Sunday, 29 May 2011

These Two Imposters

Fortunes up and down at the moment. I've tried new cakes, old cakes, and my first ever tiered cake (the prospect of which scared the pants off me) with both triumphs and disasters. As Kipling instructs us, I need to take both in the same spirit.

Life's been pretty hectic lately. This is no surprise - self-employment from the house, 3 kids, 11 chickens, bits of decorating to do in the house, veg beds to tend in the garden and all the other things that are part of family life mean that if it weren't hectic I'd be surprised. But it's been even more so than usual over the last month while my fabulous Number One Son has a break from formal education and we dabble in a period of Home Education. It's been wonderful but requires time I am struggling to give.

So, as the cake club weekend approached I had not done my usual recipe experimenting to come up with new treats for the subscribers. It'll be fine, I thought. I was wrong.

My rash attempt to tackle the dreaded flapjacks went properly wrong twice. TWICE. I hate my flapjacks, so I don't know which demon moved me to try again. I don't even like the flapjacks of people who make them beautifully all that much, not when I could have cookies or cake. Perhaps I should just admit they are not something I can make. Nah. I will plug away every year or so and one day I'll make flapjacks that I like.

I tried to make a Victoria Sponge following a recipe different to my usual one. Actually, cocky that it would be fine, I made a double batch and popped them in together. Both collapsed; four 20cm sandwich tins full of sunk cake. Great.

Overtired by the time I tackled the meringues, I made a basic error that I could have slapped myself for. The results were just delicious but not the sort of thing I was after. Fantastic; what was I going to do now? Only the Battenburg cake turned out well.

A wonderful thing about baking is that most mistakes can be transformed into something else. Not the flapjacks, unless we fancied unusual roofing tiles, but the others. The meringues suggested Eton mess to me, so the cake clubbers got Eton mess cupcakes. They were utterly scrumptious, they really were.

If you fancy a go, here's how -
12 vanilla cupcakes
100g soft butter
200g icing sugar
splash of vanilla
2 handfuls of berries
(I used raspberries, red and black currants and blackberries)
20 small meringues (about the size of a jammy dodger) or equivalent amount of larger ones

Beat the butter until white, beat in the icing sugar and keep going until it's all fluffy and whippy looking. Stir through the vanilla, and if the icing is a bit stiff add a splash of milk.
Bash all but 6 meringues into big chunks. If you're using frozen berries, defrost them and drain any excess juice before folding into the icing with the meringues.
Generously ice the cupcakes with the berry/meringue/buttercream mixture and top each with 1/2 of one of the reserved meringues.

I've made cake pops with mixed success a couple of times before; I certainly wasn't particularly impressed. Having bought a few from different places to sample them, I've found them over-sweet, a claggy texture and pretty disgusting, really. However, I had lots of spare cake thanks to the collapsed Vic Sponges and I do love Bakerella's blog, so I thought I'd have another go.

I aimed at a drier, less sweet mix than I'd had elsewhere and I was far more happy with the result. I dipped them in pink coating with a few pastel coloured sprinkles or glitter on each. The cake clubbers got a pair each, alongside the Battenburg, Eton mess cupcakes and some VERY fragile but rather tasty home made jammy dodgers.

Incidentally, I'll try a different recipe for the dodgers next time; something slightly more robust so they'll be less breakable. Sorry, guys.

Once the cake boxes were delivered I could concentrate on a large order for an 18th birthday. I needed to make 12 vanilla cupcakes, 12 lemon cupcakes, 24 chocolate cupcakes, 60 mini cupcakes, one chocolate malteser cake, one lemon drizzle cake, 24 plain scones, 12 fruit scones, 12 lemon scones and finally a 2 tier cake with hand made butterflies, glittery polkadots and ribbon.
I had been fretting about the cake for days. My very lovely distant cousin in New Zealand had given me the business advice of steering clear of tiers and brides, and I'd generally followed her advice. Lesley, my rather fabulous college tutor, assured me it was a doddle and I'd be fine. And you know what? I was!

I did make mistakes with the cake. I was thinking about the tiers individually, so made them proportionally high, rather than as levels of the same cake, which should have the same height. The top tier needed an extra layer. I'll get that right next time.

My experiences at college had taught me to make spares of all icing details. This was A Good Thing as several butterflies broke when the lid balances across the top of the cake, erm, stopped being quite so balanced and touched them. Knowing my clumsiness, I'd made HEAPS of spares, so could make repairs, keep spares on hand for any damage transporting the cake, and still had enough to top the cupcakes as well.

I'm still pretty pleased with it, but I could really rather do with rest now!

Thursday, 5 May 2011


Chocolate and nuts - could there be anything nicer? Whether it's almonds in milk chocolate, hazelnut praline, good old Cadbury's Whole Nut or Reece's peanut butter cups, I think nuts and chocolate make a wonderful match.

After seeing a recipe in a cupcake magazine on holiday (the Americans have cupcake magazines, gosh!) I was keen to try chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes. I didn't fancy the recipe as they gave it - too much sugar and not enough butter for me - so I spent a happy time faffing about to get one I was happy with and by George I think I've got it!
Have you bought the Annie Bell book yet? Here's the link -

because if not, you really must. It's great. I use the chocolate traybake for my chocolate cupcakes. They remain moist and delicious for several days and it is an incredibly easy recipe to do. The batter does 18 cupcakes using a 1/4 cup measure, which is about 60ml, to fill each large cupcake case and they take about 22 minutes to bake at 180 degrees Celsius

The recipe for the icing is :
100g softened butter
250g icing sugar
70g smooth peanut butter
Beat them together until light and fluffy. It should have a gently peanut-y flavour. I found it crucial not to have too much peanut butter because it becomes a bit overpowering after a couple of bites and it can lead to an oily, claggy texture, so gently does it.

I was faffing about melting chocolate in the microwave, pouring it in a piping bag and squiggling flowers and stars onto some butcher's wrap, which I then popped in the fridge to set. I plopped one of the shapes in the top of each cupcake and the effect amused me. no good for eating in the garden on a sunny day but kind of fun anyway!