Chocolate Cupcakes with Simple Chocolate Buttercream

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I have to admit that there are few recipes I love so much I would call them go-to recipes. But these cupcakes are in that group. I made them once at the last minute to take to a friend’s house, and since then have fallen in love with their simple to cook nature and how soft and fluffy and rich with chocolate flavour these cupcakes are. Out of all the recipes I have tried from the Every Day Art ofGluten-Free these cupcakes have also required the least alteration. I am still working on the original chocolate glaze as I found the original recipe wasn’t thick enough for me, and didn’t set how I liked. But in the meantime I have had a lot of fun whipping up a batch or two of these cupcakes. You would think from how rich the chocolate flavour is that I used actual chocolate in them, but no! Something about the secret ingredient keeps these cupcakes moist and helps bring out their strong flavour potential. You might be surprised to find out that the secret ingredient is none other than mayonnaise!

Putting mayonnaise in cakes might seem unusual, as people are often quite shocked when I tell them that mayonnaise is what makes these cakes so moist. But it works. It really does work. I love these cupcakes because they are so moist, so fluffy and that they are very versatile. The original recipe used the batter to make a double layer, super delicious, double chocolate cake. But I prefer to make these into cupcakes and have even given making the famous Hostess Cupcakes a go. These cakes do very well with a little bit of cream piped into them, as it helps break up the intense chocolate flavour. However, I also discovered last night that other people aren’t quite as weak to sweets or chocolate as me and were all too eager to slather on the chocolate frosting and chow down!

So for a simple, but delicious treat for this Fiesta Friday, I present these chocolate cupcakes!

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Gluten-Free Sponge Cake and a Pink Ombre Rose Cake Tutorial

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Phew! This weekend has been huge, I am thoroughly exhausted. But it’s the good kind of exhausted from having done and seen so much, and having learned so much, and from having a lot of fun. But I will start at the start! A friend at work asked if I could whip up a gluten-free cake for her. She makes and sells the most amazing fondant decorated cakes on request and this time had been asked to make a gluten-free birthday cake, but with less than her usual set aside time to prepare. I agreed even though this would be the first time I would be making a cake to sell. I was nervous and excited at the same time. I made a test cake – as I haven’t really ever tried coloured sponge cakes before. I wanted to get approval on the flavour, texture and height of the sponge before making the final pieces for the actual birthday cake. Well the feedback was a huge help! There’s something to be said for having a whole work team to taste test!

I upped the sweetness of the cake, as per the feedback, and did a little research on how to bring the moisture back into it. I discovered a lot about sponge cakes in the process. Sponge cakes made on nothing but eggs, sugar and a little flour or starch are also known as foam cakes and are often soaked with a simple syrup – a combination of sugar and water, in order to make them moist and to add flavour. I was too nervous to add a lot of syrup, so I created a simple vanilla syrup and gently brushed the cut tops of each cake to add a little moisture and flavour. I plan to test how much syrup to use in more depth in the future as I want this to become my go-to sponge cake. I swapped regular sugar for caster sugar, potato starch for cornflour – as I couldn’t guarantee the potato starch hadn’t been processed in gluten or wheat contaminated plants, and figured out how to bring a nice pink colour to the sponge despite how the cake was made through folding egg whites into the egg and sugar base.

Christina then came over. She had brought a lot of her supplies, and her knowledge, and showed me what we were going to create. An ombre rose cake with a pink theme. I have seen these gorgeous creations before but had never been able to produce one. First things first – we made the icing. I have never been more grateful for having that stand mixer than I was when we whipped up the most enormous batch of buttercream the world has ever seen. We must have used about three and a half sticks of unsalted butter and about a kilogram of icing sugar before we were done! We then started on separating the icing so as to make the three different shades of pink. One bowl’s worth remained white, for the crumb coating, we then added a dash of red and pink colouring to it to get a dark pink colour, made another bowl a slightly paler pink, and for the last bowl made it quite a pale pink – adding more butter and icing sugar to pale it further.

Christina showed me how to test the buttercream was the right texture for piping. We beat the life out of it in the stand mixer, until the sugar had dissolved, and then ran a knife through the mix. If it folded in on itself it was still too wet. She also showed me how to set up the cake, how to pipe the roses, how to fill the gaps between them, and more! Happy FF!

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Vanilla Cupcakes with Hazelnut Buttercream and Hazelnut Praline Shards (GF)

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For this Fiesta Friday I have gathered three different recipes together to create these delicious little cupcakes! At first I was thinking of sticking with something simple – a vanilla cupcake with some Swiss meringue buttercream. I have never made Swiss meringue buttercream before but it’s said it’s not too hard to make so I thought I should give it a go. Unfortunately I didn’t have much luck with the recipe I picked and since I didn’t want to waste more eggwhites I thought it would be best to switch tack and give the Swiss meringue buttercream a go another time. I pondered what to make and what to pair with the vanilla cupcakes, as I was certain I still wanted to do those. I looked in the cupboards and realised I still had some chocolate hazelnut spread which would need using soon! I knew then I had to make some hazelnut buttercream to put on top of the cupcakes. Simple!

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However, I still wanted to make something a little more complex. I’m getting a lot bolder with the things I bake and I want to challenge myself and learn new things. So I thought I could give making some hazelnut praline a go. I had some hazelnuts, which also needed using, and I had all the other ingredients on hand. I have never made praline from scratch. I have made caramel from scratch but praline is a little bit fussier I think. I watched over it like a hawk and hurried to mix in the hazelnuts and tip them out onto the baking sheet and spread it all out even while it started to set. But I did it! So I was able to stop and relax a bit and even have a bit of fun making hard strings of caramel – the kind which I often see people use for decorating. It was great! I then waited for it to set and used a little toffee hammer to get in and break them up into shards.

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Overall I am super pleased with the results of this bakeathon. I ended up with very moist and fluffy cupcakes that look a treat! Happy eating!

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Vanilla Bean and Salted Caramel Macarons (GF)

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For this belated Fiesta Friday post, I wanted to do Macarons. But because I am on a drive to use up all the various flours and things I have been accumulating for baking, I decided to go for something else first. I was attempting a recipe for gluten free thumbprint cookies from the cookbook The Everyday Art of Gluten-Free, and unfortunately like most of the other recipes I’ve tried out of that book this one also needs altering although the end result is still delicious even if a bit disastrous. So I will have to experiment with it and see what I can do to make the dough more firm, and less likely to become vague puddles like it did when I followed the recipe to a T. But what testing that recipe did do was leave me with three whole egg whites which were going to need using, and which had settled to room temperature nicely while I was baking the thumbprint cookies. It seemed the universe was on my side, as three egg whites was all I needed to make this recipe for basic french macarons.

One thing I also have to mention is how amazing having a stand mixer again is. A while back I was able to get an old stand mixer from a friend’s girlfriend as she had got a new one. Unfortunately it eventually got rusted beaters and I couldn’t get replacements and so it had to go. Because of doing a little extra work these past couple of weeks I was able to put some cash aside and at last go and purchase a proper stand mixer. It’s something I have been meaning to do for a dog’s age, but have never had the funds to do until now. Oh man – am I so glad I have those funds now! I can’t get over how much easier this stand mixer makes baking for me. I unfortunately have tendonitis in my dominant hand and various spinal problems which can make doing time consuming recipes hard and a little bit painful for me, so having this stand mixer is amazing.

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I breezed through making the meringue base for the macarons, and this time I was determined to get the perfect folded consistency which I had seen in all my research. I kept persisting with the folding until at last the batter ran from the spatula in one thick, lava-like ribbon. Perfect! I had also managed to find a good piping tip which seemed about the right size, and that turned out to be perfect as well! I’ve had some tips on how to pipe properly, and those helped me as well when piping the macarons onto the baking trays. And because I forgot this step last time I baked a batch of macarons I made doubly sure to give both trays a couple of good bangs on the counter top. Temperature and cooking time I still have to work on, as I’ve noticed there’s a minuscule gap between being cooked and being overcooked when it comes to macarons. But overall I was thrilled with the results.

I then whipped up a batch of cheat’s caramel frosting, and add a pinch of salt to bring out the flavour a little more. I had copious amounts of frosting leftover but I popped it into takeaway containers and put them in the freezer. Apparently buttercream is good for up to three months in the freezer, although the longest I ever saved mine for was about two or three weeks. It was a good way to use up some leftover caramel tins from a while back when I was making a cheat’s chocolate and caramel cake with an old work friend, and means I have some delicious buttercream set aside for another project!

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Brown Sugar Pecan Cookies – and a farewell.

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It’s been a hard couple of weeks. Pete and I are no longer together. I decided to break up, although he’s a wonderful person, I knew it was the right thing to do and I still wish him all the happiness in the world. But right now that’s a hard thing to do for both him and his loved ones. His mother, one of the most incredible women I have ever met, at last lost her battle with cancer this afternoon. She was given medication to help her rest and sleep so her last few hours would be as painless as possible, and has at last passed on. But I am forever grateful that I got the chance to meet her, to experience her wicked sense of humour, and to come to respect her so much. She passed on surrounded with loved ones, all her children and her husband, and all her friends have rallied to her side throughout these last couple of weeks as well. She was a magnificent woman, and the world will be poorer for her loss.

I have been doing the things I do as comfort this week, like baking. But I have also had some incredible support both at work and outside of it. I have had some magnificent support from colleagues and friends alike, and mum and I cried together this morning. Although we all know we have to pass on sometime, it’s never that simple for the ones left behind. I have made a donation to the palliative care people who looked after Jane so well, as have two amazing friends of mine. I baked these cookies almost out of habit, something to comfort me and to remind me of all the great things I have to be grateful for. I am more fortunate than I ever knew to be so surrounded with wonderful people, and to have been able to meet Jane, and to be a part of Pete’s life. All our love goes out to them.

Jane was one of the most beautiful souls I ever knew. I will never forget her.

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Pecan Shortbread (GF)

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Weekends are fantastic for cooking. On a weekend you can cook all those delicious, slow-cook, time-consuming meals that are impossible to do on a weeknight. Since I am now doing more or less full time hours at the office, and loving it, I decided to shift my blogging to the weekend when I have the time to think about the recipes I make and to photograph them. The same goes for the meals I’m making. It’s getting cold here so I’m looking into winter weekend recipes which I can freeze and put aside, and my thoughts are also drifting towards treats to be had either warm – or with warm drinks. I liked the look of these pecan shortbread bikkies, which can be found in Gluten-Free Classic Snacks, a book by the amazing author of the gluten-free on a shoestring blog.

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I love shortbread, but what I loved about this recipe – a gluten-free take on an apparently well-known american brand’s version, is that these biscuits can also be frozen! I’m in the mood for making foods which can be frozen and used for later as I mentioned, so I couldn’t help but be curious. I decided that – after put aside some marinating meat for a dinner recipe, I would give these cookies a go. I wasn’t disappointed! These are simple to make, tasty, and can be stored for later. I call that a winner!

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Plum Ripple Cake (GF)

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Another belated Fiesta Friday post! Things have been hectic this week, similar to last week, and so I wasn’t able to do much about a blog post until the last minute. Luckily for me we had guests coming this morning, and so last night I hurried to whip up a cake or a sweet treat to be presented to them, whilst also planning what I would cook for work. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to work on a blog post for one of the other recipes I tested last week, like I mentioned in the last post. I do apologise if I got anyone’s hopes up, but unfortunately I personally haven’t been doing too well outside of work, so some things have slipped through the cracks. However, work is continuing to be fantastic. Everyone is just so nice to me, and I’m learning so much! So I’m glad I have work to keep me busy and to cheer me up.

This recipe comes from a cookbook I saw samples of online, called Cake Angels. It’s a really interesting book, and if this recipe is any indication of it’s quality then I am very impressed! Originally this recipe was both gluten and dairy free, however, being short on time and ingredients I did have to put the dairy back into it in some places. But I am still delighted with the results. I used a blood plum jam that mum had given me, instead of the original blackcurrant recommended, and I didn’t fold the cake at the end – rather I beat it to get out all the flour lumps. It baked beautifully, and became a nice, thick and moist cake! I hope to try some other samples I saved in the future!

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