As much as I love experimenting with flavours, sometimes the most classic things are the best and there really is something very special about a simple vanilla cupcake. Of course when you go classic and simple it is essential to get things just right so finding a good recipe that not only gives you a light and delicious cake but is also really easy is essential. Recently I have been closely following (and drooling) over the posts on Jane’s Patisserie so decided to give her vanilla cupcakes a go. Mine were nowhere near as pretty as hers but the flavour and texture were amazing. Thank you, Jane!
What goes together better than chocolate and peanut butter? Nothing! That’s what! I made these cupcakes for my colleagues on my birthday a couple of weeks ago and they were extremely popular. It’s a bit of an unusual recipe because the cake mixture is egg and dairy free (great for if you have allergies, just forgo or replace the frosting) but the cakes are moist and extremely light. I adapted this from Edibles and Travels who originally got it from Joy the Baker via Organic and Chic
Dark chocolate and peanut butter cupcakes
For the cakes
2 1/4 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup olive oil (grapeseed oil or groundnut oil would work just as well)
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 cups cold water
For the frosting
1 cup smooth peanut butter
225g butter at room temperature
3 cups icing sugar
1 tablespoon milk
Preheat your oven to 180 C (170 C for a fan oven). Line two 12 hole muffin tins with paper wrappers.
Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa, bicarb and salt into a large bowl. Mixed well and set aside.
In a medium sized bowl whisk together the oil, vanilla, vinegar and water.
Gently whisk the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Do not overmix.
Divide the batter between the muffin tins and bake for 15 – 17 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of one of the cakes comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.
Now make the frosting. Put the butter and peanut butter into a large bowl. Beat with an electric mixer until will combined. Add the icing sugar a little at a time and then beat beat well on low for one minute. Add the milk and beat on high for another minute. Spread the frosting over the cakes and decorate with some chocolate sprinkles or chopped up Reeses Pieces if you fancy.
Makes 24 cakes
I am not sure if you get Bounties outside the UK but they are my favourite chocolate bar. They basically consist of a sweet coconut centre covered in either milk or dark chocolate. Mr O also loves them so as a special treat I tried to replicate them in cupcake form. It’s a coconut sponge base with a coconut and chocolate frosting and a little Bounty surprise in the middle.
For the cupcakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
40g butter at room temperature
120ml coconut milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 large Bounty bars (the ones that come with two portions to each bar)
For the frosting
200g icing sugar
65g butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons coconut milk
Extra desiccated coconut to decorate.
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Line a 12 hole muffin tray with paper cases.
Put the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and butter in a large mixing bowl. Mix to a sandy consistency using the paddle attachment of your standing mixer… or if like me you don’t have one you can rub together with your fingertips because if you try to use a handheld mixer it goes everywhere.
Mix together the coconut milk and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and beat with an electric mixer until well combined. Add the egg and beat well. Scrape down the sides to make sure there is no unmixed batter left behind.
Cut each Bounty segment into 4 pieces and place a piece in the bottom of each cupcake liner. You could also use the Bounty sweets from a packet of Celebrations if you haven’t already eaten all of them. Divide the cupcake mixture between the liners. Bake in the centre of the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tins for a couple of minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.
To make the frosting cream together the butter, cocoa and icing sugar. I cheat and do this step in the food processor to form a paste. Add the coconut milk and beat at a slow speed to get a creamy consistency. The turn up the mixer and beat well for 5 minutes. When the cakes are completely cooled spread the frosting over the top and then dip each one in desiccated coconut.
There are few things I love more that cake, London and bargains (maybe Mr Osbiston, but that’s a different kind of love). So you can imagine that I jumped at the chance to take up a recent Time Out London deal to go on a guided Cupcake & Macaron walking tour around Soho and surrounds by Great British Tours. And it wasn’t particularly difficult to convince Jen to come along.
The tour kicks off outside the M&S in Covent Garden and is led by (in our case) a very handsome young Scottish gentleman named John. I am not sure if he is the only guide doing this particular tour and his, er, aesthetic appeal is hardly relevant to his ability to shepherd a group through Covent Garden market (challenging at any time but especially in summer) but I feel I must mention it in case anyone is considering this as a hen party option.
Our first stop on this decadent adventure was the Cupcake Bakehouse, which is former model and TV baker, Lorraine Pascal’s bakery. En route John explained the origins of the market and the area and how it influenced the surrounding areas. Who knew it was once all arable land? We were each offered a mini-cupcake to taste, with Jen going for red velvet and me trying out cherry crumble. Both were light, moist and absolutely delicious.
From there we crossed the market, learning about Punch & Judy shows, to sample macarons at Ladurée, a stunning French tea house. Apparently in order to check the freshness of a macaron, you should hold it between thumb and forefinger and press gently on it. If it springs back it’s at optimal freshness. Ladurée takes macarons very seriously and insists on maturing them for 8 days. Their flavours tend to be traditional and mine was a delicate pink rose water. Really, I shouldn’t eat macarons because I am allergic to nuts but I survived the post indulgence migraine and itching so I figure it was all worth it.
Our next cupcake stop was Sweet Couture on New Row, a cute compact shop, where we were able to pick out our own full-sized cupcake. I went for Oreo, which not only had Oreo icing and a mini Oreo on top but also crushed Oreos in the actual cake!! Cookie/cupcake heaven! Probably the lightest cupcake of the day. All cupcakes at Sweet Couture are baked on the day for the same day so some flavours are not always available but the freshness really shows. Will definitely be back!
Dim Sum and cake are not usually two things you would put together but Yauatcha on Broadwick Street pulls together the concept of a dim sum teahouse with contemporary patisserie. It is an absolute feast for the eyes, never mind the belly and I would love to go back and sample some of the gorgeous things that were on display.
This time we were sampling macarons with some more unique flavours available. I went for an intensely yellow popcorn one, which I ate later at home because I was feeling a little bit stuffed after my giant Oreo cupcake. I was surprised by just how much the popcorn flavour came through.
By this point everyone was ready for a drink and little sit down, so we were grateful to get both at Patisserie Valerie on Old Compton Street. Contrary to popular belief, Patisserie Valerie is Belgian rather than French and operates cafes all over the UK. This time I went for the ultimate classic macaron – vanilla. Simple and satisfying, although possibly without the wow factor of some of the cuter independent places we visited.
After having Louie Spence’s house pointed out to us, we headed to the most well-known Soho cupcake bakery, Hummingbird. I will admit to being a bit of a fangirl of this American inspired cupcake bakery. I have the original cookbook and I swear by a lot of the recipes in it, including the brownies and the best chocolate icing in the world, ever! I am obviously not the only one and the funky pink shop was packed with people trying out a wide variety of treats. We were each presented with a red velvet cupcake in the iconic hummingbird box. As you can see, I was very impressed.
The cupcake itself was an absolute beauty and I hesitated for a whole ten seconds before devouring it at home. The cream cheese icing was absolutely delicious and you can definitely see why everyone wants a nibble.
Our very last stop was the iconic Fortnum & Mason, traditional home of fine foods and teas for over 300 years. Right now the store has an amazing topiary on top of it in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the coronation of her maj. It’s so irresistibly British in the way that Americans imagine British things are.
We were able to choose our own macarons from a range of traditional and more unusual flavours on display at the impressive cake counter. I went for passion fruit and chocolate, which I also saved for home. In hindsight it was a bit of an odd flavour combination and although the macaron was beautifully made, it wasn’t a patch on Yauatcha or Laduree.
By the end of the tour we were knackered and full of cake, historical information and a list of places to revisit. If you are a fan of baked goods, this is an excellent way to spend an afternoon and get even the most reluctant of ramblers to go for a wander through Soho.
Tours take place from Thursday – Saturday for 2 ½ hours starting at 3pm and must be advanced booked. Tours normally cost £40 but we bought ours on a deal for £19.
After spotting a passion fruit cake in our local coffee shop, I had a sudden craving for what South Africans refer to as “granadilla” flavoured confectionery. In the end I made these cupcakes (adapted from Anne’s Kitchen) and fed them to my friends and husband, who described them as “like a stodgy yoghurt”. Apparently a compliment. Either way, I found them to be very light and moist and not stodgy at all so have a go and let me know what you think.
Granadilla passion cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
185g unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
125g full fat cream cheese
2 passion fruits
3 teaspoons baking powder
A pinch of salt
For the icing:
250g icing sugar
100g full fat cream cheese
50g unsalted butter
3 passion fruits
Preheat the oven to 180 C (170 C for a fan oven). Line two small or one large 12 hole muffin tin with paper cupcake holders.
Bear together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. This will take a good few minutes. Make sure you scrape down the bowl regularly during this step and throughout. Add the eggs one at a time and beat after each addition. Add the pulp from the passion fruit (you can use tinned if you can’t get fresh but my local Sainsburys had fresh passion fruits so it shouldn’t be too hard) and the cream cheese and beat until smooth.
In a separate bowl mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture alternating with the milk. Beat until smooth but do not over mix.
Distribute the batter evenly between the cupcake holders. If you are making 12 large cupcakes, bake for 20 minutes. If you are making 20 – 24 smaller cupcakes, bake for 12 minutes. Or in both cases, until a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool in the tin for a couple of minutes and then transfer to a cooling rack. Don’t be alarmed if they sink a little in the middle, this is normal for a cream cheese batter and the dip will be full of delicious, delicious icing!
While the cupcakes are baking, make the icing. Beat together the cream cheese and butter until smooth. Then add the icing sugar a little at a time. The minute it starts to look like it’s going runny, stop adding sugar. Don’t worry if you haven’t added all the sugar. Beat until smooth and then stir in the pulp of one and a half of the remaining passion fruits. Put in the fridge until the cupcakes are completely cool.
Top each cooled cupcake with cream cheese icing and then drizzle with a little of the remaining pulp.
Eat and enjoy… not stodgy at all!
Makes 12 large to 20 – 24 small cupcakes
My mum altered me to the idea of making these and I couldn’t resist. They are outrageously decadent so approach with caution.
Peanut butter chocolate Oreo cupcakes
100g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
140g caster sugar
2 tsp baking powder
40g butter at room temperature, cut into chunks
¼ tsp vanilla extract
8 – 12 Oreos (will depend on the size of your muffin tin)
300g icing sugar
100g butter at room temperature
40g cocoa powder
As an advance warning, this recipe might fly in the face of every other cupcake recipe you’ve ever made but it really does work.
Heat oven to 170 C. Put flour, caster sugar, baking powder into a mixing bowl and rub in with your fingertips until it resembles fine sand and all the butter is combined. Of course if you have one of those schmancy standing mixers with a proper paddle attachment you can just chuck it in there till you get the same effect.
In a separate bowl, mix together the milk egg and vanilla extract. Add about half of this mixture to the flour mixture and beat together with an electric whisk on slow speed until just mixed. Add in the rest of the milk mixture and beat until incorporated. Then crank up the speed of your whisk to make sure you get out any lumps and don’t forget to scrape down the sides with a spatula. You don’t need to beat for long though, it’s important not to overmix.
Spread your Oreos with a little peanut butter.
Get out a 12 hole muffin tin and paper cases. I would suggest that the big deep ones are probably best for this recipe. I got 9 out of that but like I said it might vary. Fill your cases about 1/3 of the way with cupcake batter. Put an Oreo on top of the batter, peanut butter side up, in each case. Then top with the remaining batter so that the Oreo is completely covered.
Pop in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the top of the cupcake springs back when you touch it. Allow to cool in the tray for a couple of minutes before transferring to a cooling tray.
Once again my icing making technique is unusual but I can promise that this is the BEST. ICING. EVER. Put the butter, icing sugar and cocoa in the blender and blend until everything is combined into a sort of paste. Remove this paste to a bowl, add the milk and beat with an electric whisk at a low speed until combined. Then turn up the speed and beat for 5 minutes. You should be left with a fabulously fluffy icing that it’s hard not to eat straight out of the bowl.
When the cupcakes are completely cool, spread with icing. Eat. Get fat.
Makes 8 – 12.