Black bottom cupcakes

Black bottom cupcakes sm

Well, we both seem to be going hard with the cupcakes at the moment. I’m a bit nonplussed by cupcakes, and the whole cupcake craze, but I’m even more nonplussed by The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. This is a book where the recipes simply haven’t been tested enough in a domestic kitchen. It doesn’t matter that the book has a raving quote by Gwyneth Paltrow on the front cover – it’s misleading, as she’s raving about the bakery itself, not the results of home cooks attempting the recipes.

The first recipe I made from the book was the white chocolate and pecan cookies. These worked very well. However, every sponge-based recipe me and my wife Fran have tried from the book has been dubious. Both Jo and my fellow baker at work Hannah have reservations about the Hummingbird book’s recipes – and between us we’ve got a lot of of experience with baking and cake-making.

I think one fundamental flaw with the recipes in the book is that they’re from or inspired by US recipes, so have been converted from cup or non-metric measures, then scaled up for the Hummingbird bakeries, then probably just scaled down again for the cookbook. The other fundamental flaw may well be that they’re designed to be made in a large, commercial mixer – something most of us don’t have in home kitchens. If you don’t have the domestic equivalent of that, a “freestanding electric mixer”, the recipes suggest you use a “handheld electric whisk” instead (presumably with the beater attachments, not the balloon whisk attachment).

Well, I’m not convinced that replacing one piece of kit with another like that will work. For starters, a lot of these recipes tell you to mix your dry ingredients, or dry ingredients with a little bit of butter, with the electric whisk. Er, no, I don’t want to redecorate my kitchen like that, thanks.

Also, I suspect in the commercial mixer has a very different blending process – it’s adds more air, whereas going at these recipes with an electric hand whisk just batters them and doesn’t introduce enough air. There’s a reason a lot of sponge-cake recipes use a folding in process – it adds air, and means the resulting sponge will be light. Sure, Delia has a few great sponge recipes that work well with handheld electric mixers (eg her old classic the all-in-one sponge), and she makes a reasonable argument for handheld mixers here, but these Hummingbird recipes are a very different kettle of aquatic animal. They’re most different in that Delia’s recipes are 100% reliable, whereas these are about 20% reliable in your home kitchen.

Yep, all the cakes, muffins and cupcakes we’ve tried so far from the Hummingbird recipes have been way too dense.

Such was the case with these black bottom cupcakes.

In principle they’re great – a layer of chocolate sponge, topped by a layer of cheesecake (with choc chips), topped by vanilla icing. In practice… well, in practice they need more practice to amend the recipe sufficiently for them to work well in the domestic context.

The recipes says put:

190g plain flour
120g caster sugar
40g cocoa powder
and
1/2 t bicarb
“in a large bowl and mix with an electric whisk on a slow speed until all the dry ingredients are incorporated.”
Well, that’s just bunkum. Even if you bowl is v big and your whisk is fairly slow, that’ll still spray all these powders around.
So I just blended them by hand.
You then combine
125ml (which the recipe bizarrely doesn’t mention in the ingredients, only in the method)
40ml sunflower oil
1 1/2 t vanilla extract
and add these to the dry ingredients, again blending with the electric whisk. Here you might want to start off with a spoon, to stop the mix flying around while it’s still dry.

For the cheesecake mix, the recipe says combine
140g cream cheese
60 caster sugar
1 egg
1/2 t vanilla extract
a pinch of salt
with the bloomin’ whisk (or you fancy freestanding electric mixer…) again. I did this, and the result was not the recipe’s “smooth and fluffy”, it was just wet and dribbly. So I had to remove half, and mix it again with more creamcheese. I’d recommend beating one egg, but only adding as much as it needs to make a “smooth and fluffy” mixture.
You then sitr in 100g milk chocolate chips. Hey – do it by hand!

The recipe says you fill a bunch of muffin cases 2/3rds full with the chocolate sponge mix, then top them with 1 tablespoon of the cheesecake mix. Which wouldn’t really work if it was totally runny.

It says bake for 20 mins and don’t overcook them or “the cheesecake will become very dry and crumbly”. Ok, check… except mine came out undercooked after just 20 mins, the sponge – or wannabe sponge – was just too fudgey.

I iced them and they looked pretty good, but they’re just so dense. If I make them again, I might double or even tripe the amount of baking powder to try and put some lightness into them (maybe the half teaspoon is a typo in the book – the other cupcakes with similar amounts of flour and sugar all seem to have 1 and half teaspoons of baking powder). Plus, I’ll bake them for 25 minutes.

But ideally, I’d like a second edition of The Hummingbird Bakery cookbook to be produced where the trendsetting Mr Malouf and his team have actually rigorously tested the recipes in real domestic kitchens and perfected them before comitting them to print.


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