What’s Better Than a Hot Chocolate on a Cold Winter’s Day?

I have three loves in life: music, books, and baking.  Today I got to mix two of them together.

We had a meeting at work today to discuss the amazingness of a book called ‘Pear Shaped’ that will be released in January.  Yes I used the word amazingness people, it’s that good – I started reading it last night and I had to ask my mother to hide the book from me while I write this blog.  And what is it about??? A pudding taster!

So how did this meeting connect to two of my loves?  Well, we had a great book to discuss and what better way to discuss it than over a nice afternoon tea – each person contributed and baked a cake for the meeting.

I actually had a bit of trouble choosing which cake to bake; I’m still new there so I couldn’t make anything too flashy that screamed ‘show-off’, but didn’t want to make something boring either. After spending way too much time looking at pictures in the books, I finally chose the Hot Chocolate Cupcakes.

These sound a lot more difficult to bake than they actually are; the hardest part of the recipe is heating the milk and stirring in the cocoa powder! Otherwise the recipe pretty much follows the same pattern.  Mix up the butter, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt while the chocolate milk dries; then hand whisk the eggs into the chocolate milk and pour into the ‘dry ingredients’ and whisk.

The batter was a bit runnier than what I’m used to, so you’d think pouring it into the cupcake cases wouldn’t be hard… Wrong.  I somehow managed to drop the bowl onto a few packages of empty cupcake cases, which caused a knock on effect and essentially ended up in right mess.  I had to pour some batter back into the bowl from squished cases, replace them and start again.

I finally managed to get everything wiped down and clean again; the cupcakes went into the oven for 20minutes and came out smelling like the most amazing hot chocolate.  I got told off yet again for making the house smell too yummy by family members and had to give them warm cupcakes to compensate.

Once the cupcakes cooled I moved onto the icing.  It was now around midnight and I realised that I only had half the amount of icing sugar needed. Typical.  I made do and whisked up the icing.  The lack of icing meant that any fancy ideas for piping went out the window – I resorted to the trusty ‘Hummingbird Bakery Swirl’ with some chocolate sprinkles.

I treated myself to a ‘Yay, I’ve finished’ cupcake and some milk before I collapsed into bed.  I was worried that the cake would taste like a standard chocolate cupcake and that the recipe was just a fancy name.  Thankfully I was wrong; the cake was beautifully moist and didn’t have the richness of a chocolate cupcake – it actually tasted like hot chocolate.

The cupcakes went down a treat at the afternoon tea; in fact all the cakes at the tea party were beautiful. After some strenuous taste testing, I can say that they were all lovely!   There was so much that we also managed to hold an impromptu cake sale for a charity as well. Go team!

So what, you may ask, is better than a hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day?  It’s a hot chocolate cupcake with a cuppa’ and a bloody good book on a cold winter’s night!

A Halloween Treat

For Halloween this year I was determined to make two things that were thankfully related:  carve my first pumpkin, and make pumpkin cupcakes.

Now the first part, carving my first pumpkin, was actually a lot easier than it seemed.  The hardest part was trying to get enough pumpkin out to make the cupcakes with, after that it was a case of carving without trying to cut any fingers off.

The pumpkin cupcakes were a bit harder to carry out, I firstly had no idea what pumpkin puree was or how to find it in a supermarket! Thankfully my mum came to the rescue and made some puree with the insides of my pumpkin.  Phew!

Actually making the cupcakes seemed pretty easy; you mix the ‘dry’ ingredients in one bowl, then add the ‘wet’ ingredients to the mix.  I think this is where I made two mistakes. Firstly the pumpkin puree itself seemed to have too much water in it, even though we squeezed as much moisture out as possible.  Secondly, it was really hard to mix the puree in evenly, so I must have over-mixed the batter.

The batter was spooned into the cases and into the oven for 25 minutes.  They came out sunken, which was because of the over-mixing, but otherwise smelt great.  The pumpkin and the cinnamon make a great smelling team!  Another thing I noticed however was that the bottom of the cupcake cases were really greasy; I put this down to the moisture in the pumpkin.

I made up the cream cheese frosting, twirled in the famous Hummingbird Bakery style, dusted it with cinnamon and distributed the cupcakes among neighbours and friends.  Everyone loved the taste and said it was really lovely and moist.  I had some issues however; again I think It was because of the two mistakes I made, but the cake itself seemed too moist for me and I felt like it stuck to the roof of my mouth.  Once you get past that, the actual taste is good; I’ve never had pumpkin anything before but the cinnamon used in the recipe really complimented the taste and texture of the pumpkin.

I would make these cupcakes again, even if it was purely because everyone else liked it so much, but I would take more time to perfect the puree next time.

A New Way to Make Chocolate Cupcakes

Welcome to the final instalment of this crazy cupcake trilogy.  Just a recap for those of you that are new to the blog; I agreed to bake 100 cupcakes for a big party and decided on three different Hummingbird recipes, the last of which were the scrumptious Malted Chocolate Cupcakes.

The recipe for these cupcakes are very different to your normal recipe; firstly there’s no butter. I prepared the sunflower oil/egg/buttermilk/etc. mix and the dry ingredients separately; then it was the case of adding the dry to the wet, and poured in some boiling water in as well (why I have no idea!).  Now my best tip would be to NEVER bake when tired. At this point, it was late in the day and I had to double check how much of each ingredient I put in as I kept thinking I put in the wrong amount  – basically I made a lot more drama than was necessary. Oh dear.

These finally went into 30 muffin cases and into the oven (as doubling up the recipe I always manage to get more than 24!).  Once out they were left to cool and smelt exactly the same as normal chocolate cupcakes; something I, for some reason, didn’t expect.

Now, the icing was just as confusing as the baking part of this recipe. There’s three parts to making the icing; first the chocolate chips were melted, while the cream cheese and caster sugar is mixed, and finally the cream and malted milk is whisked to make soft peaks.  What are soft peaks?!?!?! I personally had no idea and made a guess.  Luckily I actually think it was at the right point and managed to mix in the sugar and chocolate together before folding in the cream.

My biggest mistake of the whole day was that I somehow didn’t get enough malted milk (aka Horlicks for those of you who, like me, have no idea what it is), which meant that I could only make one batch of icing instead of two.  After a mini panic attack I decided to make the one batch and hope (and pray) that I could use it for 30 cupcakes instead of 12!

Someone up there was on my side and I did manage to get enough icing on all of the cupcakes; I did put this down to a few family members ‘testing’ some of them and thus reducing the number I actually needed to ice!

The cupcakes were twirled in the trusty Hummingbird Bakery style and 3 Maltesers were put on top for decoration.  Of course I bought enough Maltesers so that it would be three for a cupcake, one for me!

 

The cupcakes were actually really nice; after doing my standard taste test I realised I actually really liked the taste.  I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate cakes or icing but these were different and weren’t as rich.  I was also a bit worried about the icing because it had cream in it but it was a really nice suprise.

These were the last batch to be boxed up and shipped off to the party.  Time for a well deserved cup of tea I think; better yet, a glass of wine… maybe even a bottle!

Plum Jam In Icing? How Does That Work?!

This is what I was asked by a member of my family before tasting one of the spare cupcakes I made for the party; the concept of jam in between cakes is a normal thing for them, but jam in the icing? Now that’s new.  To be honest it’s also what I thought when making it but we’ll soon see how it went.

I had originally planned to bake Cherry Cupcakes for the second recipe in my cupcake trilogy for the party but couldn’t source the kirsch soaked cherries in time, so went for another fruity recipe.

The plum cupcake recipe was a bit different than usual; the sugar went in with the rest of the ‘wet’ ingredients and was hand whisked before it went into the dry ingredients.  By this point it was afternoon and my poor whisk was struggling a bit, especially as the plum jam had bits in it.  I finally managed to get everything mixed in the end and put the batter into muffin cases and into the oven.

One of my biggest difficulties when making a large batch of cupcakes (made 30 from doubling the recipe) is that a small amount of the ingredients stay unmixed at the bottom of my bowl.  I put this down to the fact that I have a cheap-ass whisk and a big-ass bowl. Naturally, I only realise when I’m halfway through filling the cases with batter; when this happens I just whisk up what’s left in the bowl and continue putting the batter in the cases.  I can imagine all the professional bakers glaring at me and saying offensive things about method but hey; I’m a self-professed amateur with crappy equipment!

Once out the oven, the cupcakes were much more ‘rounded’ than I’ve ever made from the recipe books.  I wasn’t sure whether this was meant to happen or because of my ‘interesting mixing tehniques’ but they were all evenly raised and thus good enough for me.

The icing also included some plum jam (hence the title).  Now when I started measuring out the jam there were lots of big bits of plum in and I decided that these wouldn’t be the nicest of surprises when biting into the icing so I took them out and continued measuring.  My whisk (and kitchen surfaces) generally hates making icing because of the layer of icing sugar that covers everything, even with a splatter guard! I did manage to get it all sorted (and wiped everything down) before icing the 30 cupcakes.

From experience, I learnt not to use any nozzles because of the bits in, so I twirled the cupcakes in the famous Hummingbird Bakery style and placed two slices of plum on the top.

 

24 of the cupcakes got packed and ready to ship off to the party, the other six were distributed among friends and colleagues.

Now for the taste test.  I didn’t actually get to taste the cupcake till two days later, as I was working my way through testing each one I made, purely for ‘research’ of course.  When I did get round to tasting the plum cupcakes, the plum slices did look a bit peaky and was actually described as a slug by a colleague, nice.  BUT it definitely did NOT taste of a slug, or how I’d imagine one to taste.  The cupcake wasn’t as sweet as I had imagined, which was a nice surprise.  It actually tasted like it had spices in it, which I put down to the jam and was actually a really nice cupcake! Not too sweet (which I do like but have to be in the mood for) but too rich in flavour that becomes too much.  Basically a really nice fruity cupcake!

If Carlsberg Made Cupcakes, They’d Make Apple Blossom Cupcakes

This week was an interesting one and will be written as a three-part drama, just to drag things out a bit!  It was the birthday for the ‘elder’ (we’ll call her) of one of our close family friends and I offered to bake.  Now at the beginning I thought it would be one big cake for a party of 20; turns out it was actually 100 cupcakes for a BIG ass do.  Oops.

Oh well, can’t disappoint loved ones can you? I delved into the two Hummingbird Bakery books to look for a couple different recipes to bake so that there was a bit of variety.  This was my first mistake; it took me a day and a half to bake all the different types of cakes with my somewhat amateur equipment.  Ah well… I’ll take it as amazing experience as a baker.

Now, before I describe to you the amazingness of the first cupcakes I baked, I should provide this warning for all Apple Blossom cupcakes in general:  They smell beautiful! Yes I just used the world beautiful to describe a smell, that’s how good it is! Even if you have very good control over how many cakes you eat, be warned… you will want to eat them all.

The picture of the cupcakes in the book had a fondant flower on it so I decided to do a little more and put 5 on each cupcake. I rolled out some fondant, and cut out around 130 flowers of different sizes using cutters; a silver ball went into each and they were left on the side till the next day.

 

The first part of the recipe is to prepare the iced apple tea powder and oh my, it smells good.  I suggest making some extra just to drink for yourself, which is exactly what I did.  I did find it a bit hard to source it however, but to make your search is a bit easier, the Turkish Apple Instant Tea from Whittards is perfect. The rest of the recipe is as expected, mix wet with wet then dry with dry and mix together at the end.

These went into muffin cases and into the oven for 20 minutes. I doubled the recipe to get to the 24-cupcake target and ended up making 29 cupcakes.  They came out of the oven smelling even better than before, which I thought was impossible and one spare cupcake got immediately devoured by a parent (I shall not say which!); their excuse was taste testing so I let them get away with it.

 

Once cooled I got onto making the batter, which consisted of more yummy apple iced tea mixed with the milk and then the butter and icing sugar.  I coloured the icing yellow and managed to dye my fingers yellow in the process. Joy.

I then whipped out my amazing Wilton 2D nozzle, filled the bag with icing and started icing roses onto each cupcake.  Before the icing dried I placed a few fondant flowers on each.

These got packed away ready to go to the party.  Naturally I taste tested one before it went and wow.  Officially my favourite cupcake! I think you should all go and try it.  Right now.  DO IT!

Another Reason Why Nutella is The best Thing Since Sliced Bread

Everyone’s had it with a slice of toast and butter, it is the nations (or should be) favourite chocolate spread: Nutella.  This week, I found yet another reason why it’s amazing: Chocolate and Hazelnut cupcakes.

Oh yes. Just the thought makes the tastes bud’s go crazy.  So, while I’m sat here with my cuppa and cheeky cupcake; I’ll tell you why/how I made it.

It was my first week officially back at work and I thought I’d be nice and bake something to take in (other than a few left over oat and raisin cookies).  I’ve been trying to avoid making these cupcakes to date because I knew I’d want to eat all of them but finally gave into temptation.

The cupcake recipe is your typical chocolate cupcake recipe, which is just your normal vanilla cupcake recipe with cocoa powder replacing vanilla essence.  These got spooned into the cases and put into the oven for 20-25 minutes.

Once out and cooled a small hole is cut out of the middle of each cake and filled with Nutella.  The recipe doesn’t say whether you should put the cut out bit of cake back on top but I did anyway; as I’d eat them otherwise.

It was when I made the icing that I encountered my first problem; the icing consists of the typical buttercream icing recipe but again replacing the vanilla essence with Nutella.  I didn’t realise until I had started icing the cupcakes with my Wilton nozzle that the icing was very thick; it wouldn’t come out of the nozzle easily!

In hindsight I probably should have taken notice of how thick the icing had gotten; I would probably suggest making the buttercream a bit lighter than you normally would so that when you add the Nutella it comes to the perfect consistency.

 

I gave up with the nozzle and attempted the Hummingbird swirl, which was again quite hard because of the consistency of the icing.  Once I made them look acceptable I packed them away to take to work the next day.

The first taste test was by me at work on Monday Morning and oh my what a cupcake!  It was very chocolaty and sweet however and I had to eat it slowly even though I have an extremely sweet tooth.  It is a must for any chocolate or Nutella lover!

Roses for my Roses…

I have been very inventive with my baking this week, well not really it was more boredom that lead me to my idea.  So, this week, I decided on making Rose cupcakes.  Could you tell from the title?

Here comes the creative bit, I decided to make little fondant roses to go on the rose icing for my rose cupcake. OK so not actually ingeniously creative but it let me while away the hours perfecting fondant roses.

Now for actually baking the cupcakes; they were very similar to the plain cupcake recipe but just had rose water replacing the vanilla essence.  For all those who didn’t manage to find it in their cupboard like I did; rose water can be found in the ‘world foods’ section of the supermarket.

The batter smelt beautiful and was spooned into muffin cases in cupcake tins (I still haven’t bought muffin tins) and put in the oven for 20 minutes to bake.

 

The cupcakes came out looking and smelling amazingly tasty and were set out to cool.  Rose water must just do something to make everything smell so much better. Just thinking about that smell makes me want to make more!

Onto the icing! It was again very similar to the standard buttercream icing recipe, just with rose water instead of vanilla essence.  In terms of decorating the cupcakes I went for a multi-coloured rose.  I separated about ¼ of the icing and used some red colouring to make it pink.  I then whipped out my Wilton 2D nozzle and put a thin layer of pink icing all around the icing bag.  Then I carefully filled the rest of the bag with the white icing and started piping roses onto the cupcakes.

 This created a really nice effect and made the roses come to life.  Then it was a matter of putting a few fondant roses on top and ta-da!

 

I absolutely love the taste of the rose cupcakes, the rose flavour really compliments cakes and I can’t wait to try out the lavender and jasmine alternatives.  Everyone should try this recipe asap!

Fondant Icing Fun: The Basics

As you may have already been able to guess from my last few blogs, I’ve gotten a bit excited and bought a bunch of cake decorating tools! I wanted to try my luck at making some beautiful cupcakes that I see on lots of other blogs.  So I found an excuse to make some more vanilla cupcakes.

The day before baking, I coloured my icing in a few of the colours I had bought: red, blue, purple and green.  I used cocktail sticks to put a bit of the colour onto the fondant and began squishing it all together until the colour was even.

 

Now just after starting I realised that I’d forgotten something very important, gloves.  My hands were completely red! As soon as I finished with that batch, I ran to the sink and washed my hands.  It all came off thankfully so I decided I didn’t need gloves (its more fun without anyway!).  I just made sure I washed my hands after applying each colour so it wouldn’t ruin the next colour I wanted.  Once finished, or once I got bored, I packed these in cling film and an airtight container and into the fridge they went.

 

After the cupcakes had cooled the next day I started planning my decorations.  I had quite extravagant plans for the decorations, which I quickly realised weren’t very possible, as I’d forgotten some simple, yet essential tools.

Most of my plans consisted of covering the top of the cupcake in fondant icing and drawing on them with more icing/shapes etc.  As it turns out, making a nice circle shape without a circle cutter is actually quite hard! So that plan went out the window. I ended up making a few stars and banners and putting them on top of buttercream roses.

For my first attempt, I think I did pretty well. But I will be purchasing some more basic equipment before I have another shot at it.

The Not-So-Spicy Spiced Pound Cake

This week, I decided to make the Spiced Pound cake as a gift to a friend (i.e. I needed another reason to bake and had to keep it simple because I’m chair/bed bound).  My funny ass ‘friend’ (we shall not name or identify them in any way due to the, ahem, horrendus joke about to be written) said: is it called a spiced pound cake because its spicy? Ha Ha…. Ha… Errr… No!

I generally love these types of cakes (ones with spices, not with holes in them… I will never understand why you’d do that) because the recipe has lots of different spices in it, including cloves, cinammon and ginger.  My friend has an allergy to cinnamon so I ended up swapping the quantity with more ginger.

A tip for baking this type of cake: grease the cake tin with butter and dust some plain flour over it.  This should stop the cake sticking and making a mess of taking it out.

The batter came out quite thick and almost filled the cake tin.  The 60min cooking time for this cake was a lot longer than other recipes and  I was a bit worried that the cake hadn’t cooked enough so left it in for a couple minutes longer.

While the cake was cooling, I then realised that I did leave it in the oven for a bit too long, as the outside was a bit harder than it should be. Oops.  But it did look very tasty and the smell almost made me cut a slice right then and there.

The final part was sieving icing sugar on the top.  For once, I managed not to go too crazy with the icing sugar; mainly because I had time to waste and did it REALLY slowly.

The family gathered like a pack of wolves when the smells started wafting through the kitchen, so I resorted to threats and hiding the cake.  The holes you see in the pictures were somehow created the next day; I’ve never found the person who did it but if I ever do I’ll exact my revenge. Be warned.

The cake went down a treat and the crustiness of the outside actually went really well with the texture of cake.  It probably wouldn’t be a favourite for the crazy sweet-toothed people out there, but it had a really nice texture and went great with a nice cup of tea.

Lemon Twirls

This month seems to be the month of baking and birthdays; I’ve had another birthday order; and by birthday order I mean a cake present that benefits my blog (we’re happy all round, no?!).

I’ve been dreading this birthday because I knew what the birthday boy would ask for: lemon cupcakes! I love the taste of these cakes; hate grating a horrific amount of lemons.

Once again, I wanted to ‘play’ with my new cake decorating stuff so decided to make some fondant leaves to decorate the top; these were made the day before.

The recipe was an extension of the basic sponge; the only difference was the grated lemon zest.  All the dry ingredients were mixed together and all the ‘wet’ ingredients in a separate bowl.  The ‘wet’ ingredients were then slowly added and whisked up.  These were all spooned into cases and put into the oven for 20 minutes.

The smell of these cupcakes is amazing! It drove everyone in the house a bit crazy while they were cooking, especially as they weren’t getting any (oops!).  Once out of the oven, they were put aside to cool and I started working on the buttercream icing; which was the standard measures with some lemon zest and yellow food colouring.

Now at this point I was rushing, as I was already late to get ready for another person’s birthday dinner; so I got my Wilton 2D nozzle ready and started icing the cupcakes like a rose.  Can you spot my mistake?  I didn’t.  I got incredibly confused when the icing came out more like spaghetti than a rose shape; until I realised that all the lemon bits had got stuck and blocked up the nozzle.  Great.  I resorted to the fool proof Hummingbird ‘twirl’ and put the leaves on top.

The cake was described as, and I quote, beautiful.  Job done!