Baking challenge: 24 chocolate raspberry cupcakes

If you haven’t yet read Wolf Hall or Bring up the Bodies, could I recommend it? I just finished the latter and feel shivery and sad, obviously two emotions everyone should feel regularly. I’m so glad that the head of state can’t summarily execute people anymore where I live.

I’m on to the first of the challenges for series two of my ‘bake my way through the Great British Bake-Off challenges’ challenge! Very excited to have crossed this Rubicon (not this one – not big on mango). (Note from my personal musical history: I first heard the phrase ‘Cross[ing] the Rubicon’ in this song by Aimee Mann.

As always, the first episode of the series was cake week. The signature challenge was to bake 24 cupcakes with the sponge and icing in different, yet complementary, flavours (up to two varieties – I only made one). Looking over the challenges for series two in my notebook, I note several patterns: one, the introduction of stipulations on quantities in almost all challenges, and the requirement that various elements of the bake be in ‘different’ flavours, indicating that they were eagerly scouring out those with a talent for combining flavours in unusual ways. The second series of the show was much more polished than the first; for example, Mary and Paul used to wander round the tent during the technical bakes in the first series, but the judging really was ‘blind’ from the second series onward. When re-watching the episodes a while ago (when they were on the iPlayer) so entrenched had the technical challenge as ‘judged blind’ become in my head that I was really shocked by this!

Anyway, creative cuppety cakes. One of the limitations I face when making the challenge is that I want the things I make to be pleasing to people around me, and also eaten by them, so while I had lots of ideas for lime and mint cupcakes and similar, I thought they wouldn’t be particularly appealing to the people I was serving them to (boyfriend and his two siblings), and I didn’t want to be responsible for eating lots of cake myself, so I chose a relatively classic, even safe, combination, that of chocolate and raspberry. Unusually for me (!) I made a ‘normal’ buttercream, that is, just butter and icing sugar, rather than attempting a Swiss meringue. This was because I thought the raspberries would add too much extra liquid for the Swiss meringue buttercream to take, but excess moisture is easier to adjust in a standard buttercream. I didn’t like the texture as much as a Swiss meringue buttercream, though it was nice enough if I pretended to forget how much sugar went into it. I used quite a bit of the raspberry coulis, which made the frosting quite soft and spreading: it only held its piped lines for a few hours. I do think the addition of raspberry extract or liqueur is necessary for a punch of flavour.

The recipe I made was based on a cupcake recipe from the blog Annie’s Eats, and it states that she couldn’t remember how many cupcakes the batch of batter yielded, but it was probably around sixteen with a little left over. I therefore erred on the side of caution and made the cakes in shallow, small bun trays rather than larger American-sized cupcake tins, and I just about managed to eke out 24 as per the dictates of the challenge. More likely you will get 16-18.

Chocolate and Raspberry Cupcakes
Barely adapted from Annie’s Eats and My Blueberry Kitchen (frosting)

You will need a 12-hole bun tin (or two!) and paper cupcake liners. You will also need a piping bag (reusable or disposable) and a plain or tube nozzle piping tip.

For the cupcake

  • 40g cocoa powder
  • 220g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 115g unsalted butter, soft
  • 250g granulated sugar (I used vanilla sugar)
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 120ml strong coffee
  • 120ml semi-skimmed milk
  • approximately 120ml seedless raspberry jam (if you only have seeded jam, warm about 170ml and strain through a tea strainer, pushing with the back of a spoon)
  1. Preheat your oven to 180C and line your cupcake/bun tin with paper liners.
  2. Sift together the cocoa powder, plain flour, salt, baking soda and baking powder.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed using an electric mixer for about five minutes, until light and fluffy.
  4. Mix in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after adding each egg.
  5. Combine the coffee and milk. Add half the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and mix on low spoeed, until just incorporated. Stir in the coffee-milk mixture until incorporated, then add the remaining dry ingredients and mix again on low speed until just incporporated. Divide the batter between 24 cupcake liners, using a spoon or ice cream scoop to portion equally, until the liners are 3/4 full. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
  6. You don’t need to wait until the cupcake sare completely cool if you want to fill them with the jam – in fact, doing it while still warm is easier and means the jam melts delectably into the moist cake. Fit your pastry bag with a plain or nozzle tip, then prop it in a large glass or cocktail shaker, twisting the end of the bag just above the tip so that filling doesn’t leak out of the bottom. Fill the bag with the raspberry jam and remove from the glass/shaker. Untwist the bottom. Poke the tip of the nozzle into each nozzle, just bove the centre of each cupcake, and pipe some jam inside – about 5ml probably, or more if you wish. I just filled until I felt resistance and some jam started oozing out of the entry hole (err…sounds like a crime novel), so I used more jam than stipulated above. This is clearly the over-25 version of risky behaviour.

For the frosting

  • 100g raspberries, fresh or frozen
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 TBS caster sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 300-500g icing sugar, sifted (I do this the Nigella way by placing it in a food processor and blitzing briefly to remove the hard, nubbly lumps – much easier than through a sifter or strainer)
  • 1-3 tsps raspberry extract or liqueur
  1. In a saucepan, combine the raspberries, lemon juice and sugar and cool for a few minutes, pressing down on the raspberries with a wooden spoon, until the mixture becomes pulpy. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh strainer.
  2. Cream together the butter and half the sugar together. Add 3 tablespoons or so of the raspberry juice and raspberry extract or liqueur and mix it in. Add the remaining sugar bit by bit until the frosting becomes stiff enough to just about hold its peaks (if you want it very stiff, so that the peaks will stay upright, you may need to add more sugar. I added less and was okay with the icing sliding around after a few hours)
  3. Swirl a dollop onto the cupcakes or fit a piping bag with a star or swirl tip, fill the bag with frosting and pipe onto the cupcakes; as desired. If you want to gild the lily, suitable decorations would be whole raspberries (fresh rather than frozen as frozen ones will bleed everywhere) or freeze-dried raspberries.

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