The great cupcake tower

December 30, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Posted in baking | Leave a comment
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Careful readers have noticed that there was a bit of a posting drought during November and December… and I think that this time I have reason (instead of an excuse) and it was all to do with cupcakes!  When my mate Debbie got engaged to Nigel earlier in the year, I offered to make brownies or some such for the wedding – as they were planning on doing as much of the day as simply as possible. But in September, the offer got upgraded – to making me responsible for the provision of the cupcakes that were to be the wedding cake!

Fortunately I didn’t have to make the cakes all myself and had Jenni, Ruth and Lucy on standby to make their share of the cakes… but was responsible for sorting out the recipes and pulling it all together for the big day. So began 3 months of cupcake thinking (and baking!).

The colour scheme for the wedding was elegant black and white (with some red and silver highlights) so we found cases that matched the colour scheme and decided that the cakes needed to have white icing with some silver glitter. This was not difficult for the vanilla cupcakes but a little more involved for the chocolate cupcakes, because I wanted to maximise the chocolate hit by using a chocolate icing as well. So it was time to research white chocolate icing…

After a bit of wandering around the internet – I found a couple of options: a traditional buttercream enhanced with white chocolate and combinations of white chocolate and cream. So the only thing to do was to have a tasting session. Thus a group  (including the bride and groom to be) was gathered up for an afternoon tea with oodles of cake.

The vanilla cakes were straight from the Hummingbird Bakery book and the chocolate cake providing the base for the icing experiment was also from Hummingbird book. (This is a straight forward recipe to make – and in the interests of heading towards consistency I was even measuring the batter into the cases to get them evenly sized – 50ml of batter gets 18 from a 2 egg mix).

The icing: I used this white chocolate buttercream and Bill Grainger’s white chocolate and sour cream icing.

The buttercream icing was simple to make – but couldn’t be left for long because as the chocolate cooled the icing became increasingly solid. The sour cream icing was a bit more involved – and it never got very thick – but repeated beatings (using the electric hand whisk) gave it sufficient structure as it got cool to be piped. But it was thick enough to make soft icing swirls.

My guests were deeply committed to the task of tasting and comparing the icings – either on the cake or as stand-alone spoonfuls – and the near unanimous conclusion was that the sour cream icing was the best as the sour cream offsets the sweetness of the white chocolate. 

But there was a need for another trial – as I had concluded that  the chocolate cake was provided an inadequate chocolate hit. So I made them a week later with more cocoa powder (60g cocoa to 180g flour instead of 40g flour to 200g flour in the Hummingbird recipe) and this was much better: stronger flavour and a slightly lighter texture.

So with the recipes perfected – it was time to distribute the duties for the big day… I ended up making vanilla cupcakes and some gluten-free cupcakes . So that was 4 dozen cupcakes… which was fairly simple, but disaster nearly struck when i made the vanilla buttercream – making enough to cover this many cakes was taxing for the Kenwood as the butter wasn’t very soft (it required 1 kg of icing sugar). But eventually the butter softened and a vast bowlful of buttercream was created. They all looked pretty good iced and ready to be boxed up.

On the morning of the wedding, the rest of the cakes were delivered to me, before  I headed to reception venue to assemble the tower.  Fortunately it was only a short drive, so no damage was done to the cakes in transit.

I had also bought a little Christmas cake to act as the top layer of the cake so there was a cake to cut and this was made more beautiful with a lovely flower arrangement in a family heirloom vase. The florist then made the tower more beautiful by strewing it with rose petals.

The tower looked pretty good… and went down really well with the guests. We had cellophane bags for people to take a cake home with them if they were too full! So happily all the cakes were distributed and hopefully enjoyed!

So thank you to team cupcake for all your help in making beautiful cakes. Thank you to all the taste-testers and those who have suffered my rambling thoughts on all things cupcake. Most importantly – CONGRATULATIONS to Debbie and Nigel and thank you for trusting me with your cake – I hope I didn’t let you down!




A Nigella-esque Christmas party (recipe 72: poinsettias and recipe 73: cranberry glazed sausages)

December 23, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Posted in baking | Leave a comment
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When it comes to throwing a party – I’m mostly a fan of dinner parties – but every once in a while I feel the urge to open my doors a little more widely – broadcast the invite and see who turns up. This year, as I am not cooking Christmas lunch, the civilised Christmas Eve supper with Richard and Ailsa or any other set-piece meal – I thought instead I would attempt a drinks party. I like the run up to Christmas – and always find it slightly odd that in the last couple of days before Christmas my diary seems to empty out as people head out of London… but I am not going anywhere…. so thought I would gather up those who remained and spend an evening of chat with a few drinks and nibbles.

I know when most people throw drinks parties they focus on canapes and savoury nibbles – but I also wanted to do some baking for the event – so I made some gingerbread muffins (which to me are the smell of Christmas), some vanilla cutout biscuits (quite pleased with my piping skills on those!) and some Christmas chocolate cookies (thanks to my lovely sister-in-law Kate, who bought me some suitably festive sprinkles following my failure to buy any in time last year)

But the party was also an excuse to make a drink that my friend, Ali, (who is the queen of Christmas) introduced me to earlier in December…. and it was so delicious I thought it would be great to be able to offer people something more thrilling than just a glass of wine. It is a simple cocktail called a poinsettia and I think if gingerbread muffins smell of Christmas – I think this is the drink of Christmas (as I am not a huge fan of mulled wine!). And because it is so yummy – I shall share the directions with you…

Poinsettia (from Nigella’s Christmas)

  1. Find a big jug
  2. Put 500ml of chilled cranberry juice and 125ml of Cointreau (or Grand Marnier or triple sec) into the jug
  3. Add a bottle of prosecco.
  4. POUR and ENJOY

Cranberry glazed sausages

I also made some cocktail sausages – it’s not really a party without sausages… and I used the recipe from Nigella’s Christmas (again – it is the text-book for the season!) which involves cranberry sauce, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce, sugar, lime juice and clementine juice. The sausages were cooked in the sauce for about 50 minutes and got coated in that rather delicious mix and were very more-ish (and the leftovers made a delicious sausage sandwich for lunch today!). Although I have to confess that marinade didn’t reduce down as much as it should because I cooked them in a deep sided roasting tin – I think it would have been better to use a shallower baking tray.

So all in all – a good evening – I did my best to swan around looking glamorous, hopefully managing to be a generous host (a la Nigella) and generally we all had fun!

Happy Christmas!

(and this is my entry into the Forever Nigella blogging event hosted by MaisonCupcake)

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