Cupcakes

A Day For Mead

August 1st is Imbolc – the midway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. It is a time of hope, a time to remember that Winter is ending and Spring is on its way. Imbolc celebrates the return of Persephone as she takes leave from her role as Queen of the Underworld and returns to the Earth as a Goddess of Spring. Foods and drinks that are associated with Spring and the Sun are traditional Imbolc fare.

This year Imbolc coincides with Mead Day, which is celebrated on the first Saturday in August. Mead Day was created as way to forge friendships within the mead making community and to introduce (or reintroduce) the rest of us to the joy that is mead. 🙂 Mead is made by combining honey with water and yeast. Additional flavourings can be added such as fruits , herbs and spices. It can be served straight, in cocktails or as a warmed mulled wine.

I was first introduced to mead at a Pagan festival many years ago and immediately fell in love with its sweet and spicy honey flavour. I love drinking mead, but I also love cooking with it. Mead is a great addition to both savoury and sweet dishes, but especially to sweet ones.

To celebrate Imbolc and Mead Day I’ve made a mead cupcake with mead cream cheese frosting. If you can’t find mead, you can try substituting it with a sweet wine – the sweeter and stickier the better. The recipe can be scaled up and you can use the leftover egg yolk to make custard – with or without mead!

Mead Cupcake with Mead Cream Cheese Frosting
(serves one)

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Special instructions:
You will need 1 Texas muffin size silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan and paper liner.

Ingredients
for the mead cupcake
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons (30g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg white
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon shredded coconut
2 tablespoons mead

for the mead cream cheese frosting
1/4 cup (60g) cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons mead

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and combined.
Beat in the egg white.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt.
Stir in the coconut and mix until just combined.
Add the mead and stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into a silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan lined with a paper case.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the frosting by mixing together the cream cheese and icing sugar until combined.
Add the mead and mix until smooth and combined.
Dollop or pipe onto cupcake.
If the frosting needs to thicken before piping, place in the refrigerator for a sort time.

Dark Moon Solstice

This weekend is Solstice weekend and many of us in the southern hemisphere will be celebrating the Winter Solstice. Also known as Midwinter, the Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year. After the Winter Solstice, the nights get shorter and the days longer but the weather most definitely gets colder! This year Midwinter also coincides with a Dark Moon and an Eclipse, making it a very dark and powerful night!

To warm up after the evening festivities, I’m going to indulge in a seasonal treat – gingerbread in the form of cupcakes! I love the warm, spicy taste of ginger in anything, but particularly in sweets. Ginger cakes, cookies, candies and sodas are treats I regularly indulge in, as is ginger tea.

To truly get into the spirit of culinary indulgence that is Midwinter, I’ll be topping my gingerbread cupcakes with a rich brown butter frosting.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Brown Butter Frosting
(makes 10)

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Ingredients
for the gingerbread cupcakes
1 + 1/3 cups plain flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup caster (superfine) sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 tablespoons golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

for the brown butter frosting
115g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, roughly chopped
170g (6oz) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 + 1/2 cups icing (powdered) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 10 paper cases.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and ginger in a bowl.
In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until creamy.
Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add the golden syrup and vanilla and beat until combined.
Add the flour mix and beat until combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into 10 paper cases.
Bake for 15 – 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.

To make the brown butter frosting, place the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Stirring constantly, cook until the butter becomes tan in colour. Do not allow to go dark brown or black.
Once tan, remove saucepan from heat and pour butter into a heatproof bowl.
Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or until it reaches a soft butter consistency.
Place the butter and cream cheese into a bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy.
Add the salt, sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy and combined.
Spoon frosting into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.

Day Of The Leaplings

February 29th is Leap Day. Babies born on this day are called Leaplings. As their birthday only comes once every four years they can choose to celebrate their birthday, on the non-leap years, a day early on February 28th, a day later on March 1st, or they can wait four years and only celebrate on Leap Day.

Legally they grow a year older each year (they don’t have to wait 72 or 84 years to be able to buy a drink!) In New Zealand if you’re born on the 29th of February, your birthday is officially 28th February on the other years. In many other parts of the world it is on the 1st of March in those years. In Australia, it was decided in a court case in 2018 (really 2018!) when an offender argued successfully that she should be tried as a child for offences committed on 28th February 2018. The prosecutors had argued from a different historical position that she should be tried as an adult – with substantially larger possible penalties.

The rest of us can celebrate Leap Day as a day of balance, as this extra day was added to keep the calendar year aligned with the seasonal and astronomical year.

When thinking of celebrating birthdays, I usually think of colourful cakes. One of my favourites, Neapolitan cake, is a tricoloured cake inspired by the colours of Neapolitan ice cream. The most common Neapolitan ice cream block contains three flavours – chocolate, vanilla and strawberry.

As a big fan of cupcakes, I decided to make a cupcake version of this classic cake. My Neapolitan Cupcakes feature slices of chocolate, vanilla and strawberry cupcake sandwiched together with strawberry jam, topped with vanilla cream frosting and a sprinkling of grated milk chocolate. Serve with scoops of Neapolitan ice cream for a truly indulgent celebration!

Neapolitan Cupcakes
makes 9 cupcakes

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Ingredients
for the cupcake batter
1 cup plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch (cornflour)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
125g (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup superfine (caster) sugar
2 eggs

for the chocolate cupcakes
1 teaspoon cocoa powder, sifted
2 teaspoons water

for the vanilla cupcakes
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons water

for the strawberry cupcakes
3 tablespoons strawberry jam
pink food coloring

to assemble
extra strawberry jam

for the vanilla cream frosting
1 cup double cream
1 tablespoon powdered buttermilk or powdered milk*
1 tablespoon powdered (icing) sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

To serve
grated milk chocolate or chocolate sprinkles

Instructions
Preheat oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 9 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cornstarch and salt. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale.
Add eggs one at a time and beat well.
Add the flour mix and fold through until combined.
Divide the mixture evenly into three bowls.
To make the chocolate batter add the cocoa and water to one bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
To make the vanilla batter add the vanilla and water to the second bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
To make the strawberry batter add the jam and enough food colouring to achieve desired pink colour to the third bowl and mix until thoroughly combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the chocolate batter evenly into 3 paper cases. Repeat with vanilla and strawberry batter making sure to clean the ice cream scoop between batches.
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.

To assemble:
Remove cupcakes from paper lining.
Carefully cut each cupcake horizontally into three even slices with a serrated knife.
Assemble the cupcakes making sure that each cupcake has a different coloured top, middle and bottom.
Use a thin layer of strawberry jam to sandwich the layers together.
To make the vanilla cream frosting, whip together the cream, powdered sugar and milk powder with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined.
Add the vanilla extract and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form.
Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Sprinkle with chocolate.

*I use milk powder in my icings to balance the sweetness but you can omit the milk powder and replace it with extra powdered sugar.

A Day Of Gin And Tonics

October 19th is International Gin and Tonic Day. It is a day to celebrate and drink Gin & Tonics. That’s it! As a lover of gin and also of tonic I need no excuse to imbibe this refreshing drink. 

The Gin and Tonic was introduced during the reign of the British East India Company in India during the 1700’s as a treatment for malaria. Tonic water gets its distinctive bitter taste from quinine which was used as a natural medicine to treat malaria. To counter the bitter taste of quinine, sugar, lime and gin were added to the medicinal tonic water, giving birth to the Gin and Tonics we love today.

A Gin and Tonic is simply a mix of two ingredients – gin and tonic poured over ice. The ratio between the two ingredients depends on personal taste but you can start with one part gin to three parts tonic water and work from there. Garnishing with a slice of lime is traditional but I prefer lemon on the rare occasions that I add a garnish.

I love the flavours of Gin and Tonic so much that I just had to have a go at making Gin and Tonic Cupcakes with Gin and Tonic Icing. I wasn’t sure if they would work, and the thought of wasting a large amount of gin, inspired me to scale down my recipe to one generous Texas muffin sized cupcake. I’m happy (and somewhat relieved) to say it was a success! The cupcake has a hint of gin flavour which is enhanced by the icing. They are a perfect match – just like a G&T. 🙂

Gin and Tonic Cupcake

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Special instructions:
You will need 1 Texas muffin size silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan and paper liner.

Ingredients
for the cupcake
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
2 tablespoons tonic water
1 teaspoon gin

for the icing
1/2 cup powdered (icing) sugar
2 teaspoons gin
1 teaspoon tonic water

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
Whisk in the melted butter.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt and stir until combined.
Add the gin and tonic water and stir until just combined.
Spoon the batter into a silicone liner or a Texas muffin pan lined with a paper case.
Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
Mix together the icing sugar, gin and tonic water in a bowl.
The icing should be thick enough to drizzle so add more gin or tonic water or more powdered sugar if needed to get this consistency. 
Drizzle as much icing as you like over the top and smooth over with the back of a spoon.

Midwinter Morsels

The solstices are upon us and here in Australia we’re about to celebrate the longest night of the year. After the winter solstice the nights will get shorter and the days longer but the weather will get colder! Midwinter always reminds me of fruitcake and pinecones so I just had to add a sprinkling of pine nuts to my fruitcake recipe.

Fruitcake Cupcakes

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Ingredients
3/4 cup (170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs, room temperature
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1 cup sultanas
1/4 cup mixed peel, chopped
1/4 cup pine nuts
24 maraschino cherries, cut in half

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 150C / 300F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a large bowl cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
Beat in eggs one at a time.
Add flour, salt, mixed spice and ginger and mix until combined.
Stir in the dried fruit, mixed peel and pine nuts until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into paper cases.
Push four half maraschino cherries into the top of each cupcake. 
Bake for 30 – 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

A Halloween Baker’s Dozen

For my Halloween pumpkin donuts I adapted a recipe for cinnamon cake donuts to include pumpkin puree. By adding pumpkin puree and increasing the amount of flour, I knew that my original recipe for 12 donuts would now make more. What to do with the extra batter? I hate just throwing things out so I thought of piping extra donuts onto baking paper and seeing what happened. Then it hit me – I could do a baker’s dozen. Not a conventional baker’s dozen but a quirky version that would produce 12 pumpkin donuts and one large pumpkin cupcake!

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The term a “baker’s dozen” is commonly used in reference to a group of 13. As the name suggests, the origin of this term comes from the world of baking. Bread has alway been an important product and since ancient times there have been some bakers who have tried to cheat their customers. Consequently there were heavy punishments for those who were caught. In a bid to avoid accidentally selling underweight goods, bakers would often add an extra loaf or loaves free of charge. A baker’s dozen specifically relates to the buying of 12 items that are the same and receiving an extra 13th one for free.

What does the number 13 have to do with Halloween? Well Halloween is celebrated on October 31 which is 13 reversed! Most appropriately, both days are related to the Death tarot card which is number 13. If you celebrate Halloween in the southern hemisphere the date is the 30th of April so it’s not linked to either Friday the 13th or the Death card. However, the number 3 is linked to the concept of Birth, Life, Death so there’s still a deathly link to both Halloweens. And I’m happy about that as I celebrate both of them!

I would like to thank fellow blogger Christine for getting my creative juices flowing with her post Fun on Friday the 13th. Her post reminded me of the link between Friday the 13th and Halloween and inspired me to make my pumpkin baker’s dozen 🙂

Pumpkin Donuts

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Special Equipment
12 hole non-stick mini donut pan
1 silicone jumbo sized muffin liner (you could use a similar sized ramekin or mug lined with baking paper)

Ingredients
For the donuts
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/3 cup (70g) unsalted butter, melted
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1/2 cup caster sugar

For the cinnamon topping
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice
1/3 cup (70g) unsalted butter, melted

Instructions
Preheat oven to 170C / 340F.
In a small bowl mix together the milk, egg, vanilla, pumpkin puree and melted butter, set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Stir to combine.
Make a well in the centre.
Pour in the wet ingredients and, using a wooden spoon, mix until smooth.
Spoon the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a plain nozzle.
Pipe mixture into donut pan filling each donut to just below the halfway mark. (Keep the remaining batter for the cupcake.)
Bake donuts for 10 – 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.
Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes.
While donuts are cooling, mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Dunk donuts in melted butter then roll in cinnamon sugar mixture.
You can eat them warm or cold.

Pumpkin Cupcake

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Instructions
Once donuts are baked, increase oven temperature to 180C / 350F.
Pour remaining batter into muffin liner.
Bake for 20 – 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Allow to cool completely before frosting.

Pumpkin Frosting
Ingredients
60g (1/4 cup) unsalted butter, room temperature
60g (1/4 cup) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup pumpkin puree
1 tablespoon icing sugar

Instructions
Beat together the butter and cream cheese.
Beat in the pumpkin until combined.
Stir in the sugar.
Taste for sweetness and add more sugar if desired.
Pipe onto cupcake.

If there is any left over frosting you can dollop some on the donuts or just eat it with a spoon.

“Two” Many Cupcakes?

Tuesday June 13th is Cupcake Lovers Day 🙂

Coming up with a cupcake recipe for this awesome day should be so easy for me – after all, I am writing a cupcake cookbook! But as the day neared, I found myself surprisingly uninspired. So I decided to get my creative juices flowing by looking at the history of the cupcake and discovering why they are indeed called cupcakes.

Historically there are two types of cupcakes. The first is called a cupcake because the ingredients are measured by volume rather than weight. For this type of cake, most of the ingredients are measured in a cup. A popular cupcake of this type is called a 1234 cake because it is made with 1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour and 4 eggs. These cakes are usually baked in conventional cake pans.

The second type of cupcake is the cupcake we know and love today. They are called cupcakes because before the invention of muffin tins, these small, single serve cakes were actually baked in tea cups or mugs. Today, cupcakes are no longer baked in cups but are baked in muffin tins lined with decorative paper cases. They are usually topped with frosting or icing and can be filled or unfilled. They can also be decorated in many creative ways.

Did my trip down cupcake history lane whet my appetite? It sure did! After much thought and battling sugar cravings, I was inspired by the concept of the mug cake – quick, single serve cakes that are baked in mugs. But what I really wanted was to make a small batch of cupcakes baked in paper cases, not mugs. A quick bit of research and I happily discovered that there are many recipes for 1 or 2 cupcakes. The recipes for 1 cupcake required tablespoon measurements of egg white which I really don’t have time for, so I explored the 2 cupcake recipes, most of which use a whole egg white.

I know what you’re thinking. Why would you only bake 2 cupcakes? Well, I’d like to say it’s because I’m worried about eating a dozen cupcakes on my own but I would be lying 🙂 I was really thinking that by making only 2 cupcakes at a time I can experiment with more flavours and more combinations. In fact, I could well end up eating more than a dozen! I also did think there may be people out there who would like to make small batch cupcakes. So here is the first of what I hope are many creations for my “two for me” cupcakes!

Two Brown Butter Vanilla Cupcakes

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Ingredients
30g (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 egg white
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of sea salt
1 + 1/2 tablespoons milk

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Place 2 paper cases in either a 6-hole or 12-hole muffin pan.
Add the butter to a small frying pan.
Carefully swirl the pan for two minutes or until the butter is golden brown, being careful not to burn the butter.
Pour into a heat-proof bowl and allow to cool slightly.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg white and sugar until combined.
Stir in the vanilla and melted butter.
Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir until combined.
Add the milk and stir until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between the 2 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.

So how do you frost two cupcakes? Well the possibilities are endless. As you are not going to make a huge batch of frosting – unless you want to – you can be a bit more creative with your topping choices. For one of the cupcakes I went the simple route. I topped the cupcake with a dollop of double cream and grated some white chocolate over the top. You can do this with any of your favourite toppings and spreads. No recipe needed!

For the other cupcake, I challenged myself to create frosting for one, because who doesn’t want to know how to make frosting just for yourself 🙂 There were many options available but I finally went for a peanut butter one. The thought of a brown butter cupcake topped with peanut butter frosting actually made me drool.

Peanut Butter Frosting For One

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Ingredients
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
2 tablespoons peanut butter
2 tablespoons icing (powdered) sugar
1 tablespoon milk

Instructions
In a small bowl, whisk together the butter and peanut butter. You can use a small whisk or a fork.
Whisk in the icing sugar until combined
Mix in the milk and whisk until you reach your desired consistency.
Dollop onto cupcake.

Click Cupcakes for more of my recipes 🙂

World Goth Day

May 22nd is World Goth Day. World what day? World Goth Day! That’s right, there is a World Goth Day and it has been around since 2009.

During a BBC Radio 6 exploration of musical subcultures, two goth DJs thought it would be great to get an event going that celebrated the goth scene. They chose May 22nd as the day. Initially a British celebration, World Goth Day spread and is now celebrated all over the world. You can check out the offical page to learn more and to see if there is an event near you.

World Goth Day celebrates the cultural heritage of the goth scene. It is a day for goths to be proud of who and what they are. I have been a proud goth since I was young, openly exploring the darker side of life through books, films, television and music.

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When I entered the world of punk rock music I found my clan – punk goths. Not surprisingly two of the bands that influenced me the most were The Damned and The Cure. Both bands were punk goth hybrids and difficult to pigeonhole into one category. They were, to borrow a term from the awesome Billy Bragg, genre fluid – much like me 🙂 Also like me, both bands have lasted the distance and continue to embrace the soul of punk goth culture. In honour of World Goth Day’s musical roots, I have made a recipe based on one of my favourite songs.

In my post Neat Neat Neat I created a recipe for Smashed Potatoes in tribute to The Damned song Smash It Up. I also answered questions by Bob T. Panda including these two:
If you could be an animal, which one would you be?
“A Giant Panda like Clint Recession.”

Who is Clint Recession? Well he is a creation by David O’Doherty, Claudia O’Doherty and Mike Ahern in the book 100 Facts About Pandas. According to this book of fun fake facts, Clint is a founding member of The Cure and the inspiration for their goth look – he’s also a giant panda.

Which leads me to the next question:
What kind of cuppycake are you, and why?
“A Black Forest Cuppycake because I like black and I like The Cure song A Forest.”

Naturally I couldn’t resist creating a Black Forest Cupcake combining both goth and panda culture. My cupcakes are decorated with black liquorice which reminds me of black bamboo. And if there is one species of bamboo a goth panda would love it’s black!

Don’t forget, the original Black Forest Cake is named for Germany’s Black Forest – the setting for many of Grimm’s fairytales – and home to some spooky folklore. Wow, that’s a lot of goth to pack into one cupcake 🙂

Have a Happy World Goth Day!

Black Forest Cupcakes 

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Ingredients
for the black forest cupcakes
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 + 1/2 cups plain flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
125g (1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
1 egg yolk, room temperature
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
425g (15oz) canned pitted black cherries, drained and chopped, reserving the juice
1/2 cup juice, reserved from canned cherries

for the whipped cream
2 cups double cream
4 teaspoons powdered buttermilk or powdered milk
2 tablespoons powdered (icing) sugar
black liquorice for decoration
grated chocolate for sprinkling
fresh cherries for garnish – optional

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
In a small bowl, sift together the cocoa, flour and baking powder. Set aside.
In a medium sized bowl, cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until fluffy and pale.
Add egg yolk, one of the eggs and half the sour cream and beat well.
Add remaining egg and sour cream and beat until combined.
Add the milk and mix until combined.
Using a wooden spoon, fold through the cocoa mix 1/3 third at a time until combined.
Add the cherries and juice and gently mix through.
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, powdered sugar and milk powder with an electric mixer on medium speed until combined. Add the vanilla extract and whisk on high speed until stiff peaks form. Spoon whipped cream into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.
Decorate with black liquorice.
Sprinkle with chocolate and garnish with fresh cherries if desired.

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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