Thursday, 14 April 2011

Home Sweet Home...

Thank heavens for the holidays. Or so I thought. Perhaps I should be a little more careful what I wish for in future, considering the mountain of work that is threatening to ruin my fun and the ever advancing menace that is final exams...But c’est la vie (French revision never ends) and home is the place where cooking can happen without worrying about which pan has been washed up or the lack of ingredients that are lurking in the cupboard.

So, at home and not so fresh after a four hour train journey and seemingly endless amounts of time spent dragging around an enormous suitcase filled with at least fifteen books and far too many clothes; my first port of call is, as always, the fridge. I (and certainly my Mum) would be nervous to learn how many hours I have spent staring into that food-filled, sparklingly clean, gloriously white treasure chest, searching for new additions and wondering how much cooking I can fit in before the holidays are over. A very welcome novelty after a week of obsessively avoiding the temptations of the supermarket and using up the remains of my last food-shop in ever less appetizing combinations.

Faced with more food than I can handle and in desperate need of distraction from the books that have still not ventured out of the suitcase, the kitchen is a true haven and cupcakes are the perfect remedy. Stirring away the stresses of the day, the end result sweetens the thought of
everything you have yet to do, in addition to being the ideal treat when your only company seems to be your laptop.

And if you’re going to make cupcakes, why not go all out? Red Velvet cakes are certainly not for the fainthearted. Any cake that involves this much food colouring requires a certain amount of nerve, and a steady hand to prevent the kitchen table looking scarily like a crime scene. If you are as clumsy as I am, definitely avoid wearing a white t-shirt. But most importantly, don’t be shy; the cakes really lose their vampy red appeal if you go too easy on the colouring, turning a vaguely pink sludge colour that is significantly less attractive. The bright red, cocoa flavoured sponge looks incredibly chic topped with silky cream cheese frosting, and despite looking extremely festive, they are certainly not just for Christmas...

But, if you don’t fancy a cake that is sure to stain your lips a similar colour to those of a well fed vampire, cupcakes are the perfect vehicles for any of your favourite flavourings. Lemon, almond, chocolate, coffee, whatever you fancy, just be creative. Place a few pieces of strawberry in the bottom of the case before the mixture, cook, smear with cream cheese icing , sprinkle over some crumbled biscuit and hey presto, strawberry cheesecake cupcakes. My lovely sisters also triumphed with an extremely pretty and truly delicious rose and pistachio cake, with a dash of rose syrup in the batter and topped with petal coloured butter-cream and pistachios. I wish I could have taken credit for these...

Red Velvet Cupcakes (Makes 24)

250g plain flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
100g butter
200g caster sugar
1 tsp red food colouring paste, or 4-5 tbsp red food colouring (wow)
2tsp vanilla extract
150ml milk
1tsp cider vingar

Cream cheese icing

500g icing sugar
125g full-fat cream cheese
125g butter
1tsp lemon juice/cider vinegar

Preheat the oven to 170oc

Combine the flour, cocoa and baking powder in a bowl.

Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy and then add the vanilla extract and all of the food colouring (be brave!)

To this post-box red mixture, add one spoonful the dry ingredients, followed by one egg, then a few more spoonfuls, followed by the other egg, until smooth and fully combined.

Finally, beat in the milk and vinegar until silky. Divide between your bun cases (the prettier the better!) and bake in the oven for about 20 minutes.

For the icing, beat together the butter and cream cheese with an electric mixture until fully combined.
Add the icing sugar slowly, until you have made a smooth icing.

 Add the lemon juice and mix again

Smear the icing onto the cakes and decorate any way you fancy! EAT!

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