Friday, 17 June 2011

Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Swirl Icing

Cupcakes: simple, easy, fluffy, sweet. And most importantly? De-lish-ous.
Brace yourselves for a long one.

These are, I think, the first thing I ever learnt to bake, and my love affair with them is yet to hit any rocks. Vanilla, Chocolate, Lemon, Lemon and Poppyseed, Hazelnut, Coffee, Carrot, Red Velvet, Coconut, Peanut Butter. You name it, I've probably tried it.

I remember spending a lot of time with my dad being a pain in his backside, begging to lick the spatula or the beaters (or to just eat the batter in its entirety) at pretty much every stage of making the batter. I also used to complain bitterly if he didn't leave at least a two or three teaspoons worth of mix in the bowl for me to devour while the cakes were in the oven.

We always always use Nigella's cupcake recipe from 'How to Be a Domestic Goddess'. You're always guaranteed to get the most wonderful, light, moist cupcakes with this recipe. I always loved making the sticky, sickly sweet glacé icing that she calls for and making a thousand different colours - probably also turning the kitchen into a rainbow in its right. One day I even accidentally ended up with shades of greeny-blue, orange and purple that perfectly matched our fiesta ware! I'll put up pictures of those when I can scan them into the computer (our printer-photocopier-scanner combo had a hissy fit the other day and died).

I EVEN talked about cupcakes and baking for an English Speaking Board exam in year 6 / 5th grade. This was also just called an ESB, and involved speaking about one of your passions for a couple of minutes then answering a bunch of questions. The rest of the class, parents and teachers were the audience. It was enough to give any poor unsuspecting child a fear of public speaking for the rest of their lives! I bribed the examiner with cupcakes. I'm pretty sure it worked. No idea if anything like that still exists.

So, as you can see, cupcakes have been pretty much a constant obsession.
Back to the cake itself. Here's Nigella's recipe, but I always add a little more vanilla extract than she calls for. It's quite hard to have too much vanilla. Always always always make sure that you use good vanilla extract though, none of that vanilla flavour/essence stuff. Blegh. Or you could be super fancy and use the seeds from a vanilla pod. Your call.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F
Put large cupcake or muffin cases in a 12-hole muffin tin (I know they're cupcakes, but these rise up a lot so you'll need the big cases)

125 g self-raising flour
125g sugar
125g butter, softened
2 large eggs
1.5 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp milk

Nigella's method, the simplest one, is to chuck everything except the milk in a bowl and beat the crap out of it. Be sure to sieve in the dry ingredients! Then, if your batter looks a little too thick, slowly add in as much milk as you think it needs to get the right consistency. There's no denying this method works beautifully.

Split the mixture between your cupcake cases. They shouldn't be any more than 2/3 - 3/4 full.

After 15 minutes, remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.

While they're cooling, whip up the icing.

For this I use the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. It makes a beautifully fluffy, lusciously sweet frosting.

Cream 80g of softened butter until it's almost white.
Measure out 250 g icing sugar. Sieve in small amounts and beat until thoroughly combined. If you dump all the icing sugar in at once and turn the beaters on, or you'll end up with a snow-covered kitchen.
After a certain point the icing will get really thick and heavy, so just add a dash of milk to soften it up a little. Don't add any more than 25ml though or it'll be too liquid. Also, it doesn't call for any vanilla, but I always add about 1tsp for an extra dimension.
Once all your ingredients are well mixed, beat on high for a minute or two. Finally, swirl 3 or 4 tsp of raspberry jam (or crush in some real raspberries)  through the icing, and dollop on top of your cupcakes.

Alternatively, à la Nigella, stir together 250g icing sugar with as much water as you need to get a nice shiny, viscous paste. You can colour this however you like and drizzle 'gorgeously' (I gotta slip some of her vocab in somewhere...) over your cupcakes. If desired you can then finish with a few sprinkles or sugar flowers. Whatever floats your boat.

I would apologise for the length of this post, but the first cupcake addition to the blog was inevitably going to be a bit of an epic. I hope you enjoy making these babies as much as I do!

P.S. Please excuse any more elaborate than normal descriptions, I believe that's (what I'm going to call) the 'Nigella effect'.

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