Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Year of the Cupcake #6 - Christmas Cupcakes

I can't believe that it has been six months and am keeping up with Year of the Cupcake. It's amazing! I decided, being Christmas, that I would make my cupcakes Christmas-themed. I was going to go all out and invent a subtle blend of Christmassy flavours, and then I thought "screw it" and hit Google up for a recipe.

I also have a new love - Bakingpleasures.com.au. I must preface this by saying that at this stage they have no idea who I am, besides a customer who buys really cute cupcake wrappers and sprinkles from them. I dare say they have some kind of stat counter widget on their site that also shows them that I spends hours lurking on their site, perusing their stock and dreaming of what cake decorating adventure to next embark upon.

I know that's sad. You don't need to tell me! Maybe one day I'll send them some pictures of their products being used, because if **I** ran a baking supplies shop then chances are I'd be interested enough in baking to see what people were doing with my goods.

Also, I know that plenty of people don't like Christmas cake, but I don't care. **I** do, and I have to enjoy these cupcakes, too, even if I have to eat the whole danged lot of them!

Preparation Time
60 minutes

Cooking Time
30 minutes

Makes 12

INGREDIENTS (note that I have ommited the original decorating instructions because I wanted to simply make a white royal icing and cover them with pretty sprinkles):

125g butter
100g (1/2 cup, firmly packed) brown sugar
1 tsp finely grated orange rind <-- I bought an orange, forgot I had it and used some old candied peel still lurking in the fridge from five Christmases ago. It was fine!
2 eggs
500g dried mixed fruit
60g (1/2 cup) chopped walnuts
80ml (1/3 cup) fresh orange juice
75g (1/2 cup) plain flour, sifted
75g (1/2 cup) self-raising flour, sifted
1/2 tsp mixed spice


Preheat oven to 170°C. Line twelve 80ml (1/3-cup) capacity muffin pans with cases. Use an electric beater to beat the butter, sugar and orange rind in a bowl until pale and creamy. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Stir in the dried fruit, walnuts and orange juice. (NOTE - I combined the fruit and OJ an hour or so earlier to allow it to soak into the fruit and make it plump. I don't know whether that is the intention or whether the OJ is there to moisten the cake and not the fruit, but it seemed to turn out fine. The fruit was plump and juicy, anyhow!) Stir in the combined flour and mixed spice. Spoon into the lined pans and smooth the surfaces.

Bake for 30 minutes or until cupcakes are firm to touch. Set aside in the pans for 5 minutes to cool before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Bearing in mind that the following instructions are straight out of my head and I have no idea whether this is the right way to do it, ROYAL ICING:
1 egg white
1 cup pure icing sugar, sifted

Beat egg white with electric mixer until frothy. At this point, begin adding icing sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until it is mixed in. The mixture will turn white and stiff at some point like a meringue - don't be me and quit beating before it gets there! I also seem to recall it's not supposed to reach "stiff peak" consistency, but mine always does. I'm clearly doing it wrong. You can add a little water at the end to soften it, apparently... (NOTE: Some blog hopping today tells me that stiff peak seems to be the go for piping. Again, don't quote me!)

Now, when I make royal icing, I never quite seem to use the entire cup of icing sugar as it gets quite stiff quite quickly. Giggle. I don't know what I'm doing wrong and I'm not sure if I care, but I figure you're better off with rock-solid, stiff icing than runny, gloopy icing!

Spread on cooled cupcakes and decorate with various sprinkes and sanding sugars while the icing is still sticky.

C'mon guys, seriously, how cute are those sprinkles, and those cupcake wrappers?? The shiny Christmas trees really are edible, and the minature candy canes are actully peppermint flavoured! How awesome is that!

(And yes, now that you mention it, I did download some free photo editing software... why do you ask? Photoscape, in case you're wondering. At present it's a bitch to use because my laptop screen is cracked and I can't see the menus properly, and I haven't figured out yet whether it can compress pictures... but you can put them together like jigsaws, and that's all that's important to me right now!)

Next year I'm thinking about making snowflake-shaped biscuits with stencilled snowflakes. Even though snow has nothing to do with Christmas, especially in Australia. But they'd be so pretty.

Next up: My new-found love for stencils, and a Christmas cake (Disclaimer: This may not be posted until the new year. Tomorrow night is the office Christmas party; the following night I'm seeing Swan Lake with the girls; the three days following that involve interstate travel and three different versions of family Christmases; then there's a 3 day hike, a 4 day camping trip and I'm back to work. Sooooo maybe I'll post it next Christmas!)


Saturday, 17 December 2011

Book review: Memo For a Saner World, by Bob Brown

I bought this book within about six months of starting work as a baby environmental officer in the construction industry. I was young and idealistic and felt like it was something I should be reading to maintain my integrity, you know, whilst I was being paid by the devil to watch trees being knocked down.

I put it down after about two chapters because I was bored out of my brain. Perhaps it was a sign of my shifting idealism; or the fact I didn't identify with it; or maybe those first two chapters just weren't all that engaging.

Fast forward five years, and I picked it up again as part of my commitment to read my unread books before buying new ones, as part of my 101 Things challenge.

It wasn't so bad upon the second attempt (mind you, I didn't go out of my way to re-read those first two chapters; I just flipped it open at the page where I had dog-eared the corner to mark my place, and re-commenced reading), but it really did run hot and cold for me.

Background info for non-Australians: Bob Brown is an Australian Greens senator - the first one, I believe -  who has fought passionately for the environment, particularly in Tasmania. He has led the Ausrtalian Greens party since their founding in 1992 and has been instrumental in banning logging in the Tarkine valley (and in having it declared as the Tarkine Wilderness Area) and also led the fight to stop the damming of the Franklin River. His politics are a hybrid of environmentalism and socialism. In more recent years he seems to have appointed himself the champion of human rights in Australian politics (mainly immigration and gay rights); and, as I write this, it occurs to me that this may actually be where he loses some of his would-be Greens voters. That he doesn't sacrifice his ideals to gain popularity is admirable, but as you will see in my write-up of the book, it may also be his downfall.

The book chronicles Bob's adventures in environmental protection. Each chapter is about a different campaign, and it is quite interesting to read about them. Some sections are well-written and fire up your anger at the disregard the government has for our precious and irreplaceable forests (if you know what project I'm doing at work at present you may find that statement grossly hypocritical, but my project **does** have a positive environmental outcome, unlike straight-out old growth cable logging). And some chapters had the opposite effect and fired up my anger at Mr Brown himself for being so ignorant and tunnel-visioned.

I will give you an example of the latter: One chapter chronicles the issue of an area of tidal mudflats in South (North? It's been a couple of months since I finished the book and can't recall...) Korea that is crucial to global bird migration. Basically, areas such as this act as a buffer between freshwater rivers and the ocean, and quite often filter what comes out of the river and soak up the grogans, which creates a rich (and stinky!) haven for nature to frolic about in. The tides then come in and pick up the worst of it and wash it out to sea.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that the North/South Korean environment wanted to build a sea wall around this mudflat (and probably have, by now) so that, instead of it being flooded by the tides each day and washed clean, it could be reclaimed as farmland. This was bad for two reasons: one, the grogans that came out of the river would settle there permanently and, over time, become hyper-concentrated intead of being washed out to sea; and two, the land would no longer be available to birds for migration.

So yep, this definitely seems like something that is pretty critical to fight against. And this chapter, as with all the chapters, is quite well written and presents some interesting information (albeit sometimes too much information - he came across, in some cases, desperate to show his achievements to the minutest, most mundane detail).

But do you want to know where he lost me? It was the part where he blamed the construction company as well as the government that approved the project, and my temper flared. For a moment I was annoyed at myself for having my "contractor's" hat so firmly on my head, but then I realised that my reaction was fairly well justified.

As an environmental and community liaison manager for a construction company, I cop public abuse all the time for the stupid decisions that the government makes. Generally, though, once a project has settled in and you've had a chance to chat to the locals and bring them cupcakes (yes, I really do that), they come to realise that we're just being paid to build it, and that my job is actually the last chance to protect the environment at  the end of a long chain of bureaucratic stuff-ups that allow sometimes questionable projects to go ahead. Fatalistic? Perhaps. Realistic? Definitely.

What Bob neglected to mention was that construction companies need to construct things in order to make money in order to employ people, and, as a socialist, he should understand that jobs are important. You know, unless you're okay with people sitting about, sponging off Centrelink... which some chapters kind of hint that he might be, but that's another story!

That he was having a go at the construction company was annoying in itself, but then he proceded to suggest that his followers do something that would really and truly have very little to no impact - he proposed that we all boycott Hyundai (the car manufacturer) by not buying their cars in order to hurt the construction company that had already won the tender and was half way through constructing the project.

Stay with me here.

Hyundai are the sister-company of Hyundai Construction, and were, in fact, originally the same company. They are now run separarely by two brothers.

Hyundai Construction were the company building the sea wall.

So what he was telling us to do was to not buy the cars manufactured by a company which is affiliated with the construction company inasmuch as that the two CEOs probably sit down to Christmas dinner together (or whatever festival they celebrate in Korea), but which does not share a common cash flow.

To me, that's like telling me not to buy SPC tinned fruit because Ardmona (both are owned by Coca-Cola Amatil now, unfortunately. On my list of things to do when I'm a bajillionaire is to buy back previously Australian-owned brands and products) are discharging post-production water containing certain chemicals into stormwater that are within the allowable legal limits, but which may, at some point in time, combined with the right conditions and a high level of exposure, be carcinogenic. (To be clear, I don't think they **are**, I'm just using this as an example!)

That's also like the girl I recently sat next to at a wedding (who may or may not read this blog, but I think that when we discussed it she realised that I disagreed with her!) who doesn't drink milk because it's cruel that the cows are impregnated every year to keep them from producing milk (um, which I'm pretty sure more or less happens in nature anyway - bulls will be bulls!; and I also have the feeling that milk continues to be produced as long as you continue to milk the cow, kind of like human wet-nurses continue to produce breast milk as long as there is a baby drinking it, but I could very well be wrong about that second part), and then the calves are "surplus" which is also cruel (um, I'm pretty sure they raise some of the calves to then go on and be - wait for it - dairy cows, and the rest of them, rightly or wrongly, and obviously mainly the boy-calves, go to veal. They don't just kill them and put them in the bin like they do with surplus puppies, which IS gross and wrong).

How did a book review turn political and then into a rant about humane milk production? Because it shows me that, whilst Bob Brown has some awesome values and has fought some amazing fights to defend the environment, he also has absolutely no idea how the system works. There are two perspectives here - some say that, once you understand the system you are in danger of accepting and becoming the system. But I say that in order to beat the system you need to understand it. He, apparently, does not.

I would encourage you to read the book anyway. Besides the two or three chapters that angered me or made me make weird little whiny-grunty-frustrated-this-guy-is-a-morong noises, there is some really good stuff in it. It didn't clean my conscience for being employed by The Man despite my personal environmental beliefs, maybe because the person who read this book a couple of months ago is not the same person who bought the book five years ago. Hopefully it inspires you and educates you to do your bit for the environment, and that's always a good thing.

And as for me? Well, a little while after I bought (and put down) the book, I realised that I have more power to save trees doing what I do and being paid by the devil, so to speak, than protesting the project in front of the state library. And I do. I work with and educate the people who are effectively paid to do the damage, so that they understand the impact of the works. We save more trees than we are obliged to and minimise impact in whatever we do. And I have learnt that nobody wants to do the wrong thing by the environment; it's just that they either lack the knowledge or resources do things the right way, or their own agenda - to feed their family - keeps them in the business.

I think Bob Brown would be better off trying to make some sort of environmental education mandatory for all politicians than telling us to pull jobs away from the people at the bottom of the food chain. If you want to ban logging, you need to provide an alternative means for the people who have been logging for four generations to make a living. Memo For a Saner World was probably an attempt to educate us on what has passed; but we, as a global population, need to be educated on what we are doing now and why that matters for the future.

I will also close by relaying what I said in my first job interview, all those years ago, in response to the question "Why do you want to work in construction?" "I'm a tree-hugger. And whilst I want to work in Parks or Natural Resource Management, I feel like I need to see the other side of the fence first to completely understand what I'm doing." Pretty insightful for a wet-behind-the-ears university graduate, don't you think? :) Hopefully before Bob Brown writes more books (mind you, this one was published in 2004 so he probably has), he spends some time on the other side of the fence.

Segue: a little while ago I bought The Secret Life of Wombats by James Woodford (it was BEFORE my book-reading challenge began, and it was a GIFT for my fiance else anyway, it's just that I started to read it while I was waiting for the bus home from Taronga zoo (which reminds me, I have a draft post sitting there about that trip))... anyway, it's an absolutely fascinating book and one I would highly recommend to anyone who loves critters (Grant loves wombats, which is why I bought it for him). The reason I bring it up is that it is written in a similar style to Bob Brown's book, with each chapter being about something different. Some of them hit in a big way and others miss a little, but most are spot on. Bob's were less-uniformly spot on. I should probably read some of his more recent efforts before saying that, though!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Daring Kitchen: Cha Sui & Cha Sui Bao

I was absolutely stoked about this month's Daring Cooks challenge because a) much like Sara from Belly Rumbles, my family and I also regularly go to Yum Cha for Sunday brunch (our favourite haunt is a place called Plume in Doncaster, Victoria) and b) Cha Sui Bao (or Cantonese BBQ pork buns) really and truly are one of my favourite Yum Cha dishes, at least, in steamed form. Sadly, I rarely get to try them because nobody else in my family likes them, and I can't eat an entire basket of them on my own :(

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles! Sara chose awesome Char Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Char Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious!

Now, as anyone who has ever read my interpretation of the Daring Cooks challenges will know, I am in the habit of doing things in a fly-from-the-seat-of-your-pants way. This month, I was determined to get it right. I mean, REALLY determined.

But then two things happened.

One, my friend Kaye conned me into doing the Kokoda Track Memorial ("1000 Steps") walk as training for the hike that I conned her into doing over Christmas. I figure fair's fair, but it did cut into my dough-making time.

The second thing that happened was that Christmas shopping/shopping for hiking/doing washing/unpacking my precious boxes of cookbooks freighted from Adelaide so that I could start making (and freezing) biscuit dough for next weekend's Christmas baking/making biscuit dough/doing some preliminary packing for the nightmarish quinella of working week-flying interstate for Christmas-going on a hike-going camping-going back to work took longer than expected *draws breath*

Exhibit A - the kitchen floor, where my life exploded in a haphazard fasion:

(Exhibit B would be my credit card statement, which is somewhat bruised and battered)

But you know what? Given that I work full time (not in the Australian definition - 38 hours a week - but ACTUAL full time, which normally runs at 50-60 hours per week), plus have a 3 1/2 drive at the start and end of every week, plus have regular social commitments in three states, I think I'm doing pretty well to keep up with these challenges!

So whilst I did manage to marinate the pork overnight (showing uncharacteristic organisation skills coupled with determination and commitment to do this recipe right), I ran out of time for dough making and cheated by using pre-made wonton wrappers instead. But hey, if I was a REALLY horrible person, I would have bought a packet of the frozen buns and **pretended** that they were my own creation! But that's not how I roll. If I cheat, I declare it. None of this sweeping it under the rug business. Like here - the post where I coined the phrase "Betty Crocker Cheat" (except that I'm sure someone else has used the phrase before, but it's the first time **I've** come across it). And I think that being a Betty Crocker Cheat is okay once in a while. Like today.

Cheating owned. Wonton wrappers, generally available in your supermarket dairy case next to the "fresh" pasta.

The marinating part in itself was an adventure, because, true to form, I had to improvise. I was absolutely convinced that we had both oyster sauce and hoisin sauce and OH MY GOD THAT'S WHY IT DIDN'T TURN OUT THE RIGHT COLOUR!!! I totally forgot to put the Pillar Box Red food colouring in. Which, by the way, I actually have in the cupboard, dagnammit!

Anyway, back to my story... hunting through mum's cupboard of sauces and condiments lead me to discard, amongst other things, three old bottles of tomato sauce (one home made, one normal store-bought and one erroneously-purchased tomato AND onion sauce, the first two of which had turned a terrifying brown colour and the third of which was just plain wrong); two bottles of herb vinegarette (one of which I had made as part of a craft stall in Year Three (that's back in 1991, for those playing at home! Yes, mum keeps condiments for twenty years. In this case I suspect it was a sentimental attachment. To a bottle of herb vinegarette...)); a tetra-pak of Campbell's liquid fish stock that was Best Before 2002 (normally I ignore BB dates but in this instance I was happy to make an exception!); and an old (BB March 2000) jar of home-brand Nutella that had obviously made it through a few scorching hot summers because the fat had come out of it, was sitting in the bottom of the cavity left by dipping bananas in it (yes, really. You should try it! You microwave the jar for 20 seconds at a time until it's the right consistency and then dip the banana in... no wonder I was a porker...) and had gone rancid. True story!

But no oyster sauce, and no hoisin sauce. Which makes me think that I actually have them in my cupboard back in Adelaide...

So, once again, I will copy out the recipe and annotate where I diverged from it. Nobody's surprised by that, are they. <-- statement, not question

BBQ PORK (Cha sui):

1 pork fillet/tenderloin - 2-3lbs (I used a tray of those nicely trimmed pork fillets from the supermarket, about 500g worth)
4 large cloves of garlic, crushed (check!)
1tsp ginger, grated (check!)
1tbsp peanut oil (once again I fell into the Adelaide/Melbourne trap, so used vegetable oil instead)
1+1/2tbsp maltose (you can substitute honey - I did!)
1+1/2tbsp honey (check!)
2tbsp hoisin sauce (I used half a tbps of Worstershire sauce because it needed using up)
1tbsp dark soy sauce (I used 1+1/2tbsp, plus water as below - don't ask me whether it's scientifically correct, but I always assumed that light soy was a watered-down version... perhaps I ought to have Googled that...)
1tbsp light soy sauce (I used 1tbsp water)
1tsp oyster sauce (I used fish sauce)
1tbsp shaoxing cooking wine (I never intended to buy this because it said you could substitute cooking sherry, and where you can substitute cooking sherry you can also substitute a mixture of brown vinegar and sugar, or so my mum tells me! So I used 1tbsp of brown vinegar and a little over a teaspoon of brown sugar)
1/2tsp ground white pepper (I used black... I know, I know!)
Pinch of salt (check!)
1/2tsp 5-Spice powder (check!)
1/2tsp sesame oil (check!)
1/2tsp Pillar Box Red food colouring (as discussed, oops...)

Trim pork loin of the yucky bits and slice lengthways so you have 2 long pieces, then cut in half (or, if you're me, buy a tray of ready-cut pork fillets because that's what the supermarket stocks). By cutting the pork into smaller pieces to marinate you will end up with more flavoursome cha sui (check!). If you want to leave the pork in one piece you can do this too.

Combine all other ingredients in a bowl and mix well (check!). The instructions say you should heat maltose in the microwave a little to make it easier to handle. I was using honey so it wasn't a huge deal, plus I like to put too much on the spoon, knowing that not all of it will come off, and then lick the spoon :)

Cover pork well with 2/3 of the marinade. Marinate for 4 hours/overnight. Refrigerate the remaining marinade - you will use it to baste the pork.

(I would just like to say how divine this marinade tasted, what with the ginger and garlic swimming about in it. And yes, I tasted it **before** I put the raw pork in it. But still, mmm, golden, glisten-y goodness... *drools*)

Preheat oven to 180oC and cover a tray with baking paper/foil and spray-oil a rack (not in the instructions, but I used my own smarts there) and place over the tray.

Sear pork in hot frying pan so it is well browned, remove from pan and place pork on rack in oven.

Bake approx. 15 mins (mine were quite thin pieces so baked for closer to 12 mins), basting with remaining marinade and turning until cooked through.

(Random trivia instalment: "bao" means "bag" (or wrapping, or container, or something that encapsulates something else - this can also be a less literal "wrapping", like the word for "to include") in Mandarin and, somewhat poetically, applies to buns, and I assume the same for Cantonese given that the Cha Sui is the bit we just made, and the bit we're about to make is buns!

Further random trivia: "shu bao" is, more or less, a school bag, "shu" meaning book and "bao" meaning bag. The character for "shu" looks like the leaves of a corner of a book with a pen and an ink splot, once you get used to looking at Chinese characters, anyhow! I also vaguely recall that "pencil case" is "qian bi bao", "qian bi" being "pencil", and the character for "bi" having the radical for "bamboo" in it. It really is quite a cool language. In its own quaint way I would almost call it romantic because it's so steeped with culture and history, but also logic and precision. It's been seven years since I studied it but I think I may have just fallen in love with the language all over again... 

This, by the by, is the word for school bag. See what I mean about the pages and the ink splot in the word "book"? And the second character is "bao", same as the "bao" in dumpling (in case you were unaware, there are multiples of each word in Chinese. You can differentiate by which of the four tones in which the word is articulated (flat, rising, dipped, falling), but there are still doubles of some words! Which is where context comes into it...). I always remembered "bao" because it looks like it's wrapped around something. You can use little stories like that to remember a LOT of Chinese characters. It's very helpful. Random trivia over!)


350g Cha sui, finely diced (yeah... I didn't weigh it... but I also made something different with the leftovers for mum for her dinner considering she can't have wheat, so that turned out okay!)
2 shallots (as in, those tiny brown onions you can get)
1 tbsp dark soy
2tbsp oyster sauce (I used fish sauce)
1tsp sesame oil
1/4c chicken stock
1tsp cornflour
1/2tbsp vegetable oil

Heat the vegetable oil in a pan. Sautee the shallots for 1-2mins until soft. Add diced cha sui to pan and stir.

Add soy and oyster sauces and sesame oil to pork mixture and fry for one minute.

Mix cornflour and stock together then add to pork mixture.

Stir well and keep cooking until mixture thickens, 1-2mins.

Remove from wok/pan and place in bowl to cool. Set aside until ready to use.

*    *     *      *     *

Now, if you want the bun recipe you can jump onto the Daring Kitchen website after the 14th of the month and it'll be there. Or you can do what I did and go off on a tangent...

*   *   *   *   *   *  <-- much nicer than the above attempt, don't you think?

So, what I did next was to roughly chop some baby... gai lan, maybe? It was on the same shelf as bok choy, anyhow, but looked more like spinach. Anyway, I did that (after washing it - it had grogans on it) and half wilted it in a frypan with a finely chopped, 1.5-2cm piece of fresh ginger. It seemed to be a lot more robust than the baby spinach I am accustomed to wilting, which is a good thing.

Then I got a wonton wrapper, put a little of the greens in it and a little of the pork, wet two adjacent edges, folded it into a triangle so the wet edges lined up with the dry ones and pinched it shut. I steamed them in the bamboo steamer I bought mum for Christmas back in 2005 when I was working for the devil a call centre selling mobile phones to defenceless elderly people in sales in order to make a few hundred extra dollars for my backpacking trip to Europe, AKA Nessfest 2005 (2 of us went, both Vanessas), which she (mum) to this day has not used. Explains why it still smelt like a Chinese supermarket! (I think the smell is camphor... hopefully it's not poisonous to humans in steam form...)

And then I sat them on little squares of baking paper in the steamer basket over boiling water (oh, BTW, I put the water on to boil at around the same time as I wilted the greens), 4 at a time, and steamed them until the wonton wrappers were soft. Sorry, no photos of the steamer so I'll give you a picture of the pre-steamed dumplings instead - you can see how the edges were pinched together:

Upon my first sampling I began to suspect that this style of wrapper is better suited to putting in soup, but I think they turned out okay. I just put them on to steam for a little longer.

They were tasty, anyhow!

If I had my time again I would a) make the proper pastry, b) cut the pork a little smaller, and c) put more stuff in it, like bamboo shoots or something with a bit of texture. And you know what? This is actually quite a simple recipe so I will probably make it again, hopefully with the proper ingredients this time!

Thankyou, Sara, for such a tasty challenge :)

Oh, also, I used the left-over pork and greens for mum's tea, and tossed them through thin rice noodles. And then after she'd eaten half of it I realised that soy sauce contains gluten, at least, the one I used does. D'oh!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Year of the Cupcake #5 - Gluten Free Pumpkin Cupcakes with Vanilla Icecream Icing

It would appear that for the last couple of months when posting about Challenge #1 of my 101 Things I have neglected to use my awesome, official Year of the Cupcake heading. So I feel it to be my duty to (colourfully) announce that this is November's installment of....


Now that that's out of of the way, this month (November, that is *sweeps the fact it is December 3rd under the rug*) I was at a bit of a loss as to what kind of cupcake to make. In the end, I caved in to the Americanisation of the world and was swayed by all of the pumpkin/autumn/Thanksgiving-style recipes out there in the blogosphere, particularly following Aussie expat Tori's post on sweet potatoes, brown butter, yoghurt and seeds as a side-dish (ironic that an Aussie's blog was what convinced me to go down the path of American flavours...).

I figured my first port of call would be The Cupcake Project, because obviously the lovely Stef specialises in cupcakes. I trawled through call the cupcake recipes and all the frosting recipes, and finally decided on Pumpkin Cupcakes with Rum and Maple, and Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting. True to form, I bastardised the recipe a little so that mum could eat it ( =deglutinated it... it's a word now. Deal with it.), so I've given you the links to the original recipe. Below is my artistic interpretation, which is quite representative of the way I copy out recipes by hand (only with no arrows or flow charts, and, unless you're a real grub and cook with your computer on the kitchen bench, no smears of flour or cake batter on it!):

1 1/2c gluten free flour
1/3tsp xanthan gum
1tsp cinnamon
1/2tsp ginger
1/2tsp nutmeg
1/2tsp allspice
1tbsp baking soda*
1/2tsp salt

1 1/2c sugar
3/4c pumpkin puree
2 large eggs

1/4 dark rum
1/4c maple syrup
1/2c vegetable oil.

Whisk Group One ingredients together in a bowl that fits it all (this bowl will hold only these ingredients).

Beat Group Two ingredients in larger bowl until smooth (this is where everything ends up).

Mix Group Three ingredients into Group Two, then slowly add Group One ingredients until all incorporated.

Fill (this is where I diverge from the recipe... you know, besides the GF thing) 18+ cupcake liners 3/4 full of batter and bake at 180oC for 20-25mins.

NOTES - The original recipe said 12 regular cupcake liners. I guess a regular cupcake liner is a LOT bigger in America. Unless they meant those pretty ones you get that sometimes have the laser-cut patterns on the edges?? Who knows...

Also, being GF, these cupcakes did not really rise to the occasion. They were flat as tacks, and sprawled out of the wrappers. To remove them from the tray I actually had to get a large biscuit cutter to cut around each cup neatly and to get them out of the tray without ripping the tops off.

I probably overfilled the wrappers, maybe because I expected to make 12, stretched it to 18 and still had a bit left so I topped them up. Silly Nessie. So I guess if you're making them GF, try making 24 of them. And if you're not, well hopefully your cupcakes will rise up and not out!

Also, this is the instrument I used to over-fill the wrappers, and it's really handy. It's a sauce ladel. I think. I highly recommend it. It's easier to control than a spoon, and holds more.

Lastly, this is how much pumkin makes 3/4c of puree:

Okay, more to the point, imagine that the pumpkin is still in the skin. Each of these was a wedge of butternut pumpkin. I just thought I'd give you an idea of how much to cook (I steamed mine in the microwave, skin on). You're obviously better off cooking too much than too little. And I used one of those stick mixers to puree it.

Oh yes! One last note - True to form, I ate a cupcake while it was still hot and the rum taste was still quite prevalent. At this point I began to wonder whether I ought to have replaced the Square Bear with maple syrup, but once they cooled the alcohol seemed to have evaporated off quite well.

(For those who don't know, this is Square Bear - Bundy rum. Generally it comes in a larger, squareish bottle. I bought this flask of Bundy cos it was the smallest increment I could buy it in, and I'm only ever going to use it in cooking. So today, it's more of a curvy bear...)

*But wait! There's more notes, and this one is the really imporant one!!! Whilst editing this post I realised that I had written that there should be 1tsp of baking soda, but the original recipe has 1tbsp. BUT, I added 3tsp of baking powder to the flour out of habit because I am accustomed to adding it to cake and cupcake recipes at the rate of 2tsp per cup of flour. Theoretically that goes a little way to balancing out that error, sort of, because baking powder is 2 parts cream of tartar to 1 part of baking soda. So I was probably 1-2tsp down on the baking soda. No wonder they were so flat - it wasn't just the GF flour that did it!

Beat 1/2c (approx. 110g) butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add in 1 1/2c sifted icing sugar, beating all the while. Add 2tsp vanilla bean paste, and a little milk to soften (the original recipe says 1tbsp but I used less and I think a whole tablespoon would be too much). Spread onto cooled cupcakes.

Note that this quantity was just enough to spread on 18 cupcakes, including one (the one below) which I heaped the icing onto in order to make it pretty for the photo. It was pretty well flat on all the others, which, combined with a flat cupcake, made them not very pretty at all. But it does mean that they pack well! You can fit eight into one of those square Sistema plastic containers that you get at the supermarket - you know, the ones with the blue clicky things that hold the lids on and a blue rubber o-ring style seal around the inside of the lid, the size that looks like it would hold 2 decent sandwiches stacked on top of each other.



The cupcake itself was definitely a dessert food, which I had been a bit concerned about given that my previous pumpkin baked goods experience was a savoury pumkin loaf. That pumpkin lends itself well to sweet baked goods didn't really surprise me greatly, considering how sweet pumpkin is naturally (*cough*maplesyrupandrum*cough*).

Whilst they were cooling mum thought they smelt of caramelised onions (all I could smell was rum!) but once cooled, and with the vanilla icecream icing on them, they were just divine. They are sweet, in a complex way - there are three competing levels of sweetness in them, instead of one big WHAM of sugar, so you don't feel over-cupcaked quite so quickly (= you can go back for seconds). They were also light and fluffy, which was a pleasant surprise. Also, if you eat one hot, slather some icing on it. It melts deliciously and decadently, just like vanilla icecream does *drools*

(I don't need to be encouraging you to eat baked goods, do I...)

This has opened my mind to putting weird stuff in baked goods. I'm not sure what is next on the agenda, but I think I have chai cupcakes brewing (Ha! Ha! Geddit?), and maybe some Christmas-themed ones, and who knows what else.

Lastly, please excuse the cruddy exposure and composition and so forth - I took all the photos in mum's kitchen at about 10pm under a fluorescent light. Yecht.

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Grammar lesson (small segue, incited by editing this post): I have come across numerous instances on the interwebs over the last few months of the incorrect word used to describe gathering information or to search for something, and it drives me stark, raving bonkers. Until about seven minutes ago I was convinced that I was unequivocally correct about this - that it is TRAWL not TROLL. Example: I trawled the sales for the perfect pair of shoes. I trawled the cupcakeproject.com for the right recipe.

At first I thought it was an accent thing - in an English or Australian accent, "trawl" and "troll" sound quite distinct from one another, but with an American accent the distinction is less marked. For example, just now I tried to come up with things that each rhymed with and realised that when you applied an American accent it just didn't work. But then I realised there is more to it.

As I am wont to do, I looked it up to make sure I wasn't going to make an arse of myself, and for a second I had a small crisis of faith, but then I was reassured that I am, in fact, correct. At least, dictionary.com tells me I am.

Trawling is a type of commercial fishing using a net that is dragged through the water behind a boat.

Trolling is also a type of fishing, sometimes commercial but often recreational, that involves dragging multiple baited hooks or lures through the water behind a boat (similar to, but apparently not the same as, long line fishing).

So, both imply fishing, but one is casting a net and one is actually using bait. I would imagine that if you apply this poetically to the English language, that if you're looking for something and know roughly what it is then you're trawling (examples as above), but if you're going out to get something in a very specific and baited manner then perhaps you are trolling (trolling for men at nightclubs, with a short skirt, cleavage and a slutty attitude as bait??). I don't know for sure. But I DO know that, in addition to being primarily about fishing, dictionary.com's entry for "trawl" also applies to seeking information, and the entry for "troll" applies to scary monsters that lurk under Norwegian bridges and scare billy-goats.

So I think my first instinct was correct - if you're looking for something, you're trawling, not trolling. But it's a very easy mistake to make, and I for one didn't even know that trolling existed (and if asked, I would have presumed it was the act of leaving a series of mean comments on others' blogs; or having a really bad day that involved stomping around with PMS, unkempt hair, unshaven legs, some sort of conspicuous and unsightly wart or pimple and severe halitosis!). I'm also open to comments/information/suggestions on the whole trawl/troll thing because I really am quite interested in what other people use and why.

Over and out.