The 2-4-1: Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

Need I say more? Even the name of these scrumptious little delights get my mouth watering, metaphorically … and a little literally!

I’ve made these cupcakes before and was more than happy to make them again; my excuse this time being that it had been a while since I’d taken anything to the office and my colleagues were suffering from baked-good-withdrawal-symptoms.  Ahem … any excuse to bake!

These cupcakes followed the pretty basic vanilla cupcake recipe; to be honest the hardest part of the challenge was not to eat all the strawberries before they could be used.  I tend to follow a one-for-you / one-for me strategy when it comes to strawberries and have resorted to buying twice the amount in the recipe just so there’s enough for everyone.

This time there was the challenge of not eating the cupcakes when I was chopping them up, and when I was distributing them among the cupcake cases. I’m a hopeless case!

Despite all these setbacks, I did manage to distribute the chopped up strawberries to all the cupcake cases and quickly filled the cases with batter  (up to 2/3rds full).  I figured this would stop me eating any more strawberries!

The cupcakes took around 25 minutes to bake – as my oven has randomly decided to take much more time to cook anything – and came out a light golden brown. Yum. The first cupcake went straight to my mum, as she didn’t want any cream-cheese frosting (wtf?!). The rest went onto a wire rack to cool down while I made my icing.

It is the icing/decoration that turns these strawberry cupcakes into cheesecake cupcakes.  I whipped up a batch of Hummingbird Bakery cream cheese frosting, and twirled it in the famous Hummingbird Bakery style.  Once this was done I crushed up a few digestive biscuits and sprinkled them on top of the icing.

The cupcakes were packed up and taken to work the next day – all 24 were gone by lunchtime!  Thankfully I did manage to get my hands on a cupcake to ‘taste test‘ before they all disappeared.

What can I say about this recipe? It’s literally a two-for-one situation: the strawberry cupcake on the bottom is tasty enough on it’s own, but add the ‘cheesecake’ part on top – what else could you want in life?

A Not-So-Pretty-But-Very-Tasty Chocolate Cheesecake

I’m not the biggest fan of chocolate-based desserts, as I find them too rich and quite sickening.  That’s not to say I don’t eat chocolate, or wouldn’t try something new and chocolate related – I just tend to prefer the fruity version.

However, The Hummingbird Bakery claims that: ‘there must be a chocolate version of everything’ and apparently everyone – present company excluded – agrees.

I offered a colleague a baked ‘thank-you’ treat for helping me out with a project and you can imagine my surprise (or lack thereof) when he requested a chocolate cheesecake. * Sigh * – well – if you can’t beat them … use the Hummingbird Bakery recipe to join them.

Every aspect of this cheesecake has some sort of chocolate in it; so if you’re like me and are still on the same bar of chocolate that you started 6 months ago you might want to pop to the shops and buy some more.

The base was a simple job of crushing up lots of biscuits, adding in some cocoa powder and mixing it all together with melted butter.  I squished this into my base-lined and pre-greased cake tin and popped it into the fridge to cool while I started on the cheesy bit.

The cheesy part of the recipe used pretty much the same method as the New York Cheesecake but with melted chocolate added into the mix.  To melt the chocolate, you must heat it over a saucepan of simmering water. Naturally, I couldn’t find any ‘heatproof’ bowls so had to make do with a plastic one that I held on top of the pan whilst making sure the bottom didn’t touch the metal as it had a tendency to melt on contact – great.

When combining the cheese to the chocolate, it’s best to stir the cream cheese mixture into the melted chocolate a little at a time.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is to ensure that the temperatures even out nicely.  Thankfully, I managed not to mess this bit up. The chocolate-cheese mix was then spooned onto the biscuit base and put in the oven with a water bath for 40-50 minutes.

BAKING TIP:

DON’T trust your gut instinct – take the cheesecake out EVEN if you think it’s not quite done.

Why? The cake will continue cooking once it’s out the oven; so taking it out when it’s ‘almost’ cooked will ensure it’s perfect by the time it’s cooled.  If you’re like me and you panic and keep it in the oven for longer it will crack – like this cheesecake did!

The first thing I thought was ‘how am I going to make this look good enough to take to work?!’ The answer was nothing. Ah well – home-baked cakes can’t always look stunningly beautiful. I gave up and left the cheesecake to cool on the counter while I got on with other stuff (i.e. I had a nap).

My brother sauntered into the kitchen while I was upstairs and helped himself to about a quarter of the cheesecake! What, you may ask, was his reason for eating something that was clearly labelled ‘DO NOT EAT – TAKING TO WORK’ ? Well, as the older brother, apparently he trumps colleagues on baked goods.

However, he somehow managed to cut out the majority of the crack! His chocolate craving ended up being a blessing in disguise – I could admit to him eating it and no one would know that there had been cracks in it. Genius!

The chocolate cheesecake didn’t last very long once it was put out in the department kitchen the next day; apparently the Humingbird Bakery’s statement is pretty spot on.  Everyone really enjoyed it – and although it was the teeniest bit too rich for me – I would actually consider making it again.

Caramelised Fruit (but no nuts) Tart

I’ve looked at the picture of these tarts in the Hummingbird Bakery recipe book for so long; I’ve even bought the tart tins in preparation of making it … but I’ve never gotten round to it.  Why? Well it’s a mixture of I’m terrified of anything pastry-related and it takes a long time to make.

So why make it now? Well I had a spare Sunday and I was determined to do at least one pastry dish by the end of the year – otherwise I’m just a baking pansy! So I went out and got all my ingredients together, poured myself a glass of wine (for some Dutch courage) and I was on my way.

The pastry was made by whisking together the butter and flour and adding the sugar and egg. Once this started to turn into a dough I kneaded the mix to ‘bring it together’.  Now I’ve watched a lot of Great British Bake Off and I know all about over-kneading pastry … I have no idea what constitutes over (or under) kneading. Hmmm … I made a not-so-educated guess, wrapped it in cling film and put it in the fridge for 30minutes.

A glass of wine and an episode of Friends later I brought out the dough, cut it in half, put one half back in the fridge and started to roll out the other half to line my pre-greased tart tins.  The recipe says to roll out the pastry to 5mm but I managed to roll it out too thin on my first two attempts.  I also found that the pastry ripped really quickly and have no idea whether it’s due to under (or over) working the dough.

Thankfully I started to get the hang of working with the dough and managed to line all eight tins, the last one being much more professionally done than the first!  These went back into the fridge for another 30 minutes before they were lined with greaseproof paper, covered in baking beads and cooked for 10 minutes in the oven.

The baking beads are then removed and the tarts went back in the oven for another 10 minutes to turn a light golden brown colour. Once these were out and cooling, I got started on the filling.

 

Reading this recipe again, I’ve realised that the title is ‘Caremalised Fruit AND Nut Tarts’.  Clearly in my eagerness to get underway, I completely missed the nut part of the recipe.  I had bought tons of dried fruit but no nuts! Ah well. I measured out all the drived fruit and chopped up the dried apricots so that it wouldn’t look too bulky.

On to the caramel – if you’ve ever made caramel before you’ll understand the incredible, almost-impossible-to-deny temptation to stir the sugar and water while it’s boiling.  It’s unbelievable how stir-able that mixture looks bubbling away. I measured the double cream and butter to stop myself stirring it and it still wasn’t enough to distract me. I literally stood there staring at the caramel praying it would turn golden brown before I gave into temptation.

It did (thankfully) and from watching the Great British Bake Off I learnt to dunk the bottom of the pot into cold water – this stops the caramel from continuing to cook after you’ve taken it off the heat and greatly reduces the chance of burning it.

After cooling for a little while the double cream and butter was stirred into the mixture and poured on top of the dried fruit.  Once this was all mixed together, the dried fruit was separated between tart tins and put in the fridge for an hour to set. There seemed to be a LOT of fruit in comparison to the amount of space in the tarts, but I stuck to the recipe and created nice ‘mounds’ of filling.

 

Just before serving, I whipped up some more double cream to go with the tarts and brought it out after dinner with some tea. They went down really well with the family, it’s a really rich dessert and would make a really nice end to a posh dinner party.

I, however, found it a bit too rich and too sweet. OK so I put 100% dried fruit in there instead of a mixture of fruit and nuts, but I think the outcome would have still been too rich for me.  The pastry was lovely (and there were no soggy bottoms or breaks!); I think I’ve finally faced my fear and I’m already planning to try out some more recipes. I’d actually love to try this recipe again but with sliced bananas instead of dried fruit, as I think this would be heavenly.

Famous Key Lime Pie

With every new season of  ‘The Great British Bake Off’ I get inspired to bake something new. This season was no exception to the rule and I was determined to bake my first ever pie.  Not any old type of pie, but the now famous Key Lime Pie.

 I have to admit that I was grossly unprepared for such a task, to the extent that I went to my local baking retailer and said: “I’m baking a Key Lime Pie, what do I need?” After a look of pure disbelief, the assistant actually managed to figure it out for me and I left with a brand spanking new pie dish and baking beads. I even bought a zester, so that I might be able to zest the limes without injuring myself.

I was ridiculously excited, and immensely terrified at the concept of making pastry … until I got home and realised the Hummingbird Bakery uses digestive biscuits instead.  Ah well. I set my baking beads aside and got started.

The base is essentially just crushed up digest biscuits with butter and is squished into the bottom of the pie dish and cooked for 20 minutes.  Everything was going great but I had a sneaky feeling that my pie dish was too small, I bought the recommended 23cm but it seemed to be a LOT of base for the amount of space there was.

Once baked, I set the base by the window to cool quickly while I got started on the main part of the pie.  This consisted of lots of egg yolks (the whites were swiftly turned into a yummy omelette), condensed milk, and lime zest and juice.

Here is where I messed up.  I started to use my great new zesting gadget and quickly realised that: 1. The recipe says grated. 2. My new gadget was making really big, thick bits of zest.

I didn’t think too much about it at the time and continued to mix everything and pour it into the cold pie crust.  I definitely bought the wrong size pie dish as about a quarter of the filling was left after the pie was filled to the top.  Oops. Afraid to risk it, I set the extra aside and cooked the pie in the oven for about 30minutes.  I was very careful to keep it in long enough so that it wouldn’t be classed as ‘wobbly in the middle’ but also wouldn’t overcook.

Once out the oven I left it to cool and chilled it in the fridge for 24 hours before serving up with cream and a little more lime zest.

So all that’s left to talk about is the taste. What can I say about this pie that will make you believe how unbelievably tasty it is! There aren’t many words that can express how good it tasted: zesty, creamy, light, delectable … GORGEOUS! Let’s just say that there is a reason the ‘British Bake Off’ judges named it one of the tastiest things they’ve had in the entire programme!

Better Than A Terry’s Chocolate Orange.

I flaked on going out with a friend the other week and promised I’d make it up to him. He decided it that I could make it up by baking something with chocolate and orange. This was when a little light bulb turned on in my head and I remembered a recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery book for Chocolate Orange cupcakes.

The surprising thing about this recipe, however, was that it also used vanilla essence … hmm. I have to admit I was a bit sceptical while making the cupcakes, I thought there would be too many different flavours going on.  But, as always, I put my trust in the Hummingbird Bakery and powered through.

The cupcakes were made in the standard Hummingbird way, mixing all the ‘wet’ ingredients e.g. butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla essence etc. with all the ‘dry’ ones.  Once everything was incorporated and the batter was smooth. I used smaller, UK sized cupcake cases and managed to get 24 cupcakes out of the batter.

 

After twenty minutes in the oven, out came some great smelling, and perfectly flat cupcakes.  I was so happy! It’s been ages since they’ve come out looking so nice.

I let them cool and made up the icing, which consisted of icing sugar, butter, cream cheese, orange zest and cocoa powder.  Now I’ve finally learnt that you can’t pipe icing with any bits in it, no matter how well you mix it. So I went for the typical Hummingbird Bakery swirl and put a few chocolate stars on each to decorate.

 

A box of these cupcakes went to work with me the next day, as I seriously doubted my friend could work his way through 24 of them.  I got to work at 9am with the intention not to try one, but I caved by 11am and had a cupcake with my tea, for taste testing reasons, of course.

Now I’ve never actually had a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, but the cupcakes taste exactly how I imagine them to be.  A colleague actually said they tasted better, and another described the cupcakes as ‘heaven’.  Well, you can’t get a compliment better than that!

Personally I really liked the taste and was pleasantly surprised that all the different flavours worked so well.  The vanilla essence actually helped to develop the orangey flavour.  The icing is beautifully smooth and unbelievably tasty.  Definitely one to bake again!

Strawberry Daiquiri Anyone? It’s edible!

It was my birthday recently and apparently there is a rule that all bakers have to bake their own cakes, although I’ve never heard of such a thing.

So I asked ‘what should I bake?’ and the vast majority said Strawberry Daiquiri cupcakes … hmm …  OK! After the great success with my mojito cupcakes last year (also during my birthday – does anyone see a pattern forming?), I was excited about trying these out.

I started by mixing the rum and some of the sugar and letting it reduce by about half; the strawberries were then chopped into small pieces and soaked in the rum for about 30 minutes. I thought I didn’t need anymore more strawberries so took a quick break to munch my way through the rest of the pack. Yum!

Once the strawberries were soaked long enough I started on the rest of the recipe; mixing together the ‘dry’ ingredients with the butter to create a crumb like mixture and whisking together the ‘wet’ ingredients.  These then get mixed together bit by bit.

I then drained the strawberries and put a few into each cupcake case.  The batter went on top they all went into the oven for about 15minutes.

Once out I drizzled the remaining rum reduction over each cupcake and left them to cool while I prepared the icing. This is when I read the ingredients for the frosting and realised I needed the strawberries I had recently eaten. Dammit! Time for a quick run to the nearest shop! My tip of the day therefore is:

Make sure you don’t need any spare ingredients before you start eating them!

With a new pack of strawberries in tow, I started making the icing by mixing the butter, icing sugar and lime zest.  4 teaspoons of rum reduction and 4 teaspoons of milk were then whisked in until it was soft and fluffy. I went for the traditional ‘Hummingbird Bakery Swirl’ with a few slices of strawberry on top. Et Voila! Alcoholic cupcakes that didn’t last 5 minutes in the office.

They were beautifully soft and creamy with a gentle kick of alcohol.  The strawberries also provided a nice difference in texture. I do, admittedly, prefer the mojito version; however I think this is due to my preference to the alcoholic beverage rather than my preference in cake.

Who Needs A Coffee When You Have an Espresso Cupcake

So the second set of cupcakes I baked for the ‘Volunteer Reading Help’ cake sale at work were the Espresso Cupcakes from the Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days book.

For the first time in a long time, I was smart enough to read the recipe a while before I started baking; so I knew that I needed to warm the milk first in order to dissolve the espresso powder and let it cool again.

A definite great start! The recipe then follows the standard Hummingbird route: mix all the ‘dry’ ingredients with the butter, then the ‘wet’ ingredients together, and finally whisk these in in two batches.

The batter was filled into cupcake cases and put into the oven for about 20 minutes. You can tell the cupcakes are ready when your kitchen starts smelling like a coffee shop!

 

While the cupcakes were cooling, I heated up some more milk and mixed in some espresso powder, ready to make the icing once it had cooled again – this time I was less patient and put the milk mixture in the fridge for 10 minutes.  The icing was made by mixing the butter and icing sugar and gradually adding the milk and whisking on high until smooth.

I used a Wilton 2D nozzle to create a whipped twirl effect on the cupcakes.  A while ago I was asked to make videos of how I ice cupcakes but I have either forgotten, not had the equipment or created rubbish videos.  For once, I managed to make a half decent video, which you can find here. Hopefully, it’ll give you a better idea on how I managed it.

For the final touch, I used small pieces of dark chocolate on top of the twirls.  The cupcakes were packed and sold the next day at the cake sale.  I actually bought one of these (as it just seems wrong to take one) and really enjoyed it.  I’m not the biggest fan of very strong coffee so was intrigued how these cupcakes would turn out and was pleasantly surprised.  The coffee flavour nicely offset the sweetness of the cupcake, the dark chocolate also giving it a nice kick.

The more of these coffee cakes I bake the more I like them. They are a great alternative to the really sweet options out there.

A Piper’s Dream

We had a charity cake a few weeks back and I was one of the many people who decided to bake for it.  I wanted to do something a bit different, i.e. try out some piping skills, so decided on a big vanilla sponge with a difference.

I used the vanilla cupcake recipe in the Hummingbird Bakery books and doubled the amount, put them into 3 cake tins and baked them for roughly 40 minutes. I had some batter left over so made some small cupcakes as well.

While the cakes were cooling, I used some white and green fondant and cut out a selection of big and small flowers and leaves and left them to set and harden.

I cut the top off all three cakes to make a really straight, smooth surface to work on.  I doubled the Hummingbird Bakery buttercream icing recipe and started assembling the cake.  I put a layer of icing inbetween each layer and made a ‘crumb coat’ around the outside of the cake. This is essentially a thin layer of icing to pack in all the crumbs.  I left this to harden a bit before I started to decorate.

Now, I’ve been a follower of Arty Cakes for a while and absolutely love what they do with their piping. So I used their basket weave concept as inspiration for this cake.  I started by spreading a thicker, and hopefully smoother layer of icing on the top of the cake.  I’m absolutely rubbish at this and even with a straightening tool had a lot of trouble getting it perfect.

I then split the rest of the icing and coloured the larger portion pale green.  This went into a piping bag with a basket weave decorating tip; I used Wilton’s no. 47.

To start the basket weave, pipe a vertical line on the cake.  Then, start at the bottom and draw a horizontal line across the vertical one.  Leave a space the size of the nozzle above and pipe another horizontal line above that etc. till you get to the top.  You then draw another vertical line next to the first one and pipe horizontal lines in the gaps (I hope this all makes sense!). You continue this all the way around the cake.

Now my biggest problem was my improvised piping bag.  I currently only have a large piping bag, which was too big for the nozzle I was using, so I used a sandwich bag with the corner cut off instead.  When you squeezed the piping bag, however, a small hole would often appear, which made it really hard to get any icing out at all, let alone evenly. My poor dad was there with the duck tape, taping any holes as they came!  With his help I finally managed to finish the basket weave and started on the top edges.

I used the Wilton 17 nozzle with the remaining buttercream icing to tidy to outside edge of the cake.  To achieve this effect hold the piping bag horizontally, squeeze quite hard while holding the bag still and gently remove pressure as you move the bag sideways.  Again I had problems with my piping bag and couldn’t squeeze too hard in case the bag decided to explode!

To finish the cake off, I stuck the fondant flowers and leaves onto the top of the cake with a little buttercream in whatever arrangement I thought looked good. This was at 2am however so my idea of ‘good’ may have been a little off at the time!

The last job of the night was to decorate the cupcakes. I used the Wilton 2D nozzle to make little roses in the centre of the cupcake and used spare fondant flowers and leaves to decorate the side.

Both the cupcakes and the big cake went down a treat at the bake sale and lots of money was raised for ‘Volunteer Reading Help’. A job well done and a hell of a lot of fun with the piping – only next time I might have to invest in some better piping bags!

Apple Streudal Cake

Apple crumble is one of my favourite puddings and I was saving this cake for a time that I could enjoy it; preferably a time when we didn’t have too many people to have to share it with!

This week, I promised my brother a cake in return for a lift and he called the favour in with this cake.

The cake had three different layers: the sponge, the apples and the crumble.  I didn’t listen to the recipe and started off by chopping up the fruit.  I was supposed to peel, core and slice 3 Granny Smith apples; but by then end I think there were about 2 apples worth of slices left (I had taken the ‘one for me, one for you’ method of chopping fruit).

The crumble is simply made by chopping up the butter while cold, and rubbing it in with the cinnamon and flour till it looks like breadcrumbs.  Then you stir in the sugar and tra-laa.

The sponge followed what I consider to be the standard recipe.  Mix the wet ingredients together and sift in the dry ones.  I poured the batter into the pre-greased tin and started place the slices on top in concentric circles.  The cake went straight into the oven to cook.

Forty-five minutes later, the oven bell went and everyone started on at me to get it ready to eat.  The cake smelled amazing and I quickly heated some custard to accompany it.  OK, so it was ready made custard, we’re taking baby steps here!

 

The cake tasted amazing.  I am incredibly happy with this recipe, it’s my two favourite things meshed into one: cake + apple crumble = beautiful.  The cinnamon in the crumble gave it a nice kick and it went beautifully with the custard.  The apples were cooked perfectly, still a tiny bit crunch but really sweet and juicy.

I’d definitely suggest this to everyone and anyone. It’s a great treat and is something a bit different from your average cake or apple crumble.  Officially another favourite!

Nuts Anyone?

I’ve been on holiday to Iran and have developed a taste for everything nutty.  Iran has a plethora of beautifully tasty treats, many of which incorporate nuts. So what did I spend my time doing? Eating them all, naturally.

I came back and the first question everyone asked me is “What did you learn to bake?” Erm … I didn’t learn to bake anything, I was too busy eating it all!

So, to make up for my lack of Iranian baking knowledge, I made the Mixed Nut Slices, as it’s a dessert that could definitely be Iranian if it wanted to.

I started off by preparing the dough for the base – my first ever dough! The experience wasn’t as terrifying as I imagined.  Although I did realise that my baking tray is quite a bit bigger than the recipe’s and had to add another half portion of everything to make it work.

The dough was pressed into the pre-greased baking tray and put in the oven for 20minutes. Now I know all about baking beads and still haven’t purchased any. The recipe didn’t indicate the need for any baking beads so I put my trust in the recipe.

The dough came out quite puffy (damn it, should have used baking beads!) but went back down again to its original shape after I squished it down a bit.  I also was a bit stingy on the making a ‘lip’ on the sides but figured it would be fine.

While the base was cooling I set about chopping up and preparing all the nuts.  The pistachios and almonds were roasted (and very slightly burnt) in a non-stick saucepan by tossing them over a medium heat.  The nuts were then placed on top of the pastry, ready for the topping.

The topping was made by melting the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a pan and adding the eggs once it had cooled slightly.  This was poured over the nuts and put in the oven for 20 minutes.

Because I didn’t make a proper lip around the sides of the tin, some of the topping spilled over and made the pastry look a bit burnt, when in fact, it was just cooked well – I promise! Otherwise it turned out really well.  I left the pastry to cool before cutting into slices and shipping it off with my parents to take to a dinner party with the promise that they’d take photos and save me a slice.

They didn’t. Grrrr. But they did bring back lots of thanks and requests for more so I can imagine that it tasted good?!  I was later told that it was really crunchy and rich and something that goes amazingly with tea after dinner.

So, although I can’t give you a better description of taste, I can say that it was an easy recipe to make, will very likely last a while if stored correctly and is a great side to have with tea.