Saturday, 31 August 2013

Lightly Spiced Chocolate-Orange Cupcake

I love the combination of chocolate and orange. These simple little cupcakes take these classic flavours, and for a grown-up touch have cinammon and ginger which adds a lingering warmth.

The quantities for the buttercream are enough for 12 small cupcakes if you spread it on with a knife or the back of a spoon like I do. More artistic types who prefer to pipe it on, double up the quantities for perfectly piped peaks.

Are you ready? Apron tied? Hands washed? Ok, here we go.

1) Preheat oven to 180c/ Gas 4/ 360f. Line a 12 hole cupcake tin with 12 paper cases. 

Ingredients - For the Cake

4 oz butter (softened)

4oz caster sugar

2 eggs

3 ozs cake flour

1oz unsweetened cocoa powder

zest of one orange.

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Some of the juice from the orange (optional, we'll talk more about that in a minute)


First of all, I keep the cocoa and flour in the scale bowl at the same time, and add the spices. That way it can all be sifted in together, in stages. 

In a mixer, beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

Break the eggs into a bowl, and beat lightly with a fork. Add a little to the butter and sugar, and beat well until incorporated.

Sift in about 1/3 of the dry ingredients, mix well. Then a little more egg, little more dry stuff, and so on, until it's all used up.

Add the orange zest, and give it one more good mix. 

Now, here's where the orange juice might come in. You're looking for the mix to have a dropping consistency. This basically means that when you spoon up a little of the mix with a metal spoon, it will drop off if you tap the spoon on the side of the bowl. If you're eggs were a little larger, it might have this consistency, so no OJ for you (or you can drink it). If it's a little thick, squeeze in some orange juice, about a 1/4 of the orange should be plenty.

Spoon the mix into the paper cases (about 1 heaped tsp per case) bake in the middle of the oven for about 14 minutes. Like all cakes of this sort, they're done if they spring back when pressed, or when a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.

When baked, immediately remove from tin, and put on a wire rack to cool.

For the chocolate Butter-Cream

4 oz softened butter

4oz icing/confectioners sugar

1 oz unsweetened cocoa powder.

1/2 a tsp ground ginger

Juice of 1/4 of an orange.

1 tsp of orange zest.

Beat the butter in a mixer for a little bit until it's really light and creamy. Add all the other ingredients, beat well until it's a pile of creamy, chocolatey deliciousness. Spread on top of your cooled cupcakes. 

Brew the coffee, invite people to share, or hide the cake tin where no one else can find it. That's entirely up to you. x

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Balancing the Bitter with the Sweet

It's been a stressful couple of weeks. We have a situation going on that is unresolved, out with our power, and if the worst happens, will have a big impact on our family. At times like this, it's easy to only taste the bitterness of fear, confusion, and uncertainty. It's easy to fall into depression, and only see the 'bad' stories in the news. It's easy to be jealous of those around us who appear to be without struggles.

During these times, I think it's important that we make a conscious effort not only to recognise the sweet moments in life, but to create them. Focusing on joy, and doing kind things really does help. It doesn't change the overall situation, but it makes it easier to cope with.

So, when I find Molly dipping her fingers in the butter and licking them, I choose to see the funny side. There are far worse things in life than buttery little fingermarks on the furniture. The same goes for when Gareth gets a hold of the almost-finished jar of peanut butter, and has his hand right in there like Winnie the Pooh with his honey pot. It's hard to be miserable when a little girl is marching round the garden, and picking flowers to give to you, or when she giggles with excited delight over something as simple as putting on a pretty cardigan. It's hard not to laugh when a little boy is coming up to you with a gleeful expression, and tickling your feet, or clambering onto the sofa to fling his arms around you.

With adults and with children, kindness makes such a difference. In a fraught and anxious day, something as simple as making a couple of dumplings for the stew, just for my husband, because I know he loves them, can change the whole tone of the day. Seeing him smile like an 8 year old getting a special treat, and saying thank you, makes me realise how much of a difference the little things really make.

I'm a human being, with many faults and failings. I'm a natural worrier, with a tendency to be like Snoopy, lying on top of his kennel, and fretting. Slowly, ever so slowly, I'm coming round to the fact that this is pointless - that worrying does nothing to aid a situation. All I can do, day to day, is to see the sweet moments, act kindly, pray, and trust that God will work out the big stuff.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Teatime Treats: Rock Cakes

I love baking, sometimes I'm in the mood to try something new, or a little sophisticated. Other times all I want is something that is easy to make, and evokes a comforting nostalgia of childhood. At these times, one of my go-to treats is the Rock Cake. Don't let the name fool you, these tasty little buns are light and fluffy, the name comes from their craggy, rough appearance.

They are simple to make, contain less refined sugar than a lot of cakes and cookies (dried fruit adds sweetness and texture) and more economical than a lot of home made baked goods, so a great one to do with kids.

Traditionally, they're made with currants, but I used sultanas because that's what I had to hand, and I added some chopped glace cherries for a colourful, retro twist, because we all remember, as kids, that the best treats came with cherries.

Here's how to make them:

First, make sure you have a shelf in the middle of your oven, and preheat to 180c (350f). Get out a cookie sheet, and a mixing bowl.


8 oz (2 cups) cake flour

4 oz  butter

2 oz superfine sugar

1 tsp cinnamon (optional)

2 oz sultanas or raisins

2 oz glace cherries (quartered)

1 large egg (beaten)

2-3 tbsps milk


Place the flour, sugar, butter, salt, and cinnamon in the mixing bowl, and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mix looks like fine breadcrumbs. 

Add the dried fruit, and toss mix a couple of times with your hands to evenly distribute. 

Break the egg into a cup, and beat lightly, add to the mixing bowl and stir. 

Add the milk, a tbsp at a time, until you have a stiff mixture, with no dry bits. 

Dollop mixture by the tablespoon onto your cookie sheet, space slightly apart. 

Put in the oven, and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly golden. 

Remove and dredge lightly with granulated sugar (optional), allow to cool. 

These are delicious warm or cold. They freeze well, but otherwise are best eaten on the day they're made. At a push, they'll keep in an airtight container for a day or 2. 

That's it. They're really that simple. Measure, rub, stir, dollop, bake. Easy. Give them a try.