Monday, 30 March 2015

Chocolate Easter Cupcakes

It feels like a good long while since I shared a recipe on here, so thought I would take a moment or two to tell you about these chocolate cupcakes. For about eight years, this recipe has been my favourite chocolate cake recipe. It is so beautifully moist (thanks to the addition of 250ml water to the mixture) and is just so delicious. Then a couple of months ago, I ate a chocolate cake baked by a friend and had to have the recipe. There was something slightly lighter about this cake, with just the right balance of richness and moisture. 

I have had varying degrees of success with recipes that work well for chocolate cupcakes, so thought I'd give this one a go, and it has quickly become my favourite chocolate cupcake recipe. They're the kind of cupcake that I want to give to my friends who are having a hard time and just need to sit down with cup of tea and some cake while they rest, gather their thoughts and talk through what's on their mind. They're the cupcake that I imagine teenagers enjoying as an after school treat, and new Mamas devouring to give them that extra bit of energy they need while they are in the thick of raising a tiny human. They would also be a perfect gift for the chocolate lover in your life (but are perhaps a little too decadent for children). 

I have dubbed these as Easter cupcakes, because it's easy to create a little chocolate nest on the top of the cupcake with the help of some chocolate buttercream and Cadbury's mini eggs, but there is no need to reserve this recipe just for Easter. I fully intend on baking these all year round. 
Ingredients (makes 11 cupcakes)
100g light brown muscovado sugar
100g caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
100g dark chocolate (doesn't need to be 70% cocoa solids, but if you love it, use it.)
62ml water
1 tbsp fresh coffee (can be omitted if you'd prefer not to use coffee. You can't taste it at all once cakes are baked)
1.5 free range eggs
42g self raising flour
42g plain flour
13g cocoa
37ml whole milk
Pinch of bi-carbonate of soda
Cadbury's mini eggs (100g is approximately 33 mini eggs)

Chocolate buttercream (enough to frost 11 cupcakes with a piping bag)
175g dark choc
250g icing sugar
225g unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tbsp whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

1) Preheat the oven to 175C(fan) / gas mark 4 and line a cupcake tin with 11 cases. 
2) Place the butter, water, coffee and chocolate into a saucepan and melt over a very gentle heat, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula until everything has just melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for a few minutes. 
3) In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. 
4) In a small bowl, beat the eggs with a fork and add the milk. 
5) Add in the flours, egg mixture and melted chocolate to the butter and sugar, and gently mix until everything is combined
6) Pour the mixture into the cupcake cases - it's fairly runny, so I find the least messy way to fill the cases is by transferring the mixture into a measuring jug, and pouring it in to the cases, filling until they're three quarters full. 
7) Bake in the preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes away clean. 
8) Transfer the cupcakes to a cooling rack and leave to cool completely before frosting. (One of the things I love about cupcakes is that they cool so much faster than a large layer cake. They'll take about 20 mins to cool.)

method for the icing
1) Melt the chocolate in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, or in a microwave. Leave to cool for 10-15 minutes.
2) In a separate bowl, sieve the icing sugar, then add the butter, milk and vanilla extract. Beat for a few minutes until you have a smooth mixture.
3) Beat in the cooled melted chocolate. If the icing seems fairly runny, keep beating and it will thicken.

Baking notes
+ When making the icing, it is fairly important to allow the chocolate to cool a little, but not too much. I found when I let it cool for approximately 25 minutes, the consistency of the icing was far too hard to pipe. 
+ If you prefer to spread your icing on your cakes, rather than pipe it, you could probably halve the icing quantities and still have enough for 11 cupcakes. Piping uses way more icing than spreading does. 

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The 52 Project: 13/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
We have spent the last week in the beautiful countryside in Herefordshire. Within a few days of our holiday, you had learnt to expect to see sheep in the field outside our house, and chasing chickens became a daily past time. We are home now, and dearly miss the beauty and freedom that the countryside provides. You still love to walk as much as possible, and this pink buggy often accompanies you. (It's almost always empty, because as soon as you put anything on the seat, it falls apart. I'll try and fix that for you.)
All my love,

Sunday, 22 March 2015

The 52 Project: 12/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
There are some weeks where I can barely remember what we have done. This week is one of those times. All I can remember is that we bought you your second pair of shoes as you had outgrown your very first pair, and that you were sick six times on the eve of Daddy's thirtieth birthday. My poor memory is just one of the reasons that I am grateful for photography as a way of recording what we do with our days.

We have come to Herefordshire to a little place called Abbey Dore to celebrate Daddy's birthday with some of our friends, and you are loving having the extra space to explore that we don't have at home. Your friends Wren and Judah are here too, although you are not particularly interested in Judah, who is four weeks old. To be honest, you're more interested in the monkey's on his baby grow than in him. He has already asked for your hand in marriage, so hopefully he won't be too upset at your current lack of interest. 

All my love,
Mama xx

For the first time since I started The 52 Project in 2013, someone other than me has taken the portrait for this week. Photo credit goes to Andy Kearney. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The 52 Project: 11/52

'A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
My sweet girl with a swollen lip. (You fell on the patio.) These days your favourite stories at bed time are 'Each Peach Pear Plum' and 'Giraffe's can't dance.' Mostly, you just love looking for the black cat, the giraffe, the moon and clapping your hands when you spot the crocodiles. 
May your love for stories and animals continue to grow for years to come.
All my love,
Mama xx

Friday, 13 March 2015

around here.

Colourful houses in St. Werburgh's, which is an area of Bristol I used to live in.)

I have always wanted this blog to be a place where I can document what is happening in our lives, but I am conscious that over recent months, I have done very little documenting besides The 52 Project. Part of the reason for this is that I used to primarily blog during Ruby's naptimes, but that time has become filled with prioritising other things lately, and blogging has fallen by the wayside.

I have this memory of one of my first English lessons in Year Nine at school (I would have been thirteen), and our teacher said, 'I never want to see you use the word 'nice' in your writing. I can't stand it. It doesn't tell me anything - I want you to describe what you are writing about, and 'nice' doesn't describe anything.' I understood his point, and, being a diligent student, I always endeavoured never to write 'nice' in my work. The reason I share this story with you, is because I feel the same about the word, 'busy'. It describes a state of being, but doesn't give any detail. And I love detail. (My English teacher also taught me never to begin a sentence with 'and'. I used to abide by that rule, but not for informal writing.) In the years to come, I don't want to delve into my blog archives to read about what I was doing in 2015, and see that I was 'busy', because there is no way on Earth that I will remember what 'busy' looked like in 2015. So instead, I'll share a few details about what life looks like round here at the moment.

I am baking more now than at any other point in my life. I get through dozens and dozens of eggs a week at the moment, and I love it. I never tire of thinking about cake, which is good, because it has become my job. I started baking for a local deli just over a month ago, and it brings me a lot of joy to hear the stories of the people who have bought my cake, and come back for more. I am also still running my pop up bakery once a month, where I bake and deliver cakes to the good people of Bristol. Again, it's not just about the baking, but about the people. I love hearing the stories of why people are buying my cakes - treats for work colleagues, dessert for families, a vital chocolate fix for heavily pregnant women who just. need. cake. Gifts for friends with newborn babies from Mama's who know how essential cake is for the survival and sustenance of Mum's with tiny babes. I love that I get to provide cake to all of these people.

In 2014, I decided to try and manage my diary using just my iPhone rather than a paper diary. This was generally ok, but as life has become more full with various activities for Ruby, social events, baking orders, and all that jazz, I have been craving a decent planner to just write it all down. As much as I love digital technology and all its brilliance, the way my brain works best is to engage in the physical process of picking up a pen and getting the things that are in my brain down onto paper. Another Mum recommended the Passion Planner, and so I ordered an undated one, as all of the others had sold out. It felt a little excessive to ship a planner over from America, but I hadn't found anything locally that suited my requirements, and even though it was already February by the time I came to looking for a planner, I knew that I needed something quality, rather than something that I could just get by with for the rest of the year. It arrived this week, and I love it already.
I have also been enjoying writing notes on my baking in my Kitchen Notes books. It's something I should have started doing years ago, but I have been far too unrealistic for far too long about my ability to remember details like how many cupcakes I could decorate with a quantity of a particular icing, or just how much caramel sauce one batch makes. These are the kind of details which have the potential to save me a lot of waste, so I am learning to write them down.
This candle that I found in TK Maxx. Ever since I was small, I have enjoyed beautiful scents, and I love how different scents can have such a variety of impacts. Filling a room with the aroma from a good candle or oil is one of my favourite things.

At the start of this year, one of the things I decided I wanted to do more of was read books. Over the past few years, I have totally neglected reading. I love blogs, and that they're so easy to read when I only have a few spare minutes to cast my eyes over something, but I felt my brain was never really engaging in reading anything of great substance. So in January, I picked up a book that was in John's stack on his side of the bed. It was Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. I knew that it wasn't going to be a happy book, but still chose to read it anyway, even though I didn't really want to feel morose as the result of reading a book. I have just finished reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion the recommendation of my sister in law, and loved it. Great, great book that I didn't want to end. Next on the list is Still Alice that a friend highly recommended.

A while back I quietly started running again with my friend Ros, who was my half marathon buddy back in the day when we both had more time and energy to run thirteen miles. It had been a good number of years since we had run together, but we were still completely in sync, and I loved that. We have been running every Friday through the cold Winter months, and it has been refreshing not to have a set number of miles, or set length of time we want to run. We just step outside my front door, stretch and go and chat without stopping. Now that the evenings are becoming lighter, I am venturing out on my own for runs to supplement our Friday running. I have got to the stage where I feel like I could keep on running and running. Perhaps I should.

The first signs of longer evenings - light skies at 6pm.
This precious daughter of ours continues to astound and delight us on a daily basis. Her language is developing and her current vocabulary consists of hat, cat, that, there, cheese, Mama and shoes. As is the way at this age, she understands so much more than she can say, and I love that she is now using some of the Makaton signs I have taught her to aid communication (as well as a variety of animals, Ruby can now sign help, please, milk, food, where and friend). She adores being outside, and will often go to the back door and request to be let out as soon as we come downstairs in the morning.
We had a rough start to the year as far as her sleep was concerned, and while I am not going to talk in detail here about what as been difficult, what I will say is that we have found the book, 'The No Cry Sleep Solution' to be helpful. I am immensely grateful that finally we seem to have found a rhythm whereby she doesn't wake until 5am. Sleep really does make the world of difference to my sanity, strength and emotional state.
Ruby currently loves transporting things - be it animals and dolls in her buggy, or various household items to other places. I often find coasters, camera remotes, telephones, marbles and miniature cars in my wellies and boots.
So there we have it. A little summary of a few of the things that are occupying my time these days. I hope you have a lovely weekend with the ones you love, doing things that refresh and revive you.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The 52 Project: 10/52

A portrait of my daughter, once a week, every week in 2015.

Dear Ruby,
I found it hard to pick just one portrait for the week this week. I managed to take a lot more photos of you than usual, and there are a few that I love that I think capture your personality right now. The way you love to transport things everywhere (pegs, dolls, clothes, marbles...speaking of marbles, I bought you a marble run which you love. You only have two marbles and I was conscious that they were very likely to get lost very quickly. However, you seem to have a system in place for where you store them when you have finished playing, and I have no idea where that place is, but each time I find myself wondering where the marbles are, you seem to appear with them in your hand. Carrying them around as if you had never let them go. You, my girl, are brilliant.)

 I captured you with mud around your mouth after you helped yourself to some soil in the garden, and nonchalantly walked around as though this is perfectly normal. I captured you pointing at dogs which is one of your favourite past times, and reading books, which is another thing you love to do. But I chose this photo because I love it for an entirely different reason than what it portrays of you. I look at this photo and remember how it felt like Spring had arrived. It was the first day of the year when we could go walking without needing the warmth of coats. I will remember how good it felt to spend time together as a family, just the three of us, with no agenda other than enjoying the sun and each other. Daddy has been working incredibly hard recently, and this makes the time that we have together even more precious - this walk was a beautiful moment of respite and peace in a busy season - and it is such a joy to have you and your happiness in all of the busyness. Here's to making many more memories like this one.
All my love,

Sunday, 1 March 2015

The 52 Project: 9/52

'A portrait of my daughter once a week, every week in 2015.'

Dear Ruby,
This week you have enjoyed spending time with your Auntie Sarah, who can rely on you to walk into her room for her wake up call at 7am. It's much more enjoyable to be woken up by you than an alarm clock. The other morning, the moment you woke up, you smiled at me and declared, 'hat!' I can only wonder why hats were the first thing you thought about on waking. Nanny and Grandad, and your Great Grandmother (who is almost 94) came to visit this weekend, and you giggled and cuddled your way through our time together. What a treasure you are.
All my love,
Mum xxx