Chocolate Orange Cupcakes for National Cupcake Week

Chocolate orange cupcakes

Chocolate orange cupcakes

There was a time in London where vertiginous cupcakes were everywhere you looked.  I would often see people walking through the city on the way to their offices, carrying boxes with sugar-hued icing swirls, ready to delight their colleagues.  When there was nobody on hand to make them, companies could send boxes of them directly to your desk, decorated with everything from edible glitter to fondant handbags.  The Hummingbird Bakery, arguably the pioneer of London’s cupcake fixation, became a household name and sold thousands of cookbooks.  We were hooked.

It all makes perfect sense really, as the cupcake trend came at roughly the same time as the recession hit London.  It was the perfect environment for small, affordable treats to take hold.  Bakery windows across the city were filled with these brightly coloured treats, ready to lift us out of the gloom of the dire economic climate.  As well as this, people were baking more, inspired by shows such as The Great British Bake Off.  The cupcake seemed unstoppable.

Inspired by this wonder-product, many tried to supersede the cupcake with other baked goods.  I remember the campaign to crown the whoopie pie as the new king of the shelves.  The macaron was hailed as a classier alternative, and the craze for the cronut in New York sent many London bakeries into a spin trying to replicate it.  After a few years of reigning supreme, the cupcake was knocked off its perch, but it never really went away.

This week is National Cupcake Week, which was started by industry magazine British Baker and is “designed to promote the popularity of cupcakes in order to help bakery businesses boost their sales.”  As well as this, they aim to raise money for the charity Wellbeing of Women through encouraging the public to fundraise with bake sales. For the rest of us, it’s an excuse to bake and eat.

I volunteered to bake some cupcakes for the office this week in celebration of National Cupcake Week.  These chocolate orange cupcakes were baked by Jo Wheatley on the second series of The Great British Bake Off.  They are a soft chocolate sponge, brushed with an orange juice and granulated sugar soak whilst warm, and topped with a delicate orange buttercream.  This recipe makes eight if you use normal-sized muffin cases, or will make 12 if you use the smaller cupcake cases.  Don’t be shy with the orange sugar soak, it makes the cupcakes wonderfully moist.

Chocolate Orange Cupcakes

For the cakes
120g plain flour
140g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
40g unsalted butter, at room temperature
50g dark chocolate, melted
1 large egg
120ml whole milk
1 orange, juice only
3 tbsp granulated sugar

For the buttercream
125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
300g icing sugar
2 tbsp whole milk
50g white chocolate, melted and cooled
Zest of 1 orange
Dark chocolate, for grating

Preheat the oven to 175ºc and line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases or cupcake cases.

Place the flour, sugar and baking powder in a large bowl.  Rub in the butter until fully combined.  In a jug, whisk together the eggs and milk, then stir into the dry ingredients.  Mix in the melted chocolate.

Spoon the mixture into the cases, filling them two-thirds full, and bake in the oven for approximately 20 minutes.  Mix together the orange juice and granulated sugar and, once the cakes have been removed from the oven, brush the mixture over them whilst still hot.  Set aside to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.  Do not throw away the orange juice mixture.

To make the buttercream, beat together the butter and icing sugar in a bowl, or the bowl of a freestanding mixer, until light and fluffy.  Beat in the milk, white chocolate and orange zest.

Brush another layer of the orange juice soak over the cooled cakes, then pipe or spread the buttercream on top.  Finish with some finely grated dark chocolate.

Orange, Stem Ginger and Spelt Cake

Orange, stem ginger and spelt cake

Orange, stem ginger and spelt cake

This weekend, I found myself stranded on the M4 with a broken down car.  As if this is not traumatic enough, we then spent an hour and a half on the hard shoulder in the wind and rain awaiting rescue.  All of this when we were supposed to be at a very fun party in Bristol with drinks, dancing and a street food pop-up.  To add insult to serious injury, I now have a cold and have to write this post from under a blanket, feeling rather sorry for myself.

My only consolation is that there is cake in the kitchen, which is actually something of a rarity as I have only actually made two cakes since the year began, but an extremely well-timed rarity nonetheless.  When we arrived home on Saturday with a broken car and ruined shoes, Ollie and I were so fed up that we ended up consoling ourselves in Hisar in East Dulwich with a couple of bottles of wine and an enormous plate of grilled meat.  In our distressed states, we ate a little more than we ought to have – with particular overindulgence on the pittas and the shockingly pink, but very tasty, taramasalata – and hence abstained from dessert.  The next day, feeling as though something was missing, I got up to see what was in the cupboards with a view of making a cake.

Just out of the oven...

Just out of the oven…

This particular cake is a winter delight, although not especially pretty.  It is a hybrid of two cakes:  the fig, ginger and spelt cake I made for Band of Bakers in October last year, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Orange, Ginger and Allspice cake.  The beauty of the method of the former is that the entire cake is made in one saucepan and then poured into the cake tin to bake in the oven, perfect for those who shirk the washing up.  There are two main flavours that come through in this cake:  the sharp and slightly bitter orange, and the sweet and warming stem ginger.  The spelt contributes little by way of flavour, but the coarser grind of the flour gives it a more robust texture which, when combined with the nuggets of chopped stem ginger and the orange-ginger glaze, make for a cake that is both wholesome and perfectly moist.  Its lack of decoration is unlikely to win it any beauty contests, but when doused with some hot vanilla custard, it is a great tonic for the common cold.

Orange, Stem Ginger and Spelt Cake

For the cake

  • 180g unsalted butter
  • 200g light soft brown sugar
  • Juice of one orange
  • 3 eggs
  • 5 pieces of stem ginger in syrup, chopped
  • 200g spelt flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • Finely grated zest of two oranges
  • Granulated sugar, for dredging

For the glaze

  • Juice of one orange
  • 3 tbsp syrup from the stem ginger jar

Preheat the oven to 180ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Grease a 20cm square cake tin and line with greaseproof paper.

Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a medium heat.  Once melted, stir in the brown sugar and orange juice until fully combined and set aside to cool for a few minutes.  Stir in the eggs, stem ginger, flour, baking powder, ground ginger and orange zest until you have a smooth batter.  Pour into the prepared cake tin and level off.  Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the cake is brown and risen and has started to shrink away from the sides.  At this point, a metal skewer, inserted into the middle of the cake, should come out clean.

Meanwhile, mix together the ingredients for the glaze in a small bowl.  Whilst the cake is still hot from the oven, brush the glaze over the top of the cake, building up several layers.  You should use almost all of the liquid.  Dredge with a generous amount of granulated sugar and allow to cool, first in the tin for 20 minutes and then on a wire cooling rack. Serve warm with cold custard, or cold with warm custard.