Salted Caramel Popcorn Cupcakes

I have created a monster. Genuinely, I think there are some things that are probably best left in my imagination for the sake of people’s dental and pancreatic health and this is definitely one of them. I have been thinking about doing a popcorn cupcake for a while and then that morphed into a toffee popcorn cupcake and then finally I thought that actually salted caramel is way nicer than toffee so… yeah.

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It is a vanilla sponge, with a salted caramel core, salted caramel buttercream icing, Butterkist toffee popcorn and salted caramel sauce drizzled on top.

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Here, have a recipe:

Sponge:

  • 175g Softened Butter
  • 175g Golden Caster Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Pod deseeded or scraped or whatever you call it or you can use 2 teaspoons of Vanilla Essence instead
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 175g Self-raising Flour

Filling:

  • 2 quantities of Nigella’s salted caramel sauce (hold some back for the icing and the drizzle)

Icing:

  • 80g butter, softened
  • 400g icing sugar, sieved
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 100g of the salted caramel

Decoration:

  • Butterkist Toffee Popcorn (or similar)
  • Few tbsp of salted caramel

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 C
  2. Put the butter and sugar into bowl and mix until light and fluffy. You can’t over mix it, so when you think it is done enough, do it a bit more.
  3. Scrape in the vanilla seeds (or put in the essence) and add the eggs whizzing well between each egg and scraping the sides clean
  4. Add the flour and fold into the egg/sugar/butter mixture
  5. Bake for about 18minutes but keep an eye on them from 10 minutes. They are done when they are all springy and your skewer comes out clear
  6. Leave on a cooling rack for 30 minutes or so until they are totally cool
  7. Next, take the corer or use a sharp knife to take out the centres. Push a bit of the caramel sauce into the middle of each one. Make sure you save some caramel left for the icing and for the tops of the cake.
  8. For the icing cream the butter until it is really really soft and add a small amount of the icing sugar. Keep adding icing sugar slowly, adding milk in between additions to moisten the mixture if you need to. If the mixture is too hard or looks like it is cracking when you make peaks with it, add a splash more milk. Add more icing sugar if it is too sloppy or buttery. Next add the caramel you will probably need to add bit more icing sugar was needed to stiffen it up again. Beat until fluffy and smooth.
  9. Pipe it on to the cakes starting at the outside and working in and up – you don’t have to be very neat about the icing as the popcorn covers it.
  10. Cover the top with as much popcorn as will fit and then a bit more.
  11. Get a disposable icing bag and add a few tablespoons of caramel, cut the very tip off and drizzle over the cakes to finish

And there we have it. Sorry, world.

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Dairy-Free Carrot Cupcakes with Orange ‘Butter’ Icing

Success! The lactose free/dairy free cupcakes came out absolutely fine and passed the taste test – phew!

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I made a pretty standard carrot cake sponge with all spice , orange zest and pecans which uses sunflower oil instead of butter anyway. I think it would probably be quite easy to convert this to a vegan recipe too (although I am not sure how well egg substitutes work). The ‘butter’ icing was made using Vitalite (Oooh, oooh, oh, oh Vitalite!) which I was really unsure about before I did it – I was worried it would taste funny (artificial?) and be very runny. I didn’t really find any conclusive information or success stories on the internet either, other than it was possible and better than other alternatives (except perhaps Trex but I couldn’t get that at Sainsburys) It was actually pretty easy to work with although it needs more icing sugar than normal and it tasted nice (a bit like the butter icing my mum used to make us as kids – I am now assuming she used to use marg rather than butter) to make it taste a bit more grown-up I used orange essence (I like the Nielson-Massey one) which also went well with the orange zest in the cake. I think the icing needs a bit of time to dry out (which is the opposite of what you normally want) so I am leaving them overnight and I am going to take them to the party straight from the fridge tomorrow because it is due to be super hot and I am not sure how they will do in the heat given the icing is a bit less stable than usual.

On to the recipe

The cakey bit:

  • 175g Light brown muscovado sugar (make sure it is all separated, if you put it in the microwave for 10 seconds it will help it be less clumpy)
  • 200g self-raising flour
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 teaspoons mixed spice
  • zest 1 orange
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 2 eggs
  • 150ml sunflower oil
  • 200g grated carrots

The icing bit:

  • 150g Vitalite dairy free margarine
  • 300g icing sugar (sifted)
  • 2 teaspoons orange essence

Method:

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with cases.
  2. Zest the orange and chop the pecans
  3. In a big bowl combine together the sugar, flours, bicarbonate of soda, mixed spice and orange zest.
  4. Whisk together the eggs and oil
  5. Stir the wet stuff into the into the dry ingredients and add the orange juice, grated carrot and pecans.
  6. Put the mixtures in the cases and bake for 20-22 mins until a skewer poked in comes out clean and they are nice and bouncy on top.
  7. Make sure they are cold before icing them
  8. For the icing, whip up the Vitalite  straight from the fridge with an electric whisk until it is soft and fluffy, add the orange essence and then add the icing sugar a 100g at a time until it is holding its shape (not too soft). If it is a hot day I would put the icing in the fridge for half an hour before trying to pipe it. Pipe on to the cakes. I did rose piping today because it felt like a pretty, summery thing to do.

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Salted Caramel Brownies

This evening I did some advance baking for some friends’ birthdays at the weekend. I baked some lactose-free carrot cupcakes that I will ice on Saturday – I will share those next week assuming it is not a massive disaster. Also if anyone has any Vitalite butter icing tips, I would really appreciate them. I also made some gooey salted caramel brownies – not lactose free but you can easily make them gluten free by switching the flour. Mmm… Salted Caramel. These brownies are amazing, seriously. They don’t look as pretty as some of the other stuff I make but they taste so good.

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Again, these use Nigella’s salted caramel sauce recipe, which is super easy – no sugar thermometer required. Just remember to use decent salt.

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The caramel is added to my failsafe brownie recipe. I use this brownie recipe all the time and add in whatever I fancy (chopped up Bounties, finger of fudges, Dime Bars, pecans etc)

  • 185g unsalted butter
  • 200g decent chocolate (I use one bar of Green and Blacks dark and one milk)
  • 85g plain flour (regular or gluten-free Doves Farm)
  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 3 large eggs
  • 275g golden caster sugar
  • 2 quantities of Nigella’s salted caramel (make it with slightly less cream to make sure it is thick enough) made in advance and totally cooled (although in an emergency the freezer works – don’t let it actually freeze)

Method:

  1. Cut butter into cubes and put into a pyrex type bowl with the chocolate (broken into small pieces) Melt them together by putting the bowl over a pan of simmering water but make sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir occasionally until they are combined. You can also do this by shoving it in the microwave but watch it really closely because chocolate burns easily. Leave the melted mixture to cool to room temperature.
  2. Pre-heat the oven to 160c. Line your tin with tin foil or baking parchment. I use a tin that is about 6 x 12 inches.
  3. Break the eggs into your bowl and add in the golden caster sugar whisk on high until light and thick and creamy – it should become pale and double in volume. It takes a while and is the most important step, this is what makes them light.
  4. Pour the cooled chocolate mixture in, then gently fold together with a spatula.Be careful not to knock the air out.
  5. Add in the sifted cocoa and flour mixture and fold in really gently until just combined. If you are making regular brownies, now would be the time to add in chopped up chocolate bars and whatever else you fancy.
  6. Pour the half the mixture into the tin and push it out into the corners making sure it is even. Then add the caramel. Try to avoid getting it too close to the edges if you can. Then add the other half of the brownie mix and smooth it over.  Pop it in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or so. To test if it is done shake the tin a bit, it shouldn’t wobble like jelly. I find the skewer test a bit redundant for brownie making because if it comes out clean you have probably over cooked them or missed a caramel seam.
  7. Leave them until they are totally cold. In this case, I mean it, they firm up and become manageable when cold. You can always reheat them later if you like.

So there you go… Enjoy!

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Piping Bags and Nozzles

A friend on Twitter has just asked what piping bags/nozzles I use so I thought I would blog about it because the question has come up a few times.

I have this ‘Professional’ piping set from Lakeland (you can order them online)

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I mainly use the top left nozzle and the first and second left on the bottom row. The bottom right makes something like looks like cowpats and I haven’t found a use for the top middle one yet. The top right is probably handy for drizzling stuff but I find a disposable piping bag with the corner cut off easier (and less washing up)

The top left is a classic swirly one that I use for most standard piping – the set comes with two of these, one big, one smaller. The bigger one looks like this:

The Originals

The bottom left is the one I used for rose piping like this because it creates thinner edges on the icing:

Rose Piping

The middle on on the bottom row is kind of in the middle between the other two and gives a more distinct edge and a bit more overlap – it always looks a bit more ‘fun’ than the others. Like this:

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But depending on the piping angle, speed and wiggle, this one can also come out like this:

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The bag that comes in with the set is absolutely rubbish and I prefer disposable bags anyway because they are less messy and feel more hygienic. I used the Tala ones from Amazon – they are only a few pounds, they are quite thick and grippy and you can use them without the nozzle with the very tip cut off to drizzle stuff (jam, caramel, lemon curd)

Jammie Dodger Cupcakes

I rarely make the same cake twice, but this week I revisited the Jammie Dodger Cupcake. It has been really sunny here and Andy Murray won Wimbledon – the first Wimbledon winner since Virginia Wade won in 1977 (and to all those who seem to have forgotten that women exist – fuck off) so it felt right to do something a bit British.

When I made them last time, they were a big hit in my office and got lots of smiles on the tube:

The Originals

This time, they turned our pretty well. I had some issues with the piping because the kitchen was boiling hot so the buttercream was both melting and drying out at the same time and because I used the wrong piping nozzle, but the sponge and filling were definitely better.

Jammie

I recently bought a cupcake corer thing from Amazon, which was just the job for filling the centres with raspberry jam. I really recommend it if you are into stuffing your cupcakes with lovely stuff.

Cupcake Corer

So they looked much neater and I could put the cake plug-bit back in the back. Also the new oven is much more consistent so they were moister and more consistent in size and colour than before. See:

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Anyway, on to the recipe. Makes about 12-16 (I use fairly big cases because I like putting people in to insta-sugar-coma)

Sponge:

  • 175g Softened Butter
  • 175g Golden Caster Sugar
  • 1 Vanilla Pod deseeded or scraped or whatever you call it or you can use 2 teaspoons of Vanilla Essence instead
  • 3 Large Eggs
  • 175g Self-raising Flour

Filling:

  • Jar of seedless raspberry jam

Icing:

  • 210g butter soften
  • 400g Icing Sugar
  • 1-2 tbsp Milk
  • Mini Jammie Dodgers (one for each cake)
  • Seedless Raspberry Jam

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 170 C
  2. Put the butter and sugar into bowl and mix until light and fluffy. You can’t over mix it, so when you think it is done enough, do it a bit more. I never remember to defrost the butter in time so I cube the butter and put it in a bowl of tepid water for 10 minutes and it comes out at perfect ‘softened’ consistency. Thanks for the tip, Mary Berry.
  3. Scrape in the vanilla seeds (or put in the essence) and add the eggs whizzing well between each egg
  4. Add the flour and fold into the mixture
  5. Bake for about 15minutes but keep an eye on them from 10 minutes. They are done when they are all springy and your skewer comes out clear
  6. Leave on a cooling rack for 30 minutes or so until they are totally cool
  7. Next, take the corer or use a sharp knife to take out the centres. Push a bit of raspberry jam into the middle of each one. Make sure you save some jam for the tops of the cake.
  8. For the icing: Beat the butter in a large bowl until soft. Add half of the icing sugar and beat until smooth. Add the remaining icing sugar bit at a time and one tablespoon of the milk and beat the mixture until creamy and smooth. If it looks too dry add more milk. It is ready when it holds a shape (i.e. drag your spatular over it and see if it stays put and doesn’t sink back)
  9. Pipe the icing on to each cake, then to decorate fill a disposable piping bag with a couple if tablespoons of jam and cut off the very tip (leaving only a tiny hole) and drizzle the jam over the icing
  10. Finish with a mini Jammie Dodger.

Ta da!

The finished thing

Salted Caramel… Oh, Salted Caramel

I have a bit of a fetish for sweet/salty combinations. I love chocolate covered Pretzels, I like peanut buttery chocolate things and I practically worship at the altar of salted caramel. Last week, my lovely lovely (paid) intern got taken on a permanent member of staff after 11 months (what an interview) and to celebrate I decided to bake Sticky Salted Caramel Cakes.

The sponge was made with dates so had the consistency and taste of sticky toffee pudding, then I added a salted caramel core and topped them with salted caramel icing and decorated with Dime Bars.

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I used the Nigella Salted Caramel Recipe and doubled it up but cut down the amount of cream a bit to make it a tiny bit thicker – you will need to let it get cold and thicken up before trying to shove it in the cakes.  I actually made a whole jug of it the day before and ate it out of the jug so I had to make it all over again (massive self-control fail)

Anyway, on to the recipe (makes 12 huge ones) – please serve with a health warning and advise recipients to use a fork:

For the sponge:

  • 180g chopped dried dates
  • 180 ml boiling water
  • 80g unsalted butter, softened
  • 150g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 180g plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla essence

For the caramel filling:

For the icing:

  • 80g butter, softened
  • 400g icing sugar, sieved
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 100g of the salted caramel
  • 2 Dime Bars

Method

Preheat the oven to 190c

  1. Chop the dates up small and then pour over the boiling water and leave them to soak in
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar until pale brown in colour and fluffy in consistency – remember to do this bit really thoroughly – it makes a big difference to the end result.
  3. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat really well after each one
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this gradually into the wet mix (about a third at a time and fold in being careful not to over mix)
  5. Add the vanilla and date mix. Pour all of this into the rest of the mixture and gently fold in by hand until the dates and water are totally combined. This is a fairly wet mixture compared to usual so don’t panic too much.
  6. Fill your cases to about two-thirds full
  7. Bake for 18 minutes or until they spring back when touched. Leave to cool slightly before putting on to a cooling rack.
  8. When the cakes are totally cold (trust me, I did this when they were still a bit warm and the caramel sank in. I rescued it with double helpings of caramel – no one complained) core out the middle and fill with the salted caramel.
  9. For the icing cream the butter until it is really really soft and add a small amount of the icing sugar. Keep adding icing sugar slowly, adding milk in between additions to moisten the mixture if you need to. If the mixture is too hard or looks like it is cracking when you make peaks with it, add a splash more milk. Add more icing sugar if it is too sloppy or buttery. Next add the caramel you will probably need to add bit more icing sugar was needed to stiffen it up again. Beat until fluffy and smooth.
  10. Pipe it on to the cakes starting at the outside and working in and up
  11. Get a disposable icing bag and add a few tablespoons of caramel, cut the very tip off and drizzle over the cakes and finish with a shard of Dime Bar.

Drool

Intern (now Former Intern) was very happy (nawwww!) ate two and slumped on his desk making happy noises.

Birdseye View

Emergency Cookies

Me and MrStarmoose (my fiance) rarely keep biscuits in the house, mainly because we are both liable to eat the whole lot and feel sad about it afterwards. But sometimes you just want a cookie  (a warm chocolately gooey cookie) and a glass of cold milk.

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So I have cookie dough on standby in the freezer (it can just be stored in freezer bags), ready to pop in the oven. It stops us eating loads of them because they feel a bit special. Frozen dough make really good presents for birthdays and stuff if you put the recipients favourite chocolate bars in them or shove them in a nice tin.

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The recipe (makes about 12 medium ones or 8 huge ones) is quite Millie’s cookies-ish but I think the darker sugars make it more chewy and caramelly. Also I use 2 bars of Green and Blacks which means they taste a bit more grown up:

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Grown-up? Who am I kidding? I have also made them with a whole range of chopped up chocolate bars: mini-Rolos, Caramacs, Snickers etc.

The recipe:

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 175g light brown soft sugar
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 200g chocolate (chopped up chocolate bars, chips, fudge cubes, biscuits, whatever you like… raisins, nah, too healthy!)

Method:

  1. Cream butter and sugars together and then add the egg and the vanilla. Sift in the flour and salt and mix with spatula – it will be fairly dry, add a drop of milk if it is too dry.
  2. Ball it together than then divide it into two. Place a sheet of clingfilm flat on the kitchen surface, roll one ball into a sausage shape and them wrap it in the cling film and roll it a few more times to make an even shape, pull in the ends like a Christmas cracker and repeat for the other ball.
  3. Place the two cookie sausages in the freezer and allow to cool for about 40 minutes then take them out and with a sharp knife cut them into even slices (6 per roll or 4 if you want huge ones) and then you can store them in a freezer bag until you are ready to eat them
  4. To bake them pre-heat your oven to 180c and place the cookie rounds on ungreased baking paper spaced far apart (I usually do four on a big tray), half way through cooking give them a pat down with a fish slice to spread them out a bit. If you want to have a really squidgy centre then bake for about 12 minutes from frozen. Otherwise cook for 15 minutes until just golden round the edges – keep an eye on them they will cook quite fast at the end.
  5. Take out of the oven and leave to harden for 5 minute before transferring to a wire cooling rack or your mouth. They are really amazing warm with the chocolate still molten.