Recipe: Earl Grey Cupcakes

I decided to make these one day, after reading through some of the recipes in my copy of The Great British Bake-Off’s How to Bake book – and if ever a book was needed… My baking is rusty since I’ve lived mainly alone for a long time – there didn’t seem much point making a load of stuff which I would then have to eat my way through. I didn’t consider batch baking and freezing, though: stuff that can be made quickly in small amounts, like scones.

Most of the recipes in the book involve all sorts of things I don’t usually keep in my cupboards, but the ingredients for these are fairly simple and I happened to have bought the only thing I don’t usually have (fresh lemons) on a whim, that morning so that was the one ingredient I needed for the icing already taken care of.

Now, given that I am scared of cakes, I approached these with more than a little trepidation – cupcakes are going to be easier to screw up than large ones: by over-baking, for example. The recipe doesn’t seem to be online and I won’t breach copyright by reproducing it verbatim, but there are a lot of similar Earl Grey Cupcake recipes about if you think you’d like to have a go, like this one, which I’d like to try as it’s got a fraction (a whole 70g less!) of the butter contained in the GBBO recipe, apart from anything. It also infuses the tea for much longer: something I think I’d do next time, even if I still followed the rest of the GBBO recipe.

On this occasion, I followed the recipe and the method to the letter – which is unusual for me – heating the milk and allowing the tea bags to infuse for precisely two minutes, before removing them. It was a really light smell and I wasn’t sure that anything other than colour would make it through the baking and addition of a lemon icing. Tempted as I was to try again with a third tea bag, I trusted the recipe and left it as it was.

The large cakes I’ve made recently have been deliberately simple, made by nothing much more complicated than creaming a bit of butter and sugar together, adding the liquid stuff and stirring the crap out of it until it acquires the desired consistency. This new thing, then, of adding eggs one at a time and then adding flour and milk in thirds, felt rather more like the chemistry it was and I hoped for a better end result by doing it exactly as it said.

With hindsight, I overfilled the cases a bit so, although they didn’t overflow, they sat higher than they should once baked. I was too hung up on the recipe saying it made 12 cupcakes and having a tray with 12 slots. Cupcake cases clearly come in all sorts of sizes – there was a sizeable difference just between the two brands I have at home, although neither of them claimed to be a large size. Next time I make something like that I’ll be more careful not to go above two-thirds full and will err on the side of caution: filling extra cases if I need to.

Earl Grey Cupcakes, just out of the oven and looking lovely. Not smelling of much other than cake, though.

Earl Grey Cupcakes, just out of the oven and looking lovely, if a little overfilled and out of focus. Not smelling of much other than cupcake, though.

My gas oven has hot spots and so I knew that some of the cupcakes would be a little more golden than others, but checking with the metal skewer at the suggested end of the baking time showed me that they all needed longer. This gave me the opportunity to turn the tray and mitigate that a bit. I was good and refrained from opening the door to check on them mid-bake (can’t see colour properly through the oven door) and just made sure I checked them bang on  the 20-minute mark rather than leaving them in any longer without getting a peek.

They needed another 3 minutes and then sat for 10 minutes in the tin as per the instructions, before being removed to a cooling rack. I got on with making the icing, reserving the pips from the lemons for another project I want to try: growing lemon leaves in a pot from pips.

Having made the icing to the letter of the recipe (except my lemons were just lemons and the recipe said to use two large ones so it might have been slightly under ideal) I then hit the point at which everything goes horribly wrong. I’ve got a sister who turns out ridiculous, amazing, themed cupcakes and a daughter who can decorate large cakes well and I’m just rubbish. At some point I’ll do another cake disasters post and write up just a few of the times that trying to decorate something turned it into a visual fail which entirely overshadowed the fact that they actually tasted nice. You know, if you could stop laughing at the icing.

Convinced that decorating stuff is not actually beyond me, just a skill I need to acquire through practice, I bought this cheap decorating set. Whilst in theory you can use plastic bags with corners snipped off, or ready-made stuff in tubes, I’ve always got dreadful results and thought I needed all the help I could get. Usually I’d go for the rustic, palette-knife approach to application which isn’t pretty but is effective. And, actually, it can look pretty too. I hoped this would allow more control, though, and it had various nozzles – none of which come with illustrations or anything to tell me what pattern they make.

After a bit of research, I learned that none of them were the star shape required in the recipe, although apparently I can make a basket weave pattern with one of them. I’m really not entirely sure why you’d want to, but there you go.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t like buttercream, although that’s no reason not to learn how to pipe it. For this, however, I decided just to do a couple, knowing they’d look a bit crap but not wanting to cover all of them in the buttercream. I quite deliberately left it a little on the runny side, using more fresh lemon juice to icing sugar than the method required and less butter, because I like lemon but don’t really want to eat too much in the way of all that fat and sugar.

It isn't pretty but I can see how it could be. I'm just not convinced that it's an important enough thing for me to invest time in, though. I know my strengths and they don't lie in buttercream. ;)

They aren’t pretty but I can see how they could be. I’m just not convinced that it’s an important enough thing for me to invest time in, though. I know my strengths and they don’t lie in buttercream. 😉

They looked better than they do in the photo, but it wasn’t pretty. I don’t like waste so I only made what I needed but then kept getting air coming out of the bottle instead of icing, which then spoiled the run of the pattern. If I did it again I’d use one of the smaller bottles and just make sure it was full to start. There may be some other technique that I’m missing too, but I am more about the flavour than the presentation, so in the meantime I’m going to laugh at my photo of the rubbish icing and remember that it actually tasted really rather good. 🙂

Music for this experiment was largely supplied by The Black-Eyed Peas’ The E.N.D. album. Verdict: makes rubbish icing and I still haven’t forgiven the Peas for conning me into buying the album on the basis of I Gotta Feeling, which is the only one I actually like. Extreme did the same thing with Pornograffiti and More Than Words back in 1990 and I haven’t forgiven them for that yet either. That CD cost me £16 back in the days before downloads. It was only the third thing I’d bought that wasn’t on cassette! Anyway, had I stuck with The Tudors OST, I’m sure it would have been a bit less shit, so another time I’ll try that…

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About SAM2.0

You'll want me on your team for the Zombie Apocalypse.
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