Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Not-Blah-At-All Vanilla Cupcakes

For everyone who thinks vanilla is kinda blah - myself included - prepare to be proved wrong! Yeah, I said it! 

I've never tried to make vanilla cake/cupcakes/anything. Vanilla is just soooo ... vanilla! Or so I thought. But then a friend asked me to make 60 cupcakes for her engagement/fiancĂ©’s birthday party - half of them red velvet and half of them vanilla, and not relishing the thought of having 30 crappy cupcakes on my hand on the day of the party and delivering only half (the red velvet which I've made before) to the party, I realised I'd have to try out a recipe or four (as many as it took to get them right) before my cupcake-athon (great idea by the way, I could raise money for charity by eating erm, I meant baking, cakes for charity - just an insight into how my ingenious mind works! ;p). 
So now that the decision was made, all that was left was to find a few recipes and choose which one to try first. Easy. Right? Ummm, No! I have LOTS of cake books but do you know I could not find a single vanilla cupcake recipe??? And I refuse to turn to the Internet when I currently must have about a gazillion (rough estimate) cake recipes on my bookshelf which I haven't yet tried. So finally (as is always the way, it was where I looked last) I turned to a book I had never used; The Crabapple Bakery Cupcake Book by Jennifer Graham. And right there on the very first page was a recipe for vanilla cupcakes. Yay! And what cupcakes they were; fluffy and so tasty that I still find it hard to believe they came from such a simple recipe! This is officially my new favourite cupcake book - sorry Martha Stewart! 
If you live in Victoria, Australia (which must be a fantastic place, judging by the name ;p), then you have to check out the Crabapple Bakery because even if their cakes are only just as good as their recipes, then they must be amazing! 
I was also practising my icing technique which needs so much work; but more on that in a later post.  If you were ever going to try making cupcakes; I suggest you start with these :D

Sorry measurements are all in cups! But to be honest, a lot of the best recipes are American or Australian so if you're a keen baker, I suggest you invest in a set.

Ingredients for the cupcakes                                      
2 and three quarters cups plain flour                               
2 teaspoons baking powder                                           
200g softened unsalted butter                                         
1 and three quarters cups caster sugar (I used golden)     
4 eggs                                                                             
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I used 2)
1 cup milk

Makes: 24                                                                   
Keeps: 2 days                                                               
Freezes: 2 months

Ingredients for Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
200g softened unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (I used 2)
8 cups icing sugar (I found I only needed around 6 and a half)

Makes: Enough for 24 cupcakes
Keeps: 1 week

1 - Preheat oven to 170ÂșC. Line two 12-hole muffin trays with cupcake papers
2 - Mix together the flour and the baking powder
3 - In a separate bowl, cream the butter for 1 - 2 minutes. Add the caster sugar a third at a time, beating for 2 minutes after each addition. After the last addition, beat until the mixture is light and fluffy and the sugar has almost dissolved
4 - Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition or until mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla extract and beat until combined
5 - Add a third of the flour to the creamed mixture and beat on low speed until combined. Add half the milk and beat until combined. Repeat this process. Add the remaining third of the flour and beat thoroughly until combined; do not over-beat as this will toughen the mixture
6 - Spoon mixture into cupcake papers, filling each about three-quarters full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until a fine skewer inserted comes out clean
7 - Remove cupcakes from trays immediately and cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes before frosting

Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
1 - Cream the butter for 1-2 minutes.
2 - Add the milk, vanilla extract and half of the sifted icing sugar, and beat for at least 3 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
3 - Add the remaining icing sugar and beat for a further 3 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy and of a spreadable consistency. Add extra milk if the mixture is too dry or extra icing sugar if it is too wet.

If you wish to colour/flavour the buttercream, this is the best time to do it. Add a drop at a time and beat in until you reach the required colour and/or flavour.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Good-For-You Granola

Firstly, let's get this out of the way ... Is granola good for you?? Answer: It can be great for you!  Containing slow release carbohydrates (oats) and protein (nut and seeds), the one thing to watch out for is that like most cereals, some brands contain a lot of sugar. Granola is not low fat by any means, but the fats it does have are good fats like nuts. It is a very healthful food that keeps you full for ages. However, if you are on a low-fat diet, please look away now and return to your bowl of Special K.

I've loved granola since I was introduced to it in Canada several years ago, and I still eat it like I ate it then; with yoghurt. My current favourite lunch is a bowl of blueberries, topped with Onken wholegrain strawberry yoghurt and a layer of granola on the top ... yum! Before the last couple of years, there weren't many brands of granola available to buy in supermarkets in the UK though that looks to be changing. Dorset Cereals have had Honey Granola for a while and have now introduced three new new granola flavours; Marmalade, Chocolate and Chocolate Granola and Macadamia nuts. I recently tried the Chocolate and Macadamia nuts flavour and I wasn't too impressed. Their honey granola is good though; almost as good as mine ;p I also liked a granola by 'Lizi's Good Carb Company'.
However, after deciding to look up a recipe and try making it about a year ago, I only buy granola when I can't be bothered to make my own which is a silly excuse since it is very easy to make! I've only tried this BBC Good Food recipe and it's so good, I literally have to stop myself just snacking on it. Especially when it has just come out of the oven as it smells heavenly!

The great thing about this recipe - or any granola recipe, I imagine - is that you can pick and choose what goes into it according to your preferences. I, for example, don't put dried berries or any fruit for that matter in my granola (Hey, hey, hey! Don't judge me. Like I said, my granola usually tops a huge bowl of blueberries that is two portions of my 5-a-day thank you very much :D) But I've discovered that pecans taste INCREDIBLE in it so I usually just replace the flaked almonds and dried berries with pecans. And I always throw in a few handfuls of flax seed or linseed (even though they're more or less the same thing) for good measure and it doesn't alter the taste one bit! While I love it with vanilla extract like the BBC recipe, I recently made a batch replacing the vanilla with nutmeg and cinammon and that was fab too. And I intend to plagiarise from Dorset cereals and try making it with marmalade some day :D It's pretty much win win win!

As somewhat of a seasoned making-my-own-granola-from-this-recipe pro, here are a couple of tips to guide you newbies on your way:
Honey/Maple syrup/sunflower oil/vanilla 
 1) You'll need to at least double the cooking time in   the recipe. Stir every 15 minutes and aim for it to be crunchy but not browned.
 2) I recommend making twice the recipe as you'll get through it very quickly's that tasty! Cook in two batches if you do this.
 3) If adding dried fruit, leave it till the last 15 minutes and add it with the coconut or else it goes quite hard and gummy.

Happy granola making and eating!