Life is one big test. A test I've been getting straight 50s on for most of my life. That's not a cue for the violins. At least I've been passing (though, had I lived in the States, I may not have been so lucky. Isn't a 60 a pass mark there? That's about as much as I learnt from Beverley Hills 90210. Morale lessons be damned).
I do alright, don't get me wrong. Job, boyf, buddies and fam are all A-OK. But I've never really looked after myself. I cook the heck out of a cupcake and for a good while, ate the heck out of them as well. I'm trying to lift my pass mark to a credit. So life's big test at the moment is trying to stay away from baked goods. That's a test pretty much destined for failure in my kitchen.
It's RSPCA Cupcake Day today. I promised to bring a dozen of my oven's finest to work. I baked cupcakes, stirred salted caramel, beat together some buttercream and dissolved sugar for a praline I'm pretty sure you'd sell your grandmother for. And I didn't eat one. single. crumb. High fives for my inner fat kid.
When you're trying to look after your health in this way, you expect a few challenges here and there. What you don't expect is your partner to wave it in front of your face. In the last two days he's eaten a bag of Clinkers, two Eskimo Pies (the remaining four are in the freezer practically wailing at me to be eaten) and a milkshake.
When we were driving home from a night out (I was that fun one abstaining from booze) Matt's eyes lit up at the sign of the Colonel in the distance. "KFC", he started whispering. "Let's stop for KFC", he said breathlessly. These were my kind of sweet nothings. He knows that salty, oily business is my achilles heel. "No", I said firmly, speeding up past the beady-eyed saboteur. I looked at Matty's face in the dark and he's got that evil grin on his face. He's not only willing me to fail, but having fun doing it.
For all the crap I'm missing out on, I actually feel a thousand times better than I have before. I'm exercising most days and it's beginning to feel like I'm not being punished for crimes committed in past life. Better than that, I'm actually enjoying it. Don't you just want to vomit? And just the other day, I saw a pile of chips in the bottom of the pantry (another of Matty's cruel traps, I presume), and didn't even consider cracking open a packet.
So the cupcakes will be taken to work without so much of a taste test to verify their deliciousness. But look, I've made the cupcakes, the caramel and the buttercream before. The praline's new, but really, how can you stuff up praline? (When you crystallise your sugar three times, pretty easily).
The thing I'm looking forward to most? Seeing the salted caramel ooze from the chocolatey crumb - a pleasant surprise for even the most hardened cupcake connoisseur. I'll just have to live vicariously through their joy, smug in my little land of whole foods.
1 1/3 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
1/2 cup milk
2 tbsp cocoa
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Line a baking tray with cupcake wrappers.
In an electric mixer, cream the butter until light and fluffy. With the mixer going, add the sugar one tablespoon at a time until it is all incorporated. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing thoroughly between additions.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and the cocoa. Add half to the butter and mix on low until just incorporated. Add some milk and vanilla, then the remaining flour and finally the last of the milk, mixing between each addition. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 1 minute and add to the cake batter.
Spoon the batter into the cake wrappers until around 3/4 full. Bake for approximately 25 minutes or until a skewer leaves the cake clean. Leave to cool on the tray until ready for assembly.
200ml thickened cream
120g caster sugar
75g liquid glucose
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
3g gelatine soaked in 2 tbsp water
1/2 tsp sea salt
Preheat a heavy based frypan over medium-high heat. Bring the glucose, vanilla and cream to the simmer together in a small saucepan. In the heated frypan, sprinkle over the sugar and allow to melt, stirring occasionally to stop it from burning. Once all the sugar has dissolved and the cream is simmering, add the cream to the sugar. Whisk quickly to mix thoroughly - be very careful as the mixture will spit. Cube the butter and add to the caramel, followed by the gelatine, whisking continuously. Remove from heat, add the salt, strain and cool.
3 1/2 cups pure icing sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 tbsp cocoa
In an electric mixer, cream butter for around 5 minutes until light and creamy. Add half of the sifted icing sugar, cocoa and the milk and beat for a further 3 minutes or until all the lumps have disappeared. Add the remaining icing sugar and beat for 2 minutes. Melt the chocolate in the microwave and add to the mixture, mixing thoroughly to incorporate all the chocolate.
120g caster sugar
50g salted peanuts
Combine the water and sugar in a saucepan over low heat. Stir continuously until the sugar melts completely. Bring to the boil and stop stirring. Once the sugar colours to a golden brown, remove from heat and pour over the peanuts. Once the praline has cooled enough to handle, stretch the toffee into long strands with a couple of peanuts at the base.
Using a melon baller, scoop a hole out of the top of the cupcake. Fill the cupcake hole with the caramel and top with a tiny sprinkle of salt. Fill a piping bag with the chocolate buttercream and pipe on top of the cupcake. Top with a strand of peanut praline and serve.