When my daughter and I decided to do some baking yesterday we were both in agreement that we'd make cupcakes with lashings of butter cream. The only problem was that we couldn't agree what flavour they'd be. I had two new ingredients that I wanted to experiment with, vanilla pod powder and lavender and I'd found a few ideas to suggest that these two ingredients work very well together so I was thinking that vanilla and lavender cupcakes would be perfect. My chocoholic daughter, though, had other ideas and was envisioning some rich, dark cocoa-laden creations instead.
Now, I know that I could have insisted that it would be vanilla no matter what but my daughter is, and always has been, very strong willed and single-minded and I wasn't at all in the mood for a debate on the merits of chocolate cupcakes over vanilla. So, in the interests of keeping the peace, I decided to take the diplomatic approach and make half and half. We made up a batch of vanilla cupcake mix that was enough for 12 cakes and split it in two. We left half of the mixture as it was and added cocoa powder and a bit of chilli (one of my favourite additions to chocolate cake) to the other half. They were spooned into cupcake cases and then baked in the oven at the same time.
We took the same approach with the butter cream - made up a full batch then flavoured half with vanilla and half with cocoa. We finished them off by piping the butter cream on the top of the cupcakes and then decorated the vanilla ones with a sprinkling of lavender flowers and added some edible glitter and sugar decorations to the top of the chocolate cakes.
It was so easy to do and we ended up with two types of really delicious cupcakes - vanilla and lavender and chocolate and chilli and, more importantly, peace and harmony continued to prevail in the Brass household!
A note about my two new ingredients. Vanilla pod powder is made from pure vanilla pods that are ground down to a powder. It can be used as a substitute for vanilla extract and should be replaced on a like for like basis (1 tsp vanilla extract = 1 tsp vanilla powder). I thought it worked really well both in the cake and the icing and a positive side-effect was that it gave the icing a nice speckled effect, a bit like using vanilla seeds from a fresh pod.
The lavender flowers on the top of the vanilla cupcakes gave the finished cake a nice hint of perfume but I have been warned to use it sparingly as it can become quite overpowering. It's important to ensure that lavender flowers used in cooking are suitable for eating. Lavender bought at garden centres is most likely not due to pesticides / chemicles previously sprayed onto the flowers so it's wise to check!
Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes made in one batch
Basic cake batter:
110g (4oz) soft butter
110g (4oz) caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1 tsp vanilla powder)
110g (40z) self-raising flour
1-2 tbsp milk
150g (50z) soft butter
300g (10oz)icing sugar
1-2 tsp milk
For Vanilla and Lavender cupcakes add:¼ tsp vanilla extract (or ¼ tsp vanilla powder)
¼ tsp edible lavender flowers
For Chocolate and Chilli cupcakes add:
50g plus 1tbsp cocoa powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp dried chilli flakes
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
2. Cream the butter and the sugar together until the mixture is smooth and pale in colour. Gradually add the eggs bit by bit and beat the mixture to ensure it is well combined. Add the vanilla extract or vanilla powder and stir this well into the mixture.
3. Fold the flour into the mixture, adding milk to ensure a smooth, dropping consistency.
4. Spoon half of the mixture into another bowl and fold in the 50g cocoa powder (make sure it has been sifted first), cayenne pepper and chilli flakes ensuring it is well blended into the mixture. Add more milk (or some water) if the mixture seems a little dry.
5. Spoon both mixtures into the paper cases so they are roughly half-full and place in the pre-heated oven. Bake for 10-15 minutes until well risen. Allow to cool fully.
6. To make the butter cream, beat the butter in a large bowl until soft. Add the icing sugar gradually, beating the mixture well to ensure it is fully blended. Add milk as required to ensure the mixture is smooth and creamy.
7. Put half of the mixture into another bowl.
8. In one half of the mixture add the vanilla extract or powder and mix well. In the other half of the mixture add 1 tbsp of sifted cocoa powder and mix well.
9. Pipe or spoon the butter cream over the top of the cupcakes. Sprinkle the lavender flowers over the top of the vanilla cakes and decorate the chocolate cakes with chocolate chips or sugar decorations.