Tag Archives: Cream cheese

Alcoholic sunshine in a cupcake

Baking with SpiritFalling off the blogging radar (i.e. – not really having time to blog) means that over the last few months, I haven’t been participating in the various blogging challenges that I usually join in with.  One of my favourites is Baking with Spirit, hosted by Jan over at Cake of the Week.  (Would saying that it’s my favourite make me sound like an alcoholic?)  After missing several challenges, I was all set to participate last month – I’d set aside time and had recipe ideas and everything – but had forgotten to consider that crème de framboise might be a little difficult (read: nigh on impossible) to come by in rural NZ.  After that total fail in planning on my part, I was terribly excited when this month’s alcohol of choice turned out to be “Limoncello.”  I love the stuff.

Woohoo, I'm back to Baking With Spirit!

I actually don’t know if limoncello is any easier to find in rural NZ than crème de framboise, but I circumvented the issue by making my own over the weekend (and I’ll post the recipe soon).  Yesterday was the birthday of one of my labmates so I had her round for dinner and decided that limoncello cupcakes would make an excellent celebratory end to the meal.  Lemon cupcakes with limoncello drizzled over them after baking (you wouldn’t want any of it to bake out…) and topped off with a cream cheese and white chocolate icing (with limoncello added, of course) and all washed down with a small, digestive glass of limoncello – now that’s a great way to bring some sunshine into what was a cold and tempestuously grim weather day.

Alcoholic sunshine in a cupcake

This post actually should have gone up yesterday evening, but the aforementioned foul weather won out and we were treated to a powercut for most of the evening (though thankfully not until after dinner had been cooked), so my plan to blog (or do anything else requiring electricity, like… writing a thesis) had to be abandoned.  Instead, we huddled under blankets, polished off a few more of these cupcakes and drank limoncello and G&Ts by candlelight.  Hopefully my late entry will be forgiven – sorry Jan!

This is what we were missing during the powercut: daylight.

Limoncello cupcakes

Makes 12 cupcakes
Cupcake recipe adapted from The Great British Bake Off
Icing recipe slightly adapted from Domestic Sluttery

I used home-made limoncello, which isn’t too sweet, so these have a very lemony flavour, but this may vary depending on the limoncello that you use.  I just went for simple two-tone icing to fancy the cupcakes up a bit, but they can also be decorated with lemon zest or white chocolate shavings (or both).  They are best eaten the same day or the next day, but will keep for a couple of days in an airtight container.  Whilst not super alcoholic (by my standards), do remember that none of the alcohol gets baked out in this recipe, so perhaps not ideal for children.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
1 lemon
100ml whole milk
125g unsalted butter, softened
175g caster sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
200g all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
About 90ml limoncello

For the icing:
Yellow gel food colouring (optional)
150g cream cheese, softened
35 ml limoncello
150g white chocolate

Directions

To prepare the cupcakes:
1.  Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C.  Line a muffin tray with 12 paper cases or set out silicon muffin moulds.

2.  Zest and juice the lemon and set aside, separately.  Stir ½ tsp of lemon juice into the milk and set aside.

3.  In a large bowl, whisk the butter with an electric whisk until creamy.  Add the sugar and lemon zest and whisk together until light and fluffy.

4.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together with a fork.  Add the eggs to the butter mixture about 1 tbsp at a time, whisking well after each addition.

5.  Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl and stir together.  Fold ⅓ of the flour mixture into the butter with a large metal spoon or a spatula, followed by ⅓ of the milk mixture.  Alternate adding the remaining thirds of flour and milk mixtures, and on the last addition fold together until nearly incorporated.  Add 3 tsp of lemon juice and stir well.

6.  Spoon the batter into the prepared paper cases or silicone moulds.  Bake for 25-28 mins until golden and the tops are just firm to the touch.  Allow to cool for 2 mins in the tin or moulds before turning out onto a wire rack.

7.  Whilst still hot, poke holes in the top of the cupcakes (I like using pointy chopsticks for this) and spoon about 1½ tsp of limoncello over the top of each cupcake – do this slowly so that a maximum amount of limoncello soaks into the cupcake rather than running over the top and down the sides.  Allow to cool fully.

To prepare the icing:
8.  Once the cupcakes are fully cooled, prepare the icing.  If you want to pipe the icing onto the cupcakes (as opposed to spreading it over), prepare a piping bag with your chose piping tip (I used a Wilton 1M tip).  If you want two-tone icing, paint three stripes of yellow gel food colouring up the inside of the piping bag.  Set the piping bag in a tall glass (this will make it easier to fill) and set aside.

9.  In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and limoncello until smooth.

10.  Melt the white chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t reach the bottom of the bowl), stirring regularly until the chocolate is smooth.  Add to the cream cheese and whisk together until the icing is smooth.  Either spread the icing over the cupcakes with a knife or transfer to the prepared piping bag and pipe onto the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

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When vitamin D doesn’t count as a challenge entry

AlphaBakesThe letter for this month’s AlphaBakes , which is being hosted by Caroline Makes, is “D.”  The deadline was yesterday.  This post should have gone up yesterday, so I’m going to (attempt to) keep it short, and hope that I’ll be able to sneak it in under the radar.  Things like actual uni work and snorkelling and sitting out on the deck in the sun keep getting in the way of blogging (read: I’m doing phenomenally well in the organisational department at the moment).  It’s a hard life up in Leigh, obviously.  However, I didn’t think that surpassing my daily requirement of vitamin D would quite count as a valid entry for the challenge.  Sorry if you all hate me right now, particularly those of you shivering up in the northern hemisphere – I’d send you some sunshine if I could!

Bit choppy out there on the water – won't be going for a swim today…

That’s the view I’m looking at from our deck as I write – I told you it was tough up here.  But anyway, before you all leave in a huff, back to the challenge: something food-related starting with D…  I decided to go for dates, more specifically a date, coffee and walnut cake that I could share with my new housemates.  I probably should have checked whether anybody disliked any of the ingredients before I made the cake, because it turned out that one my housemates isn’t the hugest fan of dates, coffee or walnuts…  Thankfully she loved the cake though (as did everybody else) and even asked for the recipe.  Phew.

This is what happens when you don't check what your new housemates don't like…

The cake itself is wonderfully moist, with a tiny bit of caramelised stickiness that comes courtesy of the dates.  The coffee comes through as a subtle flavour (which is great since none of my housemates are really coffee-drinkers), with the walnuts adding a bit of crunch.  Topping the whole cake off with cream cheese icing just makes it even more scrumptious.  Though, let’s be honest, when is cream cheese icing ever not a good idea?  Apologies for the photo quality by the way – the photos were snapped pretty quickly since we were all more interested in actually eating the cake.

Cream cheese is always a good thing.  Fact.

Date, coffee & walnut cake

Serves 8-10
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The walnuts don’t have to be toasted, but it’s highly recommended as it does heighten their flavour.  The cake does come out very moist and a little sticky, and I found that it stuck to the serving plate a little which wasn’t ideal, but that may also have been because I didn’t let it cool fully before turning the cake out.  The cake will keep for a couple of days, covered in the fridge, and in fact may even be better the next day, although do let it come to room temperature before serving.

Ingredients

For the cake:
225g pitted dates
250ml strong coffee (proper French press or filter coffee is best)
70g walnuts
150g light brown sugar
120g unsalted butter, softened
2 eggs
275g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp ground cloves
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
175g cream cheese, softened
60g unsalted butter, softened
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and add to a heatproof bowl.  Brew the coffee and pour over the dates, to cover them.  Set aside to cool.  Add the walnuts to a small frying pan and toast them until fragrant.  Set aside to cool, then roughly chop them.

2.  Once the coffee and dates have cooled, line a 24cm round cake tin with baking paper.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric whisk, until light and fluffy.  In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs together, then whisk into the butter and sugar a little at a time, followed by 2 tbsp of the flour.

4.  Sift the remaining flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and whisk together.  With a spatula or wooden spoon, fold in the dates, coffee and vanilla extract.  Once incorporated, fold in the remaining flour mixture, followed by 50g of the walnuts.

5.  In a small ramekin, dissolve the bicarbonate of soda in 2 tbsp of hot water, then stir into the cake mixture before spooning into the prepared cake tin.

6.  Bake for 50-55 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean.  Allow to cool completely into the tin before turning out onto a serving plate to ice.

For the icing:
7.  Once the cake is fully cooled, sift the icing sugar into a large bowl.  Add the butter, cream cheese, lemon zest and vanilla extract and whisk until smooth.  Spread over the cake and sprinkle with the remaining walnuts.

Enjoy!

Oh hey there Instagram…

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White chocolate sloe gin cupcakes

I’ve already submitted an entry to this month’s Baking with Spirit blog challenge, but I’m going to be a little over-eager and submit a second one.  “Gin” is the spirit of choice this month, and well, if you’re a regular reader, you may have noticed that I have a bit of a thing for gin.  In fact, Janice, the host, very kindly mentioned this fact in her challenge post – I felt rather honoured at being lauded as a baking-with-gin expert.  The flip side of that is that I wanted to come up with something worthy of such praise.  The Leiter Fluid macarons are rather fabulous (if I do say so myself) but I’d already been planning on making them anyway for Skyfall’s NZ release.  I wanted to make something specifically for Baking with Spirit.

I’ve been rather busy and stressed out so I didn’t think I’d actually have enough time to make something in the end.  However, I had a bit of a super crappy day on Tuesday, and when I got home, I knew I had a date with my oven.  It’s an electric oven, so nobody panic.  I meant a date to bake with it and thus de-stress, just to make that clear.  Awkward.  Soooo anyway, moving swiftly on…  I decided to make some white chocolate sloe gin cupcakes since I bought a bottle of sloe gin on a whim (it was on sale…) a few weeks ago but it was still unopened.  A situation that obviously needed rectifying.  And rectifying with panache, obviously, accompanied by a Sloe Gin & Tonic.

There are three steps to this recipe.  The cupcakes themselves, which I based on my white chocolate and hazelnut “naked” cupcakes, are pretty basic – they’re just white chocolate cupcakes.  The fancy-pants part of the cupcakes starts with the hidden ganache centre, an idea I borrowed from my knock-your-socks-off Cointreau-filled Masquerade Black Tie cupcakes.  Ganache, incidentally, is a great way of getting a good dose of alcohol into cupcakes or any other baked goods.  The cupcakes are then topped off with a white chocolate and cream cheese icing which includes a little extra dash of sloe gin, because one might as well go the whole hog.  I made the icing swirly, just because I could.  And it looks pretty.

Now, I’ll be perfectly honest – these cupcakes aren’t the lightest cupcakes you’ll ever eat and they’re also pretty high on the sugar front.  They are not cupcakes for eating every day, unless you’d like to land yourself in a more or less permanent sugar coma.  But for a one-off or a special occasion, they’re rather phenomenal.  The sloe gin goes marvellously with the white chocolate, though it does make for a rather sweet combination.  They’re also suitably sloe gin-y since none of the sloe gin that goes into these cupcakes is baked off – it’s all in either the ganache or the icing.  And that, my friends, is the secret to making alcoholic cupcakes like a pro.

White chocolate sloe gin cupcakes

Makes 14 cupcakes
Cupcakes adapted from Saved by Cake
Ganache by Sharky Oven Gloves
Icing adapted from Home Bake

Just a warning in case you’ve skipped the preamble, these are quite alcoholic and very sweet.  Do use a good sloe gin, whether shop-bought or homemade, since the flavour comes through pretty strongly, particularly in the ganache.  Colouring the icing is obviously optional, but it makes it fun.  You could also colour the ganache if you wanted – add the colour once the chocolate has fully melted as this will help you judge the colour better.  Any leftover icing can be stored for a couple of days in an airtight container in the fridge.  These are best eaten on the day, but will keep for a couple of days in an airtight box – like most cupcakes, they are best eaten sooner rather than later though.

Ingredients

For the cakes:
300g white chocolate
100g unsalted butter
180g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
100g light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:
40g double or whipping cream (NZ: pure cream)
150g white chocolate
40g sloe gin

For the icing:
55g white chocolate
150g cream cheese, softened
75g unsalted butter, softened
2-3 tsp sloe gin
375g icing sugar
Red food colouring gel or paste (optional)

Directions

To make the cakes:
1.  Set out 14 silicone cupcake moulds on a baking tray or line two cupcake/muffin tins with liners.  Pre-heat the oven to 170°C/fan oven 150°C.

2.  Break 200g of the white chocolate into pieces and add to a heatproof bowl with the cubed butter.  Gently melt together over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring often (make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl as white chocolate can burn very easily and keep an eye on the mixture).  Remove from the heat as soon as the chocolate and butter are smoothly melted together.

3.  Meanwhile, roughly chop the remaining chocolate and set aside.  Sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a medium bowl, stir together and set aside.

4.  In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and the sugar until the mixture is smooth, thickened and creamy.  Whisk in the vanilla extract and the melted chocolate mixture.  Add the flour mixture and fold in with a spatula until just combined.  Finally, fold in the chopped chocolate.

5.  Spoon the mixture into the prepared cupcake moulds or liners, not filling the liners more than ¾ full.  Bake for 20-22 mins until risen, golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.  Allow to sit in the silicone moulds for a couple of minutes for the cupcakes to firm up a little before removing and them and transferring to a wire rack to cool fully.

To make the ganache:
6.  Whilst the cupcakes are baking, make the ganache.  Heat the cream in a small saucepan, and as soon as it starts boiling, add the white chocolate (broken into pieces) and the sloe gin, mixing with a wooden spoon until smooth (don’t let it boil or you will boil off the alcohol and we wouldn’t want that now, would we?).  Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to cool fully.

7.  Once both the cupcakes and ganache are fully cooled, use an apple corer to hollow out a hole in the top of each cupcake (make sure not to go through the bottom of the cupcake).  Fill a piping bag (or zip-lock bag with a corner cut off) with the ganache and fill each hole with the ganache (the piping bag makes it way quicker and is also easier to do neatly).

To make the icing:
8.  Break the white chocolate into pieces and melt in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (again, make sure that the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl as white chocolate can burn very easily and keep an eye on it). Once smooth, remove from the heat and allow to cool whilst preparing the rest of the icing ingredients.

9.  Prepare a piping bag with the tip of your choice (I used a Wilton 1M large star tip).  If you want the two-tone icing effect, paint three stripes of the red food colouring gel up the inside of the bag.

10.  Add the cream cheese and butter to a large bowl and whisk with an electric whisk until smooth.  Add the room temperature white chocolate and sloe gin and beat until smooth.  On a low setting, whisk in the icing sugar in several additions (this helps to avoid an icing sugar cloud).  Add a few drops of red food colouring to get the colour you want and whisk until the colour is uniform.

11.  Transfer the icing to the prepared piping bag and pipe big swirls on top of the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

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Guinness gingerbread cupcakes

I got all excited last month about the new blog challenge dreamt up by Janine at Cake of the WeekBaking with Spirit (so excited that I entered it twice…).  Apparently I must come across as a bit of an alcoholic since it turned out that Janine expected my enthusiasm – in the September round-up she admitted/confided that she’d hoped the challenge would be “right up my street.”  For the record, that comment amused me no end – Janine clearly knows me remarkably well!  My enthusiasm for the challenge hasn’t abated, and the alcohol of choice for October is… can you guess?  It’s “beer!”  Because, you know, Oktoberfest.  Clever, eh?

Now, I have a little confession: I don’t like beer.  There are a couple of exceptions – I do quite enjoy fruit beers (although I’m not sure they really count as beer), and I’ve had one or two beers that tasted pretty good for a few sips but then they warmed up too much and the hoppy flavour started coming through too much for me to finish the bottle.  I really wish I did like beer though – I suspect that there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in good beer and I feel like I’m missing out.  And I don’t like being left out.  I think part of the problem is that I’m not particularly knowledgeable about beer, so I wouldn’t know where to start.

Luckily, Baking with Spirit is about baking or cooking with beer rather than drinking it.  I baked some rather scrumptious chocolate Guinness cupcakes about a year ago, but that’s been my sole foray into baking with beer.  I really had no idea what I was going to make, so I was sort of hoping that something would magically come to me.  And then, a few days ago, I came across a recipe for Guinness gingerbread cupcakes.  Bingo!  The combination of Guinness and gingerbread completely intrigued me – I would never even have thought to pair them together.

Boy am I glad that I tried the recipe out, because these cupcakes are phenomenal.  It’s a dark gingerbread, packed full of spices, wonderfully gingery and with a fabulous undertone of treacle that is perfectly matched by the Guinness, which comes through subtly enough but definitely adds depth to the flavours going on in the cupcakes.  They’re also surprisingly light.  I was initially going to make the recipe as one large cake, but after a stressful day I decided that cupcakes were the way forward since the piping bit calms me.  Don’t be put off if you don’t like Guinness – I cannot stand it as a drink, yet I can’t get enough of these cupcakes.

Guinness gingerbread cupcakes

Makes 24
Adapted from Tea with Bea

In the icing I used the Equagold vanilla extract with star anise that I won in a giveaway the other week as I felt the hint of star anise would complement the spices in the gingerbread, but normal vanilla extract would also work, and is what I would ordinarily have used (I don’t usually have vanilla extract with star anise).  These cupcakes will keep for a few days in an airtight container kept away from any direct heat or sunlight (the icing will get a bit melty if it gets too warm), but not in the fridge.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
250ml Guinness
250g black treacle
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
280g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground cardamom
¼ tsp ground cloves
Pinch salt
1 heaped tbsp fresh finely grated ginger (a piece of about 2-3 cm)
3 eggs
100g caster sugar
100g dark brown sugar
200ml organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)

For the icing:
225g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter, softened
175g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla extract with star anise)
2 tbsp honey
Crystallised ginger pieces, to decorate (optional)

Directions

To make the cupcakes:
1.  Add the Guinness and black treacle to a tall saucepan (it needs to be tall because the mixture will bubble violently in the next step, and you don’t want it to overflow) and heat over a high heat.  Remove from the heat once the mixture comes to the boil, and stir in the bicarbonate of soda (this is the bubbling violently bit).  Set aside to cool completely whilst preparing the rest of the cupcake mixture.

2.  Pre-heat the oven to 190°C/fan 170°C.  Line two cupcake tins with cupcake liners or set out 24 silicone liners on baking trays.

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium-sized mixing bowl and stir together.

4.  Peel the ginger and finely grate it, adding it to a large mixing bowl.  Add the eggs and two sugars and whisk together.  Make sure there aren’t any little clumps of brown sugar left, then gradually mix in the oil.  Whisk in the cooled Guinness syrup.

5.  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula or spoon until just combined (it’ll be quite a liquidy mixture).

6.  Spoon the mixture into the the prepared liners or moulds, filling them about ⅘ full.  Bake for 25-35 mins until the tops are springy to touch and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove from the tins or silicone moulds and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

To make the icing:
7.  Prepare a piping bag with your chosen piping nozzle (I used a Wilton 1M large star nozzle).

8.  Whisk together the cream cheese and butter in a medium-sized bowl with an electric whisk until smooth.  Sift in the icing sugar and add the vanilla extract and honey and whisk until light and fluffy.  Transfer to the prepared piping bag and pipe swirls onto the cupcakes.

9.  Chop the crystallised ginger pieces and sprinkle them over the cupcakes to decorate.

Enjoy!

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Getting rid of the unseasonal October pumpkin-baking itch

So…  I’ve managed to acquire cuts on the tips of both my index fingers.  One resulted from struggling to get into a plastic carton of grapes (nope, I’ve no idea how I managed it either, but so much for being healthy and eating fruit).  The other came from a minor altercation with a cable tie (again, I’ve no idea either).  Now that we all know that I’m rather skilled at picking up random injuries (you’re perfectly welcome to laugh), my main point is that it hurts a little to type, so I’m going to try and keep this post short (ya, I know, ha ha ha – try is the key word there, ok?).

The majority of the bloggers that I follow are based in the northern hemisphere, so for the last few weeks my Google Reader has been awash with autumnal flavours, pumpkin recipes in particular.  Down here in the southern hemisphere it is, of course, spring, but it feels really strange to me not to be baking with pumpkins and apples and plenty of wintery spices in October, particularly with Hallowe’en coming up.  It’s not so easy to completely reverse seasonal habits and expectations.

To get the need to bake with pumpkin in October out of my system, I decided to bake with kumara (sweet potato).  I know that kumara and pumpkin aren’t the same thing, but pumpkin isn’t really in season any more.  In terms of baking, I think they’re more or less interchangeable anyway.  So I whipped up some spiced kumara cupcakes which turned out lovely and moist, thanks to the kumara.  I love baking with kumara for precisely that reason.  The spices come through wonderfully with the kumara in the cupcakes.  All those flavours are beautifully balanced by the cream cheese icing and the subtle freshness of the lime zest.  And as if they weren’t yummy enough already, I decided to top the cupcakes with roasted pumpkin seeds, just because.  I think I’ve got the need for pumpkin-baking out of my system now.  At least until Hallowe’en…

Spiced kumara cupcakes

Makes 16-18
Cupcakes adapted from Hello Cupcake!
Pumpkin seeds adapted from Serious Eats

The roasted pumpkin seed topping is entirely optional, but does add a lovely little extra something.  There will be leftover pumpkin seeds, and they are great for a snack – store them in an airtight box.  The cupcakes will keep for about two days in an airtight container, but are best eaten sooner rather than later.

Ingredients

For the cupcakes:
550g kumaras (sweet potatoes)
300g all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Good pinch of salt
250g caster sugar
3 eggs
150 ml organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
1 tsp vanilla extract

For the roasted pumpkin seeds (optional):
50g pumpkin seeds
2 tsp organic rapeseed oil (canola oil)
2 tsp dark brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For the icing:
300g icing sugar
150g cream cheese
60g unsalted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lime

Directions

To make the cupcakes:
1.  Preheat the oven to 205°C/fan 185°C.  Line a baking tray with baking paper.

2.  Scrub the sweet potato and pierce the skin with a fork.  Place on the baking tray and roast for about 40 mins until there’s no resistance when a knife is inserted through the thickest part.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool until it can be handled.  Peel the skin off and roughly mash the flesh in a small bowl with a fork.  Set aside.

3.  Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C/fan 155°C.  Line a couple of cupcake trays with liners or set out silicone cupcake moulds on a baking tray.

4.  Sift the flour, baking powder, spices and salt into a medium bowl and stir together.  Set aside.

5.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar together with an electric whisk until pale and very fluffy (this can also be done by hand, although it will take longer).  Fold in the flour mixture with a spatula or wooden spoon.  Then add the mashed sweet potato, oil and vanilla extract to the mixture and fold in until combined.

6.  Split the mixture between the cupcake liners or moulds, not filling them more than ¾ full.  Bake for 20-25 mins until risen and golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Remove the cupcakes from the oven but leave the oven on.  Cool the cupcakes on a wire rack.

To roast the pumpkin seeds:
7.  Line a baking tray with tin foil (aluminium foil).  Mix together the pumpkin seeds and oil in a small bowl until the seeds are well coated.  Then add the sugar and cinnamon and stir well.  Spread over the prepared baking tray and bake, stirring occasionally, for about 30 mins or until the seeds are golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray.

To make the icing:
8.  Once the cupcakes are fully cooled, prepare the icing.  Prepare a piping bag with the nozzle of your choice (I used an open star Wilton 1M nozzle but a round one would also look pretty).  Place the bag in a tall glass (this makes it much easier to fill).

9.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium-sized bowl.  Add the rest of the icing ingredients and whisk with an electric whisk (if you want to do it by hand, I’d advise using room temperature cream cheese – it’ll be a bit easier) until smooth and pale.  Fill the prepared piping bag and then pipe sparingly onto the cupcakes (you’ll need all the icing).  Sprinkle roasted pumpkin seeds over the tops of the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

PS – Ok, so I didn’t manage to keep the post that short…  But I realised that if I wrote most of the post on my phone, only my thumbs were required to type – sorted!

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An (utterly delicious) egg-free birthday cake!

It’s birthdays galore in the lab this week with both the technicians celebrating their birthdays – one yesterday, and one tomorrow, but she’s taking the day off so we celebrated today.  We’ve named it Technician Week.  Birthdays mean cake, and we don’t do things by halves in the lab so it’s been cake galore over the past two days.  Brownies and cake yesterday, and then two more cakes and biscuits today (plus all of yesterday’s leftovers).  We’re set for the week.  I was in charge of Monday’s birthday cake, which was for the technician who doesn’t eat egg.  The girl who was organising the present and card doesn’t like chocolate, so I needed to find a (reliable) cake recipe without egg and without chocolate.  Quite a challenge, particularly since I didn’t want to go down the vegan route – my limited experience with vegan baking so far hasn’t been particularly spectacular and a birthday is not the occasion to attempt to rectify that.

I searched for some tips on egg-free baking, and found several credible-seeming sites that suggested that you can often substitute half a mashed banana in cake recipes calling for just one or two eggs as apparently it has similar binding properties and still keeps the cake moist.  Obviously this won’t work if you need to separate the eggs or anything, but it’s a good to know.  The next step was to find a cake recipe that only called for one or two eggs (and didn’t have any chocolate), which was a little more elusive than I expected – most seem to ask for at least three.  A Treasury of New Zealand Baking came up trumps with a spiced date cake recipe requiring only one egg.  The original recipe was for a 20 cm cake, and that seemed a little small for a birthday cake so I doubled it.  I’ll be honest, I wasn’t 100% convinced that the banana trick was going to work, so I spent quite a while crossing my fingers whilst it was baking away.  The original recipe is supposed to be made in the food processor, adding ingredients as you go along.  Apparently my food processor had other plans, however, and instead of putting together a cake, it decided to make a strange noise, die and then emit a heck of a lot of smoke.  Marvellous timing.

So I reverted back to my trusty electric whisk to rescue the situation, which thankfully it did with flying colours (and no flying batter).  Luckily the taste of the cake wasn’t affected by the food processor mishap.  In fact, the cake was utterly delicious with the spices and the date flavours coming through wonderfully.  And it wasn’t at all dry, which is what I was most worried about (and had to wait until it was cut to find out whether it had really worked or not).  I covered it in cream cheese icing, piped some little fish on top and boom, a marine-themed birthday cake!  By the way, all the photos were taken on my phone and in the foyer or in our printer room (the only part of the lab we’re allowed to have food), so I apologise for the quality and slightly odd set-ups.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go claim the warranty on my food processor and then have a little lie-down after two days of cake…

Spiced date cake

Serves 10-12
Adapted from A Treasury of New Zealand Baking

The un-iced cake will keep for 4-5 days in an airtight box, so it can be prepared in advance.  The iced cake will keep for about 2 days in an airtight box.  Any leftover icing will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in the fridge.  If you need the icing to be smooth for piping, I’d recommend using lemons extract instead of lemon zest.  The cake can also be decorated with a sprinkling of ground cinnamon and a handful of toasted walnuts.

Ingredients

For the cake:
500g pitted dates, roughly chopped
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
250 ml boiling water
220g caster sugar
220g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 2 lemons
¾ mashed banana
300g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp ground nutmeg

For the icing:
200g icing sugar
100g cream cheese
100g unsalted butter, softened
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon or ¼ tsp lemon extract

Directions

To make the cake:
1.  Roughly chop the dates and place them in a heat-proof bowl along with the bicarbonate of soda.  Pour the boiling water over them, stir and leave to soak for 30 mins, stirring occasionally.  Set aside.

2.  Butter the base and sides of a deep (mine is about 5 cm) 24 cm round cake tin.  Line the bottom of the tin with baking paper (even if your tin is non-stick).  Pre-heat the oven to 150°C/fan oven 130°C.

3.  In a large bowl, cream together the butter, sugar and lemon zest until pale and fluffy.  Add the mashed banana and mix well.

4.  Add the flour, baking powder, spices, dates and the soaking liquid to the butter mixture and whisk until just combined.  Transfer the batter to the prepared cake tin and smooth the top with a spatula (it doesn’t have to be perfect).

5.  Bake for about 1h10 (start checking after 1h) until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.  Allow to cool in the tin for 5 mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the icing:
6.  Once the cake is fully cooled, transfer it to a serving plate and prepare the icing.  Sift the icing sugar into a medium bowl and add the cream cheese, cubed butter and the lemon zest or extract.  Whisk together with an electric whisk until white and fluffy (I kept aside about 2 tbsp for the orange piped icing), then spread over the top of the cake with a palette knife.  Decorate as you wish.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Recipes, Student Life, Sweet Foods

Feijoa & hazelnut muffins

One of the things that I love most about moving to a new country is discovering new fruit and vegetables.  I’ve spent the last six weeks enthusiastically discovering the feijoa, a fruit which is completely new to me.  Feijoas aren’t actually native to New Zealand – they originate from Brazil* – but they seem to grow very well here and are very popular and many people seem to have feijoa trees in their gardens.  I read somewhere that they are known as pineapple guavas in the rest of the world, but I’m not sure what parts of the world that would be, since I’ve never seen them anywhere else.  And nor have any of the other international students in the lab, including the South Americans.  Have you ever come across them before?

Feijoas fall off the tree when they are ready to eat – how convenient is that?  The flesh is quite firm, with a texture that reminds me a little of a grainy pear, but more pleasant, and the pulp bit in the middle is well… rather pulpy.  I’m terrible at descriptions (in case you hadn’t realised), and I’ve been struggling to describe the flavour, but I’ll do my best.  It’s like a slightly sweeter version of an apple, but with a subtle hint of strawberry.  Which I realise sounds a little odd, but I think that’s the closest that I can get (I would make such an appalling oenologist).  They’re utterly delicious.  To eat them, you cut them in half and scoop out the flesh and pulp, leaving the skin.  You can also bake and cook with them, so I borrowed a feijoa cookbook from the library (because I’m super cool like that) and decided to make muffins.

The only problem with feijoas is that they’re only in season from the beginning of April until the end of May, so you have to make the most of them whilst you can!  I actually made these muffins with the very last feijoas of the season, as I’ve been too busy concentrating on eating them fresh for the last six weeks.  Luckily, feijoas are supposed to freeze very well, so I’ve got some in the freezer to bake with over winter.  Perhaps that’s the best tactic – eat them fresh whilst you can, then bake with the frozen ones when you can no longer eat them fresh!  As feijoa season is only just coming to a close, I’m submitting these feijoa and hazelnut muffins to the Simple and in Season blog event for May, which is celebrating its first birthday this month!  The blog event was started by Ren at Fabulicious Food and is being hosted by Urvashi over at The Botanical Baker this month.

The muffins have a surprise dollop of cream cheese in the middle, similar in concept to the pumpkin and cream cheese muffins that I made a while ago, but the cream cheese didn’t hold its shape and sort of melted into the muffin, leaving a small cavity in the middle of the muffin (see the photo at the bottom of the post).  I’m not sure why it happened – perhaps the cream cheese here is different, or perhaps the oven was too hot – and whilst they were very tasty with the tartness of the cream cheese perfectly cutting through the sweetness of the feijoa, it looks a bit odd when you bite into the muffins and there’s a hole in the middle.  I made a couple without the cream cheese in the middle and they were just as delicious, so I’d say that the cream cheese centre is optional (though recommended if you can deal with them being slightly less presentable).  The flavour of the feijoas really permeates the muffins, which I love – you can taste their subtle sweetness, but it’s not overwhelming – and I also love the slightly crunchy topping.  I’m totally into hazelnuts at the moment, so I substituted them in for the walnuts that were in the original recipe, and the flavours worked wonderfully together.  So if you ever happen across some feijoas and aren’t sure what to do with them, I’d strongly suggest tasting one and then baking these muffins!

Feijoa & hazelnut muffins

Makes 13-14 muffins
Adapted from The Feijoa Recipe Book

To toast the hazelnuts, spread them out on a baking tray, place in an oven pre-heated to 180°C and roast for 10 min, until they smell toasty (be sure to keep an eye on them so they don’t burn).  Rub the hazelnuts in a clean tea towel to remove most of the skins, and allow to cool fully before using.  The cream cheese filling is optional, though I do recommend it if you can deal with having a little cavity in the middle of your muffins.  Frozen feijoas would work well for this recipe, although thaw them out before using.

Ingredients

350g feijoas
230g all-purpose flour
100g caster sugar
3 rounded tsp baking powder
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
40g unsalted butter
1 egg
185ml milk
½ tsp vanilla extract

Cream cheese filling (optional):
120g cream cheese
40g icing sugar

Topping:
40g toasted hazelnuts
60g soft brown sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

1.  Line a muffin tin with 14 liners or set out 14 silicone liners on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to fan 190°C.

2.  Prepare the cream cheese filling in a small bowl by whisking the cream cheese with the icing sugar until smooth.  Set aside.

3.  Peel the feijoas and finely chop them (the pulp can make this a bit fiddly.  They don’t have to look presentable though, so don’t worry too much as long as they’re in small pieces).  Set aside.

4.  Sift the flour, caster sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl.  Stir together.

5.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan on low heat or in the microwave.  Lightly beat the egg in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the milk and vanilla extract and mix well.

6.  Add the wet ingredients and the melted butter to the dry ingredients and fold together with a large metal spoon until just combined (the batter should still be a bit lumpy, with some flour still visible).  Gently fold in the chopped feijoas.

7.  Transfer about half a tablespoon of batter to each muffin liner or mould (make sure that the batter covers the bottom, but that there is still enough left to cover the cream cheese layer).  Add a dollop of the cream cheese mixture in each liner on top of the feijoa layer.  Split the remaining feijoa batter between the liners, making sure to completely cover the cream cheese layer.  For the topping, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together in a ramekin.  Roughly chop the hazelnuts and sprinkle over the muffins, followed by the cinnamon sugar.

8.  Bake for 20-25 mins until golden and well risen.  Allow to cool in the tins for a few minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

* I have also read that feijoas originate in Chile.  But since the Chilean in our lab says she’s never heard of or seen them in Chile, I’m rather more inclined to believe that they’re from Brazil.  The word “feijoa” also looks more Portuguese than Spanish to me (though I am neither a linguist nor an etymologist).

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Filed under Recipes, Sweet Foods, Travel

A lazy ode to a wonderful friend

Let me tell you about an amazing person called Keely.  We were at school together in Holland (the third time I lived there), and I’m so lucky to be able to call her one of my best friends.  She has always been there for me (well, since I’ve known her, otherwise that would be weird), and I know that she always will, no matter how far away we are from each other, and I love her to bits for that.  She’s one of those amazing people who, no matter how busy, upset or stressed out she is, will always make time for somebody who needs it.  I find that incredible, because I’m the sort of person that when stressed, nobody gets a look-in.  But Keely isn’t just a wonderful friend, she’s a remarkable person, too.  Despite having a constant source of worry and sorrow in her life, she carries on being there for everybody else and being taken for granted when really everybody else should be there for her.  Neither of us actually know why we’re such great friends – as the expression goes, we’re like chalk and cheese.  We have totally different tastes in films, men (think Zac Efron vs Daniel Craig), clothes, interests and food.  Keely is religious, I’m really not; I love academics (though I’ll tell you otherwise just before a deadline), Keely really doesn’t enjoy academics at all; she never cries, I cry all the time; I’m a huge fan of gin (in case you didn’t know), Keely hates the stuff; she has a heart of gold, I really don’t.  I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point.  Despite our many differences though, we just click, and we always have, probably because we can both be super-talkative and totally immature.  We had the same free periods in our last year of school, and this is usually how they were spent:

That photo was taken five years ago, and things haven’t changed much – whenever we see each other we spend a lot of time not getting anything done.  When we finished school, Keely got into the University of Liverpool to study Orthoptics, and she successfully completed her degree a year and a half ago, which was a huge achievement (as I mentioned, academics really isn’t her thing, but I always knew she would do it), and I’m still so, so proud of her for it.  She got a job as an Orthoptist at the hospital in Oxford, which I’m also super proud of her for.  She started that job almost exactly a year ago, and she loves it.  I went down to Oxford in September as a surprise for her birthday, and because she loves cake and enjoys baking (probably a significant contributing factor to our friendship), I gave her Eric Lanlard’s Home Bake.

I hadn’t heard of Eric Lanlard before coming across his book in Waterstone’s (I’m not a fan of this apostrophe removal rebranding nonsense – what’s that all about?! – so I’m stubbornly leaving it in), but I liked the way the book was laid out, the photos were mouth-watering and there was a good variety of recipes.  And I also knew that Keely would be a total fan of Eric Lanlard, who conveniently features in several photos in the book.  Before wrapping it up, I may or may not have taken photos of the recipes that interested me…  If you ever receive a cookbook from me, you can pretty much guarantee that I’ve been through it and done exactly that (writing the recipes out takes far too long and scanning them involves flattening the book and damaging the spine).  Does anybody else do that, or is it just me?  Is it weird?  One of the recipes that had caught my eye was for cream cheese brownies, which I must admit I wasn’t convinced by, but I was definitely intrigued.  Last week was a stressful week where everything seemed to go wrong or be unnecessarily complicated, so I was in need of a cheer-up baking session, and I decided to finally give these brownies a go…

The original recipe uses coffee, but I substituted that with Kahlúa, which obviously had everything to do with having a bottle of Kahlúa which needed finishing and nothing to do with me feeling a bit too lazy to actually make coffee (because it takes so much effort, ahem).  Don’t judge too much, because it totally worked.  Against my expectations, the combination of cream cheese and brownie actually went well together, although I’d decided I wanted the middle to be fudgy and didn’t quite baked the brownies as long as I should have so the cream cheese in the middle slices was vaguely reminiscent of cheesecake (which I really don’t like, but my mum does and she ate all the middle slices), but on the outer slices where it was properly cooked, it was delicious.  It adds a sharp tang to the brownie which just cuts through but doesn’t overwhelm the general chocolateyness.  Be warned though, these are pretty heavy and rich, so they might not be ideal if you’re on a January detox!  So these cream cheese Kahlúa brownies are for Keely – we’ll just ignore that she has the book that the recipe came from and I know she’s already made them and loves them, and we’ll also skip over the fact that my version was born out of total laziness (I’m such a great friend) – because she’s just so wonderful.  I love her to bits and I’m so proud of her, and she’s one of the best friends one could ever wish for!

Cream cheese Kahlúa brownies

Makes 12-16 brownies
Adapted from Home Bake

Whilst I used Kahlúa, the original recipe calls for 100ml of freshly-brewed coffee, so do go for that option if you don’t have any Kahlúa or don’t like the stuff.  The marbling can be as messy as you like since these will be cut up after baking (and it’s also far more fun to do than it probably should be!).  When baking, make sure there’s no wobble in the middle of the brownies, as this means they won’t be properly cooked in the middle (even if you normally like your brownies fudgy, trust me on this one).  These brownies are very rich, heavy and chocolatey, so cutting them into smaller squares is probably the best option.

Ingredients

For the brownies:
150g unsalted butter
200g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
250g caster sugar
1 tsp coffee extract
Pinch of salt
3 eggs
100ml Kahlúa
100g all-purpose flour

For the cream cheese marbling:
150g cream cheese
1 egg
60g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

1.  Butter and line a 20 x 20cm cake tin (don’t use anything smaller or it will overflow – you can use a slightly bigger tin and reduce the baking time slightly).  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Break the chocolate into a large heat-proof bowl and add the diced butter.  Melt them together over a pan of simmering water, stirring from time to time.  Once glossy, remove the bowl from the heat and allow to cool a little.

3.  Stir in the sugar, vanilla and salt.  Add the eggs and whisk until smooth (if using an electric whisk, make sure it won’t shatter your heat-proof bowl).

4.  Gently whisk in the Kahlúa, and then sift in the flour.  Whisk the mixture together until smooth.  Set aside whilst making the cream cheese marbling mixture.

5.  In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the cream cheese until smooth (this can easily be done by hand, particularly if the cream cheese is softened).  Beat the egg in a small bowl, then add it to the cream cheese, along with the sugar and coffee extract and whisk them all together until smooth.

6.  Pour the chocolate brownie mixture into the prepared cake tin, followed by the cream cheese mixture.  Using a knife, cut through the cream cheese layer to marble the layers.

7.  Bake for 30-35 mins (cover with tin foil for the last 10 mins if necessary to avoid the top from burning), making sure the middle isn’t wobbly.  Allow to cool in the tin before cutting into squares.

Enjoy!

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Filed under Ramblings, Recipes, Sweet Foods

Manly moustachioed Movember cupcakes

As you may know, last month was Breast Cancer Awareness Month – a disease that I feel that most people (in the developed world) are now aware of (though whether they do anything about it is another matter entirely).  Whilst it is, of course, important to raise awareness of breast cancer, there are plenty of other cancers that are hardly spoken of, but really should be.  Have you heard of Movember?  If so, marvellous.  If not, then it’s a campaign that revolves around men’s health and aims to raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancers in particular (which are the two most common male-specific cancers in the UK), but other cancers and health issues, too.  I feel that this is an excellent cause, especially since men seem to be notorious for not going to see the doctor when they probably should (based on the men in my family), so the more awareness the better.

Aside from being an important cause, what I also really like about the Movember awareness campaign is they’ve made it fun and different.  The idea is that men who want to take part in raising awareness grow a moustache for the month of November (Moustache, November, Movember.  See what they did there?) and get sponsored to do so in order to raise money which goes towards men’s health charities (I think the charities are country-specific).  It’s fun, it’s different, it’s interactive (sort of).  Excellent.  Now, for obvious reasons, I haven’t grown a moustache for Movember (that would be a newsworthy feat indeed…  And rather worrying), but I’ve gone for the next best thing…  Manly cupcakes with moustaches!  Obviously (because the photos totally hadn’t given that away already).

Now I realise that “manly cupcakes” are a bit of an oxymoron, since cupcakes are supposed to be all cute and everything.  When I first came up with this idea, I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make the cupcakes manly, short of adding bacon to them (which I have actually seen recipes for).  Bacon was out, so what other ingredients could I use?  Beer.  Beer is manly (clearly there’s no stereotyping going on here whatsoever…).  Guinness is very manly.  And I know that you can bake with it because I’ve eaten chocolate Guinness cake before and it was tasty, so chocolate Guinness cupcakes were clearly the answer, adorned with chocolate moustaches for Movember (because clearly that makes them so much manlier).  Sorted.  They turned out rather delicious, if I do say so myself.  They’re wonderfully moist and although you’d expect the combination of chocolate and Guinness to be heavy, they’re surprisingly light.  They were even given a Manly Seal of Approval by Craig (though considering that the last baked goods I gave him were pink Rose Martini macarons, these were highly likely to be deemed manly in comparison…).  So here we go, manly moustachioed cupcakes for Movember!

Chocolate Guinness cupcakes

Makes 24 cupcakes
Cakes adapted from My Baking Addiction
Icing adapted from Home Bake

Don’t be put off trying these if you don’t like the taste of Guinness, because it’s a subtle flavour that blends perfectly with the chocolate rather than coming through outright and overwhelming the cupcake – trust me, because I really don’t like Guinness as a drink, but I love these!  The chocolate moustaches are a fun decoration, but have a slight tendency to droop a little if the cupcakes are left out somewhere warm, so it’s best to add them at the last minute before serving, or to keep these cupcakes in a cool (but not cold) place.  If you don’t want to make chocolate moustaches, you could just use chocolate sprinkles or a dusting of cocoa powder to finish them off.

Ingredients

For the cakes:
330g all-purpose flour
300g caster sugar
65g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
1 ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
375 ml of Guinness (or other stout)
120 ml milk
120 ml organic rapeseed oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
150g sour cream
100g dark chocolate chips (optional)

For the cream cheese icing:
50g white chocolate
200g cream cheese, softened
100g un-salted butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
450g icing sugar

For the chocolate moustaches:
A few squares dark chocolate (at least 70%)

Directions

To make the cakes:
1.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.  Line two muffins tins with 24 cupcake liners, or set out 24 silicone muffin moulds on a baking sheet.

2.  Into a large bowl, sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda, and mix them together.

3.  In a separate large bowl, whisk together the Guinness, milk, oil and extract (using a hand whisk, not an electric one).  Gently whisk in the eggs, one by one, followed by the sour cream (it might start of lumpy, but it will smoothen out, I promise).  Mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients gradually by adding a little at a time (I started off whisking then switched to a wooden spoon when the mixture thickened a little).  Stir in the chocolate chips (optional).

4.  Spoon the mixture into the liners or moulds, taking care not to over-fill them (the mixture will be quite wet).  If you added chocolate chips, most of them will have promptly sunk to the bottom, so bear this in mind and try to scoop some into each liner or mould.

5.  Bake for 25 mins, until the cupcakes have risen and are set in the middle, but still soft.  Allow to cool in the tins before turning out and icing.

For the icing:
6.  Whilst the cakes cool down, prepare the icing.  Melt the white chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water (make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl).  Remove from the heat and allow to cool down to nearly room temperature.

7.  In a large bowl, whisk the cream cheese and butter together using an electric hand whisk.  Once smooth, beat in the white chocolate and vanilla extract.  Mix in the icing sugar a little at a time (unless you’d like a humungous icing sugar explosion), until the icing is fluffy and smooth.

8.  Spoon the cream cheese icing into a piping bag with a large round tip and pipe icing swirls over the tops of the completely cooled cupcakes.

To make the chocolate moustaches:
9.  Line a baking tray or tin with some baking paper.  Melt a few squares of chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Remove from the heat as soon as the chocolate is smooth, and allow to cool a little.  Spoon the chocolate into a piping bag fitted with a small round tip and pipe out the moustache shapes (if the chocolate is still too hot, you’ll feel it through the piping bag – please don’t burn yourself!).  Allow to harden before carefully peeling off from the baking paper and placing on top of the cupcakes.

Enjoy!

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Pumpkin & cream cheese muffins

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve taken part in the Breakfast Club blog challenge.  There’s no particular reason for this – I can hardly say that I’ve been too busy, and I’ve certainly not stopped eating breakfast or anything ridiculous like that.  Perhaps I’ve just been lacking in inspiration a bit…  Whatever the reason, I decided to get my act together and get back into the challenge, because it’s always good to keep breakfast interesting!  The current challenge is being hosted by Sarah at A little bit of heaven on a plate…, and she has chosen “Stars and Stripes” as the theme.

Now I’d say that the US is pretty big on breakfast, so I felt rather spoilt for choice.  To me, the most utterly American breakfast just has to be blueberry pancakes – they just scream USA.  But it’s not exactly blueberry season, so I had to come up with something else…  We lived in the US for four years when I was little, and for some reason, I always associate pumpkins with the US.  Something to do with the whole pumpkin-carving tradition at Halloween perhaps, and enforced by the almost constant presence of pumpkin pie between Halloween and Thanksgiving?  Who knows why I associate anything pumpkin-related with the US, but I do.  So I thought about making pumpkin pancakes for breakfast.  Of course, if I was going to go all-out American, the obvious thing to do would be to use tinned pumpkin (Libby’s, of course), but aside from not having any, I decided that I’d feel a bit silly using tinned pumpkin when it’s actually pumpkin season.  I do try to use seasonal ingredients as much as possible, so fresh pumpkin was really the only option.  This also means that I could submit this recipe to the Simple and in Season blog event over at Fabulicious Food.  So I acquired an adorable little pumpkin and set about roasting it, ready to use in some pumpkin pancakes

Now, you’ve probably noticed that the photos in this post are quite clearly not pancakes.  Not even pancakes gone horribly, horribly wrong.  And you’d be correct, because you see, whilst planning my pancakes, I may have gotten ever so slightly distracted by a muffin recipe…  A rather delicious-sounding recipe for pumpkin muffins with a surprise layer of cream cheese hidden inside.  Luckily, I also consider muffins to be a totally American thing to have for breakfast (although I feel they should be jumbo muffins – unfortunately I don’t have any large muffin moulds or tins, so I just had to make normal-sized ones), so I scrapped the pancake plan and made pumpkin and cream cheese muffins instead.  How did they turn out?  Delicious!  They’re wonderfully moist and have a strong pumpkin flavour which goes beautifully with the surprise cream cheese layer.  Basically, they taste like pumpkin pie, but in a muffin.  Being muffins, they’re also easy to eat whilst travelling, and I had several of these for breakfast whilst on the bus to St Andrews on Friday morning.  They made an excellent start to a wonderful little two-day trip!

Pumpkin & cream cheese muffins

Makes 6-7 muffins
Adapted from Eat Good 4 Life

I used homemade pumpkin purée by mashing-up some pumpkin that I roasted the other day, but tinned pumpkin would probably work just as well.  The chopped pecans sprinkled over the top are completely optional, but add a lovely crunch to the muffin – the original recipe called for pumpkin seeds which I’m sure would also work really well.  As with all muffins, these don’t store all that well, but they’ll be perfectly fine for breakfast if made the evening before and stored in an airtight box.

Ingredients

For the muffins:
60g cream cheese
20g icing sugar
90g whole wheat bread flour
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp ground cloves
130g pumpkin purée
1 egg
65g unrefined granulated sugar
30 ml milk
60 ml olive oil
¼ tsp vanilla essence

For the topping:
A few pecan halves (optional)
2 tbsp unrefined granulated sugar
½ tsp ground cinnamon

Directions

1.  Line a muffin tin with liners or set out silicon liners on a baking tray.  Pre-heat the oven to 175°C.

2.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cream cheese and icing sugar, and set aside.

3.  Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices together into a bowl, and mix together.

4.  In a separate bowl, beat together the pumpkin purée, egg, sugar, milk, olive oil and vanilla essence.  Once the wet ingredients are well mixed together, stir in the dry ingredients using a metal spoon until just combined.

5.  Add about half a tablespoon of pumpkin mixture to each muffin liner (make sure that the mixture covers the bottom but that there is enough left to cover the cream cheese layer).  Add a dollop of cream cheese in each liner on top of the pumpkin layer.  Split the remaining pumpkin mixture between the liners, making sure to completely cover the cream cheese layer.  For the topping, mix the sugar and cinnamon in a small ramekin.  Roughly chop the pecans and sprinkle evenly over the muffins, followed by the cinnamon sugar.

6.  Bake for 20-25 mins, until golden.  Allow to cool in the tin for a few mins before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy!

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