Now that summer is (kind of) upon us, the bakist is faced with their yearly dilemma: how far is it criminal to spend time hovering around a hot oven when the sun is out?
There are several ways around this so that, happily, we can all carry on baking. There are dishes such as panna cotta, which require very little time around a stove (we’re having a ginger and tangerine version tonight), and of course the almighty cheesecake (as in the English version, which doesn’t need any time in the oven. We recently concocted a lime and limoncello cheesecake, which perhaps inevitably could have done with more limoncello).
But another great summer treat for a cooler day is the idea of the floral cupcake. I use a recipe from the Hummingbird bakery, and while they make rose, lavender and jasmine versions, I have expanded on the theme to create my own violet and calendula cakes too. What’s more, there are still numerous possibilities that I have not yet explored, like elderflower, camomile, and linden flower (yes, all of these flowers are really available online and at places like Lakeland for your delectation).
So how would one go about this in the event of wanting to create these cupcakes at home? First you need the basic recipe (the below is the one I’ve casually lifted from the Hummingbird Bakery’s Cake Days book). To this, you add your flavourings (more on this in a moment):
(makes 12-16 cupcakes)
80g softened unsalted butter
280g caster sugar
240g plain flour
1tbsp baking powder
2 large eggs
Mix together the dry ingredients. To the milk, add 1tbsp of your chosen flavouring (see below; I’m coming to it, I promise). Then add this with the eggs to the dry mixture. Put the mixture into muffin cases and bake for 18-20 minutes at 190°C. Simples!
NOW for the flavouring. In France, it’s very easy to come by various flavoured syrups in the supermarket, so this is definitely something to add to your trolley next time you’re over on a booze cruise: the syrups (chiefly made by Monin, but there are other brands, including supermarket own brands) can regularly be found in such flavours as caramel, candy floss, cocktail flavours (such as blue curacao), hibiscus, and violet. Sometimes what I do, therefore, is to add the syrup to the milk where flavouring is talked about in the recipe above.
Another great idea for the flavouring is to use tea. For the Hummingbird Bakery’s jasmine version, they use jasmine tea, and I can confirm this works well. It therefore stands to reason that it would work with other teas too. Try Twinings’ Rose Garden or Lavender Earl Grey teas to impart those recognisable floral flavours into your cake mix. Whittard also has interesting options – why not infuse the milk in the recipe above with their Jubilee blend of tea (which contains marigold, apricot and peach) and top your cupcakes with edible marigold petals as decoration? Alternatively, you could buy your own dried flowers online and infuse these in hot water (make sure they are marked as being edible by the seller).
So that’s the flavouring sorted – and while your cupcakes cool on the window sill, you can think about the decoration. How, for instance, did I make my rose cupcakes look like this?
The crystallised rose petals came from the food section at Parisian department store Le Bon Marché (known as La Grande Epicerie). While I was there I collected some crystallised violet petals too. You *can* crystallise your own flower petals (the Hummingbird cookbook mentioned above tells you how) but this is only for those on the short of money and long of time. However, you don’t need to go all the way to Paris to buy these beauties: Melbury and Appleton (who are located in London, but also sell online) are just one retailer flogging them to UK bakers. You can also decorate with sugar flowers (buy ready-made, or make your own), sprinkle with the edible fresh or dried flowers I mentioned earlier (I use edible lavender sometimes), or finish off with sugars that already have the dried flower in question running through them (I use these, but you may want to try the Ethical Community shop online; they stock organic fairtrade rose and lavender sugars to name just a few). For a funkier take on it, smash up some Parma violet sweets or throw on some lime crystals.
But all of these decorations need something to stick to! I hear you cry. (And you’re right.) And now my cupcakes have gone completely cold thanks to your lengthy blethering! (Sorry. I know they taste good warm. But they need to be cold for you to ice them properly.)
SO. Hummingbird give the full frosting quantities as follows:
500g icing sugar
160g softened unsalted butter
3 tsp of your flavouring
However, even when making the full amount of cupcakes I tend to find this to be far too much, so I often reduce it by half (so if making half the amount of cupcakes, make a quarter of the amount of frosting).
All you need to do is cream the butter and icing sugar, then add the liquids. If you want to add food colouring as well, then you can (but just a few drops!).
Once you’ve spread or piped the frosting onto the cakes (if spreading, keep a glass of warm water on standby to dunk the palette knife or spoon in from time to time; it makes sure the icing ends up on the cake and not just stuck to the cutlery!), you can add your decorations (flowers, sugar, sugar paste…). Then wait for the frosting to dry before you eat your cakes…if your willpower is better than mine, you’ll be able to.
If the British weather is up to it, take these floral fancies on a picnic with you. Or, alternatively, eat them inside over a pot of tea of your choice (ideally a tea to go with your cupcakes! A flowering tea in a glass teapot would be ideal – such as Whittard’s carnation plum flowering tea, which contains jasmine.), and watch the typical British rain come down. Perfect.