My baking has declined massively over the past few years. The almost weekly bakes of my early twenties have reduced to making cake for my colleagues on my birthday, plus a handful of ad hoc cakes. This year I wasn’t feeling massively inspired. After looking through my ‘recipes’ Pinterest boards and rejecting most of the items, I settled on the Ultimate Vanilla cupcakes from the Cupcake Project, which I was super into about five years ago. I absolutely love their Ultimate Chocolate cupcakes.
Because the batter is very liquid, the sugar dissolved too quickly and did not produce the little neon flecks I had hoped for amongst the black-speckled vanilla cake. I also used coconut oil instead of vegetable, which was fine apart from the fact that I didn’t melt it fully. I knew the batter was too lumpy, but I couldn’t be bothered to get out my hand blender and blitz it. Mistake.
Overall, I probably would give these cupcakes a second chance. While I liked the Ultimate Vanilla Frosting (basically buttercream) from the same site, I don’t think it paired especially well with the UV cupcake. It’s just sweet on sweet. I think you need a bit of a contrasting flavour in there for balance.
My friend Anna gave me some very exciting National Trust spreads for my birthday, and I can see these being incorporated into bakes soon. If only to stop me from eating both jars by the spoonful.
These spheroids of chocolatey goodness contain a cheeky salted caramel surprise… sorry, just had to pause to wipe the saliva from my keyboard.
I followed this recipe from Bakerella to the letter to make these delicious treats. Don’t judge me too harshly if you follow the link, hers look much nicer than mine.
Here’s a pic of the baked brownie circles. I matched them by size before filling them with frosting and caramel.
Here’s the homemade caramel I had left over after filling the cookies. You could easily halve Bakerella’s recipe and have plenty of caramel for this recipe.
Ready to pipe my frosting.
You simply pipe a barrier of frosting around each cookie, then fill generously with caramel. I think I was slightly too generous as I had a little caramel leakage. Mmm… caramel leakage.
I may have responded overly aggressively to a couple of people who asked whether this was a Valentine’s Day cake. Maybe I was asking for it by daring to make something red in February, but people need to know that I don’t do VD. It is the reason that I have had to call about ten restaurants to get a reservation on my birthday. I still don’t have the reservation, and the core of bitterness buried deep within my heart only grows bitterer. Or something.
Here’s the cake money shot.
I’m not going to post the recipe today. I will say that the cake was extremely well received and I was the most popular person in the office for a day. People are so fickle when they’re hungry. I really liked the combination of flavours and the cheesecake in the middle gave the cake a delicious velvety texture.
Although the cake looked and tasted pretty good, I wasn’t entirely happy with the actual cake part. It was a bit dry and not as red as I would have hoped. The layers also didn’t stick together well, so it was difficult to cut and take nice pictures.
I’ve got a hypothesis about this matter. I think it’s the European Union. No, I haven’t turned into a frenzied Daily Mail reader in my age and decrepitude. I think that you’re not allowed the same crazy food colourings in the EU as you get in the States. Even though I put in the suggested 1/4 cup (1.5 bottles!) of red colouring, the cake just wasn’t red enough. I added additional quarter teaspoons of red paste colouring until it began to look redder, but I do think it left the cake with a more chemical taste than it ought to have had. I tried making red velvet cupcakes for my birthday four years ago and I had the same problem. At the time, I thought it was the recipe, but now I’m not sure. Have any English bakers had the same problem?
I’m also having a minor ongoing issue with my cream cheese frosting. I realised that part of the problem was that I use 300g tubs of cream cheese rather than the standard 250g, which was part of the reason it was coming out too soft. I’m now wondering if the generic soft cheese I use is part of the difficulty. Next time Philadelphia is on sale, I may experiment.
There are recipes for red velvet that use beetroot and raspberry juice to colour the cake rather than chemicals, and I think I’ll try one of these next time. Here are some process shots of the cake if you’re interested.
Here is the middle layer of baked cheesecake. This was my first attempt at baked cheesecake and I really liked it. I was quite lucky though as I was a bit cavalier with the foil and only narrowly avoided having loads of water leak into it from the bain marie.
Even though I made the cake and cheesecake in pans of the same size, I had to trim down the cheesecake. While the cake layers shrink a little after baking, the cheesecake layer spread. It’s very easy and quick to do, though.
This is the crumb coat. I refrigerated the cake for about an hour at this stage, before putting the final layer of frosting on.
These pumpkin cupcakes turned out to be a great way to use up the pumpkin I had left over from my previous Halloween baking exploits. The pumpkin makes the cupcakes nice and moist with a hint of spice, and the cream cheese frosting adds a great tang (as well as a second hit of sugar). Again, I think they would be much improved by a few nuts.
I don’t have any great pictures of these. Because the frosting was a bit loose, I decorated them at work, where there is no natural light.
Makes 12 cupcakes
- 1 1/2 cups plain flour
- 1tsp baking powder
- 1/4tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4tsp ground nutmeg
- 1/4tsp ground ginger
- 2/3cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup light olive oil or butter
- 2 large egs
- 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
- 1tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup chopped nuts such as pecans (optional)
For the frosting
- 8oz cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
- 2 3/4 cups icing sugar (I used muscavado icing sugar)
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
This will leave you with some leftover frosting. I made my frosting with about 3/4 of the ingredients stated but it came out a bit loose and I’m not sure why.
1. Preheat oven to 180C/350F
2. In a large bowl, cream both types of sugar and your butter or oil, until well combined.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, beating in between
4. Add pumpkin and vanilla
5. Slowly sift in the dry ingredients (including spices), continuing to mix between additions.
9. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Meanwhile, make your frosting. Cream together the butter and cream cheese until smooth. I used an electric hand mixer.
10. Mix in the vanilla and then the icing sugar until thick and smooth. If the frosting is a bit slack, chill in the fridge while your cupcakes cool.
11. Once the cupcakes are cool, pipe or spoon on your frosting. Combine them any way you like, I don’t judge.
These cupcakes were for one of my oldest friends whose dearest wish on her 27th birthday was a cake mountain. I’m pleased with my contribution. These were like the foothills. I know she loves white chocolate, hence the frosting. The crazy sweetness of the frosting is tempered by the rich darkness of the cakes. And glitter. Shiny shiny green glitter to remind us of the time we visited the Leprechaun Museum in Dublin.
Pots of delicious gold.
I used my go-to chocolate cupcake recipe, which I halved because I knew there was a strong likelihood that there would be way too much cake at the party. I’ll give the full recipe, which makes 20 cupcakes. I also halved the frosting recipe, and ended up with enough frosting for 8 cupcakes. Again, I’ll give the full recipe. There aren’t many process pictures today because I was baking at night. Check out this earlier post for more pics. Frosting recipe adapted from here.
For the cupcakes
1/4 cup (2 oz) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 oz) sugar 2oz (60g) of your favourite chocolate
2 eggs, at room temperature
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 fl oz) oil. I used walnut.
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup (3oz) full-fat sour cream*
1 cup (5 oz) plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup (2 oz) cocoa powder
1/2 cup (4 fl oz) room temperature coffee, water or a mixture
*I substituted Greek yoghurt as I didn’t have sour cream. It was okay, but I think the sour cream gives a more moist result, probably due to its higher fat content
For the frosting
6oz (170g) white chocolate, melted and slightly cooled
1 cup (230g) butter, at room temperature
2 cups (240g) icing sugar
¼ cup (60ml) double cream. I substituted milk, but cream gives a better frosting.
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt (to taste, be careful if you use salted butter)
- Line a muffin tin with paper liners and preheat your oven to 180C (170 fan)
- Melt the chocolate. A minute in the microwave should do.
- Mix the butter and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. The mixture should resemble wet sand.
- Once the chocolate is cool enough to touch, add to the butter and sugar and mix until combined.
- Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating between each addition.
- Add the oil, vanilla and sour cream and mix until combined.
- Sift the dry ingredients together into a separate bowl. Add to the wet ingredients in three batches, mixing between each addition.
- Add the water or coffee and mix until smooth.
- Divide the batter among your paper liners, filling each 2/3 of the way up. 1/3 cup of batter is about right.
- Bake for 14-20 minutes, until they pass the toothpick test
- Remove from pan immediately to cool on a wire rack. Leave to cool completely before frosting.
Make the frosting
- Melt the white chocolate and leave to cool.
- In a medium bowl, beat the butter for 1 minute until smooth. I made this frosting by hand with a wooden spoon and it came out really well. However, a hand or stand mixer may have given a slightly smoother result.
- Add the icing sugar about 1/2 a cup at a time and mix until smooth after each addition.
- Stir in the cooled white chocolate and then beat until creamy.
- Add the vanilla extract and salt, to taste.
- Add in the cream. If using milk, add slowly and stop when the frosting reaches the consistency you want.
- Beat until smooth.
- Spoon or pipe onto your cooled cupcakes. My trusty Wilton 1M tip has got a bit bent so the piping wasn’t as gorgeous as normal. Treat your piping tips with gentle loving care, peeps!
I am a lifelong loather of the courgette (too slimy) but I bloomin’ love this light, moist , nutty chocolate cake. It’s made with olive oil rather than my usual butter as well, so much lower in saturated fat if you care about that sort if thing. Of course you could omit the nuts if you like. I think they help disguise the courgette- with them, you’d never guess this cake’s veggie little secret.
This cake is delicious smothered in ganache as below, or in this chocolate frosting. I had some left over from the cupcakes, so frugal and delicious.
Pointillist Siamese cat optional
- 175ml olive oil (any kind is fine)
- 325g golden caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2tsp vanilla extract
- 500ml grated courgette**
- 350g self-raising flour
- 50g cocoa powder
- 1tsp mixed spice
- 140g hazelnuts, chopped
For the ganache
- 200g dark chocolate, chopped
- 100ml double cream
**Measure by volume. This is 2 small-medium courgettes (about 350g by weight). I give the grated courgette a gentle squeeze, then pack it lightly into the measuring jug. The recipe is quite forgiving +/- about 100 ml but be careful if you use extra courgette- the cake will take much longer to bake.
Makes 1 (very large) 20cm cake or about 20 cupcakes
- Preheat oven to C (C fan). Lightly grease a 20cm cake tin (I always use springform)
- Toast hazelnuts in the oven as it heats for around 10 mins, until they start to smell nutty and take on a golden colour. Watch them carefully from 10 mins as they can burn easily.
- In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla essence and grated courgette.
- Add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.
- Add the hazelnuts, chopped. You will end up with a thick batter that will dome up well.
- Bake for 60-80mins, until the cake passes the knife test.
Leave to cool completely on a wire rack. Don’t worry if the top looks a bit funky, it’ll be covered. Meanwhile, make your frosting or ganache.
For the ganache, scald the cream in a small saucepan, remove from the heat, fold in your finely chopped chocolate and stir until smooth, glossy and irresistible.
Here is the cake with frosting, but without cat chasing mice motif.
Yes, I know Christmas was a month ago. Don’t judge me.