My Best Ever Strawberry and Vanilla Cupcake After a lifetime of cupcake baking and constantly striving to improve the taste, texture and appearance of my miniature cakes I believe I have created the best ever strawberry and vanilla cupcake. It isn’t difficult to make, but for best results clear and clean your kitchen, assemble your ingredients, put some beautiful music on and relax as you bake. You will need: 100g of top quality unsalted English butter, at room temperature. Of course you can use imported butter but I prefer to buy local produce wherever possible. If you cannot get hold of unsalted butter then salted will also do but never use margarine. The taste isn’t the same, they won’t keep as long, and it’s a shame to waste your hard work for the sake of a few pence. Years ago I made my cakes with equal quantities of butter, sugar and flour. Then someone introduced me to a recipe which replaced 50g of the butter with 3 tablespoons of milk. I was converted! The cake is lighter and fluffier without doubt – not to mention slightly more economical to bake! 150g of caster sugar. Most of the major brands’ and supermarkets’ sugar carries the fairtrade logo, making it one of the easiest fairtrade products to source. Don’t be tempted to use granulated sugar but if it is all you have in the cupboard you could blitz it briefly in the food processor to reduce the size of the granules – just don’t end up with icing sugar! 150g of self-raising flour. Over the years I have used pretty much every brand. And if I am honest I have found very little difference between the value ranges and the top quality, more expensive brands. However as I think more and more carefully about the impact my shopping choices make on others I am exploring only using local suppliers and/or organic flour. I read somewhere that flour was traditionally sieved to remove any “bugs” as it used to be served from open sacks at market. Sieving may not be necessary for that reason nowadays but I still like to do it – there’s something satisfying about it and if you add the raising agent/vanilla powder as you sieve it helps to ensure it is well combined. 1 rounded teaspoon baking powder. Again I have experimented with different methods and raising agents. Something in me wanted the eggs and flour, along with my careful creaming and folding, to be enough – baking powder felt like “cheating”! I’ve finally conceded however that baking powder does make all the difference, and I like to use the “all in one” method. I actually enjoy the folding of flour into a batter but have found the lightest results come when I whisk everything together with my trusty Kenwood! Half a rounded teaspoon Ndali organic vanilla powder. I used to use vanilla essence –back in the day when I thought the stuff you bought in the supermarket was “the real deal”. One day I discovered vanilla extract and swore by it until I came across Ndali vanilla. The difference is sublime and worth every penny – besides which you use less so the price difference isn’t all it seems. 2 large free range eggs, also at room temperature. The only kind I ever use as happy hens lay tastier eggs! 3 tablespoons fresh semi skimmed milk at room temperature. ****** Having assembled all your ingredients this is what you do: Pre-heat the oven to 160 degrees and make sure there is a shelf positioned in the middle. Put the butter, which should be nice and soft, the caster sugar, the eggs and the milk into a large mixing bowl. Try to find one which is deeper rather than very wide, but you should be able to get your whisk in to incorporate all the ingredients easily. Sieve the flour, baking powder and vanilla powder into the bowl. Turn on your hand whisk at a slow speed and gradually combine the ingredients. As they come together take a flexible spatula and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Whisk and scrape down once more then give a really good whisk, turning the speed up to high. The batter should be pale in colour, light and fluffy, but over whisking can be as bad as not combining all the ingredients properly so take care not to be too enthusiastic! Line a 12 hole muffin tin with cupcake cases. There are various shapes and sizes available but I like to use those 50mm across at the bottom and 38mm tall. I find they cook through well and give a good shaped cake. Don’t confuse them with fairy cake cases which are much smaller! Divide the batter equally between the cases. Some people like to use a spring loaded ice cream scoop to ensure an equal measure in each case. I pop each case on the scales and quickly measure about 45g of batter into each case. Any left over goes into mini muffin cases as a cooks perk! Bake the cakes in the preheated oven. Set the timer for 18 minutes and take a peek after that time. They should be a nice golden colour, slightly domed and if you insert a clean thin skewer into the centre it should come out clean. Let them rest in the tin for a couple of minutes then transfer them to a wire rack somewhere away from temptation and let them cool down! Filling While the cakes are in the oven – or even the day before – make the strawberry jam filling. Wash and hull a 300g punnet of English strawberries. Put them in a large pan with 200g fairtrade caster sugar and the juice of half a fairly traded lemon. Stir well, place over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Allow to bubble for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally. You need a soft set jam so don’t allow it to boil for too long. If you are not familiar with jam making you can buy some lovely fairtrade jam so don’t feel too bad about it! Allow the jam to cool, or speed the process up but pouring it into a bowl and setting that bowl into a larger one full of iced water. When it is cool enough to manage (it will be very hot so take care not to burn yourself) pass it through a metal sieve, pushing it through to make sure as little as possible is wasted! Buttercream Take another 250g of top quality English unsalted butter, at room temperature and nice and soft. Place it in a large mixing bowl and whisk till light and fluffy. Gradually whisk in 500g icing sugar and a tablespoon of fresh semi skimmed milk. If it is too stiff add a little more milk, it should be of a soft, creamy texture but will need to hold its shape when piped. Tips: Sieving is not essential if you are using an electric mix. Put a clean tea towel over the bowl and whisk while you make the buttercream, this prevents quite such a cloud of icing sugar escaping into the kitchen! Take out half of the buttercream and place in another bowl. Add half a teaspoon of Ndali vanilla to the remainder of the buttercream and whisk to incorporate it thoroughly. Add a tablespoon of the sieved strawberry jam to the buttercream in the other bowl. Wash and dry the whisk beaters and use to incorporate it thoroughly. You now have strawberry and vanilla buttercreams! Assembling your best-ever cupcakes Take a disposable icing bag fitted with a Wilton 230 icing nozzle. Place it in a glass or jug to hold it upright while you spoon the sieved jam into it. Squeeze the jam towards the nozzle and twist to prevent it squirting out over your hand! Take the cakes one at a time and insert the nozzle into the centre. Gradually apply pressure to the icing bag so that the jam fills the hole left by the nozzle. Do it too quickly and you will just have a holey cake! If a little oozes out on top of the cake spread it out with a palette knife – it adds a nice sweetness under the icing. **** Take a fresh icing bag fitted with a large star icing nozzle. I like to use a PME number 13 star nozzle but others swear by a Wilton number 1. Lakeland do a good set with a variety of nozzles for anyone starting out and wanting to play around and have fun! As before, stand it over a jug or glass and spoon in the vanilla buttercream. Squeeze and twist and hold it so that you are comfortable and able to control the flow of buttercream. Starting at the edge of one of the cakes pipe round the edge of the cake. Keep going in a single continuous swirl, overlapping and continuing round until you get to the centre where you press down gently and pull away to form a soft peak. It is true that practice makes perfect! Repeat on five more of the cakes. Either replace the icing bag and wash the nozzle or simply squeeze out any leftover vanilla and use the same bag before spooning in the strawberry buttercream. Repeat the piping and swirling on the remaining six cakes. Decoration This is optional but adds a nice touch: Take twelve washed and dried strawberries (if you only want to buy one punnet reserve these when making the jam and reduce the amount of sugar slightly). Lay them on a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Melt 50g good quality fairtrade chocolate in a bowl over a pan of hot water (or in the microwave if you prefer). When it is nice and runny scoop up a teaspoonful and from a height of about six inches allow a fine drizzle to fall over the strawberries, zig-zagging backwards and forwards to coat them with thin stripes. Repeat over all the strawberries and allow to dry. Top each of your best ever cupcakes with a chocolate strawberry All you need to do now is pop them on a pretty plate and serve with a nice cup of tea. Any leftover should be stored in the fridge in an airtight container but allow to come to room temperature before eating. Enjoy!
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