Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Whisky Sour cupcakes

"The Americans are a funny lot; they drink whiskey to keep them warm; then they put some ice in it to keep it cool; they put some sugar in it to make it sweet; and then they put a slice of lemon in it to make it sour. Then they say "here's to you" and drink it themselves." - B. N. Chakravaty

Not being a fan of whisky myself, this particular cupcake experiment came about when I was asked to make whisky-based cupcakes for a friend's birthday. Correct me if I'm wrong, whisky drinkers, but I believe a whisky sour is a cocktail made of whisky (often Bourbon), lemon juice, sugar, and sometimes an egg white, with a maraschino cherry as garnish.

I went with a whisky and lemon cupcake with a sour lemon buttercream and of course decorated with lemon zest and the obligatory maraschino cherry.

The decoration really was the cherry on the top - they looked great and whisky-loving friends confirmed they tasted great too!


Makes 12

For the cupcakes:

  • 225g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 110g softened butter
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 200ml whisky
  • 50ml lemon juice
  • 2 tsp lemon zest

 For the icing:

  • 165g softened butter
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp lemon extract
  • 250g icing sugar 

For the decoration:

  • lemon zest
  • maraschino cherries


  • Pre-heat your oven to 180ºC and line your cupcake pan with cases.
  • Beat together the butter and sugar until completely mixed. Mix in the eggs.
  • In a separate bowl, sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together. Slowly add a bit of the whisky into the rest of the cake mixture, followed by some of the flour mix so that the mixture does not curdle. Continue to alternate these, ensuring it is all mixed in before adding the next element.
  • Add the lemon juice and mix until completely incorporated. 
  • Fill cupcake cases about full and bake for about 15 minutes at 180ºC until a toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean.
  • Take the cupcakes out of the oven but leave in the pan to cool for at least five minutes before then moving the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely. 
  • While you wait for the cupcakes to cool, make the icing. Beat the butter until creamy and light in colour. Add the lemon juice and lemon extract. Then start adding the icing sugar, little by little, adding and mixing until fully incorporated. Depending on what consistency you want, you may want to add extra icing sugar to make it thicker, or a little more lemon juice if it is too thick. 
  • Pipe the buttercream icing onto the cupcakes any way you want and decorate with some lemon zest and a maraschino cherry.


Hot cross buns

Easter is upon us which means it's time for hot cross buns!

Many, myself included, consider hot cross buns in a Christian context - they are historically eaten on Good Friday to remind people of the day Jesus died on the cross. You have the bread (as per the communion), the spices (representing the spices in which Jesus was wrapped in the tomb), and the cross.

However, looking into the history and tradition of hot cross buns, I have found many contradictory theories - some say that they go back to Roman times, that they are a Saxon thing, and even that they are traditionally pagan rather than Christian. There's a suggestion that a 12th Century monk first incised a cross on a bun, yet another theory ties the tradition of the buns to a monk in 14th Century St Albans. Further references tie them only into the Easter tradition from the Elizabethan era. It is suggested that they were viewed with suspicion by some Protestants and that legal moves were made to restrict their consumption to Easter and some other festive periods.

So basically, no one seems to know where hot cross buns really originated from. But as far as I'm concerned, in my family they are eaten at Easter and they are delicious. That'll do for me.

Below is Delia Smith's hot cross bun recipe (with a few small changes).


Makes 12

For the buns:

150ml warm water (for the yeast)
50 g caster sugar, plus 1 teaspoon (for the yeast)
1 tablespoon dried yeast
450 g plain flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon mixed spice (or speculoos spice)
75 g currants
50 g cut mixed peel
50 ml warm milk
1 egg, beaten
50 g butter, melted

For the crosses:

110g plain flour
4 tablespoons water (add a little more if needed)

For the glaze:

2 tablespoons caster sugar
2 tablespoons water


First stir 1 teaspoon of caster sugar into 150 ml warm water (NOT hot water - just warm water from the tap - if the water is too hot it will kill the yeast), then sprinkle in the dried yeast and leave it until a frothy 'beer' head forms. Don't expect there to be a large amount of froth. 8-10 minutes is enough time to wait.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, salt and mixed spice into a mixing bowl and add the remaining 50 g of sugar, as well as the currants and mixed peel. Then, make a well in the centre, pour in the yeast mixture plus 50 ml of warm milk (again, not too hot), the beaten egg and the melted butter. Now mix it to a dough, starting with a wooden spoon and finishing with your hands (add a little more milk if it needs it).

Transfer the dough on to a clean surface and knead it until it feels smooth and elastic. Then pop it back into the bowl, cover the bowl with lightly oiled clingfilm, and leave it in a warm place to rise – it will take about an hour to double its original size. Then turn it out and knead it again, back down to its original size.


Divide the mixture into 12 round portions and arrange them on the greased baking sheet (allowing plenty of room for expansion). Leave them to rise once more, covering again with oiled clingfilm, for about 25 minutes. Meanwhile pre-heat the oven to 220°C.

To make the crosses, use a flour-and-water paste made with 110 g plain flour and approximately 4 tablespoons of water. Add a little more water if needed. Roll out thinly and divide into small strips, slightly dampening them to stick them on to the buns.

Rolled out flour-and-water paste for the crosses
Ready for the oven!

Bake the buns for about 15 minutes. While they're cooking, melt 2 tablespoons of sugar and 2 tablespoons of water for the glaze over a gentle heat and brush the buns with it as soon as they come out of the oven, to make them nice and sticky.

Serve warm - enjoy them fresh out of the oven with a lick of butter. If you don't eat them immediately, be sure to heat them up in the oven for 5 minutes before serving!

Happy Easter! Joyeuses Pâques! Vrolijk Pasen! 


Glazed hot cross buns

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Raspberry cheesecake

The sun is out and spring is in full swing in Brussels. Now is the perfect time to start practising those summer desserts, and what is more appropriate for summer than fresh fruit on a light creamy cheesecake? 

I got this recipe from a Mary Berry recipe book. The cheesecake is so quick and easy to make, then just needs to be left in the fridge overnight to set.

Being in Belgium meant I had to play around with certain ingredients from Mary Berry's original recipe ... 
  • Instead of using digestive biscuits and demerara sugar in the base, I used speculoos biscuits and brown sugar.
  • Double cream by UK standards should apparently have a minimum milk fat percentage of 48%. The highest percentage I could find in my Brussels supermarket was 34% so the cream I used was not as thick as that which Mary Berry suggests.
  • For the topping, Mary Berry suggested brushing 4 tbsp of redcurrant jelly (heated in a small saucepan until it has melted) over the fresh raspberries. Instead of this, I just blended a few of the raspberries and spooned this purée on top.
Below are the ingredients and method that I used.



For the base

175g speculoos biscuits
75g butter
40g brown sugar

For the cheesecake

225g soft cheese
25g caster sugar
150ml double cream
150ml Greek yoghurt
juice of 1½ lemons

For the topping

175g fresh raspberries


Put the biscuits into a plastic bag and crush finely with a rolling pin.

Crushed speculoos biscuits

Melt the butter in a medium-sized pan. Once melted, remove the pan from the heat and stir in the biscuit crumbs and brown sugar. Press this mixture into the base of an 8 inch loose-based cake tin and then leave to set.

Cheesecake base

To make the cheesecake filling, measure the soft cheese and caster sugar into a large bowl (or food processor) and mix well to blend thoroughly. (I used my hand held whisk.) Add the cream and yoghurt and mix again. Gradually add the lemon juice little by little, whisking all the time. Turn the mixture into the tin over the biscuit base, level the surface and then place in the fridge overnight to chill.

Ready for the fridge!
When the cheesecake has had time to set in the fridge, run a knife around the edge (all the way down to the biscuit base) to loosen the cheesecake from the tin. Then push up the base or remove the sides of the tin and slide the cheesecake onto a serving plate.

Arrange the raspberries on top of the cheesecake. If you want to dress the raspberries up a bit, you can blend a few of the raspberries and then spoon this purée on top. I finished by dusting it with icing sugar.

Once decorated, leave to set. Serve chilled. Enjoy!

Decorated with raspberries

Monday, 7 April 2014

Piñata cake

Last summer I saw a piñata cake on A Subtle Revelry blog and loved the idea so much that I posted a link to it on Pippa's Cakes and Bakes facebook page. The idea of a sponge cake filled with sweet treats was just too tempting. Soon after I was asked to make a cake for a friend's 30th birthday and it seemed like as good a time as any to experiment. The link to her being pregnant (and the cake being filled) did not even cross my mind until someone mentioned it at the party!

The blogpost on A Subtle Revelry gives great step-by-step instructions with photos. Unfortunately I wasn't so organised myself so have a look there if you're interested! Instead I'll just explain briefly what I did with the help of my friend Susannah ...

Using sphere cake pans, I made 2 vanilla sponge cakes and then scooped out the centre of each to make plenty of space for the tasty filling. We made a wall (or barricade if you will) of buttercream icing to ensure the sweets were contained and that they wouldn't get in the way of the second cake being put on top. For the filling, you can put anything inside - whether edible goodies or even small toys - just use your imagination. We just went with a simple assortment of sweets and chocolates.

Once the filling is in and the second cake has been put on top as a "lid", you are ready to decorate the outside of the piñata. We used a vanilla buttercream and decorated with fondant numbers and stars.
The whole process was so much easier than I had first thought, and it was such a great surprise for the birthday girl - cutting into what looked like a simple cake, taking the first piece out and it's full of edible treats! What could be better?!