Almond Cupcakes

One of the perennial favourites, I baked up a batch of these Almond cupcakes, among the four different types, for Eid-al Adha a couple of days ago. Almonds are use widely in baked goods, ranging from the delicate french macarons to crunchy almond cookies to buttery almond cakes. While I often bake almond loafs and cakes, I find that it’s best to make individual sized ones when it comes to serving for parties and dinners. Not only is it much easier and prettier to serve, it’s also much more convenient for guests to enjoy. In addition, the use of pretty cupcake cases eliminate the need for washing up of pans and the design/colour/motif on the cases can be picked to suit the theme of the party such that everything ties in perfectly.

These cupcakes were made using the mixing of wet ingredients to dry ones. By far, this is the simplest method of making cakes because all you require are two bowls. Absolutely no need for electric mixers or whatevernot gadgets.

Simply sift about 1.5 cups of self raising flour and mix it well with about 3/4 cups of sugar, 140g of ground almond and a teaspoon of baking powder. In another bowl, melt 140g of butter and add a cup of full-fat yoghurt as well as about half a cup of milk. Mix the mixture well. You may add half a teaspoon of almond extract. I prefer a mild almond flavour that is provided for by the addition of the ground almonds and a deep buttery smell so I often omit the extract. If you prefer a stronger almond flavour, by all means go ahead and add the almond extract, but don’t over do it since the extracts can be over-powering. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix till well combined. Do not over mix the batter because this might overwork the gluten in the flour and you will end up with a cake that has a tough crumb. Spoon the mixture into the patty tin lined with patty cases, sprinkle the top with thinly sliced whole almonds and bake for about 20 mins at 180deg Celsius or till golden brown on top.

 

 

 

Even if you have never baked before, you should still give this recipe a try, simply because it’s so simple and quick to mix up, and yet scrumptious till the very last bite!

Mermaid Birthday Cake

The star of this evening was my little niece and her gorgeous cake. I must say I had a ton of fun designing, baking, crafting and finally decorating this cake. She had already told me that she wanted an oreo cheesecake for her birthday about 3 months ago, the only thing is that she had originally wanted an Ariel Mermaid cake and then she changed her mind to a Smurfs cake (all thanks to the movie she watched) and then finally about 4 days ago, she decided on a Mermaid and Ocean cake.

So I rolled up my sleeves and baked up two Oreo Cheesecakes for the first 2 tiers of the cake. And since I was already baking some chocolate chip cupcakes (read previous blog), I used some of the batter to bake up a small cake for the top tier of the Mermaid Cake.

The decorations included royal icing roses (in bright red, pale pink and orange) as well as a few other types of flowers in various shades as well as leaves, a royal icing swan and assorted candies and chocolates. The mermaid was created using a barbie doll which was dressed in a bikini top and fish tail, both moulded from marzipan. It was also accessorised with a pearl necklace, some bangles and earrings, all of which were again made using marzipan. I would have used sugarpaste/fondant but the only thing I had on hand was marzipan. Although it tastes a lot better than fondant, it’s a bit trickier to handle. The trick, however, is to use generous and frequent dustings of icing sugar while rolling/working with it.

All three tiers of the cake were frosted with fresh whipped cream which I tinted a light blue to mimic an ocean/water look. After frosting the entire cake, I used a much darker shade of blue and swept it across randomly over the light blue icing to create different shadings of blue and make it look more realistic.

The whole process of decorating the cake was enchanting, it really brought out the child in me. Even the birthday girl helped out by rolling the marzipan into tiny balls to make a pearl necklace for the mermaid. I get such joy in making and decorating every single cake and I get even greater joy when I see the look on tiny faces when they see their special cakes.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

Today has been one of those days where I hardly have had time to catch my breath. Before I’m done with what I’m doing, it’s time for something else. The day began with baking a huge batch of cupcakes. Approximately 70 cupcakes in all. Given that my oven is not large by any standards, you can imagine how much time was spent there. Although I’m not complaining, because any work that involves cakes and baking is always a pleasure for me. Even if current logistical problems present some inconveniences.

It has not always been like that I assure you. My kitchen used to be equipped with a nice, large, built-in oven, one that many a baker would be envious of. Huge and numerous drawers and cabinets contained my never-ending supplies of baking and decorating tools. Alas, all that is no more and no more is my kitchen nor my home. No, I’ve not sold my home in an attempt to pay my gambling debts. It’s been broken down to make way for a bigger, better home and I can’t wait for it to be ready. Meanwhile I’ve to make do with the equipment I’m provided with. Nope, not complaining.

Anyway, so those 70 cupcakes were not for myself. They were actually commissioned by my niece as a treat for her friends and classmates on her upcoming birthday. My little madame was very specific on what she wanted. Chocolate Chip Cupcakes with Buttermilk flavored Buttercream. The buttercream should be either in a shade of English rose Pink or a shade of Pink violet. All this from a yet-to-be 7 year old.

I decided to use pretty pink polka-dotted cupcake cases to show off the English rose pink buttercream. The chocolate chip cupcakes themselves were quite simple to mix up since the recipe holds up extremely well to multiplying the quantity. I increased the quantity by four times and it still turned out perfect. Even the resting period outside the oven, waiting for the batches of cupcakes to be baked, did not affect the quality. I used the vanilla cake recipe I’ve provided on this website and all I did different was to multiply the quantity by four times and stir in about 2 cups of chocolate chips right at the end. If you want to bake a normal quantity, use the recipe as it is and stir in about 1/2 cup of chocolate chips at the end.

The buttermilk flavored buttercream was not only super delicious, but it was also super easy to mix up. All you need to do is beat a cup of butter (about 225g) for a minute and then add 3cups of pure icing sugar to the mix and beat for about 2 to 3 minutes at low speed. Add in a teaspoon of buttermilk flavoring and beat for a few seconds. The buttercream is now ready to use. At this point you can divide the buttercream and mix in different colouring as desired. I used 1.5 times the quantity to frost all my cupcakes.

A simple swirl of buttercream on the cupcake looks not only sophisticated but also very professional. Do read my page on piping techniques for guidance on creating the swirl.

With that, I wish you best of luck and my little niece, a very Happy Birthday in advance!

Banana Cupcakes

In my home, there is a clear, distinct division: Those who like bananas and those who will have absolutely nothing to do with the fruit. It’s extremely surprising, then, that everyone wants  their share whenever I bake up these banana cupcakes. It’s a feat, really, because these very people who wax lyrical about these little goodies are the very same people who would not touch a fresh banana. I have no idea, maybe the final baked taste of the bananas in the cakes is a lot more palatable to them. Needless to say, those who already like the fruit can’t wait for these to come out of the oven so that they can get their hands on them.

The recipe for these banana cupcakes uses the basic vanilla cake recipe that I have provided on this website as a base. To mix up a batch of these, you will need about 3 to 4 medium sized bananas that are well mashed. Its best to use bananas that are over-ripe. When they reach that state of ripeness where you don’t feel like eating them anymore because they are too soft, don’t throw them away: It’s the perfect time to use them in your baking. The riper the fruit is, the richer and stronger the flavour of the baked goods will be. You will also need half a cup of buttermilk, which basically replaces the milk required for in the vanilla cake recipe. The use of buttermilk gives a more intense and creamy flavour to the final product.

It’s a simple enough recipe. Follow the steps of the vanilla cake till step 4. Then, add in the mashed bananas and beat the mixture well, till well combined. Add a teaspoon of baking powder to the sifted flour before folding it in alternately with the buttermilk (instead of milk as required in the vanilla cake recipe) into the banana and butter mixture. Follow the rest of the steps as per normal.

This recip provides a great way of getting some fruit into your child’s diet plus you feel less guilty eating it because of the fruit content in it.

Orange-Chocolate Chip Cake

“What can be better than a chocolate chip cake?,” I wondered out aloud and the answer that came at me was fast but firm. Z, without batting an eyelid, stated that it would have to be an orange flavoured choc chip cake. Well, I’ve always been one of those people who picks out the orange flavoured chocolate first from the assorted chocolates packets so the moment she suggested it, I knew that it was going to hit the right notes. Indeed I had no doubts that the addition of orange would heighten it’s flavor to a totally new level. And were we right!

The recipe itself is really quite simple. I used the basic vanilla cake recipe that I’ve provided on this website and  tweaked it just a tiny bit. Instead of vanilla essence, add about 1 to 2 teaspoons of grated orange rind. Follow all the steps till the very end. Then, just before pouring the cake into the cake pan/cupcake cases, stir in about a cup of chocolate chips. Bake as per usual. There, simple as ABC but a flavour so superior and addictive that you just won’t be able to stop once you start. Hmm..on second thoughts, I wonder if that’s such a good thing after all ;)

Eid-Al-Adha

It was great that it didn’t rain today. Nevertheless, it was a real surprise because the odds were that it would rain, gauging from the weather conditions in the last few weeks. It was cloudy and a little grey which suited me perfectly because it meant that we would be spared from the heat-stroke from the scorching sun. It’s interesting that despite the fact that we have just two different weather conditions, i.e. hot sun (sunny) or rain, we still spend so much time discussing and complaining about it. Oh well, we used to be a British colony after all.

In any case, the favourable weather condition also meant that there was a smooth stream of visitors the whole morning. Relatives and friends came visiting after the obligatory morning Eid prayers at the mosque. Well, obligaory for the males while females have a choice. Actually, females are not required to offer this prayer at all but they certainly can if they so desire.

The best part of the day must really have been the eating. All the traditional goodies that I had my eyes on the whole week like Gulab Jamuns, and Saywain (sweet wholewheat vermicelli in syrup) and savoury snacks such as samosas and vadais were sumptous. Then there were a myriad type of curries ranging from chilli chicken to mutton korma, and naan (a type of flat bread) and pillao (fragrant basmati rice with dried fruits and nuts). So you get the drift, a lot of eating and then some more, the whole day through. I am, at this moment, thoroughly stuffed and I do not really feel like seeing another samosa..but then again, maybe I could squeeze in just another little dessert :)

D-day minus One

Tomorrow will be Eid-al Adha, finally. The children have been waiting anxiously for the festivities to begin. Isn’t it interesting that as adults we divide ourselves according to our religion, our beliefs and yet children all over the world, despite their culture or religion celebrate in the very same way? I dare say even adults celebrate in a similar manner.For the most part of it, celebrations include prayers to thank God for his blessings, dressing up, cooking up a feast and dining with friends and family. We might differentiate ourselves, yet we find joy in very much the same things and at the end of the day, we all believe in the core goodness of humanity. Amen to that :)

Today, for the most part, I have stood diligently by the oven, baking and baking some more. For alas, while my hands may work fast, I possess just a tiny oven with a single rack. Bakers out there will understand that this means I have to wait and wait and wait if I wish to bake more than one batch of cupcakes/cookies/muffins/etc. And waited I have. However, the results were well worth it and the whole home is smelling festive already :)

The children could not help getting into the thick of the action and I did have a tiny pair of extra hands helping to lay out the trays with cupcake cases, mixing in the flour into the butter mixture, pouring in milk into the batter and finally trying out some of the goodies to make sure they were quite alright. Z, my teenage niece, too helped out and her help was very much appreciated. Zesting the oranges, sifting in the flour, mashing up the bananas, even helping with the photography, I see a fine baker there slowly blossoming.

Today’s baked goods include four types of cupcakes: Orange-Chocolate Chip Cupcakes, Banana-Yoghurt Cupcakes, Double Chocolate Cupcakes and finally Almond Cupcakes. The four different cupcakes were made using two different methods. The Orange-Choc Chip and Banana Cupcakes were made using the creaming method, while the Almond and Double Choc Cupcakes were made by mixing wet ingredients into the dry ones. I will explain each cupcake preparation method in the next few blogs, so keep on reading :) For now, I have a little princess who is demanding attention from her Mummy. After all, its Eid tomorrow and the princess has to choose her special outfit and accessorise it too. And those are very important work that have to be immediately attended to :)

Diwali/Deepavali Festival

It’s the day after the Diwali function for which I had prepared the Citrus Yoghurt Cake mentioned in the previous blog. You must be waiting for the updates on how the cakes were received, right? Okay,even if you aren’t, I’m still dying to share. I’m thrilled to let you know that all the slices were gone in 15 minutes flat, so now you have proof that the recipe should be fine to try out :)

The function itself was one of the best that I have attended so far at the princess’ Montessori. The children (aged from 3 to 6) put up a little sketch, acting out the epic Ramayana. If you know the story, you will also know that this was a tall task for these young talents, but they rose to the occasion and put up a splendid performance. Bravo kids! In addition to this, there was also a dance number for which I had been waiting for all evening. Well, you see, my little princess was to be part of this dance. I had inititally thought that she would be one of the back-up dancers given her age but I was in for a pleasant surprise. She was part of the main group, dancing along with six other children and my chest just swelled with pride at the sight of my little baby dancing in perfect syncrony with her friends. I must have looked like a cheshire cat because the smile on my face extended from one ear to the other thoughout the whole performance. The pride I felt at that point in time was so evident on my face that it was almost embarrasing. It was my little baby up there, and frankly I still find it unbelievable that she was capable of those moves.

I guess it’s just the beginning and I will get used to it soon enough, but meanwhile allow me to behave like an imbecile who can’t seem to wipe out the smile from her face :)

Citrus Yoghurt Cake

I’ve been meaning to bake a citrus cake for some time now but somehow I’ve put it off till today. There’s a deepavali celebration at the princess’ Montessori this evening and we’ve already made arrangements to bring samosas and vadais to the function. However, I just cannot Not bring something sweet along too. I mean, whats a celebration without desserts, right? I admit I’m quite sure some of the other parents might be bringing some dessert or other but I just cannot resist the temptation to bake something. So given the opportunity to feed a whole load of kids, I decided on something that’s equal parts healthy and yummy: Citrus Yoghurt Cake. If you have been reading my posts, you might have realised that many of my cake recipes include yoghurt. I find that yoghurt, when added to just about any recipe, results in a flavour and creaminess that’s just irresistible. So there you go, I’ve just let you on in my little secret, and we will keep it just between us ;)

For ease of serving, I’ve baked up the cakes in loaf pans but ofcourse you are free to bake it in any type of pan that you have available. Start off by using your favourite butter cake recipe, or the vanilla cake recipe that I have provided. Omit the vanilla or any other essence asked for in your recipe and replace it with about 2 teaspoons of grated mixed lemon, orange and lime rinds. Follow the method of preparation as per recipe but add in about 3 tablespoons of yoghurt when adding in the milk/liquid.

Bake as per normal and enjoy the gloriously intoxicating aroma that is but a precursor to the tantalizingly rich yet fluffy, buttery yet tangy and moist cake that is to be yours to savour.

 

Gulab Jamuns (Fried Dough Balls Soaked in Sugar Syrup)

In just a few day’s time, the 6th of November to be exact, Muslims around the globe will be celebrating Eid al-Adha or ‘Festival of Sacrifice’. This festival commemorates the willingness of Abraham (Ibrahim, pbuh) to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Isma’il, pbuh) as an act of obedience to Allah (God), at which time the angel Gabriel (Jibrael, pbuh) appeared before him and told him this was but a test of his faith and was then given a ram to sacrifice instead. The Eid al-Adha is celebrated annually on the 10th day of the 12th (and last) Islamic month of Dhu al-Hijjah of the lunar Islamic calender. Celebrations start after the Hajj which is the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims.

In typical fashion, Muslims worldwide hold ‘open-houses’ on this day, welcoming family and friends to their home for a lavish meal, which includes many different varieties of savouries and sweets.

This morning I walked into the kitchen to find my Mom half-way through her preparation of Gulab Jamuns, a must-have in most North Indian homes during any celebration, especially Eid. As a side note, you will find this sweet dessert on the menu of just about any north Indian host, regardless of his/her religion, it’s that popular. I sat down with her and reminisced about my childhood days when I would insist on helping her with the shaping of the dough into small balls which were then fried in ghee (clarified butter), or oil for the health conscious, before finally being soaked in a simple syrup. Today, there was hardly any dough left for me to shape since my Mom was almost done with the shaping.

As she fried up the gulab jamuns, the familiar sweet smell brought back many memories of happy days, of days when I would pester my Mom to let me eat the fried balls even before they were soaked in the syrup. I will have you know that she makes some of the best Gulab Jamuns i know. We have tried them in the best restaurants in India (as well as Dubai and Singapore), many famous frozen and canned brands and many,many homes but to date, none have been able to stand up to the ones that she makes.

Well, I can’t wait for Sunday to get my hands on them. You see, I did not pester my Mom to give me some today. With age, I have realised that the best things in life are worth waiting for :)