Saturday, 20 March 2010

Beauty Is In The Eye of The Ugly Cupcake Holder

Doesn't this look like a photo from a 1970's recipe card?

I've said it before. I'm new to baking and I have little to no idea what I'm doing. I am still learning how the science behind what makes pastry, cakes and breads work and I'm bloody impatient to figure it all out so that I can start making my own recipes and using my own ideas, instead of following other people's.
Sure, I've tweaked a few of those recipes here and there, but that's still not as satisfying as conceiving a recipe and making it real, just the way you envisioned.

This morning, I woke a little earlier than Drew, and so I laid there quietly trying to decide if it is too early to bake Easter cookies (yes, it is.) and thought about what might be a fun baking project for today.
I thought I'd give masala chai tea cupcakes a go, basing the recipe for the batter on what I already knew about making a cake batter. I decided to substitute honey for a little of the sugar, thinking that it would keep the cake moist, because honey attracts moisture.
I decided that in order for it to have a proper chai flavour, it needed black tea as well as the spices and I thought that a pistachio butter cream would be the perfect partner.

I made the batter, put it in the oven and pottered about while the house filled with the most gorgeous smell. The timer beeped at me, and I eagerly popped open my oven door to see two trays of golden brown, completely flat, unattractive looking paper cases full of sadness. It's not that they hadn't risen, because they really had, it's just that they didn't have that lovely smooth, domed top you'd expect for a cupcake. Well, there was no way that I could leave them in for any longer, because they'd burn. The centres began to fall almost as soon as I opened the oven door and felt really soft to the touch.
See what I mean?

Ah well, I thought. Better luck next time. I spent some time cleaning the house, thinking about my poor little cupcakes, deciding to not use the honey next time.
Except that after that initial little sink in the centre, they hadn't fallen any more and the tops looked a little like a ginger snap. I decided to give one a taste before tossing them all into a big tupperware for the guys to graze on. What I had in my hand was the ugliest, yet lightest, fluffiest, most beautifully spiced little nibble I could have hoped for. Incredibly moist, it almost disappears once it gets into your mouth, with a pleasant, chewy crust around the top edge.

I decided to finish what I'd started and I made my pistachio buttercream frosting which again, is incredibly ugly in a 1960's avocado or mustard bathroom suite kind of way but tastes perfect with that subtle tea and spice.

The finished product will certainly never win any beauty contests but what it lacks in looks, it MORE than makes up for in texture and flavour.

I had mine with a big mug of hot black tea (Yorkshire Gold) with milk, which was amazing. It really brought out the flavours of the masala chai. Give them a try and see for yourself.

Ugly Masala Chai Cupcakes with Pistachio Frosting
Makes 24 cupcakes, takes 30 minutes plus cooling

220g self raising flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
180g golden caster sugar
40g honey
3 large eggs
220g butter at room temp
1/2 tsp real vanilla essence
1 tsp cardamom seeds
3 tsp black tea (about two tea bags full) I used Yorkshire Gold
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp clove
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

For the icing:
300g salted butter
200g golden caster sugar
2 tbsp honey
100 g pistachios (out of their shells)
few drops vanilla essence

First, blanch and peel your pistachios. Boil a kettle of water and pour it over your pistachios, leaving them to almost cool, then drain. You'll be able to easily slip the leathery skin off the bright green kernel, which will have plumped and softened in the hot water.

Turn your oven on to 180C (350F) and line two cupcake trays with cupcake or muffin papers. If you use muffin papers, you wont get 24, you'll get more like 18.

Use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment or a an electric hand mixer to cream the caster sugar, honey and butter together for 5-7 minutes, until pale and creamy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure that each is well combined before adding the next.
While this is going on, put the tea and spices in a pestle and mortar and grind well together until a fairly fine powder, then add to the sugar/butter/eggs mixture while the beaters are going.

Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together and tip into the wet ingredients, then stir together just enough to combine the ingredients well before spooning into the paper cases. Fill about 2/3 of the way up and bake for 17-18 minutes. Remember, you're looking for a deep golden brown, not a poofy dome. Allow them to cool for about 5 minutes in the tin before removing to a wire rack until completely cooled.

To make the frosting, use a food processor to whizz the sugar and all but 24 of the pistachios together until very fine. Tip this lot into a small saucepan with 150ml of water and the honey and bring to a simmer.
cook at a low bubble for about ten minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and the whole lot is thick, bubbling and climbing up the sides of the pan.
Pour the syrupy mixture into the bowl of you mixture and beat/whisk on a med/high heat until cooled to room temperature, then add the butter and vanilla, then whip for another 4-5 minutes until pale, creamy and so delicious, your husband tries to eat it before you can put it on the cupcakes.

Pipe or spread the frosting onto the cupcakes and top each one with one of the remaining pistachios.

Brew a nice hot cup of tea and eat one (or three?)

Spice Cupcakes

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