cupcakes: pretty paper. true stories. {and scrapbooking classes with cupcakes.}

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Embracing messy baking

rhubarb amaretto layer cake with recipe @

For those outside this lovely country, I’m not sure I can entirely explain the phenomenon that happens here right now, known as the Great British Bake Off. It’s simple enough: a weekly television programme where they pitch a tent in the countryside, fill it with pastel Kitchenaid mixers, ovens, and a selection of the nation’s baking enthusiasts, and whittle them down to a winner week by week. That part is easy to explain, but the social impact is more difficult. This show becomes such the topic of discussion that it takes serious effort to avoid spoilers if you’re not watching on a Wednesday night and want to keep it a surprise. Plus it makes everyone want to bake.

It might just seem like ‘everyone’ to me, because I haven’t been baking much for the last few months and along with the rest of the things I’m not doing at the moment, there is a part of me that wants to do those things. Not all the time, not anything near as much as I was, but just a little. That makes sense, right? It’s like a create a dream to-do list in my head for all the things I’m going to do during nap time and then I’m lucky if nap time lasts more than twenty minutes. When nap time is over, the list disappears from my mind and I’m completely happy for it to do so. But there are quite a few things on that list of dreams, and they include baking.

Aside from learning I can’t pack everything into one nap, I’ve also learned to let go of my perfectionism a little bit for things that don’t matter. Like how I would normally spend more time on the icing than on the cake itself, just because I enjoy the process of getting to that perfectly covered final result. That just isn’t going to happen right now. So I’ve decided to embrace messy baking: baking that would get a severe scolding from the experts on the Great British Bake Off, but still tastes fabulous enough to make it worth that little window of time that could go to anything else on the list.

To help me along on this little quest, I’ve been inspired by my friend Leanne who participated in the Great Bloggers’ Bake Off last year, baking along with the challenges from the programme. She’s participating again this year and I’m going to try to keep up, though of course I have completed the first challenge a day two days late. Right now, a day two days feels like a big victory!

The first week’s theme was cake – right up my street! My messy contribution is a Rhubarb Amaretto layer cake.

Cake ingredients:
225g unsalted butter
375g sugar (I use caster sugar and through spent vanilla pods in the canister, but I promise regular granulated sugar works too)
4 eggs
325g plain flour
1.5 tsp baking powder
200ml milk
2 tablespoons sour cream (if you don’t have any in the fridge, don’t go get it specially. Up the milk a little bit – say 225ml in total – and all will be fine.)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tablespoon amaretto (use almond extract if you don’t cook with alcohol)

Preheat oven to 180c and grease and/or line three 8” rounds or the equivalent.

Beat butter and sugar together with a mixer for absolutely ages. This is something that really bothers me about a lot of cakes sold in London: not mixing the butter and sugar for at least a few minutes really chafes the texture of a cake. It is worth the five minutes, I promise.
After that, it’s just a case of adding the ingredients and mixing together. Past that initial five minutes, you don’t need to over mix but you do want the consistency to be even.

Pour batter into the pans and bake for 25 minutes. If a toothpick comes out clean, they are done. Add a bit of time if needed, but don’t wait for it to brown as it’s quite a light-coloured cake and will dry out before it browns much. Turn out onto a wire rack.

Filling ingredients:
Two or three lengths of rhubarb
Whipping cream (double cream will also work fine)

I realise none of those have measurements and that’s because it’s all down to taste. I promise it’s easy.

Wash the rhubarb and remove any tough skin or ends. Chop into small pieces. Place in a saucepan.
Add a bit of water to the saucepan – about half the depth of the rhubarb – and sugar. I start with a tablespoon of sugar and once the rhubarb starts to break down, I taste it to see if it needs more. I find it really varies with the rhubarb. And possibly the extent of my sweet tooth on the day. Add amaretto (or almond extract) to taste as well. Simmer until the rhubarb starts to fall apart and the liquid has reduced to form a texture a bit runnier than preserves. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Meanwhile whisk the whipping cream with sugar and amaretto until you have your freshly whipped cream. If all that amaretto is sounding too much, make the whipped cream with vanilla extract instead. Both work. I may have tried. Or if the amaretto isn’t sounding like nearly enough at all, cut a layer of marzipan for each cake to boost the almond factor.

Once both cake and rhubarb are cooled, assemble by spooning cream and rhubarb between the layers and on top of the cake, and dust with icing sugar. I find the recipe makes enough for a three layer cake but that’s far too much for us to have here without guests, so I either give away or freeze the third cake so it’s not a waste.

And then because I managed to put it together while still holding a baby, I embrace the messy look of it all and try to decide which is more exciting right now: making it or eating it. It’s possibly a draw.

Great Bloggers Bake Off is organised by Jenny at Mummy Mishaps. See more bloggers’ cakes in on her blog.
Please no spoilers from the actual show in the comments, for those who watch later than the original broadcast! Thanks.

Sunday Sweets :: New York Cupcakes

chocolate at crumbsred velvet at crumbscrumbs cupcake case
devil's food at crumbs
magnolia cupcake case
two from magnolia

Not so much with the baking this week, but that doesn’t mean I’m steering clear of the cupcakes! We’ve been splitting them so we don’t have to just choose one flavour. So far, red velvet and cookie dough from Crumbs and snickerdoodle and devil’s food from Magnolia.


Now to try out the cupcakeries in Kansas City! May your weekend include something delicious!


Sunday sweets :: pumpkin cupcakes

pumpkin cupcake with scrapbook

It is autumn and there are pumpkins and in short, this means I could quite happily just stay in my kitchen and bake and bake and occasionally move to the dining table to eat. Somehow I have managed to prevent that level of obsession, but I have already made these twice this season and I am sure there will be a few more times when they seem highly appropriate.

Here’s the recipe so you can share my pumpkin obsession.

pumpkin cupcakes with scrapbook

Pumpkin Cupcakes
(makes apx 24 standard sized cakes)

115g / 1 US stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
200g / 1 cup dark brown sugar
60g / 1/3 cup caster sugar
2 large eggs
1.5 teaspoons vanilla extract
200g / 2 cups plain (all-purpose) flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate (baking) soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
pinch of salt
120mL / 1/2 cup milk
270g / 1.5 cups pumpkin puree (fresh or tinned)

To make fresh pumpkin puree, start with a small pumpkin. Cut a few vents into the top and place on a foil-lined roasting tray. Roast the entire pumpkin for an hour or two (depending on the size of the pumpkin) at a low to medium heat — no more than 120C/250F. Let cool until it is easy to touch. Cut a hole in the top to make a lid, like a jack-o-lantern. Remove the guts and seeds. With those insides gone, you are left with the wall or flesh of the pumpkin — you want the wall but no skin. Many recipes will tell you to shred the flesh, but roasting it first makes shredding unnecessary — just make sure the skin is gone then puree in a blender, food processor, mixer or with a potato ricer.

Preheat the oven to 180C/360F. Line a cupcake tray with paper liners.

In a mixing bowl, mix the butter at a high speed until creamy and without any lumps. Add sugars and beat until fluffy.

Add eggs and vanilla and mix at a slower speed until the consistency is even.

Add the dry ingredients and the milk in alternation until all incorporated. Add pumpkin and mix until even and relatively light.

Fill cupcake cases halfway for flat-topped cupcakes, two-thirds full for domed cupcakes. Bake for 18 – 22 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Remove immediately from the pan and cool on a wire rack for best results.

When cool, ice with cinnamon cream cheese icing and finish with more cinnamon on top.

Because it’s autumn, and that means there is rarely such a thing as too much cinnamon.


PS: If you share my disdain that there is no such thing as a pumpkin spice latte from the UK coffee chains, know that this is the stuff you need to make them at home. It may be habit-forming. I may be evidence of this. Just so you know.

Sunday with Scrapbook Inspirations

pound cake

Hopped over to Olympia on Sunday afternoon to check out the Stitch and Craft show and say hello to Rosie who runs things in Scrapbook Inspirations land.

But more importantly, to take pound cake to Rosie and the other lovelies on the Future stand at the show. Because this recipe on Smitten Kitchen was too intriguing to pass up.

It is rather yum indeed. Do try it. It’ll give your mixer a workout!


Rum Cake, Remixed

Rum Coconut Cupcakes

At least a year ago, people started asking me if ‘The Boy’ would no longer be called ‘The Boy’ after the wedding. It seemed quite a popular theory that after the wedding, he should become ‘The Man’ but for a number of reasons, this is just wrong.

Mostly because the reason he is called ‘The Boy’ is because he is younger than I am.

From October to February, he gets to claim that he is four whole years younger than me. Which clearly isn’t quite the case, since from February to October, he is merely three and a half years younger than me. Suffice to say: if his name changes to one that seems old, then I would by definition be older. Ahem.

He will always be The Boy. At all costs.

Since I was actually home for his birthday, I had a master plan to take dozens of cupcakes to his office without him knowing in advance. Note to those who may have similar ideas: if his office has a tradition of the birthday person providing cake on their own birthday, the surprise factor has to go, unless you are quite happy for him to also buy a cake at the shop around the corner from the office. Perhaps the surprise factor is overrated anyway. Or so I tell myself.

The Boy remembers a rum-soaked cake from his childhood, but apparently he was quite the boozy child since he said it was absolutely soaked. No way that was going to work in a cupcake paper then. I asked for more description and he said there was coconut involved. And apricot jam. Which sounded like a very odd combination but turns out, it’s not at all. I know I sent two dozen of these and two dozen chocolate to his office and he returned only with empty boxes, so it seems they were approved.

Rum Coconut Cupcakes with Coconut-Rum Cream
makes about 24 medium sized cupcakes
Cake Ingredients:
6 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar (I use vanilla caster sugar in pretty much every cake)
190g unsalted butter (in US sticks, that’s one and a half. in UK blocks, it’s 3/4 of one.)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup dark rum
2 cups plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
dash of salt

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F.

Soften the butter and mix on high until fluffy.
Add eggs, sugar and vanilla and continue to mix.
Stir in all remaining ingredients and mix on medium until the batter is even.
Fill cupcake cases 2/3 full and bake for 16-20 minutes, or when a chopstick comes out clean.
Remove from pan immediately and cool on a rack.

Rum Soak: Combine equal parts dark rum and honey. Use a knife to cut an X in the top of each cake, and add a teaspoon of the rum and honey to each cake, so it soaks into the cake through the X.

When cakes are cool, glaze the top with apricot jam or conserve.

Cream Ingredients:
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup caster sugar (more or less to taste)
2 tablespoons coconut milk
1 tablespoon dark rum

Place in a mixing bowl and whisk at the highest speed until the cream thickens to form soft peaks.

Spoon on top of cooled, glazed cupcakes and sprinkle with coconut pieces.

And my own childhood preference for rum-flavoured sweets (Butter Rum Lifesaves were my favourite for years!) tells me you could certainly replace the real rum with flavouring in the cream, but the flavouring is most certainly more concentrated, so go easy.

For birthday dinner? I, the vegetarian wife, took The Boy to an Argentinian steak house. Let it not be said that I am always a pain in the neck when it comes to food.




Dear Shimelle’s Blog,

We have so much catching up to do! We must sit down and do this properly! Let’s do that Monday. Shall we make it a date?

Love and glitter,

PS: I baked you cupcakes as a bribe before I realised that blogs don’t really eat them. I’m not quite sure I understand that, but I hope you appreciate the thought anyway. I tried.

Dear Everyone Else,

I’m hopping in the car for the drive to Shropshire for National Scrapbooking Day with Skrapz. Classes and cupcakes, oh my!

Wishing you a fabulous weekend!

Love and glitter,

PS: Please feel free to nick a cupcake since I baked them for the blog and blog isn’t interested. Sigh.

In praise of the humble nutmeg

I really must declare that nutmeg is the official spice of winter. Right now, I am putting nutmeg in everything. Breakfast, dinner, dessert. Nutmeg wins.

{And yes, I know it’s not technically winter for another handful of hours, but it certainly feels like winter. It’s felt like winter for a good few weeks now. So winter it is. Since I appear to be in a declaring type mood anyway.}

So far, we have been much better about planning menus and buying food than we had been before, when we lived within walking distance of the grocery store. We now live within walking distance of a brilliant fruit and veg place, where I think I have discovered the Best Sweet Potatoes in the World Ever. Which, by the way, also taste really lovely with nutmeg.

But I did leave one poor little banana lingering. Everyone has their perfect banana time. I like them when they are still a tinge green, before no brown spots have appeared. The boy likes them when they are definitely yellow…a few spots are okay. But once they have started to reach more than half brown, they must be baked into something. So there is this little window of time where any bananas that haven’t been eaten have to sit on the counter going a bit more brown to be perfect for baking. Except how many recipes call for just one of those bananas? And usually we try not to buy so many that we will have lots leftover.

So here it is. A one banana recipe. With, of course, NUTMEG. Because it is winter (or it feels like it) and everything tastes better with nutmeg. Please do not get me started on combinations like nutmeg and spinach or nutmeg and porridge or nutmeg and cherry pie. Because it is all so good.

One Banana Cupcakey-Muffin-Things
(in other words, they should be cupcakes, but we decided we didn’t want icing because we have been living on a sugar high from various other Christmas-related snacks)

Makes 6 to 8 of a decent size for dessert or breakfast.

And as requested…trying to do both metric and imperial measurement!

1 stick//125g unsalted butter
1/2cup//100g sugar
1 large egg
1 cup//60g all-purpose//plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda//bicarbonate soda
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup//120 mL prepared custard (US-style vanilla pudding will also work)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 very ripe banana

Preheat oven to 350F/180C and line cupcake tray with papers.

With an electric mixer (or a spatula and a very strong arm), beat butter until soft and creamy. Add sugar and beat until even.

Stir in egg.

Throw in all the dry ingredients, give a stir by hand, then pour the custard and vanilla over the top and mix everything up until well blended.

Add the banana last and blitz until the banana appears to be pretty well throughout the mix. (If you are mixing by hand, mash the banana first. If you use the electric mixer, it should be able to mash it for you!)

Fill cups 3/4 full and bake for about 18 minutes or until a chopstick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place immediately on a cooling rack. This is a dense cake that will sink if left in the pan.

If you fancy icing, chocolate or cream cheese would be lovely. And have you checked out Chockylit’s Mother of All Icing Posts? I bet her Christmas buttercream would be fabulous on these as well. Though I think it needs nutmeg.


A cupcake of Christmas past

Oh reliable internet access, how I miss you. Through a series of somewhat unfortunate events, we are technology-challenged in our new place for a while. Meaning we have no internet at home. Which is one of those things that sounds like no big deal…surely we have plenty to get on with in our dwindling city of cardboard boxes without wasting time by sitting in front of a screen, right? And ordinarily, I would say yes. But that’s kinda difficult when your job means you need to be online every day. Especially in December.

Suffice to say I am now at one with the internet hotspots in this part of the world. Things are getting done. And apparently our flat will join this century very, very soon. Which will be nice.

In the mean time I have been getting to grips with other sorts of technology. We have a dishwasher here, and I can’t tell you how happy this makes both of us. We both dread washing dishes, and that can make for a very dangerous situation indeed. It’s even a little two-person friendly washer. We also have a shocking bonus in a washer-dryer. Fluffy, hot towels for the first time in years! Please do not misunderstand me, as I really love England or I would never choose to live here, but the one thing that has constantly baffled me is the lack of dryers. Since space is at a premium, utility rooms are a luxury—that I understand—so washing machines end up in the kitchen. That I’m not totally sure I get, though the plumbing is there already, so I suppose it makes sense. Once you’ve ditched a kitchen cupboard for your washing machine, it’s not very convenient to ditch another for a dryer…leaving those not lucky enough to have space for a dryer to hang our washing to dry. This has proven difficult living in a flat with no garden to hang a washing line! Forgive me, but I really don’t like drying laundry in my living room. And even if we did have a garden…it does rain quite a few days of the year. So if you have never been to England, imagine yourself in a supermarket when you notice it has started to rain. Look around and you will undoubtedly see other shoppers picking up their mobile phones to call someone else at home and tell them to get the washing in, out of the rain. It is perfectly commonplace here, and yet it does seem to me a little like a comedy routine. Anyway…we can now dry things. In our kitchen. Don’t even have to swap machines or lose more cupboards. There is absolutely zero laundry in my living room right now, and that makes me gloriously happy.

Of course I have also been getting to know my new oven! It seems to be a bit more even than the last one (which had a habit of burning anything in the back right corner while leaving the front left corner totally uncooked) though it has its quirks, like not wanting to stop cooking. Ever. We’ll just have to keep eating, I suppose. It turns out that the little store with the pumpkin also had candy corn in for the autumn, so I couldn’t resist. {For Shaulean, who has been emailing me, the recipe is here. The only difference was that I left out the brandy butter—just regular cream cheese icing dusted with cinnamon.}

Once I got past the silly things like candy corn and Nutrageous bars, I started discovering other little gems, like the Ginger Curd in the top picture. For a tiny little shop, their collection of jams, curds and preserves is shocking and divine. Last year when I made these same cupcakes, the filling was inspired by just finding some ginger preserves. This year I found the ginger curd and whipped it up with some double cream, but otherwise the recipe for Gingerbread Latte cupcakes is just the same.

I had forgotten how pretty these look when they first come out of the oven.

The constant routine changes seem to have affected my ability to write about just one thing, so while I’m here, I’ll throw out these things that are blog posts in the back of my head:

*If you fancy a scrapping retreat in the spring, Karen Russell and I will be teaching at Scrap Fever and there is an early booking discount if you book by the 15th of December. So…you could put it on your Christmas list and hint a lot in the next day or two? So, so excited about that weekend.

*Issue two of You Can Craft is out now in the UK, and it has tons of tons of supplies with each issue. Perfect Christmas prezzie for someone you want to get crafting. Even if it is just so they will come over and craft with you. Which is perfectly fine. When you get this issue, see if you can spot the pillows from my living room!

*The girls who are journaling their Christmas are ohmygosh fabulous. Check out some of their work here for much red and green inspiration.

*Thank you to all the girls who cropped with me the last two weekends—in Enfield and Ipswich. It has been a fabulous end to the year for workshops!!

And now I better get back home and get to work on that ongoing project, as we have our first visitors this Friday!


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