Just a plain 2nd birthday cake

I know, it’s a bad pun, but it had to be said, particularly as Andrew has made that mistake between plain and plane in the past leading to some funny situations. When I was trying to decide what kind of cake to make Joel for his 2nd birthday, I had a few options: different kinds of transport – car, bus, train, plane – these are the things he loves to spot when we’re out and about. He’s been into planes since he learned to sign the word quite a while ago, and this is one of the only signs that he really took to, unlike Andrew who got more into signing at a similar age. And I’d already made a train cake (Thomas) for Andrew’s 2nd birthday, so I decided that a plane was a new challenge.

I looked on Pinterest for a few ideas, though the ones that came up were mainly round /square cakes with planes on top made out of icing. As my icing skills aren’t perfect, I prefer to make the cake shaped and then ice it rather than make things out of icing. The one actual plane cake that I found was made from bits cut out of a big rectangular tray-bake tin, which I don’t have, so I made it up myself as I went along, using my loaf tins and big round tins. The cake was a simple sponge – I used 10 eggs in the end, so 20 oz SR flour, 20 oz sugar, 20 oz margarine, but I didn’t use all of it in the end and froze some un-iced sponge.

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The body of the plane is two loaf-shaped cakes stacked one on top of the other, with jam in the middle, and then shaved at each end to create the shape of the nose and back of the plane. The main part of the tail is also cut out of another loaf cake, and I made sure I used the crustier bits to give it more strength to stand up on it’s end. The wings and tail fins were cut from a big round cake. The jets were pieces of sponge cut from a round cake using a biscuit cutter. All the extra bits were stuck onto the body using jam.

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Once the main shape was complete, I rolled out the coloured icing and covered the parts in different colours. It’s loosely based on Jimbo (of Jet Set fame), but I didn’t quite get the right colours from memory when I was shopping! The jets have liquorice detail on the sides (Andrew said my jets were ‘brilliant’!), and the windows are also liquorice all sorts, stuck on with red piped icing. The eyes are giant Milkybar buttons with black icing pupils and the mouth is also black icing.

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The final detail that I came up with was mini marshmallows for clouds. Most people understood this, though my father in law did ask if the plan had landed in snow!

The birthday boy was very pleased with his cake, as were the guests at his party, though he was a little unsure of what to do with the candles, even though he likes blowing on his food when it’s hot these days. Oh well, maybe by next year he’ll be able to blow them out on his own.

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Stone cakes

You may be thinking that these are somehow related to rock cakes. They’re not. The name came about when Granny made some cakes a while ago that she filled with jam and cream, and so when Andrew came to ask what they were called, she said “well, I guess we could call them scone cakes Andrew, because they’re a bit like scones with jam and cream”. Since then, Andrew has remembered, or so he thinks, the impromptu name of these cakes! We say ‘scone’ to rhyme with ‘stone’, and as the word with ’st’ is a frequent word in his vocab, that’s what’s stuck in his mind.

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When it was showering outside one afternoon this week, I asked Andrew if he wanted to do some baking whilst we waited for the shower to pass before going in the garden. His reply was a very enthusiastic YES! When I asked what he wanted to bake, his request was ‘stone cakes’. So that’s what we did. The recipe is very simple – a basic sponge, with some raisins (like a fruit scone), with a filling of jam and buttercream. Like so many bakes, I find simple turns out to be very tasty, and is perfect for getting little ones involved.

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Ingredients

  • 120g sugar
  • 120g butter (or margarine – I usually use marg but butter is what Granny has in for baking at their house where we’re living still)
  • 2 eggs
  • 120g self-rasiing flour
  • 60g raisins

Filling

  • Strawberry jam
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 50g butter

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin with cake cases (9-10), and preheat the oven to 180 C.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and a little flour, to stop it curdling, and beat until well combined.
  4. Add the flour and raisins, and mix until the mixture is just combined and smooth.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the cake cases until 3/4 full.
  6. Bake for around 15-20 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean.
  7. Leave to cool completely.
  8. Meanwhile, cream the butter and icing sugar together to make the buttercream icing.
  9. When the cakes are cool, cut a small, round piece out of the tip of each one.
  10. Place a teaspoon of jam and 2 teaspoons of buttercream in each hole, then replace the piece of cake that you cut out, as a kind of ‘lid’ (that’s how I explained it to Andrew when he helped me make them!)
  11. That’s it, they’re finished! Eat and enjoy 🙂

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Creative Challenge
Mini Creations

Crispy cereal biscuits

When it was pouring with rain one afternoon last week, and we’d already been out in the morning, I decided that a spot of baking was the best choice of activity, and Andrew enthusiastically agreed – he always does when there’s food at the end of an activity! I flicked through a recipe book that I was given for Christmas for some on the spot inspiration. One that caught my eye was for biscuits with cornflakes in them – like a cross between chocolate cornflake cakes and oaty biscuits. Based on this idea I looked in the cupboards, and then adapted the recipe to include rice crispies and oatmeal, because that’s what we had in. I also reduced the relative quantity of sugar, as I often do when baking with the boys.

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Since living with Granny and Grandad, we’re also enjoying the use of Granny’s Kitchenaid, which Andrew loves to help me with. I find this particularly useful when working with real butter – I tend to use margarine myself because I never remember to get butter out enough in advance for it to get to room temperature and is therefore hard work to mix!

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I have to say, for a make it up as you go along recipe loosely based on inspiration from a book, these tasted amazing. Perfect texture for the kids to enjoy, nice and light, with a real crisp to them, whilst still being a biscuit rather than a cereal bar/cake.

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Here’s how we did it…

Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 150g sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 125g self raising flour
  • 50g oatmeal
  • 50g sesame seeds
  • 50g rice crispies

Method

  1. Prepare a couple of baking sheets by lining with greaseproof paper, and preheat the oven to 170ºC (fan).
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg.
  4. Add the flour, oatmeal and sesame seeds, and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the rice crispies and gently fold in without over mixing.
  6. Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture onto the baking tray, with large enough gaps between them to allow for spreading during baking.
  7. Bake for around 15 minutes until lightly golden.
  8. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the tray until the biscuits firm up.
  9. Eat and enjoy 🙂
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Peanut Australian-themed biscuits

For his birthday, Andrew was sent some cookie cutters all the way from Australia, from his Great Uncle and Great Aunt who live out there. The cutters are in the shape of Aussie animals (kangaroo, koala and crocodile) and one is in the shape of the country itself. As we hadn’t done any baking for a while, mainly due to the amount of birthday cake we had, I thought we’d have a go at some biscuits using these new cutters. Andrew loves rolling out dough and cutting out shapes, particularly if the dough is edible and not play-dough! Joel has even started to take an interest too, but he was asleep when we baked this time.

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I looked through a biscuits and cakes recipe book that I got for Christmas for some inspiration. When I saw the recipe for some peanut butter biscuits, I thought that these would work well with the Australian theme – they’re not exactly Anzac cookies, but they’re along those lines, and I remember eating a few peanut butter sandwiches when we went to Australia. I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, I never do! But they turned out yummy, and went down very well with the boys. So here’s our take on peanut biscuits…

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Ingredients

  • 100g butter
  • 50g white sugar
  • 50g brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla essence
  • 80g peanut butter
  • 190g plain flour

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 180ºC, and prepare a baking tray by lining it with grease proof paper.
  2. Cream the butters and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the vanilla essence and flour to form a stiff dough.
  4. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface.
  5. Cut out biscuit shapes (they don’t have to be Aussie if you don’t have such cool cutters!), and transfer them to the baking tray until all the dough is used.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes until lightly golden – they will still be slightly soft to touch.
  7. Leave them to cool and firm up on the tray.
  8. Store in an airtight container.

I actually think these are better a few days old, because I like my biscuits slightly chewier rather than snappy crispy, but they won’t last much longer around here!

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Birthday cakes – ‘3’s and a crowd

I still can’t quite believe that Andrew and Tom share a birthday. I know it’s a 1 in 365 possibility, but still, that seems quite small to me. This year is particularly cool because they are 3 and 30 on the same day. To celebrate, we had a family weekend with all four of the boys grandparents, two aunts and a cousin – so quite a crowd to eat the cakes that I baked. Since Andrew’s first birthday, I’ve instated the tradition of baking him, and then Joel too on his birthday, a celebration cake – do you remember the ‘o n e’ cakes, the Thomas the Tank Engine cake and the racing car cake? Most years I’ve baked Tom a cake for his birthday too, though usually just a plain cake with no fancy decoration or modelling involved.

This year I wanted to make a special cake for both birthday boys, and include a number 3 on both cakes. I should say now that this wouldn’t have been physically possible if we weren’t living at Granny and Grandad’s house and therefore have extra pairs of hands to entertain children, go shopping for ingredients and clear up afterwards.

Along the same train of thought that I had for Andrew’s ‘o n e’ cakes, I decided on a big 3-0 for Tom – after all, it is his big 3-0 birthday. And actually it’s quite easy to make a 3 and a 0 from round cakes baked in conventional tins. The 0 was just a round cake with a hole cut out of the centre, and the 3 was cut from two smaller round cakes – I drew a diagram on paper first of how the two almost semi-circle bits would fit together, so I could better visualise what I had in my head, and made myself a template to do the cutting.

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It had to be chocolate cake for Tom as this is one of his favourites. I chose a chocolate fudge cake recipe from the BBC website, which turned out to be very brownie-like in consistency. Chocolate tastes good (sorry, stating the obvious there!) but it’s a bit boring in colour, so I wanted to decorate the cake in bright colours. That’s where several packets of Smarties came into play. Granny managed to find some big boxes for only £1 each at a local newsagent, and I spent an evening sorting them into each colour (I was going to get Andrew involved in sorting out colours because he likes that kind of task, but then I wondered whether I’d end up with enough at the end?!…one for the plate, one for me, one for the plate, one for me…) It was surprising how many I needed to cover the cake in a rainbow design, because there were more of certain colours in each box, so I had to go and buy some more to have enough of each colour of the rainbow. Stuck on with some cholcoate buttercream, they gave the cakes an eye-catching finish. The final detail was a set of candles in rainbow colours that spelled out ‘HAPPY BIRTHDAY’.

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It was more difficult to decide what to make for Andrew – he has lots of ‘favourite’ characters and vehicles, and they seem to change from one week to the next, with a few being long term such as Brum. Since living with Granny and Grandad, Andrew has become rather obsessed with Thunderbirds (or Wonderbirds as he prefers to call it). Grandad is a massive fan, and is keen to encourage Andrew in his enthusiasm for the models and puppets. So when I was thinking out loud about Andrew’s birthday cake planning one evening when he was in bed, we all knew straight away when it was suggested that a Thunderbird cake – of course Thunderbird 3 – was perfect!

I studied Grandad’s DVDs and books that feature the rocket, and made sure that I had all the bits to model and decorate the feat of engineering that was to become the Thunderbird 3 cake. All of it was edible, except for some red straws and cocktail sticks for the three shafts that run down the side of the rocket to the engines at the bottom, and some wooden skewers that held the main structure upright inside and that slid out once we’d cut into the top. The cake was a simple 6,6,6,3 sponge – 6 ounces of self-raising flour, butter and sugar, plus 3 eggs – made in Granny’s new Kitchenaid mixer. I baked it in a deep square tin and it rose to about 3/4 full.

Once the sponge was fully cooled, I cut out cylinders using a long metal cutter (actually it’s the equipment they use in fancy restaurants and on Masterchef when shaping rice or mashed potato (for example) into neat piles on the plate). I then stacked these on top of each other, sticking them together with buttercream, and then sliding 3 wooden skewers down through the layers to hold it all together. I added the straws for stability, attaching them to the sponge at the sides using cocktail sticks, and anchoring them at the bottom into a big lump of white royal icing shaped into a small cylinder for the engines. To achieve the pointed top of the rocket, I crumbled some cake and mixed it with some buttercream, then shaped the mixture (just like you make cake pops) into the right conical form.

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Then came the trickiest part – covering with red royal icing. In hindsight I should have covered the main body of the rocket whilst it was lying down rather than already stood up and fixed into place, but hey, this is the first (and probably last) time that I’ve ever made a Thunderbird 3 cake. I covered it in sections after glazing the sponge with warmed apricot jam to make the icing stick.

The finishing touches made it all come together after the stress of getting it covered in red to my satisfaction. The black stripes on the long side shafts were a liquorice Catherine wheel unraveled and twisted around the straws. Other bits of black were the same liquorice, including the small number 3s on each of the three engines at the bottom. White features were added using white butter icing piped through a rectangular nozzle, or a writing nozzle for the ‘THUNDERBIRD’ down the centre. The silver fins all the way around the centre were white royal icing sprayed with silver shimmer spray for cakes – I cut these triangles out and sprayed them earlier in the week, then left them open to the air to dry out a bit so that they didn’t flop when stuck onto the side of the upright rocket.

Finally I added three white candles, and waited to see the face on one very excited little birthday boy – it was amazing! I enjoy making these kind of cakes, even though parts of the process can be challenging, because it’s all worth it when the boys show their appreciation. The rest of the crowd were pleased with the cakes too, and I was assured that they tasted just as good as they looked (no style over substance, to quote a Great British Bake Off phrase).

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I have no idea what will be on the cards for next year’s birthday cake, but he has a whole year to change his favourite characters, and Joel’s special day will come before then too. In the meanwhile, I’ll sit down with a cuppa tea and a slice of cake – we still have enough to feed another small crowd….any takers?

Cupcake of the month (November): lemon

When I was packing up the recipe books the other day, I came across my cupcake calendar that has a recipe on for each month of this year. I said back at the start of the year that I would make a type of cupcake based on the cupcake of the month in this calendar each month, and I did until August. Then somehow I just forgot! I think the calendar got buried in all the books on the shelf and I’ve had lots of other crafty things to do, including doing more sewing projects (mainly nappy related).

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So I thought I could just about squeeze November’s recipe in before advent begins. Tom was pleased because the recipe was for lemon cupcakes, and lemon is his favourite cake. The cake sponge is quite unusual in flavour and texture because it is made with soft cheese as well as margarine, and it does have an almost cheesecake-like flavour to it, though the texture is still more like sponge than cheesecake. I found that the amount of lemon suggested in the recipe wasn’t much, so I added quite a bit more than it said and we didn’t think it was overpowering.

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I hope to be back for one last cupcake of the month recipe in December, depending on how packing goes and if I get time and space to think about it!

Ingredients (makes 6)

Sponge

  • 90g margarine
  • 90g soft cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 90g self raising flour
  • 75g sugar
  • grated rind of half a lemon

Icing

  • 10g margarine
  • 50g soft cheese
  • 120g icing sugar
  • grated rind of half a lemon

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin with some cupcake cases and preheat the oven to 170 C (fan).
  2. Cream the margarine, soft cheese and sugar in a large bowl until soft and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and a handful of flour to stop it curdling, and beat until well mixed.
  4. Add the flour and lemon rind and mix until just combined.
  5. Place the mixture into the prepared cupcake cases, and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes until golden on top and a skewer comes out clean when inserted.
  6. When they are in the oven, make the icing, by mixing together the ingredients in a bowl until smooth.
  7. Allow the cakes to cool completely before placing a teaspoon of icing on the top of each cake and letting it run across the top.
  8. Eat as fresh as possible (I stored them in the fridge).

Plaited fruity loaf, with toddler help

The second week of the Great British Bake Off was all about bread. In the final ‘show stopper’ round, the contestants had to bake a decorative loaf which would really wow the judges in terms of creativity and flavour. A few of them opted for plaits of some sort; this is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, because I quite like plaiting my hair for fun, and I don’t have little girls to do this on! So, inspired by this round of the GBBO, I decided to bake a simple plaited loaf, with 3 strands.

OK, I know, that’s not exactly showstopper material (though perhaps marginally more impressive than the tomato loaf that the contestant who lost baked!), but I also wanted Andrew to help and have a go at feeling the dough and shaping it into the ‘sausage’ shapes with me, just like he does with his play dough – anything more complicated would have likely ended in disaster! He enjoyed himself and was happy to help me with this relatively easy loaf. Joel also got involved after we’d finished and I was about to clear up – he wanted to play with the left over flour on the board, so I let him have this ‘sensory’ play time.

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I also used something that wouldn’t be allowed on the bake off: our bread maker to mix the dough (though they are allowed general mixers, so it’s not much different 😉 ) Working with a toddler is one thing, but also hand mixing and kneading dough with him is another – he went straight to the dough handling and shaping stage with me. So it’s not exactly of bake off standard, but I like being inspired by the show each week.

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For the flavour, I went for a sweet dough, based on the hot cross bun recipe in our bread maker’s recipe booklet, except I did half white and half wholemeal flour and left out the salt. That’s why it looks a bit darker than your average hot cross bun – we didn’t burn it, honest!

It came out very well; it was approved by the boys, especially Joel as it is so soft and easy to eat without teeth, and Andrew was impressed that he got to eat something that he helped make. I think it’s a good idea to get kids into handling food in the raw and cooked states, so they can learn about how food is made from scratch, rather than everything coming out of a packet.

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Here are the ingredients that we put into the bread maker and then put it on the dough setting. Once the dough was made we took it out and cut it into 3 even parts, then shaped each part into a long strand (or sausage!), before plaiting them in a traditional ‘left over centre, right over centre’ method. We then left it to prove as a loaf for 30 minutes, before baking it for about 15 minutes at 180ºC.

1 cup = the 200ml cup that comes with the bread maker, but as long as you use the same size cup for all ingredients, it doesn’t really matter how big it is.

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup melted margarine
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 egg (beaten)
  • 2 cups white bread flour
  • 1 3/4 cups wholemeal bread flour
  • 2 tsp fast action yeast
  • 1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup raisins

Cupcake of the month (July): red currant

I’ve not felt like baking in this baking heat, but yesterday saw a slight reprieve in the daytime temperature around here, a mere 24 degrees, so I seized the opportunity to sneak in July’s cupcake of the month recipe.

The cakes on the calendar this month were called ‘ruby-red’ cupcakes, and required red food colouring as well as cocoa powder to make a deep red colour. However, since we had red currants in the fruit and veg box this week, I thought that I’d make the cakes red by putting red currants in instead of the food colouring – as simple as that. The photos make them look more brown, but when you bite into them, there is lots of redness!IMG 1870

I also had some union jack cupcake cases left from last summer’s olympic and jubilee festivities, and I thought why not bake some cakes with lovely local British summer fruit in them.

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They turned out very well – the recipe makes quite a dense cake, very moist and tasty, as it has natural yoghurt in it. They weren’t too sweet either, as the red currants added a sharpness and the cocoa powder a bitterness as well as the sugar to sweeten. My testers approved, which is the main thing in our house.

Ingredients – makes 12

  • 130g self-raising flour
  • 100g sugar
  • 100ml yoghurt
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 100g margarine
  • 80g red currants
Drizzle
  • 50g margarine
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 20g red currants

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tray with cupcake cases, and preheat the oven to 180ºC (fan).
  2. Cream the butter and sugar in a bowl until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Add the eggs and beat well.
  4. Add the flour and cocoa powder and mix until just combined.
  5. Add the red currants and yoghurt and mix until just combined.
  6. Spoon into the cases to about two thirds full.
  7. Bake for about 20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, and leave to cool.
  8. Meanwhile make up the drizzle by creaming the margarine, icing sugar and red currants together – I left a few lumpier bits of red currant for texture, but most of the juice went into the drizzle.
  9. Spoon it onto the top of the cakes.
  10. Eat and enjoy as fresh as possible.

Cupcake of the month (June): cheesecake cupcakes

This month my cupcake calendar came up with a more unusual type of cupcake, one which I’d never thought of doing before. The idea was to make little cheesecakes in cupcake cases – an actually very simple idea, but not something I’ve seen before. I didn’t follow the recipe in terms of ingredients much, I just used a basic baked cheesecake mixture that I’ve done before, but made it in cupcake cases instead of a large cake tin.

I wasn’t sure how they would turn out, but in the end they worked pretty well. A few had issues coming out of the tin – I think the key was to make sure no mixture spilled over the side when I poured it in or during the baking as the mixture rose slightly, because this left a sticky residue between paper and tin. The taste was delicious, just like any other baked cheesecake. These would be handy to serve at a buffet or party where there are lots of different choices and you’d like to try a little bit of a few things – no more trying to cut a small slither of a big cheesecake and it ending up disheveled!

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Here’s the recipe…

Ingredients

  • 200g digestive biscuits
  • 125g margarine
  • 200g soft cheese (Philadelphia-style)
  • 100ml soured cream
  • 100g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla essence
  • blueberries to decorate

Method

  1. Put cupcake cases into a 12-hole muffin tin and pre-heat the oven to 160ºC (fan).
  2. Put the digestives in a large bowl and crush them into crumbs using the end of a rolling pin.
  3. Melt the margarine in a smaller bowl in the microwave and add to the biscuit crumbs.
  4. Mix until well combined and stiff, then spoon into the cake cases and press down with your fingers to make the base.
  5. Mix the soft cheese, soured cream and sugar together, then beat in the eggs and vanilla essence.
  6. Pour the mixture into the paper cases on top of the biscuit base.
  7. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until just golden on top.
  8. Turn the oven off and leave the cakes to cool in there until they are cool enough to remove without oven gloves.
  9. Remove the cakes from the tin.
  10. Decorate each cake with a few blueberries or other fruit.
  11. Store in the fridge until eaten.

Cupcake of the month (May): After Eight

Continuing my cupcake of the month feature baed on a cupcake calendar that I was given for Christmas, this month we have a mint and chocolate recipe, which I’ve given the name ‘After Eight’ for obvious reasons. The recipe on the calendar didn’t involve chocolate, but I think that mint and chocolate go so well together, particularly dark chocolate, that I couldn’t resist adapting the recipe to include it. I also made the cake mixture itself much less sweet than the recipe in the calendar, because the icing is very sweet – it tastes like butter mints or Murray mints – and the bitterness of the dark chocolate goes well with this.

After eight cakes

If you’d like to make these yourself, and I can assure you that they are yummy particularly after eight and the kids are in bed, here’s the recipe which makes 10.

Ingredients

  • 50g sugar
  • 160g self-raising flour
  • 20g cocoa powder
  • 150ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 75g margarine
  • 1 tsp mint extract
  • 75g dark chocolate, cut into large chunks
Icing
  • 50g margarine
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 1-2 tsp mint extract (depending how strongly minty you like it)
  • green food colouring
  • grated chocolate to decorate

Method

  1. Prepare a muffin tin by placing cupcake cases in the holes.
  2. Cream the margarine and sugar together until smooth and fluffy.
  3. Beat in the egg and milk.
  4. Add the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and mint extract and mix until well combined.
  5. Add the chocolate chunks and fold in until evenly distributed.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the cases to about 2/3 full.
  7. Bake at 180ºC for about 20-25 minutes until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  8. Remove from the oven and leave to cool fully.
  9. Make the icing by beating together the icing sugar, margarine and mint extract, and adding the colouring a little at a time until it gets as green as you would like. Mine are quite Shrek-like, but you may want to go for a more subtle green shade 🙂
  10. Spoon the icing onto the top of each cupcake and spread it around (you could pipe it, but I find that using margarine makes it quite runny compared to buttercream icing).
  11. Finish them off by grating a small amount of dark chocolate onto each cake.