passed, press on the side of the cookies to see if they have firmed enough.  If the feel fairly firm, carefully use a spatula to transfer them on to a wire cooling rack.  If they are breaking up, or sticking too much to the spatula, leave for another couple of minutes before transferring. 

Tranfer on to a wire cooling rack

10.  Make a cuppa and eat a cookie whilst it is still a little warm. 

TIPS 1: To make the cookies even more chocolatey, replace 25g flour with 25g drinking chocolate, or cocoa if you prefer; I tend not to use cocoa as I find it makes the cookies too dry.

TIP 2: Try some of the dough before you bake it.  It’s amazing. 

Sunday brunch: Savoury cheese and ham muffins

Now, I know savoury muffins are controversial; to be honest with you, I am very skeptical too – muffins and cupcakes should be full of sugar, sweetness and chocolate chips as far as I’m concerned.  But this morning I woke up wanting to bake, and since I have a cold, I had to bake something just for me (you can imagine my dismay……). 

Since it was (late) breakfast time and my lovely friend Amy has recently given me a recipe book for muffins, with quite a few savoury recipes in, I thought to myself, “What’s a girl with a stinking cold, a need to bake and very little to eat in her cupboards to do?….Why, bake cheese and ham muffins of course!” 

Well, anyway, you get the idea.

I have never made muffins before, and so I did follow the recipe to the letter, apart from I halved everything as I made 6 instead of 12.  But having made the muffins this morning, there are a few things I would change.  For a start, the recipe calls for you to eat the muffins whilst warm, and so you should, but this means that the muffins stick  when you try to remove them from the wrappers.   So, you can either eat them cold (I imagine they would taste quite good with a bit of butter spread on them), not use cases and make sure you are greasing your muffin tin well, or maybe use silicon cases, which is what’s what I’m going to try next time.  I’ll let you know how I get on!  Also, I think that the muffins would be better with smoked crispy bacon in as opposed to ham.  But that is just personal preference.  Let’s face it, if I could, I would eat bacon for every meal. 

Recipe taken from 1 Mix, 100 Muffins by Susanna Tee.

INGREDIENTS

  • oil or melted butter, for greasing (if using)
  • 280g plain flour
  • 1tbsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 100g sliced ham, finely chopped
  • 140g mature Cheddar cheese, coursely grated
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 250ml milk
  • 6 tbsp sunflower oil, or 85g butter, melted and cooled

METHOD

1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.  Grease a 12-cup muffin tin or line with 12 paper cases.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl.  Stir in the ham and 100g of the Cheddar cheese.

The cheese and ham

2. Lightly beat the egg in a large jug or bowl then beat in the milk and oil. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour in the beaten liquid ingredients.  Stir gently until just combined; do not over-mix.

3. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin.  Scatter the remaining cheese over the tops of the muffins.  Bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes until well risen, golden brown and firm to the touch.

Sprinkle the remaining cheese on the muffin mix

4. Leave the muffins in the tin for 5 minutes and then serve warm.

 

 

Sunday comfort food: Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes

It’s one of those lazy Sundays, where all I want to do is veg in front of the TV under the duvet.  We’ve all been there: still in our pyjamas at 2pm, watching Diagnosis Murder or, as I am today, last night’s X Factor and wondering how long you can get away with not having a shower. 

In this situation, there is only one way forward (after the roast dinner of course): Chocolate Fudge Cupcakes.  Perfect for tea on a Sunday as they can be eaten as they are accompanied by a cuppa, or they can be warmed slightly in the microwave and eaten with ice cream or pouring cream for an awesome after-roast pudding.

These cupcakes are deliciously rich and dense, and a little bit special as they involve real chocolate as well as cocoa, and I absolutely know you will love them.  Tip:  Make them on a Saturday so you get all the joy of eating them on the Sunday without having to move off the sofa to do any baking!

INGREDIENTS

For the sponge:

  • 8oz butter (unsalted)
  • 8oz golden caster sugar
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 6.5oz self raising flour
  • 1.5oz cocoa
  • 1tbsp golden syrup or clear honey – this is what gives the sponge the ‘fudge’ consistency; golden syrup is much heavier and sweeter than honey so will make the cakes much denser than the honey does, but you can choose which to use depending on your preference

The honey and golden syrup give the sponge the ‘fudge’ consistency

For the buttercream icing:

  • 5oz butter (unsalted)
  • 10 ½ oz icing sugar
  • 100g milk chocolate
  • 100g plain chocolate

METHOD

For the sponge:

1. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (fan) and line a 12 hole cupcake tin with muffin (or large cupcake) cases.

2. Make sure your butter is at room temperature, cut it into cubes and cream until smooth.

3. Add the caster sugar, and mix with the butter until the mixture is light and fluffy.

4. Whisk the eggs well in a separate bowl or jug, then pour them into the butter and sugar mixture, and whisk until smooth (if there are a few lumps, don’t worry).

5. Sieve the flour and cocoa into the mixture and mix well, until smooth.

6. Add in the honey or golden syrup and mix well.

Mix the treacle or honey in and stir well

7. Using a desert spoon, divide the mixture between the cases evenly (make sure you get all of the mixture out of the bowl – I use a silicon spatula to make sure I’ve got it all!)

8. Bake for 20 minutes.

9. Once 20 minutes is up, take the cakes out of the oven and check that they are cooked through by inserting a cocktail stick into the middle of a few of them.  If the stick comes out clean, they’re done.  If the stick comes out wet, put the cakes back in to the oven for another minute, and then test them again.  Repeat until the stick comes out clean.

10. Leave the cakes to cool in the tray for a few minutes, and then transfer them on to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

For the icing:

1. Cube the butter and cream until smooth.

2. Sieve the icing sugar in to the bowl and mix with the butter.

3. Break the chocolate up in to squares and melt in the microwave on a medium heat, stirring constantly.  Don’t over heat as the chocolate will burn (it starts to look bumpy and bubbly) and you’ll have to start again.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave

4. Allow the chocolate to cool almost completely, but make sure it is still runny.  Add the chocolate to the butter and icing sugar mix and stir well.

5. You can either pipe the icing on to the cakes using a piping bag a nozzle or spread over the top using a knife.  (See my Blue for a Boy blog entry for more information on how to do this part if you’re unsure.)

6. Enjoy!

Rocky Road

This has been a very, very busy baking week for Lemon Squeezy Baking – which is just how I like it!   Lots of cupcakes have been baked (and consumed) but as the first blog entry involved cupcakes, I thought it would be better to concentrate on something different, but equally as delicious.  And ridiculously chocolatey to  boot.

I have spent this evening making Rocky Road – recipe courtesy of Nigella Lawson – for my very good friends at Peter’s Place, a brand new charity set up in memory of Peter Younghusband, who died in Setptember 2012 from cancer at the far too early age of 21.  Peter’s mum and sister, Rose and Susie, have been working tirelessly over the last year or so to offer support for young cancers suffers and their families in Kent and Medway through Peter’s Place, which currently offers a drop in centre, and will hopefully one day be a hospice.

Peter’s Place run various fundraising events throughout the year (have a look at their Facebook group to see a list), and tomorrow they are running a joint Tea Party with Macmillan Cancer Care, at which the Rocky Road will make an appearance.  For anyone local to Medway that fancies popping along – it’s 2.30pm at Gillingham Methodist Church on Third Avenue.

And so here it is: Nigella’s recipe for the ridiculousy easy to make and absolutely delicious to consume Rocky Road Crunch Bars.  You can view the original recipe here.  The recipe below is my adapted one – you can choose which to follow.

INGREDIENTS

  • 125g butter (unsalted), cubed
  • 200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 100g milk chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 100g white chocolate, broken into pieces
  • 3 tbsp golden syrup
  • 180g rich tea biscuits
  • 100g mini marshmallows

The ingredients

METHOD

1.  Fill a saucepan with a couple of inches of boiling water, and place a large bowl on the top, creating a type of bain marie.  A glass bowl is ideal here.  Keep the heat on so the water simmers constantly.

Put boiling water in a saucepan and place the bowl on top

2.  Place the butter, dark and milk choclate, and golden syrup in the bowl and allow to melt slowly.  Stir every now and again until the mixture is completely melted.

3.  In the meantime, place the rich tea biscuits into a sandwich bag, and smash with your fists or a rolling pin until it’s broken up in to different sized pieces, crumbs and whole.

Smash the biscuits into different sizes pieces

4.  When the chocolate mixture is melted, use a jug to measure 125g and leave to one side.

5.  Add the smashed up biscuits and marshmallows to the chocoalte mixture remaining in the bowl and mix well.

6.  Press the mixture into a 12″x12″  foil tray, or if you can’t get your hands on one of those, line a baking tray with baking paper (bottom and sides).

7.  Pour the chocolate mixture in the jug on top of the mixture in the tray, so it is coated as evenly as possible.

8.  Place the white chocolate in a microwaveable bowl.  Heat on a medium to high setting, checking frequently, and stirring every time.  If the chocolate gets lumpy and bubbly, it’s burnt – time to start again!

9.  Once the chocolate is melted, either pour it in to the mixture in the tray and move around to create a marbled effect, or pour on with spoon to make any pattern you like.

Marble the white chocolate

10.  Place in the fridge for at least 2 hours, but preferably over night.

11.  Pop the Rocky Road out of the tray and chop into 16 – 25 (depending on preference) pieces.

12.  Enjoy!

Blue for a Boy: Vanilla cupcakes

My first blog entry: where to begin?  I’ve been thinking about this for a while (over a month actually, whilst waiting for my laptop to be fixed!) and it just so happens that circumstances have dictated what the first blog will be about.

I am dedicating my first blog to two beautiful baby boys.  The first, Baby George, the first child of my friends Lou and Carl, who I get to meet for the first time tomorrow.  And the second, Baby Benedict, the second child of my friends Lucie and John, who was sadly born asleep in April this year.

Now tonight marks the start of a very special event:  Lucie and John, with strength that I couldn’t ever imagine having, have spent the last few months organising an online auction for Sands in memory of Benedict (known affectionately to most as Peanut) and tonight is the night that the auction goes live.  There are no less than 75 lots up for grabs – yes, including some Lemon Squeezy Cupcakes! – which can be bid on over the next 7 days.  Please visit the website www.auctionforsands.blogspot.com to find out more and bid if you see anything you like.

And so, with both George and Peanut in mind, here is my recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes, with a blue twist.

INGREDIENTS

For the sponge:

  • 8oz butter (unsalted)*
  • 8oz caster sugar**
  • 4 medium eggs
  • 8oz self raising flour
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • Blue gel colouring – you can use liquid colouring here but you’ll  need to leave the cakes in the oven for a minute or so longer

For the buttercream icing:

  • 5oz butter (unsalted)*
  • 10 ½ oz icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • Tiny amount of milk
  • Edible glitter and blue sugar sprinkles

*Although it is cheaper, if possible, do not use ‘baking butter’; also, always make sure your butter is at room temperature (it should have been out of the fridge for at least half an hour).

**I quite often use golden caster sugar in vanilla recipes, as it gives the cakes a richer flavour (think about the difference in taste between white sugar and brown sugar) but it is more expensive, and your cakes will be delicious with normal caster sugar anyway, so don’t feel obliged.

METHOD

For the sponge:

1. Make sure your butter is at room temperate and has been out of the fridge for at least half an hour.  This is also a good time get the butter you are using for your icing out of the fridge.

2. Preheat the oven to 160 degrees (fan) and line a 12 hole cupcake tin with muffin (or large cupcake) cases.

3. Cut the butter into small cubes, put in to a large mixing bowl and cream (preferably with a wooden spoon).

4. Add the caster sugar, and mix with the butter until the mixture is light and fluffy.

‘Light and fluffy’ butter and sugar mix

5. Whisk the eggs well in a separate bowl or jug.

6. Pour the eggs into the butter and sugar mixture, and whisk until smooth (if there are a few lumps, don’t worry).

7. Sieve the flour into the mixture and mix well, until smooth.

8. Add in the vanilla extract, and using a teaspoon, add tiny bits of gel colouring and mix well until you have the colour you want.

9. Using a desert spoon, divide the mixture between the cases evenly (make sure you get all of the mixture out of the bowl – I use a silicon spatula to make sure I’ve got it all!)

Divide the sponge mix into the cases

10. Put the cases in the oven for 20 minutes.

11. Once 20 minutes is up, take the cakes out of the oven (they should have risen nicely by now) and check that they are cooked through by inserting a cocktail stick into the middle of a few of them.  If the stick comes out clean, your cakes are done.  If the stick comes out wet, you’ll need to put the cakes back in to the oven for no more than one minute, and then test them again.  Repeat until the stick comes out clean.

Too wet – place back in oven

12. Leave the cakes to cool in the tray for a few minutes, and then transfer them on to a wire rack to cool thoroughly.

For the buttercream icing:

1. Cube the butter for the icing in a large mixing bowl and cream until smooth.

2. Sieve the icing sugar in to the bowl and mix with the butter.  Warning: this can take a while – just keep going!

3. Add the vanilla extract.

4. If the mix is really hard and stodgy, add a teaspoon of milk to loosen up the mixture.  Your icing should be at the right consistency now.  It should be pliable enough to pipe easily but not so runny that the buttercream won’t stand up on the cake.

To decorate:

You can either –

Use a knife to spread the icing on top of the cupcake, using a circular motion.

Spread on using a knife

 OR

Use a piping bag and nozzle (for these cakes, I used a Wilton 2D nozzle). 

If you take this option –

1. Cut off the end of the piping bag and put the nozzle inside. 

2. Place the bag inside a pint glass, nozzle down, and fold the top of the bag over the edges of the glass.  This will make it much easier to put the butter cream into the bag.  Pack the buttercream down well so there are no airpockets.

Put the bag in a pint glass

3. Take the bag out of the glass, and twist the top tightly.

4. Steadying the bag with your left hand and squeezing from the top of the bag with the right, pipe the icing on to the cakes.  Keep the bag as upright as possible.  Start from the edge and work your way round in a circular motion, moving in to the middle of the cake. 

5. Decorate the cupcakes with lots of lovely sprinkles, and if you have it non-toxic, or edible, glitter, as I have done here.