Guinness Chocolate Muffins

2 Apr

You probably don’t know this about me, but I’m half Irish. More specifically, half-Northern-Irish. (Ai-rish, as opposed to Oi-rish). Which I suppose just makes me British. Pete says it doesn’t really count, as I’ve never been to Ireland and seem only to mention my affiliation around March. But I think it’s still worth noting. “It’s my heritage,” I told Pete haughtily. Perhaps I should have told him he was oppressing me.

I remember a story about Bill Clinton, who was interviewed during his presidency on St Patrick’s Day. Asked how he was enjoying the celebrations, he replied: “I feel more Irish everyday!” The story mentioned how he punched the air as he said it. That’s the kind of confidence I should be trying to emulate.

Yeah, I'm starting to see it now Bill

Anyway, St Patrick’s Day was last week ages ago, so in a show of solidarity with my brethren I made some green, boozy cupcakes.

I adapted this recipe from The Goddess Kitchen.

Butter, cocoa, sugar, and Guinness. In the interests of full-disclosure I have to tell you how badly this smelled. Imagine a residential pub at closing time, in the heat of summer, with all the windows shut. It was boozy.

The mixture was incredibly glossy. Like the barnet of a bonny Irish lass.

Sour cream, eggs. This is the meat-and-potatoes part of the recipe.

After a quick whisk with the flour.

I forgot to take pictures of the cakes going into the oven or coming out. So, as if by magic, here they are – already iced. Let’s pretend I had some help from this little guy:

It had to be green. Though the colour-scheme is a bit more Incredible Hulk than Emerald Isle.

After lashings of chocolate decorations, they look a bit merrier.


VERDICT

Taste:

You can definitely taste the Guinness – but in a nice way. It deepens the taste of the chocolate and makes it richer. The icing is a little bit sickly – though perhaps that’s the green colouring throwing-off my sense of taste.

Recipe Pros:

Easy enough to make, and the addition of Guinness makes them a bit different to regular chocolate cakes.

Recipe Cons:

If you can’t/won’t drink alcohol, these aren’t for you.

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Banana and Blueberry Cupcakes

21 Mar

You already know how I feel about fruit muffins. Well after the choc-fest of the last few recipes, I decided to go earth-mother with some basic banana and blueberry cupcakes. Just reading the recipe made me feel virtuous. Bananas and blueberries – what could be more earth-friendly (read: tummy-friendly)? The two Bs were going to nurture body and mind. I was merely a cake away from enlightenment and an embroidered peasant skirt.

Ingredients

125g butter

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

1 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup overripe banana (about 1 large banana)

1 1/2 cups self-raising flour

1/2 cup frozen blueberries

Method (makes 12):

1. Preheat oven to 180 oC. Grease 12-hole muffin pan.

2. Place butter and milk in small saucepan; stir over low heat until butter melts.

3. Beat eggs in small bowl with electric mixer until thick and creamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until dissolved between additions; stir in banana. Fold in sifted flour and cooled butter mixture, in two batches. Divide mixture among muffin pan holes.

4. Bake cakes for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven; press frozen blueberries into tops of cakes. Return cakes to oven for a further 15 minutes. Allow cakes to cool on wire rack.

Mashing bananas with a zen-like demeanour.

Melting the butter and extending my mind.

As any fule kno here at Hudson Towers, the big eggs are for cooking with and not for eating. After accidentally replenishing the supply with some medium-sized eggs, I had to distinguish between the two. Writing on the egg was my passive-aggressive* way of telling Pete not to eat it. (*Not very earth-motherly I know. We have our limits.) Also, it reminded me of this:

Q: what’s big and small at the same time?

A: a big egg!

It’s a classic.

Perhaps real devotees would serenely hand-beat the egg whites. Meh.

You’ll be pleased to know the bananas are Fair Trade. They all are at Sainsbury’s. Meanwhile the flour is… who knows? All I know is that it isn’t Gold Flour (see Fig.1)

Fig.1

Does anyone else find his overall demeanour a little bit frightening? “We ought to charge more,” he says onimously. Make you wonder why they don’t. They are a business after all. Are they cutting the flour with talc or something? Whatever the reason, I don’t think I want it any more. Return from whence you came, stunted gremlin-man.

Add the bananas to the mixture.

Give it a gentle mix. Mmm, therapeutic.

Put the cakes into the oven for a brief spell…

… And hey presto, they’re nearly cooked.

The tops are still spongy, which makes them the perfect consistency for adding blueberries.

Blueberries, from where else but Sainsbury’s. They didn’t come cheap, but who can put a price on health? (Well, technically Sainsbury’s I suppose.)

I’m not sure whether these are overloaded or not. You can never have enough blueberries I say.

Occupational hazard

Violet, you’re turning violet!

Actually, this does look a bit like me. Back in my childhood fringe days.

Still, it’s all worth it.

I can assure you that those are blueberries, rather than plump, juicy olives.

The cakes are now fully cooked and the blueberries are soft and juicy. The smell from the oven is bananary (bananarish?).

A dusting of icing sugar is all that’s needed to complete to look.

VERDICT

Taste:

The cakes are very light and airy with a strong taste of banana. The blueberries provide a sharp sweetness to cut through the sponge.

Recipe pros:

Incredibly easy. The blueberry topping adds interest to a simple banana cupcake.

Recipe cons:

The dusting of icing sugar seems to shorten the life-span of the cakes. After storing them overnight (in an airtight tin, no less), they’ve gone a little soft and squishy. Still delicious, but not as attractive. Save the dusting of sugar for when you serve up the individual cakes.


Bacon and Chocolate Chip Cookies

16 Mar

Bacon is the one thing that stops me from becoming a vegetarian. Bacon and sausages. But mostly bacon. That salty, crispy, soft-yet-crunchy bite of bacon is second to nothing in terms of gastronomical joy. As I typed that last sentence, my stomach literally groaned with delight.

And bacon has rightfully earned its place in popular culture. From bacon-flavoured gum, to bacon band-aids and even a (gross) bacon bra; it also crops up on popular sitcoms, including The Office US. In the words of boss Michael Scott:

“I enjoy waking up to the smell of bacon – Sue me… It’s delicious, it’s good for me, it’s a great way to start the day.”

Of course, bacon is the meaty catalyst for Michael  burning his foot in a George Foreman grill – thus providing a sombre counterpoint to this blog’s otherwise wanton specklust.

Never fear, however, for the following recipe allows meat-lovers to get 1 of their 5-rashers-a-day without the threat of second-degree burns… by baking it into a cookie. Not since the Chocolate Zucchini Love Cake has Pete been so surprised at what I’ve put in a sweet treat.

This recipe is adapted from The Noble Pig.

Smoked bacon is gospel in this house. (We choose it for the flavour, and the clean fresh taste):

Back when smoking was cool.

Surprising realisation: There was a time when Kirk Douglas wasn’t a really really old man. (Smoking kills eh?)

Fry the bacon until it’s well-cooked. I didn’t use any oil, as I didn’t want it to be too greasy.

The recipe actually called for maple-smoked bacon. Pah! I couldn’t be bothered to go searching (or spending), so I improvised. You’ll notice the tin of golden syrup above…

Feeling experimental, I just drizzled some on top of the bacon and let it do its magic. It actually worked surprisingly well.

Creaming together the butter and sugars.

A cornucopia of goodness.

I didn’t have any chocolate chips either (doh!), so I chopped up a bar of dark chocolate into approximate chip-size.

The golden syrup has caramelised on parts of the bacon, which is nice. All it needs is to be chopped up into little pieces.

Mix the chips with the butter/egg mixture.

Then blob spoonfuls of the mixture onto a baking tray covered with greaseproof paper.

Push some extra chocolate and bacon into the top.

Bake ’em, and voila!

Flat, slightly textured cookies. Full of flavaar!

VERDICT:

Taste:

Good. The saltiness of the bacon is balanced out by the sweet chocolate chips. The bacon bits are nicely chewy, while the chocolate melts in your mouth. The texture of the cookie itself is also good. You could adapt the basic recipe and add other types of chocolate, nuts, or possibly even fruit instead of bacon.

Recipe Pros:

Easy peasy – even after I made my adjustments, it still worked excellently.

Recipe cons:

Even after halving the original recipe, there was still a lot of batter. So much so, that it was difficult to find enough space on a baking tray to cook it all. Still, I think that’s what’s known as a First World Problem.

While searching for bacon online, I came across this news story. Now this is why I got into journalism:

Marbled Chocolate Mud Cupcakes

10 Mar

I like to think of myself as quite a savvy individual. I mean, I know how to use chopsticks, I can hail a cab, I know which end of a chicken the eggs come out from. Yet apparently I wasn’t always so streetwise.

The scene: My first trip to the British Museum upon arriving in London as an undergraduate.

The objective: To see The Elgin Marbles.

The faux pas: I spent a great deal of time striding past some big, flattish statues hanging on the museum wall while I searched for the cabinet containing what I could only imagine to be a bag of marbles I assumed had once belonged to Elgin.

Did I question why Elgin’s bag of marbles was so impressive? Or indeed why it needed a a gallery all to itself? No, I did not. Thank goodness I went on to do an English degree that taught me about homonyms.

This is a cautionary tale: Today’s cupcakes are also homonymonous – what with them being marbled (the result of combining white and dark chocolate cake mixtures). To avoid further confusion,  the finished product may be referred to as The Hudson Marbles.

This recipe is taken from the Australian Women’s Weekly Complete Book of Cupcakes and Baking.

Ingredients:

For the dark mud cake

85g butter, chopped

75 g dark eating chocolate, chopped

2/3 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup plain flour

1/4 cup self-raising flour

1 tbsp cocoa powder

1 egg

For the white mud cake

85g butter, chopped

75 g white eating chocolate, chopped

1/2 cup caster sugar

1/3 cup milk

2/3 cup plain flour

1/4 cup self-raising flour

1 egg

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 160 oC. Grease two six-hole large muffin pans.

2. Make dark mud cake by combining butter, chocolate, sugar and milk in medium saucepan over low heat until melted. Transfer to medium bowl to cool for 10 minutes. Whisk in sifted flours and cocoa, then egg.

3. Make white mud cake by combining butter, chocolate, sugar and milk in medium saucepan over low heat until melted. Transfer to medium bowl to cool for 10 minutes. Whisk in sifted flours, then egg.

4. Drop alternate spoonfuls of the mixture into pan holes. Pull skewer back and forth through cake mixture for a marbled effect. Bake about 30 minutes; allow to cool.

Lovely lovely white chocolate…

… Which then gets melted with butter, sugar and milk into this vaguely disgusting puddle.

Do the same with the dark chocolate.

I’d get that seen by a doctor actually.

Meanwhile, build Hamburger Hill from cocoa powder and flour.

When you’ve finished melting your chocolate-mixes, you should have two bowls, like so.

Now, I thought I would conduct a small experiment with these cakes *stifles maniacal cackle*. I wanted to know what difference could be made by not using cases like I usually do. The holes on the far right have been greased with vegetable oil.

Mmm, greasy.

For the chocolate cake, add the dry ingredients to the bowl of melted chocolate.

Add an egg to make it stiff and glossy.

Once you’ve done the same with the white chocolate, you should have two bowls like this.

Experimental case-filling. For some I’ve started filling with white choc, before topping up with dark. And vice versa.

To get the marbled effect, use a skewer (I used a chopstick) to drag the mixture around inside the case.

When I lived in China I used chopsticks every day for every meal – including the homesick tuna pasta I was able to cobble together in my apartment. Since I’ve been back in the UK, this is the only time I’ve had a use for them (well, one of them).

They remind me a little of these beauties:

Fresh from the oven, you can see some have worked better than others. The cakes on the left are caseless, and are probably the best. On the whole they all look pretty neat.

The white chocolate with the dark on top seems to have worked best – or at least resulted in the most impressive appearance.

This is one of the caseless cakes. Thanks to lashing of vegetable oil, it came out of the tin perfectly. Result!

The swirls on the top keep it looking interesting.

And it’s worked rather nicely inside too.

The cakes with no cases are slightly smaller than the rest. Perfect for snack time!

It’s almost a shame to hide the marbled effect under some frosting. But not enough of a shame to stop me doing it.

Besides, if the top is frosted, you can surprise people when they bite into it. Like the 21st century equivalent of hiding a sixpence in a plum pudding – but without the fear of your guest breaking a tooth – followed by some no-win-no-fee litigation.

I used a simple chocolate buttercream frosting recipe and applied it with a palette knife. I was given this palette knife as part of a job-lot from my lovely mum when I went to university. Now I’ve finally found a use for it!

A generous donation

VERDICT

Taste:

Scrumptious. It’s basically the sanctioned eating-of-two-cakes-at-once. Winning!

Recipe pros:

Because of the two colours, it produces a more interesting cake than usual. The flavour is quite rich and sweet – and doesn’t use too much flour.

Recipe cons:

Reading through the recipe beforehand, there seemed to be a lot of stages. However, once I got started, it was all very simple. You’ll need two clean saucepans and two clean (big-ish) bowls – so there’s more washing-up than usual.

End Note: While searching for pictures of marbles, I came across this beguiling movie poster:

I have no idea what it’s about, considering there’s no blurb no blurb in English on IMDB. Marbles, I would have to assume.

I don’t know if you can quite make it out,  but inside those two marbles are a swastika and a Star of David. Goodness knows what that means. The kids certainly don’t look too worried. It’s all gallic good-naturedness. Probably.

Better not let the Daily Mail get hold of this – they’ll only use it as an opportunity to try and ban school French-exchanges or something.

“HAVE THE FRENCH LOST THEIR MARBLES?” the headline will read. Pointing to the poster they’ll ask: “DO YOU WANT THESE GLASSY-EYED RACE-MONGERS LEADING YOUR CHILDREN ASTRAY?”

And people will say… “Listen, I just came to this blog to read about cake and enjoy your light-hearted attempts at humour, and now I find things have taken a very confusing and unsettling turn. Let’s have less of this next time around, thank you very much.”

So there we have it. No good can come of marbles – Elgin’s, French, or otherwise. Unless of course you’re cramming them into your mouth in cake form.

Buttercream Frosted Cupcakes

4 Mar

I say this with the absolute authority of a woman experienced beyond my years: Frosting is in.

I hadn’t really attempted it, thus leaving a frosting-shaped hole in my (already-limited) repetoire.

But now I have piping bags and nozzles, and a whole lotta ambition. I’m like Christina Aguilera in the much-maligned film Burlesque. Except I’m realising my cake-related dreams and piping my way to a better future. Below is a guide to basic frosting, plus a recipe for buttercream icing.

Four piping nozzles. When I got them to the checkout at Sainsbury’s, nobody could find a barcode – so I got them for free! Take that capitalism!

1984-skyline, anyone? Or some sort of Lady Gaga stage-show set?

Does what it says on the box. They were too uninspiring to photograph once unravelled.

I had a bit of a Google, and Helen Shroyer on YouTube does a good job of explaining the basics of piping, including how to prepare your piping bag. Below is the basic gist:

When using disposable bags, it couldn’t be easier: All you have to do is snip the end off the bag, and push the nozzle down towards the hole from inside.

Rest the bag in a tall glass or vase and fold the top to keep in in place. This will make it easier to fill with frosting.

Simple Buttercream Recipe:

Ingredients (covers 12 cupcakes):

150g butter, softened

250g icing sugar

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp hot water

food colouring (optional)

Method:

Place butter and sugar in  a bowl and beat thoroughly with a fork/ electric mixer. Once well-combined, add vanilla extract and water. Beat until smooth and creamy.

I managed to drop icing sugar on the floor and on my foot. Incredibly, it managed to go through my sock. When I took it off it looked like I had some unusual type of foot fungus. (I don’t.)

After adding water, it very quickly turned into recognisable icing. (If it’s too thick, add a tiny bit more water; if it’s too thin, add more icing sugar.) I then added a few drops of yellow food colouring.

So that was nice.

Then fill the bag with icing. You don’t have to be neat about it, as you’ll eventually be squishing it all down to the end anyway.

The cakes are ready to be iced. The lines on the top are the result of me overzealously tipping them out onto the wire tray. At least it made them flatter.

Frosting Instructions

Doing  a bit more Googling, these were the most helpful videos on YouTube:

  • Courtesy of Women’s Weekly, this is a really gentle tutorial, harking back to more innocent times.
  • Ignore the prominence of this woman’s breasts in the video’s opening and you’ll find an excellent rose-frosting demo.
  • Xanthe Milton is my favourite. She’s like a bad-girl Nigella, and shows four great methods for icing cupakes.

I tried a couple of Xanthe Milton’s methods, then went off-piste and tried a few of my own. I only used one nozzle, so was a bit limited in that respect.

My first ever attempt at icing. Look at that jaunty little peak!

Who knows where this will lead?

Europhile!

It’s like eight little pats of butter atop a cake. Which makes it the BEST kind of cake.

A beautiful flower? Or an angry lion’s mane as seen from above?

I then added some embellishment with sugar decorations.

VERDICT:

Taste:

The buttercream is delicious, creamy and sweet. The texture was perfect for piping.

Recipe pros:

I’m really pleased with these. It wasn’t nearly as difficult as I’d thought, and it was fun being a bit more creative with the cakes. The buttercream recipe was flawless and yielded plenty of icing. It was helpful watching the icing videos online instead of just having written instructions. The sugar decorations worked like magic in pulling the cake designs together.

Recipe cons:

I can’t think of any. Oh wait, yes I can. The buttercream is so moreish I ate quite a lot of the leftovers once I’d finished the piping. Then I got a tummyache. So, yeah, that. (Admittedly this is less of a recipe-con and more of a personal failing.)

Chocolate Crackle Cookies

28 Feb

Martha Stewart eh? America’s original domestic goddess. Like a sunnier, less boozy version of our very own Delia Smith. Oh she’s had her struggles alright – that stint in prison after lying about a stock sale for example – but she’s since bounced back better than ever, with new TV shows, books, a cameo appearance on Ugly Betty, and (if Wikipedia is to be believed) a range of prefab houses bearing her name.

But the best thing about Martha Stewart? The broad’s got banging hair. Now this will definitely out me as terminally uncool, but I really covert M-Stew’s ‘do. So shiny, so flippy. Love. It.

Maybe she's born with it?

The second best thing about The Marthster? These chocolate crackle cookies [click the link for the recipe]. They look so cute and contain lottsa chocolate. This is known as a Win Win situation.

First things first: Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

Sweaty Room temperature butter. Good grief, did I really use this much?

Of course I did! Can’t get enough of this wonderful stuff!

Butter and sugar ready to be beaten. But woe, the butter seems to be too hard.

The electric mixer is less than useless, so I resort to ye olde fashioned method (aka using a fork). I am surprisingly proficient.

Add melted chocolate. (Here’s the chocolate I melted earlier.)

Blend until delicious. Try to refrain from licking the beaters.

The mixture should be smooth and velvety. The chocolate equivalent of this rabbit:

N.B. This rabbit is velveteen, which is basically a cheap version of velvet. Like pleather, or suedette. Therefore you should actually aim for your chocolate mixture to be an upmarket version of this rabbit.


Separate the mixture into four parts and wrap each one in clingfilm.

“That’s not clingfilm!” rants Pete.

Apparently it’s a generic clingfilm substitute that doesn’t cling properly. However, it’s fine for this purpose.

Yes, I’m well aware of what it looks like. But it smells delish.

Chocolate parcels. Ready for the fridge. Chill for two hours.

And after two hours, it has chilled to a hard mass. Remove “clingfilm”.

Cut the mass into smaller bite-sized pieces and roll them into balls. Like so. Looks good enough to eat already. But here comes the fun part.

Roll it in granulated sugar.

Then roll it in icing sugar.

Stickios digitos.

So remember: That’s granulated sugar…

…Then icing sugar.

You may want to prepare a saucepan of water finger bowl to keep things civilised.

Grease (-proof paper) is the word.

Lay out the balls with plenty of space between – they need room to spread.

Think of hay bales in the summertime

(c) freefoto.com

After a short time in the oven, the balls will flatten out, hopefully leaving you with something like this…

In the interests of full-disclosure, I have to admit that not all of them quite worked out:

I have no idea why. Perhaps they were in a hotter part of the oven, or had too much/not enough sugar on them. They look gross, but still taste great!

VERDICT:

Taste:

Crispy on the outside, chewy in the middle – like a brownie. It’s impossible to eat just one.

Recipe cons:

It’s a bit annoying having to wait for them to chill for two hours. It also gets very messy.

Recipe pros:

It gets very messy. Trust Martha – filthy little minx. And on that note, let’s have Big-M play us out:

Chocolate Zucchini Love Cake

27 Feb

Reason to hate the recession #232: The rise of the SAHG (or Stay At Home Girlfriend). The author of the linked article talks about how, since losing her job, she has thrown herself into becoming a better girlfriend to her partner, and provides tips for emulating her new lifestyle. These include Don’t Sleep In, Keep the House Clean, and Keep Yourself Up.

Aaand back in the real world, I have mostly been wearing… Pajama bottoms!

No, I’m just kidding! (Because they shrunk in the wash.) #domesticityfail.

But it looks like I can’t escape the curse of the SAHG. For Valentine’s Day I made a cake, like the sad-sack little stay-at-home woman I am. And worst of all? It’s a LOVE cake. Shaped like a heart. I feel like Sonja from I’m Alan Partridge with her Scatter Love Cushions.

This recipe is adapted from Noble Pig.

Demonstrating my commitment to the love cake, I bought a heart-shaped silicone cake mould. It’s super fun to play with and apparently doesn’t need greasing.

Here are the zucchinis (or “courgettes” to les rosbifs like you and me).

(Sung to the tune of Sailor’s Hornpipe)

“Pop a courgette in your mouth, just before you make the dough/

What they’re made of is a mystery, where they come from no one knows./

You can pick ’em, you can lick ’em, you can chew ’em, you can stick ’em/

If you promise not to sue us, you can shove one up your nose.”

(A prize if you know where those lyrics originally came from.)

Artisan courgette.

Like the circles that you find in the windows of your mind.

Whisk together the dry ingredients.

Two scoops of butter. Like two hearts beating as one.

Her eyes were like [blank] holes in the snow. (Actually, it’s vanilla extract.)

Nothing says I love you more than a bald orange.

Mixing the wet ingredients with the dry.

Add chopped walnuts, orange peel and courgette.

This is a really strange combination, but I like it.

Put half of the mixture into the mould. Remember – no greasing required!

Now time to enjoy some half-time oranges. It’s a cake of two halves boys.

Alas, disaster strikes! The non-stick silicone mould hasn’t lived up to the hype. Most of the cake comes out, but some is still left in the case…

… Looking a little bit like a freshly dug turf.

Still, what’s that expression about making lemonade when life hands you lemons? The cake scrapings provided ample nourishment as I continued the arduous cake-making process.

For the other half of the cake, I greased the mould with a tiny amount of vegetable oil.

As you can see, this worked much much better.

What a difference it makes. They’re like the brothers from The Man in the Iron Mask – if one of them was hideously disfigured. (I can’t quite remember if that’s what happens in the movie).

Mixing up a batch of cream cheese frosting.

With a LOT of this bad boy.

This is the bottom layer cake, with a layer of frosting.

And here is the finished article: two layers of cake sandwiched with frosting and topped with even more frosting! I’ll tell you something – it wasn’t easy to spread, especially because I was working with that crumbly bit of cake. I should have watched this (incredibly comprehensive) frosting tutorial first.

It’s far from perfect. But it’s choc-full of love (and courgette. And chocolate).

And cream. So much cream.

VERDICT

Taste:

Interesting in a good way. It has a very rich chocolately flavour, but with a slight earthiness. It’s quite a dense cake, so the cream cheese frosting provides a nice sharp counterpoint. Between two of us we could only manage a tiny proportion of the whole cake in one sitting.

Recipe pros:

It’s certainly different. Pete looked at me like I’d gone mad when I told him there were green vegetables in it. So that’s a plus.

Recipe cons:

It look way longer to cook than stated in the original recipe. Perhaps that’s due to the silicone mould. On the whole, it was quite a long process, but then this was a labour of love.

POST SCRIPT: Tragedy struck this cake on 15 February. Somebody (pointing no fingers, Peter) forgot to store it in a tin overnight, and by morning the cream cheese frosting had started to develop sweaty grease-beads. And so it was binned.

Truly a Romeo and Juliet tale for our times.