‘Distraction from what?’ I hear you whisper. Well…
It’s my birthday today.
And I haven’t managed to organise a birthday gathering for myself – ever. It’s particularly difficult when you have different groups of friends, who don’t generally have anything to do with one another and in a few cases, actively dislike each other… And the actual day being on a Tuesday (the weekday equivalent of a dentist’s waiting room) doesn’t help this year. So! I’m not celebrating.
But I am baking.
It’s tradition in my office for the birthday person to bring in some biscuits or chocolates or some store-bought impression of ‘cake’, and, while I have no idea how I am going to transport these little dudes, I’d rather make my own wee cakes than plunk down a flimsy cardboard box of Tesco’s Finest Dried Cement Thing (cleverly disguised as a lemon sponge cake). Chocolate anything is popular amongst my colleagues and, as I have yet to discover the Best Chocolate Cake Ever, there has never been a better excuse to creep into the Alchemy Lab and do some experimenting.
Chocolate cake can be made with cocoa powder or chocolate, can involve cream, coffee, buttermilk, golden syrup, stout… It’s a bit of a nightmare. Unless you’re a total baking nerd (no idea why you’re looking at me like that) and love making a series of massive, sweet, bowl-licking messes until you’ve come up with exactly what it was you were after. What I’m after is something dense and moist – I grew up in the land of fudgy brownies and gooey cookies, keep yer light, springy sponge nonsense well away – if I’m going to eat cake, I want there to be a very real chance of it killing me. So let’s start with something I found – and tweaked – claiming to be The Perfect Rich Chocolate Cake …
Ingredients (a third of – makes 12 cupcakes):
- 150g self-raising flour
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- .5 tsp bicarb of soda
- 115g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 100ml buttermilk (original recipe calls for créme fraiche)
- 100ml margarine (original recipe calls for sunflower oil)
- 2 tbsp golden syrup
- 1/4 tsp chocolate extract (personal touch)
- 1/4 tsp ground coffee (personal touch)
Preheat the oven to 175˚C with the wire rack in the middle.
Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl until well combined.
In a separate bowl or jug, whisk the eggs until creamy and pale, then add the other wet ingredients and blend until combined.
Tip the wet mix into the dry mix and, using a handheld (or something more fancy) mixer, beat until completely combined and smooth.
Pour evenly between 12 paper cases and bake for 10-15 minutes, testing with a toothpick inserted in the centre of one cake – if it comes out clean, take em out, if there’s still batter on there, keep the cupcakes in for another five minutes and check again.
A tip: at this point, perhaps rotate the cupcake tin, in case your oven has hot and cold spots – mine does, and it’s good to get to know them… Invite them round for Sunday lunch some time, or what ever.
Once baked, place on a rack or trivet in a cool spot. No way are you putting anything on these lovelies that might melt (i.e. frosting) until they are completely cooled off.
So, what to do while these gorgeous guys are cooling… I say unto you, my children, that we prepare to frost! I decided to try another buttercream, of the Swiss Meringue variety, specifically as I wanted to make a frosting that would hold its shape – which a load of whipped egg white should really do…
(nicked from Martha Stewart and halved – plenty to frost 12 cupcakes)
Ingredients, with apologies for peculiar measurements:
- 1/2 and 1/8 cups granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 large egg whites
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp raspberry extract (personal choice, could have used more)
Put the egg whites and sugar in a heat-proof bowl (Pyrex glass works a treat), set over a saucepan of simmering water and hand whisk until the sugar is dissolved and the egg whites are hot. (If you rub the resultant goo between yer fingers, it should feel completely smooth, with no sugar grains.)
Take the bowl off the the saucepan and transfer to your mixer (if you, like me, don’t have a KitchenAid *lower lip wobble*, placing the bowl on a trivet and using your trusty handheld mixer is just fine) and beat on high speed until the whites have cooled to room temperature and formed stiff peaks (roughly 10 minutes).
Add the butter one chunk at a time, beating until just incorporated between additions. (If the buttercream curdles, keep mixing, it’ll sort itself out.) Add the vanilla extract (and raspberry, if you happen to be me) and beat until just combined.
Continue to mix on the lowest speed to eliminate air pockets and smooth the buttercream. (Mine went from blended meringue peaks to buttercream all of a sudden, as soon as I’d added the last of the butter – alchemy, I tells ya!) If you’re not using the frosting right away, you can refrigerate it in a tightly sealed plastic container for up to 3 days. When ready to use, let it get to room temperature and then beat it on low speed until the buttercream is smooth.
I tinted part of my buttercream pink, and another part green and made a twee little bouquet of a cupcake – All together now: ‘Ooohh…’
But could I stop there……?
No! It’s my sodding birthday and if I want to put tiny yellow chocolate thingies on my kitschy cakes then so I shall. (All together now: ‘Aawww..’)
But could I stop there……..?
NO!! Birthday + Cake = Eat, you silly person…. *braap*
Verdict: On what planet this was defined as ‘rich’ I know not. They weren’t bad, but I wanted to feel my arteries throbbing, so I’m going to say that calling this cake rich is, well, pretty rich! And the buttercream was too fluffy for me, but I probably didn’t mix out enough air bubbles, so my fault entirely. The touch of raspberry I added was utter genius though (IMHO).
Back to the drawing board with the chocolate cake issue then.
Now: The best bit about baking Chez Moi, is that everything ends up covered in butter and the taps in my sink only do Icy Cold Death Stream or Boiling Hot Gaaah Ouch. Seriously, the last time I tried washing up with warm water, the bowl I was washing melted.
So this is now where I do my washing up:
Very handy if you happen to have covered most of yourself in cake mix and Swiss buttercream as well. No comment.
In other birthday business, I’m off to buy myself some orthopaedic shoes, a plastic rain bonnet, and a few mangy cats, all named Geoffrey so I don’t have to remember their names. And, no, there’s nothing odd about naming your orthopaedic shoes Geoffrey. I’m old now, you know.