Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Year of the Cupcake #9 - St Patrick's Day Irish Soda Bread Cupcakes

I learnt a few things whilst making these cupcakes - one, sometimes savoury flavours can work surprisingly well to balance out sweetness; two, the smell of Johnny Walker in your buttercream frosting is a little unexpected and overpowering until you get used to it, but it's okay in the end with the relatively plain cake; and three, gel colours seem to darken/intensify as they dry, which I wish I'd figured out sooner! Nonetheless, I was quite pleased with the outcome.

I made these for St Patrick's Day, when two friends came over to watch Gone With The Wind with me (thus knocking out two 101 Things challenges in one hit. Whoohoo!). I thought it was quite fitting that the O'Hara family was Irish, that Scarlett's favourite colour was green... and so were the cupcakes. So green, in fact, that you probably wouldn't want your kid to eat that amount of food dye shortly before bedtime!

This recipe is from Gail Wagman's Cupcakes Galore, which is quite an interesting book as it gives you a bit of insight into the science behind baking that had never before been explained to me. Of course, this may be just because I've never read a cookbook from start to finish before, recipes included, but I'm starting to realise that it's quite a valuable (if time-consuming) exercise. It contains other gems such as Beer & Peanuts cupcakes, Apple-Cranberry cupcakes, Brownie cupcakes, Courgette Pine Nut cupcakes, Chocolate Malted Milk cupcakes, Pina Colada cupcakes and Peach Melba cupakes. Quite a mixed bag, mostly inspired by existing foods and drinks. I'm not entirely sure but I think it was bought at QBD books, a discount book seller. One presumes it is also available online.

To the recipe! Makes about 16 cupcakes (I halved the mix)

300g plain flour
1tbsp oatmeal (I used quick oats as they're smaller; I imagine you could finely chop rolled oats)
2tsp baking powder
2tsp bicarbonate of soda (apparently this is used where acidic ingredients such as buttermilk are present)
1tsp salt
125g unsalted butter, room temperature
200g sugar
2 eggs
180mL buttermilk (can substitute normal milk with a dash of white vinegar to make it go chunky... which, eeuw...).
75g dried currents or raisins (if you use raisins, chop them. Or use sultanas)
1tbsp caraway seeds (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 180oC
2. Mix dry ingredients together and set aside
3. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Alternately beat in flour mixture and buttermilk. Fold in currents and caraway seeds.
4. 2/3 fill cupcake papers. Bake for 25mins or until a tester inserted into the centre comes out clean (consider baking for a couple of minutes less as mine were a little dry... but then, I did leave them on the bench for quite a while before decorating...). Remove from the oven and cool. Marvel at how they kind of do resemble soda bread.

60g unsalted butter, room temperature
300g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
2tbsp Irish Whiskey or Bailey's Irish Cream (I ended up using Johnny Walker as it was the only suitable-ish thing my local bottle-o had in a flash, and there was no way I was buying an entire bottle of good whiskey (which I don't drink) to use 2tbsp!)
Green food colouring and green sugar/sprinkles/whatever for decorating (I made shamrocks out of royal icing. Go me!)

Cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy. Slowly add whiskey (and food colouring, if using) and beat until frosting is of good spreading consistency. Frost cooled cupcakes and decorate as desired.

Royal icing (which I make from 2 eggwhites and approx. 2c sifted icing sugar, but I don't know if that's the right ratio, it's just how I do it! Best you Google it...)
Green food dye

Make royal icing with green food dye - whip until stiff peaks form. I have no idea about the science of this!

Line a tray with baking paper. Using a large plain writing tip, pipe a short line and three blobs as below. It's best if you pipe the top leaf last and drag the tip back towards the middle a little to make it look more like a leaf.

Dry overnight. If possible, flip them over once the top is solid to give the undersides a chance to dry off. They're quite bulky so they may take a couple of days to dry completely (which is only important if you plan on making a surplus of them and storing them - as long as they're solid enough to move they're okay for immediate consumption).

You will need quite a bit of practice to get your hand in at piping. At least, I did, but that may be in part because I haven't done a great deal of piping before, and also because I was still recovering from surgery and didn't have the complete use of my right arm or the ability to raise it above my shoulder or hold my hand on certain angles. All in all I think I did okay! Anyway, I guess it's just testimony to my speshul piping skills but it took this many shamrocks to get eight that turned out well enough to decorate with.

Some turned out quite well.

Others turned out quite... inappropriate for putting on cupcakes. This shape seems to happen to me a lot. I wonder if that means anything...

Decorate as you please. I tried out a few different things but in the end, the simple shamrock and some gold edible glitter (to represent the pot o' gold at the end of the rainbow, of course!) looked the best. Enjoy with a cup of tea to attenuate the effects of the food dye.

Belated St Patrick's Day wishes to ye!


  1. Wow I never knew you could pipe royal icing like that. You did a great job! Your cupcakes are so perfect too. I'm lucky if half of mine turn out like that. Luckily I can usually disguise it with icing.

    1. Believe me, they rarely turn out that well! The majority of mine turn out as flat as pancakes, so I'm ever so glad that it has become fashionable to decorate with a big, fat swirl of icing - it hides a multitude of sins :)

      I wasn't certain that you could do that with royal icing, either, but I figured why not give it a try. Since then I have also made tiny little baby feet for baby shower cupcakes. Initially that seemed a little creepy but as it turns out, they're really cute!


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