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.

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Baking challenge: lovely little lavender Earl Grey (cup)cake

So, it has taken me quite some time to get round to updating the world (hello, world) on the baking challenge – namely the penultimate challenge of series one, the little tea party cake. In the meantime, we’re inching ever-closer to the airing date of series four of the Great British Bake-Off, and there has been a run-up of media stories generated to whet our interest (or indeed appetite). The trailer is very dramatic but also kind of awesome. Exciting, but overwhelming to think that my little notebook will need to be padded out with more challenges. (She says, as if this isn’t entirely self-imposed and could be given up at any point if so wished). Anyway, I’ve finished my latest MA assignment, schlepped a hard copy from south-west London to Bloomsbury and verified my Turnitin receipt. I will not have to write something along the lines of “Historians and others […] may use patriarchy as the universalising context which cuts across all cultures and enables comparative analysis of women’s experiences by providing a common frame of reference for all women” for some time.

Just a little nibble
Just a little nibble

Uhhhhhm, baking! The final episode for the first series of the Great British Bake-off adopted a two-stage runoff process, whereby only two bakers of the final three could go forward to the final based on the judging of their ‘semi final’ bake, a little cake, appropriate for a tea party.The first series of GBBO was the only one which adopted this format for the finale, with the others adopting the more typical ‘signature, technical, showstopper’ and final judging, and it was certainly controversial. Ed was a great baker and a worthy winner, but Paul’s rejection of Miranda’s offering seemed to be based on a personal dislike of cupcakes. “That’s a child’s cupcake,” he snapped at the pure-white, delicately decorated confection. He didn’t seem to think cupcakes appropriate for afternoon tea – although, even if they’re not part of the classic afternoon tea, it is now certainly normal to have cupcakes included at even very posh and elegant high teas. Like them or loathe their cutesiness and everything that goes with it, cupcakes are a modern baking classic. You can rail against their ubiquity, but I think it was unfair to mark someone down for it. And Miranda’s cupcake was really gorgeous – I was glad Mary stuck up for her. I don’t have the patience or skill for that kind of decoration but it is beautiful.

How to stack cupcakes in a small fridge
How to stack cupcakes in a small fridge

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