I really felt that I couldn’t let Cupcake Week pass having ony made one batch of cupcakes, despite the fact that the main purpose of Cupcake Week is probably for people with any kind of cake business to sell cupcakes to people who would otherwise be health or money conscious and say no. ‘It’s Cupcake Week? Well, I suppose I wouldn’t want to be the only person in the country not eating cupcakes, I’ll just take one. Or two. Maybe five. Or I could get enough for the office…’. An excellent ploy. While I think it’s important not to spend money on cards or in restaurants on Valentines Day, I was happier to get on board with Cupcake Week; I love to bake, and I love to eat cakes. An excuse is kind of optional, at this point. I only have pictures of the finished results and of a banana, which was the first prep stage of the whole lot. The in between times were a bit hectic, as you’ll see if you read on…
Usually a good venue for sharing baking is girls night. This week was a quiet one, with only four of us, but I still made three small batches of cakes, because I felt like it. I also made them all dairy-free, which is easy to do with the cakes themselves as I used oil instead of butter and soy milk instead of cow’s milk, but I had an icing fail as I tried to construct a butter icing equivalent without using any butter. I tried to do a version of red velvet icing, using soy milk, but I just ended up with slightly separated, very runny and extremely sticky mess. I still put it on the cakes, applying it like a pouring fondant icing, but it wasn’t what I was after. I should have given up straight away and either tried a butter icing recipe substituting vegan margarine or just stuck with normal white icing with different flavours. Anyway, because of the massive fail, I won’t give any icing recipes. I couldn’t if I wanted to, really, because I spent ages just adding, mixing, splitting, adding, flavouring, whisking, adding and frowning, rather than following any kind of set procedure. The icings all tasted fine, by the way, they just weren’t particularly nice to look at or easy to eat. There was much washing of hands and gnashing of teeth. Well, I say gnashing of teeth, I really just mean normal chewing.
The three flavours were banana, whisky and brown sugar, blueberry and spiced greengage. I, myself, had never heard of a greengage until about a month ago when they appeared in a lot of the supermarkets. They’re nice, like little, sweet plums. I kept a note, while I was baking, of how long things were taking and how I was progressing, as I’d set myself a two hour time limit. I ran over than time limit quite substantially, due mainly to the icing disasters. It’s all about learning curves, though, next time I’ll have a head start on dairy free icing; I’ll try the vegan marg first, and if that doesn’t work for me I’ll proceed directly to icing sugar and water, or syrup, and some kind of spice or other flavouring to keep it interesting. I’d like to make it clear that I didn’t waste the remnants of my various icing failures; they were all combined in a Tupperware and will be served as a butterscotch pouring sauce to go with one of the cakes I’m planning for this week. Couldn’t bring myself to waste so much food, especially as there’s nothing wrong with it except that it’s too thin to ice cakes with. Maybe I’ll try reducing it over a low heat. Anyway, it’s not gone to waste, that’s the key message here. I also thought that keeping notes on my baking experience might make for an interesting blog structure, so I’m going to test that theory out today.
12.00 – this is the time that my oven clock shows when I switch it on. I set it to heat to 180C.
12.00.10 – I realised that the bathroom needed a quick clean before anyone came round, so I did this first to make sure it was done. You may ask if I really think that my friends care about the state of my bathroom, I suppose the answer to that is ‘why take the chance?’. Besides, since I dyed my hair black I’m finding that the floor of the bath looks like I’ve been washing bits of coal in there or something, not attractive.
12.09 – I came back from my cleaning, having made sure to wash my hands *thoroughly* (mum), and found the over heated. Unfortunately I had nothing to put in it. I prepped the fruit that needed prepped; one banana and four greengages. The banana I slit open, through the skin, and filled with three teaspoons of Teachers HIghland Cream whisky. It doesn’t look nice, does it? The discolouration is only a result of the brown sugar, the banana itself was perfectly fresh, maybe even bit *too* fresh. Yeah, it was so far from being off it was practically a banana embryo. Yeah…The whisky is something I had a miniature of in the cupboard. I think it was a wedding favour at one time, but whose wedding it was has been lost in the mists of my brain. I don’t like whisky, which I know some people find baffling given that I’m Scottish. Don’t worry, I make up for it in other ways. I like haggis. I own tartan tights. I… I get rained on frequently. However, I wanted a boozy hit to the banana (weird phrase alert) and this whisky didn’t strike my olfactory bulb like a sledgehammer hitting a crystal glass, as most whiskies do. Check me out, I know what and where my olfactory bulb is. TV teaches me things sometimes. Most of the whisky dribbled back out and on to the chopping board because I had pulled the skin of the banana outwards to let me get more sugar in, and thus had unwittingly made channels for the booze to run down and out to the freedom of the chopping board, only to be washed away minutes later. Would have been as well staying where it was, really. I then wrapped the banana in tinfoil and it was ready to go in the oven. Here is a picture of a banana wrapped in tinfoil, in case you just cannot imagine how such a thing would look. With that done, I then halved and stoned four greengages, and put them cut side down on a baking sheet lined with tinfoil.
12.16 – I put the fruit into the oven. Between 12.16 and 12.21, I looked for my smallest pot. I have three everyday-sized pots, and two big soup/stew ones. One of the stew pots also goes into the oven without exploding, so that’s pretty handy. What I’m trying to get across here is that I don’t have a lot of pots, so that I might become confused about what sizes were available. I also have a very small kitchen. It’s really well laid out, and I find that there’s plenty of room for a lone ranger cook to manoeuvre, though storage is a slight issue as I have a lot of kitchen things.Given this fact, there is only one cupboard for pots. One shelf of one cupboard, in fact, and my griddle pan, two frying pans, two woks, two sieves and three pots all live in there in one happy, if rickety, stack. So, in short, it should be difficult to lose an item such as a pot in my kitchen, given all the above factors. I managed it though, and with no real effort – I must just be naturally talented in this respect. It turned up on the drying rack, where I had already looked, but it was hiding under one of the woks. Yup.
12.21 – I put some soy milk and flour into the newly-found pot, to thicken up and form the base of the ‘butter’ icings (or so I though. Ha!).
12.25 – a note written with my left hand (I’m right-handed) that seems to say ‘mist iring’ but which I’m pretty sure says ‘milk stirring’.
12.26 – the timer went off on the oven, so I checked the fruit. The banana was beginning to soften but needed about another ten minutes, so went back in. The greengages has gone quite peculiar during their stay in the oven. They were reduced to mush and had released a lot of their juices onto the tinfoil under them. Lightweights. I set these aside until I was finished with the milk.
12.34 – the milk was thickened and ready to be set aside to cool. I did this and turned my attention to the greengages. I peeled them and put them into a little bowl. The flesh looked a bit stringy and a big gluey, but I had faith that whisking it through a cake mix would sort that out.
12.36 – I finished preparing the greengages by adding 1/4 tsp each of ginger and cinnamon, and 1 tsp of granulated sugar, and stirring thoroughly.The oven timer went off again to let me know that the banana was ready to come out of the oven, so I followed its advice and set the banana aside.
12.49 – I had the idea that I could make the same basic cake mix for both the blueberry and greengage cupcakes, then split it and add different ingredients to each half. This worked out well and did save me some time. The recipe I used was a variation on the basic muffin recipe in the book ‘1 Mix, 100 Muffins‘. The way I made it goes like this:
- 210g plain flour
- 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
- pinch sea salt
- 86g caster sugar
- 1 1/3 large eggs. Yes, one and a third. I beat two large eggs in a jug and split this between the three cupcake mixes. A bit of guesswork was involved.
- 187 ml soya milk
- 4 1/2 tbsp sunflower oil
I mixed together the dry ingredients, then added the wet ingredients and stirred with a wooden spoon until just combined. I split this mixture into two bowls.
12.51 -to one bowl of cake mix, I added about 4 tsp of blueberries, the larger of which I had cut in half, and 2 tsp of vanilla extract. To the other, I added the greengage mix, then a further 1/4 tsp each of ginger and cinnamon. I wasn’t happy with the lack of apparent fruit in this mix, though, so I de-stoned and diced up another two greengages and added them to the mix, stirring through. I used an ice cream scoop to fill cupcake cases with the two mixes. My yield was six blueberry cupcakes and nine greengage. I guess my splitting skills aren’t all that great, after all.
13.12 – I put these muffins into the oven, which was still at 180C. I then turned my attention to the banana cupcakes, which I made also from a recipe in the ‘1 Mix, 100 Muffins‘ book:
- 1 banana, roasted with brown sugar and whisky
- about 75 ml soya milk
- 140g plain flour
- 1/2 tbsp baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 60g brown sugar
- 2/3 of a large egg (see recipe above for explanation)
- 3 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsbp honey
The recipe instructed me to mash the banana in a measuring jug and then top up to 125ml with milk. I did this then added the other wet ingredients and beat together. I put the dry ingredients in a bowl, stirred, then made a well into which to pour the wet ingredients. I mixed them all together until just combined
13.19 – I set aside the banana cakes mix until a muffin tray came out of the oven and I could put them in to bake.
13.27, 13.31, 13.36 – I checked the two lots of cakes that were in the oven at all these times, and they still weren’t ready. Bah.
13.38 – the greengage and blueberry cakes were finally ready to come out of the oven. I turned the temperature up to 200C to make sure the banana ones cooked a bit more quickly. I made myself wait five minutes for the cooked cakes to settle in the muffin tins, then took them out and rested them on a cooling rack. I spooned the banana mix into cases which I’d placed in a now-available muffin tray; I got 7 of these out of the mix.
13.45 – I put the banana cakes in the oven.
The rest of the timings and notes get increasingly abstract from here. At 13.45 I had nothing written next to the time, though I can figure out that it was when I put the banana cakes in.
13.52 – caramel. This is when I put on half a cup of brown sugar and 2 tbsp of water to make a caramel to mix into the icing for the banana muffins. The caramel came out quite nice, though it does need a lot of attention that I wasn’t really giving it. No fires were started during the making of this caramel.
14.00 – the banana muffins needed another two minutes at this time
14.12 – By this time I had finished the blueberry and greengage muffins off. As I said above, I won’t attempt to reconstruct the horror that was the icing, apart from to say that the blueberry one was soy milk, icing sugar and vanilla based, and for the greengage ones I added some ground ginger to that same base mixture complement the cakes. I decorated the blueberry ones with a whole blueberry on top of each, and the greengage ones with some little greengage slices.
14.18 – “Argh”. I’m not making this up.
14.20 – banan alone. I think this should read ‘banana done’. Does this mean that I actually left them in the oven from 1345 – 1420?? I think not. I think I had mayhap just noticed that they had been out of the oven for 18 minutes and thought I’d better write it down.
14.30 – banana iced. After a fashion. I added some of the caramel to the basic icing mix described above. By this time I had several bowls at varying degrees of full with different kind of icing and attempts to make it thicken and set. None of them worked. Again, I must stress that flavour was not the issue here… I topped the banana cakes with walnut halves.
Thus ended the race against time to make three kinds of fruit cupcakes – I put them in the fridge for half an hour or so to firm up, which they resolutely didn’t. The banana cakes were the most popular, but for my part I enjoyed them all. The blueberry ones were seriously packed with blueberry – it didn’t look too much in the mix but as they cooked they’ve obviously burst open, so the inside of the one I had was mainly just blueberry with a hint of cake. It was a nice change from shop-bought blueberry items that contain one or two, if you’re lucky, and one of them’s probably a raisin. I wouldnt’ change the recipe too much, though if you’re less of a blueberry fan then maybe you could cut it back to 2 tbsp of berries. Or not make them at all, if you don’t like blueberries, what were you thinking?
Overall, a decent effort, and nice tasting cupcakes even if they don’t stand up to close scrutiny. Tempted to get some soft-focus on some of these photos… Cupcake Week is over now, but Year of the Cake goes on. Much like this picture.