Saturday, March 5, 2011

Canterbury cupcakes

Yesterday was 'red and black' day - when people all over New Zealand donned Canterbury colours in support of quake-hit Canterbury residents. Our company was solidly supporting this initiative: our sites in various parts of the country had various fundraisers planned for the occasion.

At ours, we were holding a "guess how many lollies in the jar" raffle, having filled a jar with jaffas and black jelly beans. This was the subject of much debate and many a calculation. As the person who originally counted the lollies, I was the only one not taking a stab (or several stabs) at the total.

We were also putting on a $5 barbecue lunch as a further fundraiser, and everyone was to dress in red and black. In furtherance of the 'red and black' theme, I started turning over various Edmonds recipes in my mind, trying to think of something suitable I could make and bring for morning tea. The most viable option was cupcakes (p47), because after all, you can make the icing any colour you like. I popped by the supermarket on my way home and got the appropriate food colourings.

I made a start on the cupcakes as soon as I got home, creaming the butter and sugar thoroughly to make the batter as light as possible. I also double-sifted the flour to add that little extra bit of air. When it came time to spoon the mixture into cupcake cases, I found that the black ones I'd intended to use were considerably smaller than I'd intended - more truffle-sized than cupcake-sized. The only other cases I had were pink and white: not really right for the occasion. In the end I decided they'd just have to be really small cupcakes.

I spooned the mixture into the cases, probably filling them up quite a bit more than I would have, had I been using larger cases. They only took about eight minutes to cook at this size, though I found that some of them browned on the top quite quickly towards the end of the cooking.

Before long I had 36 tiny little cupcakes cooling on a rack. Some of them were slightly too brown, some oddly shaped, and all a bit higher than a well-proportioned cupcake really should be. Never mind; it's amazing what you can disguise with enough icing!

When I went to turn the oven light off, I noticed that the neighbouring switch was also down: the bake/grill switch was switched to 'grill'. Not again! Looking over at my tray of cupcakes, I contemplated re-doing the whole batch. But they didn't look like anything was wrong with them! I tried a couple: perfectly baked through and only slightly crunchy on top. No do-overs: these were fine. I guess they were just small enough to cook through with the heat generated by the grill before the top got burnt.

I'd chosen butter icing (p76) to decorate the cupcakes with. I had to allow the cupcakes to cool before icing them though, so I just got the butter out to soften, and spent some time painting my finger and toenails bright red for red and black day.

Once I was sure the cupcakes had totally cooled, I whipped up the icing. The important thing here is to have the butter soft. I'd left the butter sitting in a covered jug on top of the still-warm oven, so it was really soft but not melted. At that consistency, it was easy to beat in vanilla and scoop after scoop of icing sugar.

When the icing had reached a suitable piping consistency, I split it into two bowls, colouring one red and one black. Well, I tried to. Food colouring seldom results in vivid colours, and the best I could manage was a sort of dark pink and a charcoalish grey. And that had taken enough food colouring that the extra liquid had noticeably thinned the consistency of the icing. Never mind, it was close enough to get the idea.

Filling two disposable piping bags with the different colours of icing, I iced each cupcake first with a swirl of red, then topped them with a little blob of black. I ran out of icing, so not all the cupcakes got used in the end, but the ones I did use looked pretty cool - especially when they were grouped together on a plate.

Red and black day at work went really well. With the barbecue and lolly raffle we managed to raise about $480 for the Red Cross earthquake fund, and there was an extra (much-needed) cheerfulness to the atmosphere. My cupcakes caused almost as much comment as my red and black feather boa, and were so popular that I wondered afterwards if I should have asked for a 50-cent donation in exchange for each cupcake.

Yesterday was a successful morale-booster for Canterbury. Images of people all over the country demonstrably standing behind us, a wave of red and black, made us stand all the taller. We have the strength to rebuild, but much of that strength comes from knowing we don't stand alone. To everyone who donned their red and black yesterday: Thank you. Your support means more than you can imagine.


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