Cupcakes

The Ides Of March

Beware the Ides of March! Julius Caesar was warned by a seer that harm would befall him before the end of the Ides of March – March the 15th. The seer was right. Caesar was assassinated on that day. But there is more to the Ides of March than Caesar’s death. In ancient Rome, the Ides of March was a celebration day for the first full moon of the year. To understand why March would host the year’s first full moon, we have to go back to the complicated issue of calendars.

The Julian calendar – introduced by Julius Caesar – is a solar calendar based on the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun. It replaced the more complicated ancient Roman calendar which was a lunar calendar based on the phases of the moon, the equinoxes and the solstices. In the Julian calendar, March is the third month of the year but in the ancient Roman calendar, March was the first month of the year. Due to the complicated calculations of the ancient Roman calendar, the full moon usually fell in the middle of the month, around March 15. March was a time of holidays and festivals celebrating the beginning of the new year and the arrival of the year’s first full moon.

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One figure associated with the Ides of March is the ancient Roman Goddess Anna Perenna. She represents the eternal cycle of a year’s ending and beginning. This is symbolised by her name which can be interpreted to mean per annum (every year). Her name also reflects the English words annual (anna) and perennial (perenna). As March is also springtime, she is associated with the cycles of life, death and renewal. She is also known as a Lunar Goddess.

As with many ancient deities, Anna Perenna’s origins are shrouded in mystery. One of my favourite origin stories is that Anna was an old woman living in Bovillae. During a secessio plebis – a type of extreme strike where all shops are shut down – Anna baked cakes every morning and gave them to the hungry rebels. In gratitude, they worshipped her as a Goddess. Thanks to their worship, Anna became a deified human. I love that she became a Goddess by baking cakes. There’s hope for me yet!

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Whatever Anna Perenna’s origin, the Goddess is celebrated on the Ides of March with feasting, drinking and toasting to health, long life and a happy year ahead. One tradition held that you would live as many years as the cups of wine you drank. I can only imagine the hangovers! That may be another reason to Beware the Ides of March 🙂

There are two places where it seems Anna Perenna was worshipped. One is Buscemi in Sicily where inscriptions to Anna and Apollo were discovered. The other is in Rome where a fountain to Anna was unearthed. Inspired by cake baking Anna and in honour of her two places of worship, I have created an Ides of March Cupcake. The cupcake is based on a  Sicilian cannoli ricotta filling. It is topped with a honey frosting. Honey was a favoured food in ancient Rome. Here’s hoping these cakes lead me to deification!

Ides of March Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the ricotta cupcakes
1/4 cup honey
2/3 cup olive oil
2/3 cup fresh ricotta
1 lemon, juiced and zested
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour, sifted
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup mixed peel

for the honey buttercream
1 cup (225g) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 cup honey

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Using an electric mixer, beat together the honey, olive oil, ricotta, lemon juice and lemon zest in a medium sized bowl until combined.
Add the egg and beat until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
Add the flour and baking powder and beat until combined.
Add the citrus peel and mix until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into the paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the buttercream by creaming together the butter and honey with an electric mixer on low speed. Gradually beat in enough powdered sugar until buttercream reaches a piping consistency. Spoon buttercream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Enjoy with a glass of wine or honey mead.

You can also check out my Libum – an ancient Roman recipe for cheesecake.

Kitty Claws Is Coming To Town!

Did you survive Krampus night? Well don’t rest easy, because there is another scary xmas monster coming your way! I am happy to introduce you to Jólakötturinn – Iceland’s Yule Cat. Steeped in the mythology of countries that have long, cold, dark and deadly winters, rises the giant black cat of xmas. Jólakötturinn is monstrously huge, has glowing eyes, whiskers as sharp as nails and razor sharp claws. As if cats weren’t scary enough, Jólakötturinn takes feline fear to a new level.

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Jólakötturinn prowls the night of xmas eve, looking in windows for a Yule offering. But what offering could subdue such a terrifying beast? If you’re thinking food you’d be wrong. Your soul? Luckily nothing so dramatic. This fashionista feline desires an offering of new clothes. Bizarrely, the clothes are not necessarily for the cat – I mean cats aren’t known for their love of being dressed up! No, the new clothes are for you and your children. If there are no new clothes to be seen, the feisty Jólakötturinn may take all your gifts, eat all your food, eat you or take away your children and eat them. What better incentive do you need for new xmas threads!

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In some ways the scary kitty myth brilliantly mirrors our capitalist and consumerist approach to xmas with its emphasis on buying new clothes. Some say the myth of Jólakötturinn was used by farmers to frighten workers into finishing processing all the sheared wool before xmas so that new clothes could be made. Others say that the threat of a visit by Jólakötturinn was used to encourage people to work hard all year so they could have the money to buy new clothes for xmas.

It’s not clear when Jólakötturinn joined the cast of Icelandic monsters but the creepy cat’s popularity surged when Icelandic bard Jóhannes úr Kötlum wrote a poem about Jólakötturinn. Interestingly, the poem suggests that we should make sure that the needy, particularly poor children, are given a special piece of clothing at xmas. The basic theme in the poem is that if those who have give to those who don’t, Jólakötturinn will be thwarted. It is actually a beautiful xmas message clothed in a scary cat tale!

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I enjoyed reading about Jólakötturinn but the Yule Cat really came alive to me when I heard Icelandic singer Björk’s version of Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s poem. My favourite link is one that features animation with a written English translation of the poem and Bjork’s haunting voice singing the poem in Icelandic. So before I share my catty recipe for xmas, sit back and enjoy this powerful myth in images and song: Jólakötturinn – The Yule Cat.

We know the Yule Cat wants new clothes rather than food, but I can’t resist trying to tempt the scary kitty with a black bottom cupcake – a chocolate cupcake with a cheesecake filling. Will Jólakötturinn be the cat that got the cream? If creamy cheese isn’t enough, there’s also catnip! Catnip is part of the mint family so you can use any mint you like for this recipe. Chia is also part of the mint family but I’m not sure if cats would be tempted by chia seeds 🙂

Creamy Catnip Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the cheesecake filling
8 ounces (225g) cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon peppermint essence, or to taste

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Make the cream cheese filling by beating the cream cheese with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sugar and egg and beat until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
Make the chocolate cupcakes by sifting the flour, baking powder, cocoa, salt and sugar into a jug. Set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together the water, oil, cider vinegar, vanilla extract and peppermint essence.
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and stir in the wet ingredients until smooth.
Evenly pour the batter between the 12 paper cases.
Spoon the cream cheese mixture evenly into the center of each cupcake.
Bake for 10 – 25 minutes or until the cupcakes feel springy and the cream cheese filling has set. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

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Moon Over Easter

The March Equinox has come and gone, which means Easter is on its way. Easter is a Moveable Feast that takes place on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon on or after the March Equinox. I’m using the term March Equinox because its seasonal attribute depends on the hemisphere you are in. In the southern hemisphere it’s the Autumnal Equinox. In the northern hemisphere it’s the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. As Easter is based on northern hemisphere seasons, it is a Spring Festival. Which explains the rabbit and the eggs.

What isn’t really explained is why there are often two Easters – one for Western Christians and one for Eastern Orthodox Christians. The answer is simple (well actually it’s not even slightly simple!). While the above formula is used by both, Western churches use the Gregorian calendar and Eastern churches use the Julian calendar. Plus, there are differences in how the Equinox and the Full Moon are defined. Eastern churches use the Astronomical Equinox and Full Moon, while the Western churches use a set date (March 21) for the Equinox and an Ecclesiastical Moon, which comes from a church calendar.

To make it a bit more confusing, Eastern Easter is always after Passover, because Jesus celebrated Passover before he was executed. Western Easter doesn’t worry about that in what appears to be a search for simplicity. So what does that all mean? Well this year Western Easter will be celebrated on Sunday March 27th and Eastern Orthodox on Sunday May 1st.

The one question that never gets answered for me is – “Does the Easter Bunny visit on both Easters?” 🙂 Just in case the answer is “yes”, here is a recipe for Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting topped with Candied Carrots.

Easter Bunny Cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the carrot cupcakes
1 + 1/3 cup plain flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 + 1/4  teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and grated carrot

for the candied carrots
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 cup peeled and grated carrot

for the cream cheese frosting
1 cup (225g) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar, sifted

optional
mini chocolate Easter eggs for decoration

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and frothy.
Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in the oil, vanilla and carrot.
Fold in the flour mix until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into the paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the candied carrots by placing the sugar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the carrots and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove carrots from the syrup and place in a heatproof bowl. Cook syrup for a further 10 minutes or until reduced. Pour syrup over carrots and allow to cool. Preheat oven to 110C / 230F. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Drain the carrots and spread in a thin layer on prepared tray. Bake for 45 – 60 minutes or until they start to harden. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. They will harden more when cooling.

While carrots are cooling make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon icing into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.

Sprinkle a small amount of the candied carrot onto each cupcake.
Decorate with mini chocolate easter eggs if desired.

A Toast For Saint Patrick’s Day

I’m not a big fan of Saint Patrick’s Day. I mean the guy was supposed to have driven all the snakes out of Ireland. As Ireland supposedly never had snakes, it is now generally accepted that the snakes he drove out were Pagans! Since I like both snakes and Pagans, it’s not really a day of celebration for me.

However, Saint Patrick didn’t really succeed in ridding Ireland of Pagans. So with this in mind I think I’ll celebrate this Saint Patrick’s Day in a true Pagan way – with food and drink!

So raise your glasses, or your cupcakes, and celebrate with some great Irish spirits – Irish whiskey and Irish cream!

St Patrick’s Day Cupcakes

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These Irish Whiskey cupcakes topped with Irish Cream frosting are in no danger of being driven out of Ireland by St Patrick! 

Special Equipment:
12 green paper cupcake cases

Ingredients
for the whiskey cupcakes:
1 + 1/2 cups flour
1 + 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup Irish whiskey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the Irish cream frosting
2 + 1/2 cups double cream
2 + 1/2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar
1/4 cup Irish cream liqueur

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 green paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time and beat until just combined.
Add the flour mix and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix until just combined.
Add the milk, whiskey and vanilla and mix until combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling make the whipped cream by whipping together the cream and powdered sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until stiff peaks form. Stir in the Irish cream until just combined. Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.

You can add green food colouring to the cake or frosting and garnish with green decorations if you like.

For another Irish whiskey/cream connection check out my tribute to an Irish Coffee.

Valentine Treats

It’s nearly Valentine’s Day. I never used to pay much attention to the day, mainly because I thought it was invented to encourage couples to spend money on gifts and cards. But after researching the history of the holiday, I found its roots stretched back into Roman history and ancient Pagan festivals. I wrote about this history last year in A Tale Of Two Valentines.

To celebrate this year, I worked on a Valentine’s Cupcake and Anne Belov did some gorgeous Cupid Panda illustrations to go with it. If you want to see Anne’s adorable pandas and my recipe, it has been published on They Draw and Cook.

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pistachio and cranberry cupcakes with passion fruit frosting

Apart from eating cupcakes, I’ll be celebrating Valentine’s Day by spending time with some of my favourite animals. What will you be doing?

The Year Of The Red Fire Monkey

February 8 is Chinese New Year. We are saying goodbye to The Year of the Goat, Sheep or Antelope and welcoming in The Year of the Monkey.

Chinese New Year is a Lunar Festival that takes place between January 21 and February 21. Celebrations usually begin on the New Moon closest to the beginning of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. In addition, each Chinese year has two components; a zodiacal one and an elemental one.

Most of us know the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The rat is the first animal and is followed by the ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep/goat, monkey, rooster, dog and finally the boar/pig. I always assumed this was a 12 year cycle but the yearly elemental associations complicate the system.

Each year also has a corresponding element and each element has a colour; wood (green), fire (red), earth (yellow), metal (white) and water (black/blue). Each element has a yin year and a yang year so each element has a 2 year cycle making it in fact a 10 year cycle. This 10 year elemental cycle is overlaid with the 12 year zodiac cycle. For the two to come back to the same point takes 60 years.

When I turn 60, I’ll be celebrating the Year of the Green Wood Snake in the Yang phase – the exact same configuration as when I was born. It will take another 60 years for the two cycles to play out and meet up again. I don’t think I will be around for that one 🙂

When we take into consideration the elemental and zodiacal calendars, this year is actually The Year Of The Red Fire Monkey. It is the first phase of Fire which is Yin and the lucky colour is Red. We will have to wait another 60 years for A Red Fire Monkey in the Yin phase to repeat.

To celebrate this Red Fire Monkey year, I have created a banana cupcake topped with chocolate chilli ganache and served in a red cupcake case.

Red Fire Monkey Cupcakes

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Makes 24 mini and 6 large cupcakes

Ingredients
for the banana cupcakes
1 cup mashed bananas, approximately 2 large bananas
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon (125g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1/4 cup buttermilk
2 cups plain flour, sifted
2 teaspoons baking soda (bicarbonate), sifted
1 teaspoon cinnamon, sifted

for the chocolate chilli ganache
330g dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
1 + 1/2 cups double cream
3/4 teaspoon chilli powder

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 24-hole mini muffin pan with 24 paper cases.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 6 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, beat together the bananas and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy and combined. Beat in the eggs one at a time until combined. Add the butter and buttermilk. Beat until combined.
Using a spatula or wooden spoon, gently fold in the flour, baking soda and cinnamon until combined.
Spoon the batter evenly into the 24 mini paper cases and the 6 large paper cases.
Bake mini cupcakes for 10 – 15 minutes and the 6 larger cupcakes for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the frosting by placing the chocolate into a heatproof bowl. Place the cream and chilli powder into a saucepan. Heat until the cream just starts to boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for one minute then whisk until smooth and glossy. Allow to cool before refrigerating for 1 hour. Bring out of the fridge and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Beat with an electric mixer until fluffy. Place in a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.

Note:
The ganache has a mild chilli flavour. Add more chilli powder if you would like it hotter!

A Wonderful Life?

I don’t really like the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. I mean it’s a great film but I really feel sorry for George. There were so many things he wanted to do, like travel and build things, but he repeatedly puts his life on hold for the benefit of others. While noble, the hedonist in me always asks – what does he get for his sacrifice? Well he gets family, community and the knowledge that he has saved many, many lives. But the one life he doesn’t really get to live is his own. Well that is my brief take on this xmas classic that was based on a short story that was made into a xmas card. The story behind It’s A Wonderful Life is as fascinating as the film.

Equally fascinating is It’s A Wunderful Life, the story of San Diego’s giant panda cub Mr Wu, as told through the talented eyes of Anne Belov, creator of The Panda Chronicles. Mr Wu laments the birth of so many panda cubs in America as they are taking attention away from his cute self. When he wonders what the world would be like without these new panda cubs, the angelic Bee the Bear shows him what the world would be like if no new pandas were born – including Mr Wu! Whats follows is an extraordinary tale of cat domination, shady petting zoos and beer drinking pandas. A world without baby pandas is grim indeed. You can find It’s A Wunderful Life at the Panda Chronicles or you can read about Mr Wu’s many adventures, including my personal favourite The Wizard Of Wu, in The Panda Chronicles Book 4: The Book of Wu.

As many of you know, Anne Belov and I are working together on The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Panda Kindergarten – a cupcake (or cuppycake) cookbook based on The Panda Chronicles.

Inspired by the thought of beer drinking pandas I have also created this very special beer cuppycake topped with a butter and cream cheese frosting and decorated with candied bacon. And this is the cartoon that inspired me!

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Beer Cuppycakes
After a hard day eating bamboo, some pandas like to put their paws up and relax with a refreshing beer cuppycake.

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This recipe makes enough batter for 24 mini cuppycakes and 2 full sized cuppycakes. You can make them all full sized but I’m not sure how many they make 🙂

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Ingredients
for the beer cuppycakes:
1 + 1/2 cups flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1/2 cup pale ale
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the candied bacon
3 shortcut bacon rashers
2 teaspoons brown sugar (approximately)

for the buttercream frosting
3/4 cups (170g) cream cheese, softened
3/4 cups (170g) unsalted butter, softened
1 + 1/2 cups powdered (icing) sugar, sifted

Instructions
To make the mini beer cuppycakes, preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 24-hole muffin pan with 24 paper cases and a 12-hole muffin pan with 2 paper cases.
In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
In a large bowl, mix the melted butter and sugar together with an electric mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes or until combined.
Add the egg and beat until combined.
Add the beer and vanilla and beat until combined.
Gradually add the flour mix and, using a wooden spoon or spatula, mix until just combined.
Spoon the batter evenly into the 24 mini paper cases and the 2 larger paper cases.
Bake mini cuppycakes for 10 – 15 minutes and the 2 larger cuppycakes for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. (I like to bake the mini cuppycakes first and then the 2 larger ones.)
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cuppycakes are cooling make the candied bacon by preheating the oven to 200C / 400F.
Line a baking tray with with baking paper.
Place the bacon rashers on the baking tray and sprinkle brown sugar evenly over each rasher. Depending on the length of the bacon, you may need more or less sugar.
Bake for 5 minutes then flip the bacon over and drag through the sugary liquid so both sides of the bacon are covered in sticky sugar.
Bake for another 5 minutes. Repeat until the bacon is dark brown.
Allow to cool on a wire rack before cutting into small pieces.

While the bacon is cooling, make the buttercream frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cuppycakes.
Decorate with candied bacon.

Achoo! – Revisited

Just over a year ago I saw a movie about the famous sneezing baby panda that became a YouTube sensation. No one really knew the identities of the sneezing baby panda or the mother panda who nearly drops her cookie in shock, although there was much speculation and many guesses. The film “Sneezing Baby Panda: The Movie” suggests the mother panda is Mao Mao and the baby panda is Chi Chi. You can read my review of the movie here.

But now, thanks to the wonderful Pandas International, the real identity of the sneezing baby panda and startled mother have been revealed. Why was it so hard to find out who these pandas were? The main issue was that the video was released on YouTube in 2006 and the assumption was that the footage was from 2006. But the footage was actually from a documentary filmed in 1998. This has caused much confusion and incorrect assumptions about who the pandas are. After much consultation and research, Pandas International recently revealed that the mother panda is Xue Xue and the sneezing baby panda is Mei Xiang!

If you know anything about famous pandas you’ll know that Mei Xiang is big news. Mei Xiang lives at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC and is the mother of two very famous pandas; Tai Shan (Butterstick) and Bao Bao.IMG_7812a

Ironically, Tai Shan is one of the stars of “Sneezing Baby Panda: The Movie” and plays the role of the sneezing baby panda Chi Chi. As we now know, the sneezing baby panda is not Chi Chi but Mei Xiang, Tai Shan’s mother. So the lovely and talented Tai Shan actually played his mother in the movie 🙂

Baby sister Bao Bao is also a sensation in her own right. She has been a Smithsonian Cover Girl and was voted the Smithsonian’s Most Iconic Item. Both Bao Bao and her parents have had silver coins made in their honour.

Bao Bao is also famous for her incarnation as Princess Pinky in The Panda Chronicles by Anne Belov. Princess Pinky is currently running for President of the United States in 2016. You can follow her exploits at the Chronicles and also her reaction to finding out that the sneezing baby panda is actually her mother! You can read Part One here and Part Two here.

So sit back, grab the popcorn and indulge in some pandamonium! And what better way to enjoy popcorn than in a cuppycake. From the (coming soon) cookbook “The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Panda Kindergarten” by Anne Belov and me, is this delicious Popcorn Cuppycake. The Panda Cam Cuppycake is dedicated to all the wonderful pandas who have made us laugh and cry at their onscreen panda play and especially to the sneezing baby panda Mei Xiang and her mother Xue Xue.

Panda Cam Cuppycakes
Popcorn studded cornmeal cuppycakes with butter and cream cheese frosting are the perfect food for watching panda antics.

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Ingredients
for the cornmeal cuppycakes
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup almond meal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup sunflower oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten

for the butter and cream cheese frosting
1 cup (8oz/225g) cream cheese, softened
1 cup (8oz/225g) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar
freshly popped popping corn, cooled

Method
Preheat oven to 220C / 430F
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a medium sized bowl, mix together the cornmeal, almond meal, baking powder, salt and sugar.
In a small bowl mix together the buttermilk, oil and eggs.
Add milk mixture to cornmeal mixture and stir until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into the 12 paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 25 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean when inserted into the centre. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While the cuppycakes are cooling, make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar and beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cuppycakes.
Decorate with popped corn.

The Battle Of The Cream Tea

What goes on my scones first – the jam or the cream? That is a question many face when confronted by a cream tea. So when the CWA (Country Women’s Association) were offering Devonshire teas (the popular name for cream teas in Australia) I couldn’t resist asking them. Their answer –  in Australia – whatever way you like! Free from the burden of choice I decided to try both ways.

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My verdict is if you like the jam to be the dominant flavour then put the jam on last, if you like cream to be the dominant flavour then put the cream on last. Either way they are delicious and a great way to spend an afternoon. But how did this battle of the cream teas begin?

While the origins of the cream tea are in dispute, it is generally accepted that a cream tea is a light afternoon snack that is comprised of scones, jam, cream and tea. The scones are cut or broken in half and then spread with jam and cream. Traditionally served in Devon or Cornwall, cream teas are now served worldwide. The confusion about which order to spread your scones has arisen because in Devon you put cream first then jam while in Cornwall you put jam first then cream. They take this issue very seriously so if you visit either county and have a cream tea, make sure you remember which order is “correct” for the county you are in. You don’t want to be thrown out of a tea room without tasting the scones! Now that is clear – problem solved! Not really … Unfortunately the type of scone, jam and cream are also the subject of much debate.

IMG_9177cScones
The original Cornish scone was actually a type of yeasted sweet bread roll called a Cornish split.
The scones of today are usually small cakes or quick breads leavened with baking powder rather than yeast.
Scones can be sweet, savoury or filled. Popular fillings are dried fruit or cheese.
There are different types of scones such as potato scones, drop scones, griddle scones and lemonade scones. American biscuits are similar to British scones. Some scones, such as griddle scones, are fried.
For a cream tea the scone should be plain, unglazed, baked and served warm.

Jam
Strawberry jam is traditional but as long as the jam is well made there doesn’t appear to be much angst over using other fruits.

Cream
Clotted cream is best but as it is difficult to get outside of Britain, whipped cream is a suitable substitute. Canned cream is totally unacceptable!

Tea
There doesn’t seem to be much debate on the tea issue. It should be black, very strong with a splash of milk and there should be plenty of it! Green or herbal teas are not acceptable substitutes. Sadly neither is coffee, as the name suggests 😦

So how do I enjoy my cream teas? In true Cornish style with butter first – that’s right butter first, then jam, then cream. Butter was part of the original Cornish cream tea. My experience in Australia is that you are served jam and cream or butter if you prefer, but never both. I save my butter indulgence for cream teas at home. My tea of choice is Earl Grey with a dash of milk.

If you’re a fan of cream teas I’d love to know what you do at home and what you are served when you go out.

And now from the traditional to a very untraditional cream tea – A Panda Afternoon Tea!!

The recipe below is from the (coming soon) cookbook – The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes of the Panda Kindergarten. The cookbook is a collaboration between me and artist Anne Belov, creator of The Panda Chronicles. Each cuppycake recipe will have a cartoon and an original painting by Anne. Want to know more about The Panda Chronicles? Just click here to visit Anne, her pandas and Mehitabel the Cat!

Please enjoy this “taste” from the Panda Kindergarten 🙂

009-high-tea-with-pandy-kindy-100r-copy

Bob T Panda’s Afternoon Tea Cuppycakes
Bob T Panda reinvents the Afternoon Tea with his Earl Grey cuppycakes served with Earl Grey cream and strawberry jam.

Ingredients
for the Earl Grey cuppycakes
1/4 cup boiling water
1 tablespoon Earl Grey tea leaves
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup superfine granulated (caster) sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1 + 1/4 cups flour, sifted
2 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

for the Earl Grey cream
4 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea leaves
1 + 1/2 cup double cream
2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar

for serving
strawberry jam
cups of tea

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 10 paper cases.
Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and allow to steep for five minutes.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light and fluffy.
Strain the tea into the batter then add the milk and flour. Beat for 2 minutes or until the batter is light and fluffy.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the cream by pouring the boiling water over the tea leaves and allow to steep for five minutes.
Whip together the cream and powdered sugar with a wire whisk until combined. Add the strained tea and beat until fluffy.
Serve with lots of jam and tea.

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International Red Panda Day

Saturday the 20th of September is the 5th International Red Panda Day!

Never heard of International Red Panda Day? Well pop on over to the Red Panda Network and find out what all the excitement is about. If your local zoo has red pandas, find out if they are doing something. If they aren’t, let them know about it so maybe they can participate next year. It’s celebrated on the 3rd Saturday in September.

IMG_3228I was lucky enough to participate in the 1st International Red Panda Day at The National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra. As they were listed as the only zoo in Australia participating in the event, I excitedly planned a weekend trip, booked my flights and accommodation and thought I would also treat myself to a red panda encounter. When I rang the zoo to book the encounter, I also asked what festivities they were doing for the special day. Imagine both our surprise when they said they had never heard of International Red Panda Day! They said they would check out what it was all about and ring me back. A few hours later I got a call saying they loved the idea and that they were now officially participating in the event. I was so excited – and so relieved. It ended up being a great day.

I am a huge fan of both the red panda and the giant panda. Growing up I couldn’t believe that these two vastly different but extremely cute creatures could be related, but that was the common view. Now we know that giant pandas are part of the bear family and red pandas are in their own unique family. There is a great article about these two different pandas here. For more information on red pandas and giant pandas visit the Red Panda Network and Pandas International. They have heaps of fun stuff on their sites, information and ways you can contribute to the panda cause

To help promote International Red Panda Day, Anne Belov of the Panda Chronicles has kindly created a cartoon featuring Rusty the Red Panda. I am so excited about this! When I first discovered the Panda Chronicles I thought it would be great to have a red panda become part of the giant panda gang. Thanks to Anne, my dream has come true.

085 rusty the red panda 100r copy

And there’s more!
To celebrate International Red Panda Day we have created a celebratory cuppycake especially for the day.

Red Panda Red Velvet Cuppycakes
Pandas of all colors will devour these celebratory red velvet cuppycakes with cream cheese frosting.

Ingredients
for the red velvet cuppycakes
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup superfine granulated (caster) sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 egg, room temperature
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2/3 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon pomegranate juice
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar
red food coloring

for the cream cheese frosting
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (115g) cream cheese, softened
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 tablespoon milk
pomegranate seeds for sprinkling

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking soda and sea salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl whisk together the sugars and oil with a wire whisk until combined. Add the egg and egg yolk and whisk well. Add the buttermilk, sour cream, vanilla, pomegranate juice and cider vinegar. Whisk until smooth.
Using a wooden spoon, fold through the flour mix. Gently blend through enough red food coloring to achieve desired red. This should be a fairly wet batter. If it is too dry add more buttermilk.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into 12 paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cuppycake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cuppycakes are cooling make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the butter and cream cheese in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar. Add the milk and beat until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cuppycakes.

Decorate with pomegranate seeds.

red panda red velvet

This recipe and other panda related recipes will be in The Panda Chronicles Cuppycake Cookbook: Favourite Recipes From The Panda Kindergarten.

Coming soon!!