Chocolate and marzipan star cupcakes

When an email popped into my inbox the other day, from a friend asking if anyone could bake cakes and/or sell them to help her and her sister raise money for charity, I thought that I could help. Baking is a great way to keep Andrew from getting bored and makes a change from the DVD and youtube watching that goes on at the moment. And we get to help raise some money, so it makes it even more worthwhile. The charity they’re fundraising for is Asthma UK, which supports asthma sufferers and their families. My friend’s sister is asthmatic herself, and despite this she is running the London marathon in April as part of her fundraising efforts too – now that sounds much harder than baking cakes! 

As it’s nearly Christmas, I decided to go for something a bit festive but not the traditional mince pies etc. as we already have so many of them at this time of year. I think it’s easier to sell little individual cakes rather than whole ones or slices of whole ones, so I went for cupcakes. They are chocolate sponge, with chocolate chips, and have a marzipan star on top (that’s the festive twist, in both flavour and shape!) The star is held on with a bit of buttercream icing, and on top of the star there is a little swirl of glittery purple icing to finish it off. The sponge has ground almonds in, partly to make it a nice moist sponge, partly to blend with the flavour of the almonds in the marzipan. Oh and the cupcake cases are silver, to make them extra sparkly for the festive theme.

Andrew enjoyed helping me – he stirred the mixture a few times at different stages, and he rolled out marzipan and cut out stars (his favourite job). During our baking session, I noticed that he has a new phrase to say: “Mummy do it” and, more often, “Andrew [A-tar] do it”. I’ve given the recipe below, if you’d like a bit of inspiration to have a go at your own Christmassy cupcakes. This made 16 cakes. Enjoy!

Ingredients

  • 170g sugar
  • 170g margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • 100g self-raising flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 20g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 100g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks (or ready done chic chips)
  • ready to roll yellow marzipan
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • glitter sugar

Method

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and place 16 cupcake cases into muffin tins.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the eggs until well combined.
  4. Add the four, cocoa, ground almonds and baking powder, and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and stir until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases to about two thirds full.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 15 minutes, until risen and a skewer inserted in the centre of each cake comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
  9. Meanwhile make the buttercream icing by mixing the butter and icing sugar until smooth and stiff; then add the splash of milk to make it a little less stiff and a good consistency to work with.
  10. Spoon a small blob of icing (at this point without colour) onto each cupcake; then add the glitter sugar to the remaining icing (I chose a purple glitter sugar).
  11. Roll out the marzipan to a few millimetres thick on a board dusted with icing sugar.
  12. Cut out 16 stars, and press them down quite firmly onto the top of each cake.
  13. Finish by putting the remaining glitter icing into a piping bag and piping a small swirl onto the top of each star.

Plum and almond upside-down cake (inspired by the Great British Bake Off, episode 1)

A slice of freshly baked plum and almond upside-down cake 🙂 Tom asked me if he needed to eat it whilst standing upside down.... I guess if you like cream with your cake, this would be a good choice, especially whilst still warm (I'm not a big fan of cream with cakes).

Our decision to no longer have a TV originated in the fact that after Andrew was born, we found that we were never watching live TV. We were never able to sit down at exactly the time when programmes were on, so would download them on iPlayer and watch them when we had chance. This also meant we could stop them mid-way through and carry on watching at a later time if we didn’t have a whole hour to watch a programme of that length. What has this got to do with cake though? Well, the Great British Bake Off (GBBO) is one of the few programmes that I’ve ever set to series download on iPlayer (the only other ones I can think of have been Outnumbered and Have I Got News For You). I did it last year, and would sit and watch the episodes whilst feeding Andrew, as he would generally feed and sleep on and off pretty much most of the afternoon back then. This year, series 3 of GBBO has just started with episode 1 broadcast in the week just gone. We watched half of it it a day later, and the other half 2 days later, on iPlayer. I’m thinking that each week I may need to avoid twitter until I’ve watched the episode from that week, because there are bound to be spoilers with the number of people hash-tagging #GBBO!

Anyway, this first episode was all about cake. Contestants had to follow Paul Hollywood’s recipe for Rum Baba (which always makes me think of a family joke: ‘Rum Baba what ain’t got no rum’ …. a select few readers will know what on earth I’m going on about there. If you’re not one of them, don’t worry, it’s not really worth the effort of explaining – you had to be there apparently), and they also had to bake a cake with a hidden design when it was cut into. This last bake was amazing – they all came up with some ingenious ideas. If I had more time and energy, I’d have a go at something like that myself, but for now I thought I’d take some inspiration from the first thing they had to bake, which was an upside-down cake. The concept is as follows: you place fruit at the bottom of a cake tin, pour over a sponge mixture, bake, and when it’s cool, turn it over so that the fruit comes out on the top.

Upside-down cakes always make me think back to Home Economics (isn’t it called Food Tech these days?!) lessons, because one of the earliest memories of them that I have is baking a pineapple upside-down cake. It was pretty easy really – I’d already had quite a lot of baking experience by the time I was 11. Since then I don’t think it’s ever crossed my mind to bake one again, I guess because I thought they were a bit old-fashioned, not particularly the ‘in’ thing these days to bake. But seeing what the contestants came up with, I realised that it didn’t have to be the classic pineapple rings from a tin, with glace cherries in the middle of the rings, and a simple plain sponge. The contestants baked all sorts of variations on this theme, with various fruits, flavours of sponge and finishing touches. This inspired me to think beyond the Home Ec. memory, and use a flavour combination that I love.

And that’s how we get to ‘plum and almond upside-down cake’. I think this fruit and flavour of sponge work really well together, and I love them both on their own too. Plums are just coming into season now as well, so they have great flavour and are nicely priced in the shops. The sponge is a basic three-egg plain sponge, with half the flour (self-raising) replaced by ground almonds and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, plus almond essence instead of vanilla essence. The almonds make it denser than an ordinary light and airy sponge, but I really like this texture, more like a Bakewell tart than a Victoria sponge. I’m not sure whether Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry would approve of the denser texture, but the main thing is I like it and my other tasters (aka Tom and Andrew) do too! That’s the thing I don’t get about baking or general food competitions like GBBO – flavours and textures are very subjective things, so how can they be judged by just 2 people?

As well as the fruit and sponge, an upside-down cake traditionally has a caramel topping that you line the tin with before putting the fruit in. I distinctly remember from my Home Ec. lesson that the recipe we had to follow had golden syrup instead – I remember because I’m sure that was the first time I learnt that heating your spoon in a cup of boiling water before putting it the syrup tin meant that it ran off the spoon better. For the plum and almond take on the theme, I decided to use honey instead, because it’s as easy as golden syrup (i.e. I didn’t have to make a separate caramel sauce) but I love the taste and think it goes well with the other flavours in the cake, plus I’m not a massive fan of golden syrup and often tend to replace it with honey in recipes.

If you’d like to have a go, here’s the recipe. It’s a pretty easy one, and is a bit more unusual than a classic sponge cake. Have you ever made an upside-down cake? I’d love to hear of other flavour combinations and variations on this theme.

Close up - nice golden, crispy edge, squidgy plums just inside, then smooth and moist sponge in the middle - great combination.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp clear honey
  • about 5 medium plums, halved and stones removed
  • 170g margarine
  • 170g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 85g self-raising flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan) and prepare the tin: line a medium-sized springform cake tin with greaseproof paper, and place on a baking sheet (this will catch any honey that leaks out).

    Tin lined with greaseproof paper, ready to be filled! Just need to put it on a baking tray (forgot to take a picture of that!)
  2. Spread the honey over the base of the tin.
  3. Place the half plums flat side down around the edge of the tin.

    Honey and plums - when I turned the baked cake over and took the greaseproof paper off, I was glad that I'd put the plums around the outside only, because they became very squidgy with the baking and lost their structure, but it worked out well around the edge as opposed to if I'd have put them in the middle, which I suspect would have caused the cake to collapse a bit!
  4. Cream the margarine and sugar together in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  5. Beat in the eggs until smooth.
  6. Mix in the ground almonds, flour, almond essence and baking powder until well combined.
  7. Pour the mixture into the tin, spreading it over the plums until they are all covered and the surface of the mixture is flat and even.
  8. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes or until the top is golden and springy to touch. Insert a skewer into the centre of the cake to check it’s baked through: if it comes out clean, it’s ready, if not, put it back in for a few minutes at a time until it passes this skewer test!

    Just out of the oven, cooling, before I turned it over
  9. Leave to cool fully.
  10. Release the spring on the tin and carefully pull the paper away from the sides of the tin. Place a plate over the top of the tin, and quickly turn it over, making sure you hold onto the tin and plate at the same time, until the cake comes away from the tin and ends up on the plate – the plums now facing upwards on the top.
  11. Store in an airtight container, or it would freeze well too, if it’s not eaten too soon 😉

    Upside down (but actually this is how it's supposed to be)