Elderflower cupcakes

November 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

I have a confession to make. It’s been over 6 months since I last made a batch of cupcakes. I’ve written pages and pages of recipes that I will one day attempt and if successful, post up on here, but I didn’t actually go ahead and bake… until now. I’ve had a fascination with cordials for a while now and one trip down to the supermarket resulted in my return with an almost broken back and four different varieties of cordial to try out. The first of these was elderflower cordial by Bottle Green.

The fascinating thing about elder trees and elderberry bushes is the vast amount of folklore that surrounds them. In some areas, the “elder tree” was supposed to ward off evil influence and give protection from witches, while other beliefs say that witches often congregate under the plant, especially when it is full of fruit. If an elder tree was cut down, a spirit known as the Elder Mother would be released and take her revenge. The tree could only safely be cut while chanting a rhyme to the Elder Mother. I’m fairly sure the folks at Bottle Green knew that before they made their cordial though…

Elderflower cordial is made from the flowers of the Sambucus nigra plant, whereas all of the other parts of the plant contain a chemical that when ingested in sufficient quantity can cause a toxic build up of cyanide in the body! However, the flowers make an excellent cordial which was the principal ingredient for these cupcakes, and they’re definitely not toxic.

Folklore and toxicity aside, elderflower imparts a lovely fruity and almost zesty taste to these cupcakes. Here’s how you can make them:

  • 110g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 50g flakes almonds or ground almonds
  • 4 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 75g self-raising flour

Start off by pre-heating the oven to 180˚C and line your tray with cupcake cases; set this aside until you’re ready to fill them.

If you’re using flaked almonds then you’ll need to grind these up using a food processor. Whilst you can just buy ground almonds in the supermarket, I prefer the freshly ground taste and consistency. You want these to be ground so that they are still fairly coarse, we don’t want to make almond flour.

At this point, in a large mixing bowl beat the butter and sugar together until pale and light. Add in the ground almonds and 1 tbsp of the elderflower cordial, being careful not to overbeat the mixture.

In a separate bowl, crack in the two eggs and whisk together. Transfer the eggs to the batter, a little at a time, beating them in evenly. Then add the flour in two parts, and quickly fold in with a metal spoon or spatula.

Divide the mixture between the cases and bake for about 15-20 minutes in the centre of the oven, until pale golden.

Pierce each hot cake a few times with a fork and drizzle the remaining cordial over with a teaspoon; allow to cool in the tin.

As you allow the cakes to absorb all the cordial and cool down, you can start making a little icing to go on top. The icing we’ll make can be used for numerous things, and by no means will be used up covering your cakes, so only make this icing if you’re happy to use it for something else as well, or if the sound of the alternative option at the end of this one tickles your fancy.

For the elderflower cream you’ll need:

  • 200g mascarpone
  • 100 ml double cream
  • 3 tbsp elderflower cordial
  • 90g icing sugar or confectioner’s sugar

In a bowl, combine the icing sugar with the cream and elderflower cordial. Don’t overbeat this mixture as you’ll need to add mascarpone to it later on. (You can choose to add it in this step if you want, but this icing mixture just oozes onto the top of the cupcake and stays as a translucent sticky layer of sweetness).

Using a teaspoon or a fork, spread a thin layer of icing on top of your cupcakes (or alternately as I did), and allow to set on top.

If you haven’t already added in the mascarpone, add it in now and mix thoroughly. Put this in the fridge to enjoy later over fresh strawberries and blueberries. A perfect after-dinner treat!

As for your delightful cupcakes, these taste beautifully zesty, with the sweet elderflower cordial making the cake wonderfully moist and spongy. The ground almonds are certainly there too – you get a lovely combination of sweet and nutty with every bite. I think the alternately iced cupcakes have an almost Christmassy feel to them, although the taste definitely sends me back to lazy summer days…

Thyme-infused potato dauphinoise

November 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

Although the English word potato comes from Spanish patata, this dish is thoroughly French. Potato dauphinoise was created in the Dauphiné region of France and consists of thinly-sliced potatoes, mixed with milk, cream or creme fraiche, and cheese, garlic and seasoning.

There are numerous tastes that combine beautifully with potatoes, but the best combination I’ve come across is fresh thyme and garlic. This particular dish infuses the dauphinoise cream with fresh thyme which makes it fragrant and flavoursome, especially when simmered with whole garlic cloves.

Potato dauphinoise is a perfect accompaniment for meat, fish or even vegetarian mains, and it certainly gives your meal a touch of elegance that mashed, roasted or plain boiled potatoes just won’t provide.

To make this delightful side dish, you will need:

  • 3 medium-sized jacket potatoes, scrubbed
  • 170 ml double cream
  • 140 ml single cream
  • 275 ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • a pinch of nutmeg
  • 30g finely grated Gruyère cheese

You’ll need to start off by pre-heating your oven to 180ºC. Once the potatoes have been washed and scrubbed, remove any growths or gnarly bits and then slice thinly using a mandoline. If you don’t have a mandoline, a sharp knife will do just fine but make sure that the slices are fairly even in thickness.

Peel your garlic cloves, and then if you’re like me and prefer to top and tail your cloves, go ahead. It doesn’t make much difference now as you’ll need to trim them later. Set these aside while you prepare the cream infusion. In a large heavy-based pan on a medium heat, melt a knob of butter and then add the cream, milk and garlic cloves. Throw in the sprigs of thyme, bay leaves and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Stir well then bring to the boil and immediately reduce to a low to medium heat. Add in the pinch of ground nutmeg, stir and then add in the sliced potato. Coat the potatoes evenly, then let the mixture simmer for 3-4 minutes.

At this point, you can take the potatoes off the heat and start to take them out of the cream mixture using a slotted spoon, into a buttered baking dish. Don’t worry too much about this being neat, you just want to dump it all in – if you really want to impress, you can try to layer the potatoes equally but this method is definitely quicker!

Once all the slices are in, you should have the garlic cloves, bay leaves and thyme sprigs left behind in the cream infusion. If you want the thyme taste to be more prominent, strip the leaves from the sprigs by just pinching the twig and pulling down the stem opposite to the direction of the leaf growth. These should have softened enough in the cream to come off easily. Remove and discard the stems and bay leaves, then lift out the garlic cloves and slice fairly thickly. Scatter the soft garlic slices over the potato and mix carefully in the dish.

At this point you can sprinkle over your grated Gruyère cheese evenly, then season the top with freshly ground black pepper.

Stick this in the oven on the lower shelf for approximately 40-45 minutes, or until thoroughly golden on top.

I served this with a delicious mint and balsamic vinegar-encrusted rack of lamb, and a baby greens salad with cherry tomatoes and a fresh honey and mustard dressing. You can serve with whatever you like!

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