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I’m learning things.

All sorts of things; food things, fashion things, friendship things…

You get the idea.

Things.

I know I’ve been quiet on the blog front for a while, and I do apologise, but things have all been a bit mad: Late nights, lost days, records to write about, mates to catch up with, diets to flirt with, then reject in favour of unbridled cheese worship… Utter chaos, I tell you.

Some routines have resisted the tide of insanity however, such as my weekly four-batch bake for Bourne’s. I know we were going to set cupcakes to one side for a mo (side may vary depending on which hand you eat cake with) but to be honest, that’s all that’s been going on in my kitchen throughout June, bar warming some tasty focaccia for an impromptu bed picnic…

So! Let’s talk cupcakes – you may very well thank me (cash, presents, a kitten… we’ve been through this).

Cupcake Thing No.1

My chocolate cupcakes. I’ve been making do by adding two tablespoons of cocoa powder to my go-to vanilla recipe, which has been passable, but not particularly rateable.

My weekly baking night for B&H can be a mad dash (last week I ran out of flour, then butter, then my digital scales gave up the ghost… but I still kicked some culinary arse – I’m a warrior, me) and realistically I simply do not have the time to go melting chocolate to add to the mix, much though I’d love to. The other thought I had was coffee for intensity, but I’m slightly wary of incorporating espresso as I’d like to keep the cake on the delicate side of the flavour spectrum so as not to upstage my oh-my-word-yes frosting… Hm.

Good job I happened to notice that some chocolate cake recipes have more like five tablespoons of cocoa powder going on. Duh, Polly (<– considering printing up some T shirts with that slogan) at the end of the day, a bar of chocolate is essentially cocoa, cocoa butter, and sugar, so adding more cocoa powder is the lazy/practical, less sugary equivalent of melting in a few chocolate squares.

Go nuts with this stuff. Like, as in heaping tablespoons of bonkersness. Go on!

And speaking of bonkers, let’s discuss…

Cupcake Thing No.2

I’ve seen many a recipe call for margarine, rather than butter or shortening (the UK is blessedly free of such a thing) and I’ve been on-and-off working by way through a gargantuan tub of Stork, a margarine-type character that boldly claims to be Perfect for Cakes. And so it may be – far be it from me to accuse a large, pointy beaked bird of fibbing about its baking skills, but does anyone remember this??

Yeah, that. It might have been the baking time, or the temperature of the oven, but the week before last every. sodding. cupcake.  I made for Bourne’s – all 48 of em – refused to keep their clothes on and I delivered four batches of delicious but pitifully dishevelled looking cakes.

After Googling for ages about cake cases failing to stick, I came up with the following as potential causes:

  • oven temperature too high/low
  • leaving the cakes too long in their tins before turning out onto the rack, causing condensation that loosens the cases
  • batter too liquidy, less likely to cling to paper

I crept into the alchemy lab and did some vaguely controlled experiments [crash of thunder, mad cackle etc.] and came to a very clear conclusion as to what was making my cupcakes strip off. The culprit?

Sorry. I am absolutely not hating on this stuff – it does indeed make cakes light and moist, it also inspires cupcakes to get undressed. That’s how good it is.

All I did was go back to my faithful unsalted butter – sometimes I even go ½ butter, ½ lard, the results are amazing – and my cakes turned out beautifully!

So: Butter for the win. Save the marg for cookies, loaves and layer cakes.

Excuse me for a moment…

Sorry.  My crush on the mechanical ice cream scoop has been overridden by an adorable aquamarine bowl/jug hybrid. We make beautiful cake mix together. The ice cream scoop accepts this and understands.

Where were we… Oh. Cupcakes.

All this impromptu cupcakery came about when I was asked to bake for a friend’s birthday. After a bit of a Pooh Bear style ponder (think… think… think…) I decided it would be dead boring to rock up with only one or two types of cake – or, more presicely, frosting.

When I make my humongous batches of frosting every week, I tend to have some left over. It’s not enough to frost another dozen cupcakes, and it’s too much to just settle down to with a spoon (on a weekly basis anyway… *braap*).

So I have quite a colourful selection of frostings sitting in my fridge, just waiting to tickle the top of some lucky cake or other.

Well. I say colourful…

What I mean is the flavours are quite varied and deliciously intense.

Many of them look almost identical.

Coconut, white chocolate, baileys, amaretto, caramel, cream cheese… All in the white/eggshell/ecru region, with subtle differences in texture.

My big plan was to bake three flavours of cake – vanilla, chocolate, raspberry – and match them to my menagerie of frostings. Great plan. If I want to spend my evening explaining to inebriated revellers which thing tastes like what. Which I did not. Inebriated reveller is my middle name (or it will be once the Deed Poll comes through) and I was not going to be the human equivalent of the piece of paper inside a box of assorted chocolates while everyone else got squiffy.

Then I remembered my box of rarely used business cards.

Mm-hmm. It was going to take a while, and a lot of cards, sellotape, and flying toothpicks (you try cutting one in half without creating a health and safety situation) but I devised a cute, practical way of ensuring that everyone would have a rough idea of what to expect from the thing they were about to ingest, and that I could have a few pints and leave them to it.

So what thing did I learn? That being psychotically organised is cool? That I really do need to order those new business cards? I guess what I learned is that, while I might be a grumpy old thing, with minimal social skills and a habit of moaning, particularly about situations I got myself into in the first place, I am a grumpy old thing who loves baking for her friends and takes pride in making sure it turns out right and not a crumb is left un-enjoyed.

And I’m more than a little obsessive compulsive.

I may also have a stationery fixation.

Food, friendship… Oh, the fashion thing: I have learned that 5″ platform wedges are definitely the way forward. Very, very slowly forward. And that if you normally cross your legs before rolling your chair under your desk, mind your knees – they’re about 5″ higher than usual. I learned this particular thing the hard (like, edge of metal desk hard) way. The jury is still out on whether it’s more difficult to go up or down stairs in these babies. My money’s on down: walking like a startled, punch-drunk giraffe is more challenging than it looks.

Okay.

Basta.

Next time I promise a recipe and something savoury. I really do.

You can pinch me if I’m lying.

(Just not too hard.)

Until then…

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