It’s my lovely friend Jo’s 40th birthday on Saturday. It’s a birthday breakfast for all the family – what a perfect way to celebrate. The weather is gorgeous in the morning now, so it will be a barbeque, a gorgeous passion fruit juice served in big jugs and a mass of pork products and yummy smoked salmon that were squeezed into her sister’s suitcase between London and Dubai! There’s sure to be great coffee too and as breakfast merges into brunch and into lunch there are bound to be a few bubbles involved and some clinking glasses. I am on cupcakes – and there I am happy. For me there is nothing lovelier than creating a tray, or a tower or a table packed with perfectly formed mini cakes.
For years I opted for a flat icing studded with sprinkles, dolly mixtures, tiny sugar flowers – but recently I have fallen in love with the look and taste of something more like a buttercream or ganache, which I can then pipe onto the top.
In terms of making life easy, the choice of topping is a close call……. Flat icing needs to be just the right consistency to stop it from dribbling down the sides and the cake needs to have stopped rising shy of the top of the case – for the same reason. A piped crowning glory can hide a multitude of cake sins, but boy it uses SO much icing. The other thing to consider, is that little children often lick off the icing leaving the cake behind. Early on I accepted that this is not at all a criticism of the cake and simply a childhood phase ….. so if we’re going to embrace it, why not give the cheeky monkeys more icing to enjoy!
I make lots of cupcakes, so how do I do it quickly so that it remains a pleasure and not a chore? Firstly, I love my handheld electric mixer.
That may seem very outdated in these times of highly desirable, pastel coloured Kitchen Aids – but I will remain loyal to my old friend. It’s not even a fancy one – probably bottom to mid range – and for me it performs like a star. I love the fact that I can weigh everything straight into the bowl; I love that I can hold the mixer and feel how the mixture is developing; I love that I can wrap it up into a small ball when I have finished and hide it away in a small corner of the cupboard. Years ago, I made Christmas cakes – lots of Christmas cakes …. 1.5 metric tonnes, in fact, in our last year of production – and my handheld electric mixer was the hero of the day. I would line up 12 large mixing bowls along the worktop and move from one to the next creaming and mixing. Perfect job. But back to cupcakes…..
When I’ve got lots to make, I will often make them and open freeze them – and by that I mean laid in a single layer on a baking tray in the freezer and then stored in a bag or box when they are fully frozen. I would say that they lose 10% of their loveliness in the freezer, but when time is short, that’s nothing between friends.
Find your ‘spoon of choice’ for measuring the mixture into the cases. Mine is an American teaspoon – or rather it is the ‘teaspoon’ from a set of cutlery that we bought from Pottery Barn in Boston on our honeymoon – and for me it does the trick. Experiment; try things out and you will find a size that works for you and makes the job quicker.
And so to the cake recipe…… It’s a family recipe, dating back oooh probably 40 years plus. It’s a sponge cake so it’s not going to vary too much from any you’ve used before but it has a few little family tweaks that work for me and to make it truly vintage, it must of course be given in ounces – now I’m showing my age for sure.
This is the ONLY recipe where I ever use margarine. Generally, I have pretty robust views on the evils of margarine – it is wrong, wrong, wrong – but, for cupcakes it is right, right, right. It makes a very light cake but best of all …… you can make the cakes with the margarine straight out of the fridge – no hanging around required.
And as for my choice of icing, I am favouring a recipe based on Nigella’s All-Purpose Chocolate Icing from How To Be A Domestic Goddess. It’s a real winner and although it needs to be chilled in the fridge for a while before using, it is SO worth the wait.
- 8oz (225g) margarine (something like Flora is perfect but definitely nothing 'light' or 'low fat')
- 8oz (225g) caster sugar
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, made up to 8oz (225g) with SR flour
- 1 tablespoon of golden syrup
- 1 tablespoon of boiling water
- 2 x 12 bun muffin trays with paper cases
- Set the oven to 180°C, 350ºF (gas mark 4).
- Cream the margarine and the sugar until pale, creamy and fluffy.
- Break the eggs straight into the bowl and then pop the bowl onto your scales and set it to zero. Add the cocoa powder to the bowl and then make up the weight to 8oz with SR flour.
- Beat together thoroughly with the mixer.
- Next take a tablespoon and gently heat it in the flame for a few seconds to warm it up. Now add the syrup to the bowl with the warm spoon - it should slide easily off with the heat. Add the boiling water and carefully fold the syrup and water into the mixture.
- Spoon the mixture between the cases and bake in the oven for 15-20 mins until the cakes feel springy to the touch.
- Leave in the tins for 5 minutes, then remove, in the paper cases, to a wire cooling rack.
- 70g 70% dark chocolate (I like Lindt)
- 50g milk chocolate (again I am a Lindt fan)
- 75g unsalted butter
- 2 eggs
- 500g icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave until there are no solid bits left.
- Beat in the eggs, then the icing sugar - I use my electric hand held mixer again for ease and speed.
- Finally, beat in the vanilla and water.
- The icing will be too runny to work with now so let it chill in the fridge until it has thickened a little. I find that using a piping bag works well and gives a very professional finish without any fuss. Scatter with your favourite sprinkles for the finishing touch.