Floral cupcakes Saturday, Jun 23 2012 

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

1/4tsp salt

240ml milk

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?

Furry friends, I will tell you.

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

50ml milk

Decorations

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.

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Café Review: The Hummingbird Bakery, London W1 Sunday, May 9 2010 

After my sister bought me the Hummingbird Bakery cook book for my birthday this year, it seemed silly not to go to one of the London outlets when I had the chance just over a week ago. The cakes in the cook book looked divine, and I wanted to see how it was really done.

Visually, I was not disappointed: the window display was edgy and colourful, and when you reach the counter inside, your eyes are assaulted by a veritable rainbow of colour and glitter. The branch that I visited – the Wardour Street branch – was a little on the small side (there was not really enough seating – or perhaps the problem was that there was too much for such a small space – and people were liable to trample on your bags or push past you on their way in or out), but there was at least plenty of room to see the cupcakes in all their glory.

However, you could also see the price tags in all their glory as well. The eat-in prices for two Tropicana orange juices, one cupcake (purple with butterflies on it; vanilla icing and cake) and one frosted chocolate brownie came to what seemed a slightly staggering £11.50. This seemed a bit much for what we got, perhaps exacerbated by our trip to Windsor two days before, where we’d seen cupcakes for the same price with equally luridly-coloured icing that were about the same size as your average five-year-old’s face. While the brownie that my fiancé chose at the Hummingbird Bakery was of a goodly size, my cupcake was on the small size (and yet I felt duty-bound to have one regardless of the price just because that’s what they’re famous for. Silly eh?).

The staff were certainly friendly there, and I liked the innovation involved in the Bakery’s election cupcakes, wheeled out a week ahead of Britain’s general election (red sparkly cupcakes for Labour, blue sparkly cupcakes for Conservative, yellow sparkly cupcakes for Liberal, and white for undecided). We spent a good few minutes debating whether or not the number of cupcakes that had been sold for each party really reflected the views of the electorate…

I’d therefore say to go once to the Hummingbird Bakery just for the experience; however, you are ultimately better off buying the cook book yourself and doing this at home for maximum value for money, and taking yourself off to one of the higher quality tea rooms that London has to offer instead. All in all, a bit of a let down.

47 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 3JP (tel: 02075 840055)

133 Portobello Road, London W11 2TY (tel: 02072 296446)

155a Wardour Street, London W1F 8WG (tel: 02074 343003)

Cupcakes! Tuesday, Apr 20 2010 

For my birthday, my sister bought me the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook, and I have thus spent many a happy hour drooling over it. My first attempt was the basic vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting:

(I know, the photo’s quite dark. I’m sorry 😦   My paws get in the way sometimes 😦  )

They tasted gooooooood. But they were extremely sweet and almost more frosting than cake. This was a shame really as I tasted a little bit of the cake when slicing off the tops so that they would be flat when I iced them, and the cake on its own was lush, but couldn’t be tasted in its full glory once the truckload of icing had been added.

The cake recipes, as far as I can tell if this one is anything to go by, are fairly idiotproof. The cake itself was light and fluffy and the instructions to get there were extremely straightforward. While a reduction in icing could be beneficial, these are a delicious, indulgent treat.

Going back to the book itself, it’s full of high-quality photos and a range of dishes – the bakery cookbook doesn’t just tell you how to make cupcakes, but also muffins, pies and brownies…and cookies…which I’ll be trying out later on today. I’m also much looking forward to my visit to the original Hummingbird Bakery in London next Thursday (the 29th). Bring it.