The Baking Bakeoff

Welcome to healthier baking post!

Today’s excitement is over a selection from Harry Eastwood’s Red Velvet and Chocolate Heartache, which I mentioned the other day with great anticipation. For unexplained reasons, I sometimes get a cookbook in hand, and it can take me eons to get around to making something out of it—I don’t know why. This is one example, a second would be the “all things chocolate” cookbook Anna got me at Christmas: heavily thumbed and sticky-paper-marked, but as yet untried. It happens.

Anna is a Yankee living among us, and pointed out with exasperation that the measures of things in metric would have been better if also given in imperial. As a through-and-through “colonial” (an American of my acquaintance used to refer to me as “the Colonial She” and I hated it—and, oh look, I’ve just done it to myself! 🙂 ) I am less bothered… but you’re warned in advance!
Chocolate and Cherry Brandy Cupcakes

2 medium free-range eggs
180g Demerara sugar
200g peeled and grated butternut squash
100ml cherry brandy (—we soaked fresh cherries overnight in regular brandy)
50g white rice flour
100g ground almonds
50g good-quality cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
12 tsp cherry jam (i.e., good quality store-bought)

For the icing:

150g icing sugar, sieved
2 tbsp cherry brandy
1 tbsp boiling water
30g good-quality cocoa powder
small pinch of salt

For the top:

12 whole cherries, with stems

You will need:

a 12-hole muffin tray
12 cupcake cases

Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / gas mark 4 and line the muffin tray with the paper cases.
Whisk the eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl for 5 minutes, until pale and quadrupled in volume. Add the grated butternut squash and cherry brandy, then whisk again. Mix in the flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder and salt until well combined.
Spoon 1 healed tbsp of the mixture into the bottom of each paper case, followed by 1 tsp of the jam. Fill the rest of the case up with the mixture so that it comes nearly to the top of each case.
Place in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes until the cakes are risen and cooked (we pulled them out in 15, actually…).
Whilst (—I don’t understand why Brits don’t just say “while”, do you? 😉 ) the cupcakes are cooking, make the icing. Combine the icing sugar with the cherry brandy, boiling water and cocoa powder until you have a smooth paste. The back of a spoon works wonders for flattening out lumps. Depending on how absorbent your cocoa powder is, you may need a dash more brandy to loosen the paste enough for spreading evenly. If you are not going to use it immediately, place a sheet of cling film directly on the surface of the icing to prevent it drying out.
Remove the cupcakes from the oven and cool them in the tin for 10 minutes, so that they are cool enough to ice. Spread a spoonful of icing evenly over the top of each one and place a whole cherry (with its stem still on) on top of each cupcake before serving.

The results:

I love the idea behind this cookbook, I love how cute it is, I love the personality… and I wish I loved the product more… but I *have* only tried ONE recipe so far!

So, they’re pretty! We love the way they look, but are a little less in love with the taste. Actually, first and foremost, it’s the texture that’s an issue. We used slightly coarser almond meal than maybe we should have, so the overwhelming texture is a bit granular. It’s neither very chocolatey nor very cherry-y, so we began immediately revising the recipe… it went like this:

I said: “I’d want to mix a cherry purée into the batter.”

Anna said: “and I wouldn’t put the cherry jam in the bottom, I’d make a hole on top and fill it in with cherry purée, after baking.”

I said: “and real chocolate—we need some melted chocolate in the batter to bump up the flavour.”

Anna said: “I’d lose that frosting and use a dipped chocolate ganache on top—NO! I say, a cherry CREAM inside and then dip it in ganache!” And then when I laughed at her for taking all the healthy out of the recipe and replacing it with fat and sugar, she came back with: “OK: yogurt cheese flavoured with stevia and mixed with cherry purée in the centre… and THEN dip it in ganache!”

So obviously, we found the result tasted… healthy… and maybe not enough of chocolate and cherries. I would take the recipe and remodel it to keep the no-butter-but-still-moist quality that came from the butternut squash (which is also awesome on the gluten-free front), but this baby needs an overhaul before either of us is totally satisfied.

I’m absolutely going to try more out of this book—it just BEGS to be played with—mostly because I had 2 mini cupcakes, and didn’t feel overwhelmed with the need to eat keep going. For me, that’s a sign that it didn’t set me off on a sugar binge, which is nothing but good news!

Maybe the best news, however, was that the cherries we soaked in brandy overnight were spectacular. Why didn’t we make more of them? 😀

Sorry about the photo quality: I forgot my camera (which isn’t phenomenal to begin with) and was left only with my little phone…

Update! I just had a whole big one, and I think the frosting is too sweet, but that the recipe is good… it’s just that Anna and I want to improve upon it!

Update 2! I just fed one to my friend who is a tough sell on healthy foods, and she said a) “you thought this wasn’t chocolatey enough?!?” At that point I went “well, most chocolate cakes are better on the second day… maybe this one is improving with age?”

Then she said b) “this is one of the best cupcakes I’ve had!”

So maybe Anna and I were harsh? 🙂 I’ll admit, I had another bite and am warming up, too…