Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Sourdough Loaf

Back in February, one of Mike's colleagues heard about my baking blog. She kindly offered me some of her sourdough starter, called Sophia, whose origins lay in Chicago some 8 years ago. I didn't know much about sourdough at that point, but what I had was all good, and from that knew that an 8 year old starter was not something you'd come across all that often, so I jumped at the chance. A few days later a plastic tub was nesting  in the fridge with a strange, gloopy substance inside. I'd been given some instructions on how to feed her, and referred to The Fresh Loaf - a website devoted to all things bread related, and which includes a brilliant community forum.

The first time I fed Sophia, I transferred about half of her to a clean kilner jar, added the refresher of flour and water, and stirred. I couldn't bear to just bin the other half, so began a second jar (now known as Olivia). I began to read up on how to actually transform the alchemy taking place in the jar, to an edible loaf. It seemed like a fairly long process, and as timing was poor, the months dragged on and on. I must admit, Sophia and Olivia became a bit neglected. I'd started off religiously feeding them every week (this time fighting the reluctance to chuck the discarded starter, otherwise Mike would have opened the fridge to row after row of kilner jars!). But the week started to creep up to fortnightly, then I'd go to feed them and suddenly realise that they had been left for anything up to a month. I'd repent and decide immediately that I must try baking with them. Then they'd show me just how they felt about my neglect (the photo below shows the mess I found after refreshing them and then leaving them to ferment for a few hours). Either that or I just needed bigger jars ... :)

Any way, a few months back, pushed for the time most recipes for sourdough seemed to need, I tried to cheat. Looking for a 'easy sourdough recipe' on Google, led me to this one by Emeril Lagasse on Food Network (note the advice at the end of the starter recipe!). I used the bread recipe, substituting my starter for the one in Emeril's recipe. The recipe doesn't add any extra water, and so the bread turned out a bit clumpy and dense (photo below - excuse the quality but this was late at night). Not what I had hoped for but then I suppose I should have known better.

Roll forward a few months, and another recipe caught my eye. This time in a magazine, Making Cakes and Bakes (issue 3). Well. Put it this way, I didn't even bother taking a picture of that one. I'm sure it was me, rather than the recipe, but my ball of dough didn't stay a ball. It ended up as a pretty flat pancake. I've even tried a recipe for the bread machine - that turned out a flavourful but pretty dense loaf, too, as I guess the 4 hour programme wasn't really designed for sourdough. Hmmm. Clearly, I was a bit slow in catching on to the fact that sourdough, made as it should be, is a slow process.  

The starter, just as I was beginning to make the dough
So, knowing that Mike and I had a couple of weeks off work, I decided that I would give sourdough a proper go. I turned to Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet for guidance. Dan's recipe is pretty straightforward, but what I found really helpful, was the guidance he gives on bread making in general, and the 'no knead' method he uses.  So, as I knew we were having a day around the house yesterday, I decided to give it a go.  I made my 'shaggy ball of dough' and left it to sit for 10-15 minutes, and then gave it a brief gentle knead along the lines Dan suggests. I repeated this twice more, at 10 minute intervals. I was amazed by how much easier this made the dough to handle. Eventually, I had a round ball of fairly smooth looking dough, which I left to rise.

After kneading, before first rise
I was amazed and really pleased when an impromptu Tweet, announcing what I was up to, garnered a response from Dan, with some timely advice: 'As soon as you spy bubbles in the dough, shape it, then when it's risen by half (not double) bake it'. So after about three and a half hours of sitting on my counter top, the dough looked like this:

After three and a half hours - see the bubbles?
At this point I turned the loaf out to shape it, and then placed it on an oiled baking tray. I think this meant that it spread a little too much, rather than maintained a nice ball shape [next time, I might try the final prove in a bowl lined with a floured tea-towel - gently tipping it out just before baking].

Just after shaping
Anyway, after about another hour and a half, it looked like it had expanded the required amount for baking, even though it looked a little flatter than I wanted. I'd preheated my oven as high as it would go on its bread setting (220 C), so put the bread straight in. I had forgotten to either spray the top of the loaf with water (as Dan suggests) or place a tray of water in the bottom of the oven.

See the bubbles in the dough?
I was amazed though, at how much the bread rose within the first ten minutes of being in the oven - nearly double its height. This also showed, I think, that my slashes in the top weren't deep enough, as they hardly showed once baked. I had set the timer for 45 minutes, but the loaf was browning very quickly, so after 20 minutes I turned the oven down to 195 C and added a tray of water to the bottom of the oven. After the 45 minutes, the loaf had developed what I could feel was a strong, thick crust. In order to soften it slightly, I placed a clean tea towel over the loaf while it cooled.

I left it to cool in total about an hour, and then unable to wait anymore, cut into it. It showed (as below) the big bubbles in the dough - although the centre of the loaf definitely had smaller bubbles. It tasted gorgeously sourdoughy though, and Mike and I polished off half the loaf before we'd even realised it.

I'm really pleased with how this attempt went. Much better than anything so far. I will definitely give this another go as soon as I can. The starter was fed the evening before, then left on the counter for a few hours until bubbling away. I refrigerated it overnight, and it dropped slightly, so the next morning, I took it out and left it at room temperature for about four hours until it was bubbling away again. The dough took about 45 minutes to prepare, three and a half hours on the first rise, and then an hour and a half proving. With baking and cooling adding a further hour and three quarters, the entire process took about seven and a half hours, although much of this was not time actively spent on it. The end result though was bloody gorgeous and definitely well worth it. I've also learnt some things are better not rushed.
So thank you Mr Lepard. You might just have made a sourdough baker of me yet.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

My Perfect Carrot Cake

Necessity quite often is the mother of invention. A few weeks back, I actually tried carrot cake for the first time. Yes I know, 40 plus years and counting, a supposed baking enthusiast, and I've only just had carrot cake. I must admit that while I adore carrots with my roast, I was ever so slightly wary of carrots (or indeed any veg) in my cake. Especially when paired with oil - which I understand is normally something used in carrot cake. Anyway, Mike and I were out and about in town with Sam one day, and went for our usual coffee and a little something. 

Shock and horror, though, most of the cake and baked treats had sold out. What was left was a bit of a sorry choice between Victoria Sponge and Carrot Cake. I went for the sponge, but then couldn't believe it when the manager (who was serving us) said that he didn't know what state it was in as it had been sitting in the heat, so if it was dry I could send it back and swap it. Apart from reeling from the brazen way he would even consider sending out something he reasonably suspected was a bit dodgy, so averse to carrot cake was I that I decided to go with it. More fool me. After attempting to cut into it, it was clear that it was rock solid and dry as a bone. So a bit wary, I decided that I would just have to try the carrot cake. Oh My God. It was lush. And there I was kicking myself.

So fast forward a few weeks and I've now tried it a few more times, at different places, and liking it each time. So much so, that I decided to have a bash at making it. I wanted to do some recipe research though, as I wanted something light and fluffy and still moist, and flavoured just so - so that I ended up with the right version for me. I tried a couple of recipes out, and then when I found one I liked the taste of, but textually wise was not quite right, had a bit of a play around. This is what I came up with. It is more of a typical way of making a sponge, but is still light and gorgeously moist. Although it may be a bit lower in calories, this is not a low calorie carrot cake though, so be warned. You could tweak the recipe a bit to make it lower. I leave it up to you.

Here's what I did.

Carrot Cake with Orange Cream Cheese Frosting


113g softened unsalted butter
200g soft light brown sugar
2 medium eggs (mine each weighed 60g in the shell)
55ml milk
150g plain flour
50g wholemeal plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn ground cinnamon
1/2 tspn ground ginger
1/4 tspn salt
160g carrot (which has been peeled, grated and most of the excess moisture squeezed out - 5 medium/large carrots gave me this amount)
70g raisins
50g walnuts chopped

For the frosting
150g full fat cream cheese at room temperature
100g softened unsalted butter
around 3 cups (250g) icing sugar
grated zest of one orange
2 tspn orange juice

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 conventional / 350 F / Gas 4. Grease and baseline a 8 inch (20cm) cake tin. I used an extra deep sandwich pan, which was fine, but a normal sandwich pan might not be deep enough to take the mix.

Prepare the carrots by peeling and grating them. I then used a few sheets of kitchen towel to squeeze some of the excess moisture from them, leaving them still moist though - you don't want them bone dry. The picture above shows how much liquid I still managed to get out of them, and that was from only half the carrots! I did this because my first version of carrot cake was moist, but very, very dense, and I thought it might be due to all the moisture in the recipe, including that from the carrots. For me then, getting rid of some of this worked a treat.

Put both the flours in a mixing bowl along with the baking powder, salt, cinnamon and ginger. Set aside.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy (about 3 minutes). Add the eggs one at a time, mixing between until just incorporated, then add the milk.

Add the flour and mix gently until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer, and fold in the carrots, walnuts and raisins until they are evenly distributed throughout the mix.

Turn into the prepared cake tin and bake in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes, until risen and golden and a cocktail stick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Mine cracked a little on the top, but I didn't worry about this as I knew it was going to be coated with the frosting. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to continue cooling.

To make the frosting, cream together the cream cheese and butter until smooth (I use my stand mixer for this with the paddle attachment), then add the orange zest and juice. Bit by bit add the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add sugar until you get the consistency you like so it may be a bit more or less than the amount I used. I wanted a fairly loose consistency for this as I was just going to spread it on the top (if I was piping for example, I would have used more sugar for a thicker icing).

I used a cake slicer to cut my cake in two horizontally, as I wanted to create a sandwich effect (and I like frosting!), but to be honest, I could easily have left it as one cake and simply iced the top. The cake was so moist that the layer of frosting in the middle wasn't necessary. But as I said, I like frosting and so decided that a double hit was the way to go. I then spread the top of the cake with frosting, and used some walnut halves as decoration.

It was seriously yummy, and Mike, who doesn't really do carrot cake either, agreed. The hint of warming spices was lovely, and against the zinginess of the orange frosting worked really well. The boys wouldn't try it of course - no chocolate - and, after all, while it might help their eyesight it probably wouldn't do much for their waistlines.



Friday, 24 August 2012

The ABC Award

Sometime ago, Gem at Cupcake Crazy Gem honoured me by passing me an ABC award. I know it's really bad, but I've only now really had the time to get around to posting in response (Sorry Gem!). I love Gem's blog. Her zest for baking, and life in general, is so infectious I love reading about what she gets up to. She is also, like me, completely addicted to American baking, and hosts the monthly United Bakes of America challenge.

My recent blogging indolence is mainly due to my return to work after maternity leave - and the fact that now there are never enough hours in the day to do all I need to (including sleep!). However, much time has been spent scratching my head about what to write. You see, I lead a probably really boring life, which is very much centred on my family. I'm not sure that that will have sufficient entertainment value for you. Anyway. I decided to bite the bullet and compile an ABC of me, which hopefully will let you know a bit more about me, my likes and dislikes, while not sending you to sleep. Here goes ...

A - Amazon - which I love for its ease of use. Unfortunately it's too easy and this is what happened to my cookbook collection as a result.

B - this has to be Ben, my 13 and a half year old middle son, who is the one most likely to join me in the kitchen for a baking session (I still have plenty of time to train Sam). He loves to cook, loves chocolate, and when the two are combined, he is in heaven.

C - Cardiff City FC. Yes I know. Football, again. But it gets you (well, me) in the veins. It's a bit of a family tradition, as my grandparents and parents were CCFC fans. Nan and Grandad were at Wembley in 1927 when Cardiff took the FA cup out of England for the one and only time.Growing up, I heard regularly what a great day that was. Luckily, I managed to experience a similar atmosphere on my 40th birthday, even though it was tipping down, when Cardiff made it to the 2008 FA cup final. Sadly we lost to Portsmouth 1-0, but getting through to the final was so unexpected we all felt like winners just being there. We've been back to Wembley a few times since then ... Championship Playoff Final, Carling Cup Final. And the results haven't really worked for us. But this year will be our season ... maybe.

D - Doctor Who, as that has now become mandatory family viewing as laid down by Josh and Ben. And after all, it's made in Cardiff don'tcha know? Along with Torchwood. Quite often you can find filming taking place in and around Cardiff. Nothing like stumbling upon an alien blowfish from Torchwood when your teetering back from the pub at 11.00 at night with your mates ...

E - Ecumenical, as in 'That would be an ecumenical matter'. Last year's holiday viewing when we introduced the boys to Father Ted. Great viewing for a couple of teens. It was actually quite difficult coming up with an 'E' - no doubt as soon as I hit 'publish' some other much better one will spring to mind.

El Cotillo Beach, Fuerteventura
F - Fuerteventura, one of the Canary Islands, was where Mike and I spent our honeymoon. When the boys were little we began holidaying there regularly, as we know the island well, and it has such a lovely, laid back atmosphere with some of the best beaches around. The weather is pretty good, too! Now the boys are older, we don't tend to go as much as we want to try new places (enter another F - Florida - for example). But it will always hold a special place in my heart. It was also where Sam was very nearly born last year (but that's another story).

G - Gower. The Gower peninsula in South Wales is one of the most beautiful places. My parents had a holiday home there which we used to go to frequently during my childhood. Those were the days of long, hot summers spent at the beach. A bucket and spade were essential kit, and we would then stop at the ice cream parlour for a '99. I can still taste the creaminess of that ice cream, golden yellow against the chocolate, and dribbling down the cone.

H - Home - definitely where my heart is.

I - Indian Cookery - a few years back I did an evening class at our local high school. Spread over 30 weeks I learnt loads of great recipes and had loads of fun. It's a great way of learning and making friends at the same time - my local adult education centre also does cake decorating, Thai and Chinese cookery, Mediterranean cookery etc, and I would love to work my way through them.

J - Definitely Josh. My oldest son, who at 15 seems to have grown up really too quickly for my liking.

K - Stands for my Kindle, which I absolutely love as I'm such a fast reader I can load it up for holidays and take enough reading material to last me for three weeks in a box that's smaller than a paperback.   

L - London, where I spent three years doing my degree, during which I met Mike, and then we stayed on for a total of 10 years. I don't really miss it, and I'm glad we moved back to Cardiff before having the boys. But it has been a large part of my life.

M - Definitely Mike. The only 'M' I need.

N - My nana, who taught me to cook. No longer with me but always in my heart.

O - Can't be anything else at the moment than Olympics, can it? Feel very proud that they are in Britain, and I have been lucky to see football at the Millennium Stadium. Looking forward to seeing the Olympic Stadium during the Paralympics. Go Team GB ...

P - Pasta. My all time favourite food and one I love to make from scratch but don't often get time to do so now. I do a fine ricotta and parmesan ravioli with amatriciana sauce, and a gorgeous black pepper tagliatelle with four cheese sauce. Yum. Now there's an idea for dinner tonight ...

Q - Quidditch. Yes really struggled with that one, but I'm a big Harry Potter fan.

R - Red. Something I will not be wearing this season. (Non-devotees of Cardiff City FC will be excused not knowing what I'm talking about here). Of course, I reserve my position on this in the event we do get into the Premier League.

S - Slovenia as one of my first jobs after my degree was at the then Department of Trade and Industry. I worked on the country desk for the former Yugoslav states just at the time that they had first gained independence, and my favourite was Slovenia. I was lucky to go there on a trade mission. It's a beautiful country with lovely people. One of my all time favourite experiences. It could also be Squirrel as that's just hands down my all time favourite word. There's just something about it. Squirrel. Squirrel. Squirrel. But, last but no means least, there is also my baby Sam, who is my pride and joy and I just feel so privileged and lucky to be mummy to.

T - Tapas. Although late to discovering tapas they have become one of my favourite meals, not least because (much to our surprise) the boys love them too. The first time I tried them was in Fuerteventura at a little restaurant overlooking Corralejo harbour. the sun was shining, we had just spent the most amazing morning snorkeling for the first time and it was perfect. Tortilla, Gambas, Chorizo and Queso de Cabras were some of our choices that day, and they were all incredible.

U - well, I guess this must represent US baking. I am completely addicted to reading and experimenting with my US cookbooks (and if you've read my Random Recipes #19 Cookbooks post you may glean that I have a few). I blame this in part on cable tv opening Britain up to programmes such as Barefoot Contessa, Dessert First and Cupcake Wars. Mind you Barefoot Contessa could be another 'B' as I am pretty addicted to the programme.

V - Vanilla. There can be few things as comforting as the aroma and taste of vanilla. I love vanilla ice cream, and it's instantly reminiscent of cones devoured on childhood holidays way back when the sun used to shine pretty regularly in Britain during the summer. Yes, that long ago ... 

W - Has to be Wales, doesn't it? You can take the girl out of Wales, but you'll never take Wales out of the girl. That said, (a very far) second would be the West Wing - my all time favourite tv programme. One of the best presents I've ever been given is my treasured 'Santos and McGarry : For A Brighter America' campaign t-shirt. If only ...

X - X-men. Symbolic of my love of comic action films - especially Avengers Assemble, Iron Man, Batman etc etc. With the definite exception of 'The Green Hornet' which must be my candidate for the worst film of all time (Seth Rogen you are sooo busted with that one!).

Y - Yes. Because I try and be a positive person. (Mike is shaking his head in incredulity at that one ... not sure why).

Z - ZZZZ's. Hopefully you're not actually asleep at this point. But this represents what every parent of a new baby needs but cannot have. Well, not when you really need it. I had forgotten the cumulative effect of sleep deprivation. It doesn't last forever though. Repeat after me ...

I just need to pass this on to five fellow bloggers, so without further ado, I've chosen five whose blogs I really enjoy, and would love to get to know a little better.

1. Jo at What do You Make of My Cake
2. Laura at Laura Loves Cakes
3. Rachel at Dollybakes
4. Ryan at Baked with Kindness
5. Kim at Cakes From Kim

Normal Service will be resumed as soon as possible! :)


Thursday, 23 August 2012

Caramelised Onion, Tomato and Goats Cheese Tart

I love this recipe. Whenever Mike and I are eating 'posh' and I need a quick starter to rustle up, then this is one of our favourites. I just love the taste of the crumbled goats cheese and the onion, with the little flavour bursts from the cherry tomatoes. It uses ready made, ready rolled puff pastry so is really quick and easy to put together. You can adapt it to make small individual tarts, or one large one as I have here. It's based on an Ina Garten 'Barefoot Contessa' recipe, which I have adapted slightly (the original recipe can be found here).

Caramelised Onion, Tomato and Goats Cheese Tart

Ingredients (Serves 4)

1 Sheet ready rolled puff pastry (plus a little plain flour for sprinkling)
1 large Spanish onion, cut into thin slices
1 tbspn olive oil
1 tsbpn sugar
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tbspn white wine
1 tbspn fresh thyme leaves
1 small packet of soft, crumbly goats cheese (not the rinded log)
1 pack of small cherry tomatoes
A little freshly grated Parmesan
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190 Fan / 210 Conventional / 425 F / Gas 7. Line a baking tray with baking parchment.

Unroll the pastry, using a little flour on the work surface to stop it sticking if necessary (I find it's easier to do this once you have left the pastry out of the fridge for about 30 minutes).

Fry the sliced onion in the olive oil gently until softened and translucent. Add the sugar and garlic then stir. Leave to cook, stirring occasionally to avoid the onions catching, for about 20 minutes until golden brown. This long slow cooking process is needed to bring out the sweetness of the onion (although the sugar helps with this and the browning). Add the white wine, thyme (reserving some to sprinkle over the tart later) and a little salt and pepper. Cook gently while stirring for another couple of minutes, until the wine is absorbed. Leave on one side to cool a little.

Trim the edges of the pastry sheet to form a square, then, using a sharp knife, score another square around two centimetres inside the edge of the pastry. Spread the onion mixture over the area of the inner square (the border will puff up to form a nice edge).

Quickly, using the same frying pan, add the tomatoes and cook gently for a couple of minutes over a low heat - add a little more oil if necessary - to just warm through.

Spread the tomatoes over the onion mixture. Crumble the goats cheese between the tomatoes, and then sprinkle a little Parmesan over the tart, along with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, and some of the reserved thyme.

Bake in the oven for around 25 minutes, until the edge of the pastry is puffed and golden. The base should be crisp underneath.

I find this is nicest left to stand for a few minutes, but served whilst still warm. I sometimes add a little rocket as a side salad, sprinkled with a little Honey, Mustard and Balsamic Dressing*.

As the recipe includes thyme, I'm sending this to the Herbs on Saturday challenge, organised and hosted this month by Karen at Lavender and Lovage. The roundup will appear at the end of the month on Karen's blog.

* Honey, Mustard and Balsamic Dressing

I know that you can buy perfectly acceptable dressings in the supermarket, but it's really easy to make your own, thus making sure you get one you like the flavour of, and I think they are much more delicious. To make my favourite dressing, I just add 3 parts Extra Virgin Olive Oil to one part Balsamic Vinegar (for example 75ml oil to 25ml vinegar) to a jug, and add 2 tbspn honey, 1 tbspn wholegrain mustard, 1/4 tspn salt and a few grinds of black pepper, then whisk together. Or you could just add the ingredients into a clean jam jar or bottle, screw on the top and shake like billy heck. Taste and adjust the seasoning / honey / mustard to get something you like. See? Easy!



Sunday, 19 August 2012

Blueberry and Cornmeal Mini Bundts

It seems as though I've been back at work much longer than the 8 weeks I have. Already maternity leave seems a dim and distant memory. But ... Yay, Mike and I have the next few weeks off work. Which means I have a bit more time to play with. So venturing into the kitchen yesterday led to these lovely Blueberry and Cornmeal Mini Bundts.

The recipe is simple, but the inclusion of cornmeal gives a lovely texture to the cake and slightly crunchy exterior. The fresh blueberries give a lovely little pop of fruit that bursts on your tongue. Very, very delish! The original recipe, from Cake Keeper Cakes by Lauren Chattman, is an American one (and for one large bundt cake), so uses cup measurements - I've included what my 'cups' then weighed in grams as a guide, where this might be helpful.

The mix made just enough to fill a Nordicware 6 mini bundt pan. The one I have (see a full picture here - unfortunately I couldn't find a UK example on the net) has some lovely patterns on the interior.

I had intended making a simple lemon icing glaze for them, but once they turned out of the tin, decided that would lose some of the lovely patterning. So I just restrained myself to a dusting of icing sugar.

Blueberry and Cornmeal Mini Bundts


1 cup (135g) plain flour plus a little extra for dusting the fruit
1/2 cup (62g) fine ground cornmeal
1 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tspn salt
1 1/8 cup (218g) packed soft light brown sugar 
1/2 cup (112g) softened unsalted butter
2 eggs (weighing around 52g each in the shell - I got a mixed weight box and weighed them)
1 tspn vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk (I used 100ml milk with 1 tspn lemon juice added)
1 cup (150g) blueberries

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 F / Gas 4. Grease and flour a 6 hole mini bundt pan.

Dust the blueberries with a little flour - this will prevent them sinking to the bottom of the pans while baking.

Mix together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, and salt in a bowl.
Beat the sugar and butter together in a stand mixer until light and fluffy - about 3 minutes on medium. Add the eggs one at a time, and beat each time until just mixed in. Add the vanilla and mix in.

Add a third of the flour and mix, then add half the buttermilk and mix. Continue adding a third of the flour, half the buttermilk and then the final third of the flour, mixing each time. Scrape down the bowl as necessary. Stir in the blueberries.

Spoon the mixture into the bundt pan so that the cups are around two thirds full (mine were nearer three quarters and so they rose up over the rims a bit, to give a muffin top effect - although sank back a bit on cooling).

Bake in the centre of the oven for around 40 minutes, until risen and golden and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Remove and leave to cool for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a wire rack to complete cooling.

As this is a very American recipe, using blueberries and bundts, I'm entering them into this month's United Bakes of America challenge hosted by Gem of Cupcake Crazy.

The little cakes were lovely with a coffee / tea. Mike and I really enjoyed them as the cornmeal did give a lovely texture to the cake, while it still was moist with the fruit. I'll definitely be making them again, and probably playing around with the flavours, too!



Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Maple Leaf Cupcakes

It's been a bit quiet on the baking front recently, but as one of Mike's colleagues left the company this week, I needed to get my baking tins out. D'arcy and his family are relocating to Toronto. How exciting is that? And to mark the occasion I wanted to try and make something that he would like.

These are chocolate cupcakes, covered in Maple Syrup Frosting, and decorated with little sugar fondant maple leaves. I'm not terribly good with sugarpaste. Sadly, the leaves didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped, as it was difficult to get the colour right with the materials I had. I basically coloured three different shades of fondant - orangey, red and reddy brown - to try and get autumnal shades. Then I cut out different sized maple leaves and pressed them with a veiner. Having left them to dry for about 8 hours (over crumpled baking parchment to get a curled effect), I then dusted them with some gold, brown and terracotta flower dusts. The block colours were a little strong, and bizarrely the best effect I got was when I rolled up the left over bits of each colour into one ball - getting a mottled piece of sugar fondant, which then rolled out to give a marbled effect. Much more realistic but still not totally right!

The frosting I used combined some  butter with a little cream cheese, with icing sugar and a few tablespoons of maple syrup. This was just enough to flavour the frosting without it being overpowering. The combination of chocolate cake and frosting worked well, and aesthetics aside, I was really pleased with how they turned out.

Chocolate Cupcakes with Maple Syrup Frosting

Ingredients (makes 16)

225g softened unsalted butter
225g light soft brown sugar
4 medium eggs
1 tbspn milk
200g self raising flour
1/2 tspn baking powder
4 tbspns cocoa powder

For the frosting
200g softened unsalted butter
100g room temperature full fat cream cheese
around 3 - 4 cups of icing sugar
3 tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat the oven to 155 Fan / 170 Conventional / Gas 4. Line a muffin tray(s) with cupcake cases - I got 16 out of this batch.

Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth and fluffy. Then add the eggs (one at a time mixing briefly to incorporate) and milk. Add the flour, baking powder and cocoa, and mix gently till thorough incorporated. Scoop into the cases so that they are about two thirds full.

Bake in the oven for around 18 - 20 minutes until risen and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove and allow to cool in the tray for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to completely cool.

For the frosting, cream together the butter and cream cheese until silky (preferably in a stand mixer using a paddle attachment). Add the maple syrup and mix in. Then, adding a cup at a time, add the icing sugar until you get a consistency you like - it needs to be quite thick but still soft enough to spread / pipe.

Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes and then decorate as you please.

Mike said that they were a great success. I hope so.

Good Luck D'arcy, Kate and Mackenzie - hope the move goes well and that you have a fab time!


Susie :) x