Sunday, January 29, 2012

Welcome to the world baby

This wee post is in honour of my gorgeous new niece, Lilah Boo. Born on Thursday 19th Jan 2012 she is just the cutest little sweet pea as far as I'm concerned. I'm yet to meet her in real life (other than via the wonders of Skype) but that doesn't mean I love her any less. When she was first born the nurses sneakily glued a tiny polka dot lilac bow to her head, I know that sounds slightly odd - glueing something to a new born bubs head - but she did look ridiculously cute so I don't blame them. I like to think the glue was baby safe. I was making cupcakes the other day and decided to dedicate this little creation to Lilah. Welcome to the world sweet little tree frog (I mean that very fondly and my brother will understand). You are already loved so so much and that is a fantastic way to start life. See you (for real!) in April. Aunty Dan x

Sunday, January 22, 2012

I'm going public

I almost broke one of my New Year's resolutions already. How bad is that. I'm not usually one for resolutions but sometimes I make little commitments to myself, very rarely ones about losing weight... I basically avoid things that are unrealistic. And seeing as I've thrown myself into the world of cake, clearly losing weight isn't high on my priority list. So this year I've written a little list of things I'd like to do that actually are achievable with a little bit of effort and will hopefully make my life more interesting, more enjoyable and more fun. In an attempt at motivation I'm going to share them with you.

I first wrote this list one night, standing in a Twickenham garden, along with three of my cousins who also wrote down their goals for 2012. We stood outside in the dark, shared our lists with each other, lit them on fire and then threw them into a watering can when the flames got too intense. (Just to be clear, it wasn't lost on us that the whole 'fire, darkness, group of girls under the moonlight' thing had hints of witches coven about it and there were jokes about 'The Craft' bandied about. You know how girls love that type of thing). Then we went back inside and ate a ridiculous amount of pizza.

Here is what was on my piece of paper, now ashes of hope in my cousin's watering can, but no less important or real...or achievable.
  1. Write my business plan. I have plans in my head...but it's time I got them down on paper and started to see if these random thoughts that have been floating about for so long actually make sense and could be the start of something new.
  2. Do yoga at least once a week. So far so good on this one. But maybe I won't be trying another shoulder stand anytime soon after my accidental back flip last week. Whoops.
  3. Be more creative. Stop thinking about things and start actually doing them. The newly named 'Doer's Club' will help with that. Although obviously our creativity wasn't at a high when we came up with that name.
  4. Be kind and be true. This one sounds straightforward but I think will prove to be one of the harder resolutions to actually stick to. I think I'm a kind person for the most part but I'd like to start doing more little things for people that really count. 'Be true' means be true to myself. Sometimes I'm easily swayed by people and let them influence the decisions I make. This year I'm going to try and make sure I'm listening to myself and doing what I think is the right thing.
  5. Laugh lots. Enough said!
  6. Love wholly and deeply. Again, enough said. As corny as it may sound I think it's important no?
  7. And this is the one resolution I almost broke...Write a blog post at least once a week. It's Sunday and I almost failed. Only three weeks into the year! I'm so glad I just scraped in. This is one resolution I am determined to stick to. Not that I'm not determined to stick to the rest...but we'll see in 49 weeks time (and 49 blog posts) how I've done. 
Watch this space. Now it's gone public I have added motivation. I hope any resolutions that you've made for 2012 are starting to come to life! I know it's hard but we can motivate each other, I know I'll be needing it. I'm going to try and remember this: baby steps are better than no steps.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Snowflake Cupcakes with Minty Frosting

In an effort to make ourselves more crafty, some of the girls at work and I have decided to do a 'craft challenge' each week. All of us want to be more creative and just, well, make more in general, but we need a little push to actually do it. So to motivate ourselves we decided that each week we'll choose a new theme that we need to create something for. That something can be anything - a painting, a sketch, a photograph, a collage, food, sewing etc as long as it fits with the theme. I got lucky for the first week as I'd been planning on making these Snowflake cupcakes since before Christmas. I swear I had nothing to do with choosing this week's theme of 'blue & white'. It was sheer coincidence. Seriously!

These cupcakes were made using the Brooklyn Blackout chocolate cake recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook. This cake is one of the best, if not THE best, chocolate cake recipes I have found that doesn't need actual chocolate, just a whole lot of cocoa. I love cocoa.

In the book this cake is a layer cake filled with an amazing looking chocolate custard that I am yet to try (although right now I am wondering what I was thinking skipping that...I must make that chocolate custard). The cupcakes came out light and fluffy with a great, consistent texture and a truly decent cocoa flavour. That might not make it sound all that great but it is.

I frosted the cupcakes with a vanilla buttercream that was whitened with Superwhite (a magical powder that makes buttercream whiter) and coloured Ice Blue. To add to the wintery feel I also wanted to make the buttercream minty and in a twist of fate that was really just a lack of peppermint essence at Waitrose, I added crushed up flecks of Solo mints which worked a treat! I liked the little crunchy bits but I'll admit, they did give me some grief.

For one, they were a pain in the butt to crush up. Solo mints are hard! So I spent about 5 minutes whacking them with a rolling pin. And I had intended on piping the buttercream onto the cupcakes but not only was my Aunt's house too cold for buttercream which made it set too hard for piping but the crunchy minty pieces kept getting stuck in my star nozzle, so the piping plan went pear-shaped. Back up plan - smear on the buttercream and decorate with the pretty glittery snowflakes. Voila. Wintery, minty, icy blue cupcakes which my Aunt described as 'utterly amazing'. Thanks Aunty Jan. Love you x.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake
From The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook

100g unsalted butter at room temperature
250g castor sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
45g cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
a pinch of salt
170g plain flour
160ml whole milk

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Cream the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, ideally using a stand mixer as this will make your life easier (I used a hand-held which not only took forever but also broke half way through. RIP little mixer). The longer you cream the butter and sugar the fluffier the cakes will be so keep going with this, you really want the mix to look lighter and fluffier. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well in between each addition. Turning the mixer onto low, add the vanilla, cocoa, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt until well mixed. Finally add half the flour, mix, add all the milk, mix and then the remaining flour and do one final mix until combined.

If you're making cupcakes spoon, pipe or dollop into 12 cupcake cases (in a cupcake tray!) and bake for approx 20mins - but please check this as I have a suspicion my Aunt's oven has a mind of it's own.

If you are making a layer cake, the book recommends you bake the mix in three greased and lined 20cm cake tins for 25 - 30 minutes.

Cool the cakes completely before icing. No one wants a melty buttercream mess, no matter how good it might sound.

Mint Buttercream
150g unsalted butter (if you don't have unsalted use salted)
300g icing sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tbsp water or milk
Solo or other hard mints crushed up
Ice Blue colouring paste

Starting slowly and building up, whip the butter and sugar together until smooth and combined. Add the vanilla essence and water (or milk - its up to you but water based frosting will 'keep' longer) and whip again on high speed for at least 5 minutes. Longer if you like. It takes awhile but the longer you whip the lighter and fluffier your frosting will be.

Frost the cupcakes in any way you like, pipe it or just smear it on and decorate with glittery snowflakes made using Sugar Florist Paste, a snowflake plunger cutter and some 'disco white hologram' edible glitter. Glitter makes the icy blue frosting oh so pretty. Devour cupcakes - or give most of them to your cousin to take to her flatmates and then regret it later like I did.