Tag Archives: cupcakes

Of lemons and olive oil…

It’s Blue Monday. Apparently it is the most depressing day of the year as Christmas is over, the decorations are down and the reality of an empty bank account sinks in. We’ll ignore that this was first cooked up as a marketing promotion a few years ago to encourage the population to start booking sunny summer holidays when it was cold and wet outside, and use this as an excuse to make something that brings us some flavours of the Mediterranean when the skies are heavy and grey.

To do this, I’ve decided to revamp my take on Spanish magdalenas (and you can read the original post here for all the background and history). These are lovely little cakes made with lemon and olive oil, just the sort of thing to have at breakfast with a cortado or a café con leche. I mean, perhaps this is not how Spanish people eat them, but I’ve eaten them on holiday in Spain, and when you’re on holiday, it is completely legitimate to eat cake for (or at least with) breakfast.


But why a revamp? Am I not a fount of new ideas? Generally I like to look around for inspiration to try new things – it might be discovering a novel ingredient, going on holiday, or acquiring an unusual kitchen implement, all of which are usually pretty good ways to come up with ideas. I’m generally not one for making the same recipe over and over with a different flavour or icing on top. However, I recently started to look back at some of my very early posts and it got me thinking…has the time come to look back at some old recipes, make some adjustments and post them again in their new and improved form? I’m a better cook and baker these days, so it’s quite a fun way to see how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned. So you can probably expect to see quite a few more of those to come over the course of this year.

Ah, those early posts. Back from when I first dipped my toe into the blogging world. You can tell those posts. The writing is enthusiastic, but more tellingly the pictures are not quite as polished, and in particular I had not yet discovered the “flat lay”. It sounds positively risqué, but this is apparently just the technical name for setting things out on a table and then photographing them from above. You’ll probably know it as the look that is so beloved of Instagram influencers who probably spent ages making things look as if they have been effortlessly thrown onto a table. And back in the day, I was also muddling through with a more basic selection of kitchen equipment, so whatever I came up with was inevitably a little more simplistic. Put another way…I was not buying new pans, trays and moulds on a whim, and I didn’t spend as much time hunting down quirky ingredients.


These cakes were actually inspired by a visit last year to visit some friends in Estepona on the Costa del Sol. They had a lovely garden overlooking the sea, but the real highlight for me was the orchard. Avocados, mandarins, lemons, kumquats…all ready for the picking. It rather puts my solitary redcurrant bush to shame, although my garden did come good last summer with enough fruit for two small jars of jelly. But I managed to come home with a large back of kumquats and mandarins which were turned into marmalade, and we finally got to enjoy the last jar over the festive period. It got me thinking that I really do like citrus flavours, and I wanted to have another go at magdalenas.

My previous attempt at magdalenas was way back in 2010. What were you doing back then? It is just crazy to think how much things have changed over that time. Anyway, that old recipe was based on equal weights of eggs, sugar, flour and olive oil. This time I’ve adjusted the recipe slightly – I’ve used large eggs, and added a little more flour and some baking powder to get some extra lift in the batter. I’ve also added a little milk to make the batter smoother, with the hope that the magdalenas will be a little more airy. Finally, I also made two flavour tweaks. First, the lemon zest is enhanced by a little vanilla extract. Second, I have used mostly ordinary (non-virgin) olive oil, with a couple of spoonfuls of extra-virgin oil for flavour. I find that on its own, the extra-virgin stuff can make cakes a little bitter and grassy.


Of course the other big change this time was that I was able to bake my magdalenas in a square shape, like they often do in Spain! Luckily I just happened to have a square muffin pan that I bought a couple of Christmases ago to make another Spanish delight, the almond-flavoured marquesas de navidad. When the tray appeared in the kitchen, I was promptly chastised for shelling out cash for yet another piece of single-use kitchen kit. This batch of magdalenas clearly vindicates my impulse purchase, and I really love the different shape. Does it add to the flavour? Absolutely. It makes them look very pretty on a plate, thereby enhancing the eating experience.


The end result is a great little cake. They have a  lovely light  texture, so the extra baking powder and milk does the trick, and they stay wonderfully moist thanks to the olive oil. Finally, do be generous when sprinkling them with sugar – I think that slightly crisp topping is a fundamental part of them.

If you were to go back to some old recipes, which ones would you want to re-make? If you have any suggestions from my back catalogue, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do!

To make 12 magdalenas:

• 2 large eggs
• 115g caster sugar
• zest of one large lemon
• 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
• pinch of salt
• 125g self-raising flour
• 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
• 115g olive oil (including 2 tablespoons of extra virgin)
• 2 tablespoons milk
• granulated sugar, to sprinkle

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (355°F). Place 12 paper cases in a muffin tray (square or round).

2. Put the eggs, caster sugar, lemon zest, vanilla and salt in a bowl.  Whisk with an electric beater until light and thick (2 minutes).

3. Gently fold the flour and baking powder into the mixture using a spatula.

4. Add the olive oil and fold into the mixture (do this gently but keep going – it will come together). Finally fold in the two tablespoons of milk. You should have a smooth, soft, emulsified batter-like mixture.

5. Divide the mixture between the paper cases. Sprinkle each generously with granulated sugar. Bake for around 18-20 minutes until the cakes are risen and golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

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Fairy Cakes

The bakeries and cafes of Britain have in recent years seen an influx of interlopers. I speak of the brash, brightly-coloured cupcake, huge in size and piled high with whipped buttercream icing.

The thing that really gets me is just their sheer size. The traditional equivalent in Britain is the much more dainty “fairy cake”, usually decorated somewhat whimsically – coloured sugar sprinkles, which we call “hundreds and thousands” – but not quite as outrageously as their American cousins. Whereas American cupcakes flaunt their whipped, sweet topping – which often seems to exceed the volume of the supporting cake – fairy cakes make do either with just a touch of simple buttercream frosting (made with just butter and icing sugar, so much less sweet too) or, more usually, simple glacé icing (icing sugar plus a little hot water to bind). If you don’t fancy hundreds and thousands, add a single glacé cherry. Small children tend to look at these as if they are the height of sophistication.

The big advantage of being a more dainty cake creation is that they are also far more suited to an afternoon tea. Part of the ritual is that you are able to enjoy your cuppa with a selection of savoury and sweet goodies. As such, you can quite happily tuck into a few sandwiches, with or without crusts according to taste, then enjoy a fairy cake, before moving on to scones, a sliver of chocolate cake or whatever else is on offer. Try doing that after eating a whole American cupcake(*) the size of a plate!

To make 12 fairy cakes:

• 110g butter, at room temperature
• 110g caster sugar
• 2 eggs
• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 110g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 2-3 teaspoons milk

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line a muffin tin with cake cases.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (until it gets lighter in colour). Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and then add the vanilla and salt, and stir well. Fold in the flour, and finally add enough milk to make a light batter that drops off the back of a spoon.

Divide the mixture between the cake cases, and bake for 20 minutes until risen and golden.

For the icing: combine 150g icing sugar with 2-3 tablespoons of boiling water (plus any colour, if using) to form a thick paste. Top each cake with the icing, and immediately cover with some sugar sprinkles (the top of the icing dries very quickly, so don’t wait until you have iced all the cakes before adding the sprinkles, or they won’t stick).

Worth making? Yes. These are quick and easy to make, and always seem to be popular. The cake itself if light and moist, and works well with the simple icing. A change from the excesses of giant cupcakes!

(*) Nothing against American food, it’s just that I can’t get over the size of their cupcakes!

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Vanilla and Chocolate Cupcakes

The third posting from the Naming Day party – cupcakes!

I had made a chocolate cake for the afternoon, but I knew that it would be asking a lot of the children there to wait until the adults were ready. How to solve this? A tray of cupcakes. I used the recipe from the Magnolia Bakery (so ubiquitous that I haven’t reproduced it here, but see here). I did make one small tweak though – American cupcakes tend to be softer and moister due to using oil rather than butter (even if Magnolia’s are all-butter affairs). But as oil-based cakes are normally not very appealing to a British palate, I used four-fifths butter to one-fifth sunflower oil, and it yielded a good result.

I also split the mix, and made some vanilla cupcakes, and added 150g of chopped milk and plain chocolate to the rest of the batter for chocolate chip. I topped the vanilla cupcakes with yellow or pink butter frosting and covered in sprinkles, and covered the chocolate chip cakes with chocolate frosting and added some bling with silver balls.

For the butter frosting, I’ve tried Magnolia’s before but I find it way too sweet. This probably has something to do with the  high volume of milk in their recipe which seems to mop up sugar, so I cut down on the milk and also held back on the icing sugar – just adding enough so that it holds and doesn’t split. The result was great.

Magnolia’s chocolate frosting was superb. The recipe uses melted chocolate folded into butter frosting. When I’ve tried this before, I’ve used normal buttercream as the base, which was great at first but the mixture always set very hard. It turns out that the trick is to fold the chocolate into a buttercream with more butter and less sugar (so it is softer to start with). The result spreads like icing, holds perfectly, but has a light, mousse-like texture on top of the cake. Yum!

And did my target audience like them? Everything went, and was scoffed in silence. I take that as a big thumbs up.

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Food trends and coffee walnut cakes

I remember the “old days” (i.e. the 1980s) when there did not seem to be food trends. The same cakes appeared in shops and cafes up and down the land, year in, year out.

Fast forward 20 years, and I’ve notice in the last two weeks that coffee and walnut cake seems to be everywhere. I think this is an interesting response to the recession/depression/armageddon we are in the middle of, but Britain is seeking comfort in old favourites, but with a new “old favourite” popping up every few weeks.

I remember my mother used to make these cakes when I was young, so this is my attempt. The eagle-eyed of you out there (I am assuming that someone, somewhere is actually reading all of this…) will notice that I’m not talking about “cupcakes”. To me, this difference matters. American cupcakes are huge.  Actually, they are too much for one person to eat, and I know that very often you would share one, but I have issues with the idea that one of these things is intended as a snack for one person. In Britain, we use the rather marvellous term “fairy cakes”. Small, light, whimsical and traditionally small sponge cakes with butter icing and covered in lurid hundreds and thousands. Fun! The point is that they are about a quarter of the size of their US cousins, so they really can be a little treat that you don’t feel so bad about. The coffee/walnut combination makes them more mature, with the walnuts providing some interest alongside the coffee.

For 12 cakes:

• 100g light brown sugar
• 100g butter
• 2 eggs
• 50g walnuts, chopped
• 100g self-raising flour
• 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
• 50ml very strong espresso, cold (or strong instant coffee if you are in a hurry)

Set the oven to 180°C.

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and a spoonful of the flour, and mix well. Add the cold coffee and the chopped walnuts, stir well, then add the rest of the flour and the baking powder.

Divide the mixture between 12 fairycake cases (make sure these are the small ones – if you use the larger muffin-sized cases, they won’t be full). Bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned, then remove from the oven and allow to cool.

For the icing:

• 100g butter
• 200g icing sugar
• 50ml very strong espresso, cold

Combine the butter and icing sugar in a bowl and mix by hand until combined. Now add the coffee, the use an electric beater (or hand whisk if you prefer) to get the mixture really fluffy. Use it to top the cakes, and press a walnut half onto each cake. Voila!

Would I make it again? Well, that’s a bit of a cheat as this is my recollection of a childhood favourite. I love them, but be careful with the coffee – if you do use instant, it is easy to go crazy. Remember, we want a taste of coffee, not the feeling of sucking on coffee grounds!

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