Thursday, 18 February 2010

Peanut butter and Jelly cupcakes

In honour of a dear friend who has left our shores to head back to America and also in celebration of the airing of my boyfriend's episode of Secret Diary of a Call Girl on Showtime, it felt a fitting time to do a cake-over of this old American classic.

I was never given peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as a child, so this combination doesn't hold the same nostalgic charm and comfort for me that it does for so many others. In truth, I always thought PB & J sounded like a revolting proposition. Not usually, in itself, a reason to put me off trying something, but not being a huge fan of either peanut butter OR jam sandwiches in particular, it didn't feel like a combination that required my urgent investigation.

The cloying saltiness of peanut butter invaded by sweet and sticky jam sounded like the sickly work of insanity. But what did I know? I used to witness my grandfather tucking into cold rice pudding sandwiches without batting even the flicker of an eyelid and a favourite sandwich filling of mine, growing up, was ham and vinegar. Granted, on paper, it lacks romance, but in reality, the ham and vinegar together creates a deliciously pleasing balance of flavours. The same is true of peanut butter and jelly, and it is exactly what sounds so wrong about it that makes it so right.

I had no excuse for my initial and uncharacteristic reluctance, especially as salty and sweet are far from unfamiliar bedfellows; think Chinese cooking or Margaritas. Once I tried the famous sandwich, even if I wasn't hooked, I was certainly intrigued and pleasantly surprised enough to finish it and then lick my fingers for crumbs. But my main reaction to the experience was simply, "Now this would make a great cake!". And I was right. I like them best as cupcakes, decorated with a swirl of buttercream and topped with a few well placed jelly beans*, because they seem that bit more American. But, as with almost all cakes, the recipe adapts well to whatever tin you care to use, just adapt the cooking time accordingly.

I'm sure the Americans have been doing peanut butter and jelly cakes for years, but I didn't bother to find out before trying it out for myself. This is peanut butter and jelly cake done my way. And, if I do say so myself, it tastes pretty good.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes
Preheat the oven the 180 C or 160 C Fan and line a 12 hole deep muffin tray with cupcake cases.


For the cake
  • 3 oz/ 75 g unsalted soft butter
  • 1 tbsp smooth peanut butter
  • 4 oz/ 100 g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 oz/ 100 g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • A splash of vanilla extract
  • Milk to slacken the mixture, if needed
For the icing
  • 2-3 tbsp seedless jam/ jelly - I used raspberry because I didn't have any grape, but I believe grape is more traditional
  • 6 oz/ 150 g unsalted soft butter
  • 2 tbsp smooth peanut butter
  • 1 lb/ 400 g icing sugar, sifted
  • A splash of vanilla extract
  • Milk, if needed.

For the cake
  • Beat the butter, peanut butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy.
  • Gradually add the eggs, beating between each addition.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder over the top, add the salt and vanilla and beat together until thoroughly combined.
  • Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for 10 - 15 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Leave to cool on a wire rack.
For the icing
  • Warm the jam in a saucepan and spoon a little over the top of each cake and leave to set.
  • In the meantime, place the butter and peanut butter in a bowl and beat together until creamy.
  • Sift the icing sugar over the top in two stages, beating between each addition.
  • Add the vanilla extract and milk to slacken the buttercream if needed and give the buttercream a final whisk.
  • Spoon the buttercream into a piping bag fitted with either a plain or star shaped no. 10 nozzle and pipe a swirl of buttercream on each cupcake, starting from the outer edge and circling in.
  • Place a few jelly beans on the top and serve.
If you use a palate knife instead of a piping bag for the buttercream, you will only need half the amount, so divide the quantities by 2.

* a cupcake photo will follow shortly, once the camera lead is at hand.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Hearts and flowers

I always thought that Valentine's Day was about sending secret tokens of admiration to people you admire from afar. Cards were absolutely NEVER to be signed with your name but always with a "?". It wasn't supposed to be a day for couples - they already knew they fancied each other - it was a day for secret confessions and exciting mysteries. It always seemed the girls (who already had boyfriends) that made a fuss about Valentine's Day were the same girls who thought teddy bears with keys were the perfect 21st birthday presents and that getting upset because their boyfriend forgot their 3 month "anniversary" was rational and justified behaviour. I knew from a very early age that I didn't want to be one of those girls.

Having said that, in all the relationships I've ever had, I've never been shy of taking part. Why on earth would I, or anyone else for that matter, snub the possibility of a nice card, present and dinner with someone you find rather lovely and who thinks you're rather lovely in return? OK, so it's all another commercially driven exploit to get us to pull our wallets out and not the sweetly romantic mystery it once was. But I'm fine with that. I like giving presents and it's always nice to send and receive cards - still signed with a "?" of course. I embrace it in the way I embrace Father's Day and all the other toshy made up reasons to get and give presents. What I DO snub is dinner out.

Dinner out on Valentine's Day  means being hideously crammed in, practically sitting on the couple next door's laps, forced to choose from an overpriced "romantic" menu, where you are rushed in and rushed out as quickly as possible so they can get the next batch of loved up suckers in. One particular Valentine's Day always springs to mind if ever I'm stupid enough to consider a restaurant meal on the 14th February to be a good idea. Curry seemed a safe option, foolishly thinking an onion bhaji wouldn't be everyone's idea of the food of love. How wrong I was. The place was full to the brim and we were packed in tightly like tinned sardines. It was a set 4 course menu - this I could live with, but alongside the overpriced, smaller than usual, portions came a LIVE ACT. I think he'd come straight off a cruise ship and didn't have a single break. It felt like it went on for HOURS and was so loud it was impossible to hear yourself think, let alone engage in any conversation. The only communication possible were smirks and suppressed giggles which quickly evolved into rolling eyes and unmasked sneers. The whole debacle culminated in the docked cruise ship singer putting his foot on the table, leaning in on his thigh and serenading me with "Sweet Caroline" before, horror upon horror, placing the microphone between us, expecting us to join in with the chorus. The embarrassment came to a head when I weakly pleaded, "I really don't want to. Please don't make me", before he invaded the next table and succeeded in making them get up and dance with him. Nobody else would, despite his desperate beckoning, and the unfortunate lone dancing couple, turned their keen manoeuvres into a sort of awkward bobbing, before eventually sidling back to their tables. The memories of my dinner companion have long since faded, but the memory of that dinner will be with me for life.

Romance, to me, is in the thought and effort you make for someone else and in the thought and effort they make for you. It's easy if you've got the cash to splash out on expensive jewellery, heart shaped boxes of chocolates and a dozen red grand prix roses. You can do the whole weekend away, champagne breakfasts, diamonds and satin sheets thing. You can even get a vulgar teddy holding a heart and I won't judge you (I will). There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of it (apart from maybe the diamonds. And the teddy). It doesn't take much effort to get the plastic out if you've got the funds in your bank account. But if you haven't (or even if you have), thoughtful, home-made gifts, or indeed thoughtful handmade gifts by artisan makers, can hit the spot quicker than any teddy bear (unless you're 8 or under).

This year, Victoria's Cake Boutique have been selling "A Dozen Red Roses" in the form of petit four sized chocolate fudge cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream, each topped with a mini handmade red sugar rose. We've also been making cakes with lips, sparkly hearts, honey buns (honey cakes topped with hearts and sugar honey bees) and hearts and flowers. They all taste good, are perfect for man, woman or beast and are the perfect end to a romantic dinner IN. We've been nice and put the effort in for you, so get in touch if you'd like to get a thoughtful, delicious gift for your special someone. For those of you who want to put the effort in as well as the thought, here is a recipe for Valentine's cupcakes that you can prettily box up and give as a present, have for a Valentine's Day pudding or scoff by yourself with a cup of tea or a bottle of vodka. Delete as appropriate.

Valentine's Honey Buns:
Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and line a deep 12 hole muffin tray with cupcake wrappers.


for the cake
  • 3 oz / 75 g light muscovado sugar
  • 4 tbsp runny honey (I used Scottish heather honey)
  • 6 oz /150 g soft unsalted butter
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 6 oz/ 150 g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
for the buttercream
  • 4 oz/ 100 g soft unsalted butter
  • 8 oz/ 200g icing sugar
  • 1 tbsp runny honey
  • A splash of milk.
  • Place the sugar, butter and 3 tbsp of the runny honey in a large saucepan and heat on a low flame until melted.
  • Allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes before beating in the eggs.
  • Fold in the flour and baking powder until fully incorporated and spoon the mixture into your cupcake wrappers.
  • Bake on the middle shelf for 20 minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • While the cakes are still hot, gently warm the remaining tbsp of honey in a clean saucepan, stab the cupcakes all over with a skewer or cake tester and gently pour a little amount of honey over the top of each cake.
  • Remove the cakes from the tin and leave to cool on a wire rack.
  • To make the buttercream, beat the butter and honey together until pale and fluffy and sift the icing sugar over the top. I always do this in 2 batches, whisking vigorously before each addition of sugar. If you need to slacken the buttercream at all, just add a drop of milk and whisk again. 
  • Ice the cupcakes using either a small palate knife or a piping bag fitted with a no. 8 star nozzle for swirly buttercream or a plain no. 10 for a smooth double dollop. If you choose to pipe your buttercream, you may well need more icing than this recipe makes, so a double batch may be in order.
  • Decorate however you like, but I like to decorate mine with a simple sugar heart and a cute sugar honey bee. 

The picture above is of chocolate fudge cupcakes with white chocolate buttercream, decorated with a sugar heart dusted with edible red glitter. To make these, follow the recipe for my spiced chocolate cupcakes, but substitute the molasses sugar for dark muscovado, leave out the spice and add a generous splash of natural vanilla extract. White chocolate buttercream can be made in exactly the same way as the honey buttercream, by substituting the honey for 4 oz/ 100g of cooled melted white chocolate.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Burns Night Supper

I love a theme to work with. Thinking of delicious components and finding a way of marrying them together is my idea of fun. Some people like to climb big rocks or jump out of planes, I like to play with my food. There really is no accounting for taste.

We had a Burns Night dinner party on the 25th and went to town with all things Scottish, quaffing Crabbie's green ginger wine, Innes and Gunn beer and whisky by the bucketload. There were the toasts, the speeches, the drinking of whisky, the Burns poetry recitals, the haggis, the neeps, the tatties and the drinking of more whisky. And it was down to me to create a Scottish pudding fit for the occasion. Hello theme!

Firstly, came the trawling through historical recipe books to uncover some half-forgotten, precious Scottish gem of a cake as a starting point for inspiration. I must admit, although I hadn't heard of all I found, so many contained dried fruit that needed a decent maturation time that I decided to abandon the old cookbooks altogether and start thinking modern instead. So, Scottish things, Scottish things: whisky (obviously), green ginger wine, drambuie, whisky macs. And now for something a bit more solid: porridge, shortbread, cranachan, tipsy laird, battered mars bars, Scottish heather honey, tartan and, er, the Loch Ness monster? Initially, I had thoughts of a cranachan ice-cream in a tartan chocolate cone with a vertical slice of battered mars bar - the batter being made partly with cocoa powder so it would end up brown and look like a flake, thus creating a Scottish 99. But, I went off this idea quickly because, well, where's the CAKE?

I opted for a Drambuie chocolate cake, layered with Drambuie chocolate ganache, with a shortbread base, and decided the outer shell should be chocolate tartan (I won't go into the hows now, that's another blog in itself) for an extra dollop of Scottishness. I decided that individual chocolate pots would be cuter, so I built the cakes up in individual moulds: shortbread, ganache, cake, ganache, cake, ganache, cake, ganache, a raspberry. I considered sticking to the cranachan ice-cream (possibly complete with a chocolate battered mars "flake") and this obviously led all thoughts to jelly. I knew it would have to contain green ginger wine, for the colour alone if nothing else, but after some experimentation, realised that a drop of whisky didn't affect the colour much, so whisky mac jellies (heavier on the green ginger wine than the whisky to keep the colour pure) were born. In the end, I didn't have time, what with work and life, to make the cranachan into ice-cream, so I left it unfrozen and served it in custard pots, but if Burns Night suppers become an annual event at our's, maybe next year...

Preheat the oven to 150 C (130 C Fan)

  • 6 oz/ 150 g softened unsalted butter.
  • 6 oz/ 150 g plain flour.
  • 3 oz/ 75 g caster  sugar.
  • A splash of vanilla extract.
  • Place all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and mix together with clean hands until thoroughly combined and you can form a dough.
  • Take a ball of dough and press down until about 2cm thick, cut out a circle using a round pastry cutter that is about half a cm smaller than the moulds you will be using for your cakes.
  • Place the shortbread on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and pop in the oven for about ten minutes.
  • If the shortbread has spread while in the oven just re-cut with the pastry cutters while the shortbread is still hot.
  • Leave to cool on wire rack.
Chocolate and Drambuie Cake

  • 8 oz/ 200 g good quality dark chocolate.
  • 4 tbsp milk.
  • 5 oz/ 125g soft unsalted butter.
  • 3 eggs.
  • 5 oz/ 125 g caster sugar.
  • 5 oz/ 125 g plain flour, sifted.
  • An exta 1 oz/ 25 g of caster sugar.
  • 50 ml Drambuie.
Preheat the oven to 180 C (160 C Fan) and grease and line a roulade tin.
  • Separate the eggs.
  • Break up the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl with the milk and butter and suspend over a saucepan of barely simmering water, until the chocolate mixture has completely melted.
  • Pour the chocolate mixture into a mixing bowl and leave to cool slightly.
  • Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy.
  • Immediately add the egg yolk mixture to the chocolate and stir briskly.
  • Fold the flour into the mixture.
  • In a separate clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and fold into the cake batter.
  • Pour the mixture into your prepared tin, level out and place in the oven for about ten minutes or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • In a small saucepan place 1 oz/ 25 g caster sugar in a saucepan with 50ml of Drambuie and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Stab the cake all over with a cake tester or skewer and brush the Drambuie syrup over the cake with a pastry brush.
  • Leave the cake in its tin on a wire rack to cool.
Drambuie chocolate ganache

  • 450 ml double cream.
  • 10 oz/ 250 g good quality dark chocolate.
  • 3 oz/ 75 g softened butter.
  • 50 ml Drambuie.
  • Icing sugar, sifted, to taste.
  • Grate or finely chop the chocolate.
  • Place the cream in a heavy based saucepan and bring to just boiling point and remove from the heat.
  • Add the chocolate to the cream and stir. 
  • Leave to stand for 5 minutes or until the chocolate has completely melted and stir again until the mixture is smooth, thick and glossy.
  • Add the butter and beat in.
  • Stir in the Drambuie. It will go quite runny at this point.
  • Add as much or as little icing sugar as you feel it needs. I tend to be quite frugal as I don't like things to be too sweet.
  • Once cool, place in the fridge to set for about 45 minutes.
  • Beat the mixture again and place in a large piping bag fitted with a plain no. 10 nozzle.
Whisky Mac Jelly

  • 4 sheets of leaf gelatine.
  • 200ml Crabbies green ginger wine.
  • 50ml whisky.
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar. 
  • Mix the whisky and green ginger wine together.
  • Cut the leaf gelatine into pieces, place in a heatproof bowl and soak in about a third of the whisky mac liquid for about 10 minutes.
  • Add the sugar to the gelatine and place the bowl over a saucepan of boiling water until the sugar and gelatine have dissolved.
  • Add the remaining liquid, stir and pour into a flexible ice cube tray and place in the fridge to set for about an hour and a half.

  • 3 oz/ 75g porridge oats.
  • 6 oz/ 150g raspberries, washed.
  • 7 tbs whisky.
  • 2 tbsp light muscovado sugar.
  • 4 tbps of runny Scottish heather honey.
  • 600ml large pot of double cream.
  • Soak 4 oz/ 100 g of the raspberries in 1 tbsp of whisky and 1 tbsp of warmed honey.
  • Place the oats on a baking tray and toast in a low oven or under the grill until golden brown. It doesn't take long at all, so keep an eye on it to prevent it from burning.
  • In a small saucepan, place 2 tbsp whisky and the sugar and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved and then increase the heat slightly and reduce the liquid into a caramel.
  • Toss the toasted oats in the caramel and pour out on to the baking tray and leave to cool.
  • Mash 2 oz/ 50 g of the raspberries with a fork until throughly blended and smooth. You can do this in a blender if you'd rather.
  • Whisk the cream until quite stiff.
  • Add the remaining honey and whisky and stir until thoroughly combined.
  • Add 2 oz/ 50 g of the caramelised oats and the blended raspberries to the cream and ripple through.
  • Gently fold in the remaining soaked raspberries.
  • Save the remaining oats and the left over raspberries for plating up later.
Chocolate Pot building:
I made my chocolate pots tartan, but it's faffy and takes a fair amount of skill to achieve, so I'll leave that step out for now, but I may well post a blog about how to do that and similar another time.

  • Prepare your dessert moulds by cutting a piece of baking parchment that will just line the inside. You can make the parchment stick with a quick rub of butter round the inside of the mould before you place the parchment inside. Place each mould on a separate mini cake board.
  • Place a shortbread at the bottom of each mould, followed by a squirt of ganache.
  • Using the same pastry cutter that you used for your shortbread, cut a circle of cake and place it on top of the ganache. Push the cake down slightly and you can brush it again with Drambuie syrup if there's any left and feel inclined to.
  • Pipe on some more ganache and then repeat the process twice.
  • Top the final piece of cake with ganache and smooth the top with a palate knife.
  • Place in the fridge to set.
  • Once ready to de-mould, remove from the fridge and, using a blow torch or a hairdryer on a low setting, gently heat the outside of the mould so that you can slip the cake out of the mould.

 Plating up
  • Place your chocolate pot on your serving plate (leaving room for everything else).
  • Place your cranachan in custard pots and top with a scattering of your left over oats and raspberries and put it next to your chocolate pot on the plate.
  • Remove the jelly from the ice cube tray (if it's stuck, place the tray in a shallow dish of hot water for a few seconds and dry the bottom before upturning the tray again.
  • Slice the cubes into thinner squares and place a few on the plate next to your cake and cranachan and your pudding is ready to serve.