Tag Archives: cupcakes

The perfect pick-me-up

I came home on Friday rather tired after one of Those weeks at work (luckily they are very rare, but this week was one of them – office politics, idiots on the phone, that sort of thing). So naturally I decided to bake something to make myself feel better, and what better than some little coffee cakes?

I used the recipe from the Primrose Bakery cookbook, tweaking a bit so I could use the espresso machine.

I love our espresso machine. It’s not the sort of thing we’d buy but it was a hand-me-down from Henry’s parents. I’m sure I drink a lot more coffee with it though, as it’s way too easy when all you have to do is press a button. And the little espresso cups are so cute!
I wanted to make small cakes too, the sort of thing you could have with a cup of tea after dinner and not feel stuffed, or that you could eat just before dinner and not spoil your appetite (but you didn’t hear that from me). So I used the little fairy cake cases, rather than the muffin cases that I use for serious cupcakes, and halved the recipe.

Little espresso cakes
Makes 12 small cakes
55g butter, at room temperature
55g demerara sugar
60g light brown soft sugar
1 egg
60g plain flour
60g self-raising flour
small espresso, or 1 tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water
60ml milk, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 160C (fan oven) or 180C/350F.
Line a cake tray with fairy cake papers.
Cream the butter and sugars until pale and smooth, then mix in the egg.
Combine the flours in a separate bowl, and the milk and espresso in a jug.
Add 1/3 of the flours and beat well, then 1/3 of the liquid and beat. Repeat until all have been mixed in.
Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling to about 2/3 full.
Bake for 20 minutes until raised and golden brown, and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Coffee buttercream
75g butter, at room temperature
175g icing sugar
1 small espresso (or 1 tsp instant coffee, dissolved in 1 tbsp hot water)
1/2 tbsp milk, at room temperature
In a large bowl, beat together the butter, milk, coffee and half the icing sugar until smooth. Add the rest of the sugar and beat until smooth and creamy.
Ice your cakes them top with chocolate covered coffee beans or dark chocolate drops.

All in all they were pretty good, though next time I think I’d add more coffee.

I was most glad of them today. Today we went canoeing with work to raise money for charity (I know, I have one of Those weeks then get up at 7.30 on a Sunday to go and spend the day with work people…)

It was all rather lovely, until we had a bit of canoe-rivalry with Henry’s canoe and ended up in the river. Well, it was fine – the water wasn’t that cold, and it was shallow where we’d capsized. So after tipping the water from the canoe and putting my socks on the front to dry, we were off again. About an hour later, after we’d just been drifting along enjoying the peacefulness of it all, we ran into rapids, and also a tree. Stabilising a Canadian canoe is hard when the water is fast and you’re desperately trying not to be beheaded, so we all fell in again. I managed to grab my shoes and skirt, and even my water bottle, but my socks were sacrificed to the river. Luckily the stones weren’t too sharp as I was barefoot and we had to go a little way down the river before we could right the canoe. (I say “we” – in reality as I was at the front of the canoe and was the lightest of its occupants, and more concerned with grabbing my clothes and oar than the canoe itself, I was a fair way downstream and played no part in righting the canoe. In fact I was rescued by some kindly strangers, who helped me into their boat and dropped me off at a nearby bank. I’m sure the water was colder second time around, so I changed into a spare top as I was getting rather chilly.

Foolish idea of course as we had barely set out again when we met more rapids, or more like a single bump in the river, which we completely failed to navigate and of course ended up in the water for a third time. At this point the water was deeper and faster, so once again having grabbed my clothes/shoes/bottle, I had no choice but to float down the river a way until I could get my footing. The other two made the executive decision to float down with the canoe until there was a good place to stop. Not willing to get on board with this idea as I was now freezing, I was saved by one of my colleagues, who had her two teenage sons on board, and was actually competent at canoeing. So for the last stretch before lunch I was sitting in the bottom of their canoe in an ever-growing puddle, holding onto my clothes for dear life. Oh, and did I mention I stripped to my bra to put on a dry fleece that my colleague kindly lent me? Well, I was shivering and my teeth were chattering.

I did pretty well at putting a brave face on it I think, but I was seriously cold and just wanted to go and hunch under a hand-dryer at the pub (in fact, the pub didn’t have hand dryers – probably on purpose or their electricity costs would be through the roof with novices such as myself attempting to dry off a little). Anyway, I managed to find a dry t-shirt, and put my waterproof on over the top for warmth, and wrap my towel around myself for a skirt – trying to lead a flanneling revival, don’t you know – have some food then get a lift home with Henry’s mum, who had met us for the picnic. I was certainly not about to set off down the river in that ill-fated boat for the second leg (and a good thing too, as I hear they all went in again – clearly it was not just me cursing the damn thing).

My tale of woe does not end there though. Henry had the house keys locked in the car, so we went back to get a spare set from his parents’ house… only we couldn’t find the spare set. So I decided to try and break into my own flat, as I’d left one of the windows open a little so Betty would have some fresh air. Good thing we live on the ground floor, really. Our windows are sash windows that we recently had put in to replace the old ones. They have little button things that pop out when you unlock them, so that the windows only open about 4 inches, meaning you can happily go canoeing with your windows open and know that nobody can break in.

Unless they have two sticks from your garden, that is. I couldn’t reach the buttons with my hands, but with the help of two sticks I managed to eventually press down both buttons at once and slide the window open. Success! Shall definitely keep those two sticks handy, in case of future situations where I may need to break into my own house.

Anyway, the point of all that was that finally (soaked, dried and soaked again, slightly bruised from my desperate attempts to housebreak and basically wanting nothing more than a nap), when I’d located a dry towel, made a cup of tea and was running a hot bubbly bath, one of these little cakes was just the pick-me-up I needed – only next time, sod ruining my appetite before dinner, sod feeling stuffed after dinner, I’m putting four times as much espresso in, making them twice as big, and knowing that should any sort of dire situation arise, all I’ll need to deal with it is one of these and a nice cup of tea. Or, if the situation is so dire that all I’m capable of doing is pressing a button, these cakes would go beautifully with an espresso.


Vanilla perfection

To start, then. I am a big fan of the idea that simpler is better. I like margharita pizza. I like pasta with cheese. My favourite cupcakes? Vanilla, with vanilla buttercream icing. To say that I like these would be an understatement. I don’t see vanilla as vanilla, not at all. It is such a beautiful flavour. It can add depth to chocolate and turn mediocrity to divinity. It can be sweetness and light, or heady, sexy and seductive.

Of course, you have to have the right vanilla. I made mine, and will do so again – with the amount I get through it is much better than buying those tiddly little bottles in the supermarket. Not to mention that the vanilla essence you make at home will be way ahead of anything you might find in the supermarket. (More on this later, when I make my next batch in probably the not-too-distant future.)

The thing I love about this recipe is its simplicity. I can keep it in my head and carry it round with me, safe in the knowledge that, if called upon, I could easily make a batch. It hasn’t happened yet, but maybe one day… The other great thing is that as far as my experience goes, it is foolproof. I do not say this lightly, but the first time I used this recipe I was baking with two four-year-olds, in an unfamiliar kitchen, with only one spoon and two spatulas to mix, and they turned out beautifully. The kids loved them. The parents loved them. The Venezuelan nanny loved them. I knew I was onto a good thing.

The recipe is in cups. Cupcakes are called cupcakes because the recipe originally used one cup of everything. This one doesn’t quite, but it’s pretty darn close.

For the cakes:
1 cup granulated or caster sugar
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 medium eggs, at room temperature
2 cups plain/all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla essence (or more, if you’re me – I just pour in a generous dash)
1 tsp baking powder

For the buttercream:
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
3 cups icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla essence (again, more if you’re me)
3 tbsp full fat milk, or 2 tbsp cream

1. Preheat the oven to 180C (160 for a fan oven) / 350F. Line a cupcake tray with paper liners
2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
3. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each
4. Add the flour and baking powder, a few tablespoons at a time, mixing well after each addition
5. Beat in the vanilla. I like to do it before the milk, separately, in case for any reason it looks like the milk is going to be too much
6. Mix in the milk, again a little at a time, just in case it looks like the mixture will get too wet. It never has with me, but you never know.
7. Give it one last good mix – it should be light, fluffy and just begging you to stick your finger in. (I won’t tell if you don’t)
8. Spoon into the cases. Fill each about 2/3 full
9. Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. Your kitchen will smell delicious.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, vanilla, milk/cream and icing sugar together. I prefer to mix it up a bit with a spoon first before plunging in with the electric beater so I don’t get icing sugar dust everywhere. Keep beating until it’s light and fluffy and looks like a buttercream dream.

Use a piping bag to ice swirls onto your cakes once they are cool, or slap it on with a metal spatula or just use a knife. These don’t need to look good to taste it.

Of course you could endlessly mess with these cakes. You could add raisins or chocolate chips, top with sprinkles, chocolate buttercream, ganache, caramel, drizzle with lemon or berry compote…

You could, but why mess with perfection?