Challenge No. 29 – Chocolate Panda Cupcakes (Gluten Free)

This challenge wasn’t actually suggested by any friend or family for Challenge52, however, it is a bake which I owed to a friend from a couple of years ago.  Chloè absolutely loves pandas and she found some photos of panda cupcakes and sent them to me.  I offered to make them for her birthday but unfortunately life got in the way and I didn’t manage to do it.  So I added this one to Challenge52 myself as a special gift for Chloè’s birthday.

These cute mini panda cupcakes have been inspired by Bakerella.  Whilst Bakerella gives you all the tips you need to decorate the cakes, I needed to find a gluten free cake recipe for Chloè.  I did a quick search and found this recipe for a gluten free chocolate cake.

To make these gluten free chocolate panda cupcakes you will need the following ingredients:-

  • 100g unsalted butter, diced, plus extra for greasing
  • 140g best-quality dark chocolate, with 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 140g ground almonds
  • pinch of salt
  • 85g caster sugar
  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • Popping candy
  • Chocolate chips
  • Chocolate sprinkles
  • A black icing pen

Edited - ingredients

Bakerella uses sanding sugar which is a special type of sugar used in baking and cake decorating.  It has an extra sparkle compared to normal granulated sugar and it can be cooked and added to icing without dissolving.  I couldn’t find any sanding sugar in my local shops so I thought I would try it with popping candy as it was the closest colour to what I needed.

The cupcakes are made with petit four cases and the above quantities made 50 mini cupcakes, with leftover cake mix! So unless you are making these for a big groups of people, it might be worth reducing the quantities 🙂

I started by putting my diced butter and broken chocolate into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  I kept string and then once the butter and chocolate were melted I took it off the heat and mixed until it was well combined. 

Edited - butter:choc Edited - melted

I let the chocolate butter mixture cool for 5 minutes and spent the time separating the eggs.

Edited - eggs

I then added the ground almonds and egg yolks to the chocolate/butter mixture.

Edited - almonds added

I added a pinch of salt to my egg whites and whisked them into soft peaks.   I then added a little of the caster sugar at a time and kept whisking until I had stiff peaks.

Edited - soft peaks Edited - stiff peaks

I added 2 large tablespoons of the eggs whites to the chocolate mixture.  Once it was combined, I gradually added all of the eggs whites, folding it in carefully until all the white was gone.  This took longer than I thought it would but I kept my patience as I didn’t want to beat the air out of the egg whites.

Edited - whites added Edited - mixed up

With the cake mixture ready, I put all my cases on a tray and used a measuring spoon to put a teaspoon of mixture into each case.

Edited - cases

I then put them in the oven for 8 minutes at 200 degrees celsius until cooked through.

Edited - cooked

Once the cakes were cool, I got started with the panda decorating.  I started by putting 150g softened butter into a bowl and whisked it with my handheld electric mixer.  As said in Challenge No. 13, it is important not to rush this stage and so I did this for about 5 minutes.

Edited - butter softened

I gradually added the icing sugar, covering the bowl with a clean tea towel and whisking between each addition until combined. I continued adding a bit at a time until all the icing sugar was incorporated and I added the vanilla extract towards the end.

Edited - buttercream

I put 1/4 of the mixture into a piping bag fitted with a No. 2 nozzle and the remainder into another piping bag fitted with a No. P6 nozzle.

Now for the fun bit, making the little panda faces.  I took each cupcake and pipped icing on top using the wide nozzle before dipping it into a bowl of popping candy (ensuring it was fully covered).  I added 2 chocolate drops for ears, 2 for eyes and one for the nose.  I then added a chocolate sprinkle for the mouth.  Finally, I used the smaller nozzle to pipe the whites of the eyes onto the chocolate drops.  Once the whites were set, I used my icing pen to add the black centres.

Edited - pandas Edited - three pandas

And there you have it, mini chocolate panda cupcakes.

I think these are just so cute! They tasted really nice too 🙂 The only problem was that my popping candy very quickly lost its pop! As I was decorating the cakes, I kept hearing the faint sound of the candy popping on the finished cupcakes.  By the time I had one the next day, there was no pop left. But this doesn’t take away from how cute they are.

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 30 – fig and goats cheese tart.

Challenge No. 21 – Carrot Cake

This recipe was suggested by another of my close University friends.  I lived with Kate in my first year and throughout the year, we shared the job of resident baker.  It was therefore so nice that Kate challenged me to make a cake 🙂 But this isn’t just any old cake, its one I’ve never made and have always been a bit apprehensive about making it.  Why was I apprehensive – it’s a cake which has carrots and cream cheese in it! There is just something about that which never quite sat right with me.  As I’ve said before, this is the whole point of Challenge 52, to take me out my comfort zone!

When I started searching for recipes, I was still trying my best to avoid the cream cheese but every which way I turned, there it was.  Finally, I found a recipe that didn’t use a cream cheese topping but by then I had come to realise that the cream cheese is an almost iconic part of the carrot cake and I felt guilty about leaving it out! So instead I kept looking and found this recipe by the Hairy Bikers for a carrot and sultana cake with creamy orange frosting.

For the recipe you will need the following:-

  • For the cake
    • 200g/7oz self-raising flour
    • 75g/3oz sultanas
    • 75g/3oz pecans, broken into rough pieces
    • ½ large orange, zest only
    • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
    • ½ whole nutmeg, finely grated
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
    • pinch fine sea salt
    • 3 free-range eggs
    • 175ml/6fl oz sunflower oil, plus extra for greasing
    • 175g/6oz soft light brown sugar
    • 200g/7oz carrots, grated
  • For the cream cheese icing
    • 100g/3½oz icing sugar
    • 100g/3½oz unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 tsp fresh orange juice
    • 200g/7oz full-fat cream cheese
    • ½ orange, zest only
    • 25g/1oz pecan nuts, roughly broken

Edited - ingredients

If you look at the ingredients photo carefully, you may note an extra ingredient which has snuck in there.  I accidentally included the vanilla essence which I had purchased to stock up my store cupboard but it isn’t needed for this recipe!

I started off by sorting through my pecans to remove all the nice whole ones to put to one side for the topping.  I then weighed the remaining bits to make sure I had 75g, adding a few of the whole ones back in to bring it up to the right weight.  I then chopped them up nice and small.

Edited - choped nuts

I put the nuts in a bowl with the flour, sultanas, ground cinnamon, grated nutmeg, baking power, bicarbonate of soda and the salt.  I then grated in the orange zest from one half of my orange.

Edited - dry ingredients

I broke the eggs into a jug and whisked with a fork until they were smooth.  I then added the oil and brown sugar, giving it a good whisk until well combined.  I created a well in my dry ingredients and poured in some of the egg/sugar/oil mix.

I stirred it all together with a wooden spoon, gradually adding more of the oil mix until it was all combined. I added the grated carrot and gave it a final mix.

Edited - well Edited - well filledEdited - cake mix

The recipe puts the cake mix into a 20cm square cake tin but I wanted to do something a little different.  I’ve found these adorable cases in the supermarket and thought it would be nice to make individual carrot cakes rather than one big one.   So i split the mixture between 14 cases, 13 of them weighing 79g with the mix in, and the 14th having a little less.

Edited - in the cases

I put the filled cases on a tray and into the oven on 180 celsius.  Given that I used individual cases rather than a big tin, I knew I needed to adjust the cooking time.  I originally set the timer for 20 minutes and then checked them.  I felt the tops of the cakes and decided they needed a little longer so I returned them to the oven for around 2-3 minutes.  I then tested the cakes and decided they were done.

Practical tip: I’ve given this tip a few times but it is one of the key points to perfecting your cake making skills – knowing when the cake is done.  To test whether the cakes are cooked, gently press the top of one of the cakes with your finger; if it is done it will be springy to touch and bounce back into place.  You can also take a tooth pick (or cake tester if you have one) and slide it into the centre of one of the cakes; if the cake is done the tester will come out clean.  If you think it’s not quite done return the cakes to the oven but keep an eye on them – 1 minute may be all they need but that 1 minute can make all the difference!

I put the cakes on a cooling rack and left them to cool completely whilst I got started on the icing.

Edited - cooked

I put the softened butter in my bowl, beat it with a fork until smooth and added the orange juice.

Practical tip: this is another one I’ve given before but in case you missed Challenge No. 5 I’ve included it again.  To soften the butter, cut it into cubes and put it in a sandwich bag in a bowl of lukewarm water for between 5 to 10 minutes until soft.  This can be a lot quicker than leaving the butter at room temperature, especially in the winter when your kitchen may not be so warm!

I then gradually sifted in the icing sugar a bit at a time, giving it a good stir between each addition.  Once it was all added, I used a wooden spoon to beat until light and creamy. 

Editd - softened butter

I stirred through the cream cheese and remaining orange zest before popping it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Edited - cream cheese Edited - combined

When the icing was firm, I used a teaspoon to smooth a bit on each cake.  Finally, it was time to add the decoration.  The recipe uses the whole pecans (which I set aside at the beginning) but I wanted to do something a little bit cuter.  So I made mini icing carrots with some coloured fondant icing and added one to each cake.

Edited - topped

These cakes took a little trip with me to Sheffield to celebrate my friends birthday and new home.  Kate was part of the celebrations so she got to try her suggestion, along with all my University girls.  Everyone said it was delicious! 🙂

 Edited - in the caseEdited - served up1

I even managed to persuade Dave to try this one (he had an issue with the whole carrot in a cake thing!) and he said “actually, its quite nice”.  I feel this is a great review, all things considering.

Personally, I really enjoyed this challenge, both eating and making the cakes.  They weren’t too heavy and were just perfect with a cup of tea.

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 22 – homemade burgers.

Challenge No. 13 – Candy Floss Cupcakes

See that lovely drawing at the top of the page, the one of the blonde girl holding the cupcake? Well, that was designed by my amazing friend Nic and is his representation of me 🙂 This next recipe was suggested by Nic who, as you can tell, is very creative.  If you want to see some of his other incredible work, check out his Facebook page here. Unsurprisingly, Nic’s creative mind didn’t just suggest any old regular cupcake, nope, he suggested a candy floss cupcake!

I did a quick Google search and found lots of inspiration.  One of my favourites was Harry Potter themed from bakingdom. Nic is a huge Harry Potter fan and so when I found this blog, I thought the idea was just perfect.  Whilst all the websites I found included a recipe, I decided to use my own cupcake recipe and just adapted it in line with what I had read for incorporating candy floss. 

So, to make my version of the candy floss cupcakes, you will need the following:-

  • For the cake
    • 175g softened butter/margarine
    • 175g sugar
    • 1 tsp baking powder
    • 175g self raising flour
    • 3 eggs
    • A drop of vanilla essence
    • 250g candy floss
  • For the topping
    • 550g icing sugar
    • 275g softened butter
    • Milk
    • A few drops of pink food colouring
    • A few drops of green food colouring
    • 250g cotton candy
    • 2 tsp of cream
    • Popping candy (I used chocolate covered because that’s all I could find)

This recipe makes 18 cupcakes. 

Edited - ingredients

First things first, I turned the oven on and gave it plenty of time to reach the required temperature, 180 degrees celsius. 

I started the cake mix by beating my softened butter with a fork until it was light and fluffy.  I then added the caster sugar and continued to beat until completely incorporated. 

 Edited - fluffy butter Edited - sugar and butter

P.S. I made these at my mum’s and she only had an orange mixing bowl which isn’t great for photo’s!  So please excuse the orange tinge on some of the photographs in this post!

Anyway, next up I combined my flour and baking powder in a jug and set this to one side.  I added my eggs one at a time to the butter/sugar mix.

Practical tip: each time you add an egg, put in about 1tsp of the flour and then mix together.  The flour helps to stop the mixture curdling.  

Edited - egg adding

Once all the eggs were added, I sifted in the flour and baking powder and mixed until well combined.  I then added a few drops of vanilla extract and gave it another stir. 

Time for the fun bit.  I took my candy floss and tried to break it up a bit with my fingers.  This was very messy as it kept sticking to me but it definitely helped get a nice even spread throughout the cupcake mix.  Once it was broken up, I stirred it into the cupcake batter. 

Edited - candyfloss Edited - batter and candy floss

I then put about 1 and a half teaspoons of mixture into each cupcake case.  Now, I’m a bit of a perfectionist and when I make cupcakes, I take things one step further and weigh each filled case to make sure they are equal.  As said above, I made these cupcakes at my mum’s house and it turns out her scales aren’t quite as accurate as mine, however, each cupcake case was either 35g or 40g with the mix in. It may seem like a bit of an OCD step but it helps get perfectly even sized and baked cakes 🙂

Edited - cupcakes oven ready

With the cakes (just about) equal size, I put them in the oven and set the time for 10 minutes.  When the timer went off, I rotated the trays to help make sure they had an even bake and popped them back in for another 8 minutes.  I then checked the cakes to see if they were done. 

Practical tip: in case you missed Challenge No. 5, to test whether the cakes are cooked, gently press the top of one of the cakes with your finger; if it is done it will be springy to touch and bounce back into place.  You can also take a tooth pick (or cake tester if you have one) and slide it into the centre of one of the cakes; if the cake is done the tester will come out clean.  If you think it’s not quite done return the cakes to the oven but keep an eye on them – 1 minute may be all they need but that 1 minute can make all the difference!

Edited - fresh out the oven

I let the cakes cool on the tray for a few minutes and then transferred them to a cooling rack.  

Edited - coolingThis is where my night changed plans, I had a yummy takeaway Chinese and a few glasses of wine with Dave and my parents.  I then went out to visit some friends for the evening and somehow ended up consuming quite a lot of vodka (I blame my friend Kev!).  Suffice to say, I was a little worse for wear on the Saturday morning.  However, after a trip to see some 12 day old lambs at a local farm and a quick nap, I was (just about!) ready to finish decorating my cakes.

I started by whisking the butter (using a handheld electric whisk) until nice and smooth.  Don’t rush this step – it is one of the most important stages to get the right consistency to be able to pipe your buttercream.  I always try to whisk the butter for a good 5 minutes. 

With the butter whisked, it was time to start adding the icing sugar.  I added a bit at a time, covered the bowl with a clean tea towel and then whisked until combined. I continued adding a bit at a time until all the icing sugar was incorporated.  As I got towards the end, I added a little milk to keep the buttercream from being too stiff. I then split the buttercream between 2 bowls.

In my slightly hungover state, I forgot to take any pictures of the above stages! I realised on the next bit and got the camera back out again.

Next up, I tried to combine the leftover candy floss with the cream.  This is done so it can be added to the buttercream without making the buttercream lumpy.  I however did this wrong 😦 I’d read that you should melt the candy floss with the cream but I didn’t read any more than this.  When I read the word ‘melt’ I instantly thought of heat.  So I put my cream into a small saucepan over a low heat and added the candy floss.  All than happened is that it started to caramelise and went horribly sticky and extra lumpy! I decided to throw it away and leave the candy floss out of the buttercream.

Edited - candyfloss cream

😦 It just didn’t work!

I was making the buttercream at about 2.30pm and that night, when lying in bed at about 1.30am it dawned on me, I didn’t need the heat! The cream alone would ‘melt’ the candy floss and then the liquid could be added to the buttercream.  Lesson learnt for next time and for any of you who may read this and want to give it a go.

Anyway, having given up on the candy floss flavouring, I added a few drops of pink food colouring to one half of the buttercream and gave it a mix with a wooden spoon.  I then took the cupcakes which were in the green cases and used the back of a teaspoon to add a small covering of the buttercream.  I got a handful of the chocolate covered popping candy and sprinkled it on top of the cupcakes. 

Edited - popping candy

I then put the remaining pink buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a wilton 2D nozzle and piped swirls onto the top of each one.

My brother wanted to help with the piping.  I let him do one and he actually did quite a good job! :)

My brother wanted to help with the piping. I let him do one and he actually did quite a good job! 🙂

Practical tip: if you missed Challenge No. 7 – when spooning mixture into a piping bag, I always find it easier to put the bag into a tall glass and turn the top down.

Edited - piping glass

I then added the green food colouring to the other half of the buttercream and repeated the above steps with the cupcakes in the pink cases.

The final stage was an extra special touch, inspired by the bakingdom blog.  I had created Honeydukes signs using cake-pop sticks, wrapped in purple ribbon and cling film and topped with homemade signs.  It was a little time consuming but the finished product for my Harry Potter loving friend was well worth it.

Edited - cupcakes finished

These cupcakes were a success with all who tried them.  The popping candy could have been a bit more ‘poppy’ and I was disappointed I messed up the cotton candy for the buttercream but overall I was happy with this bake.  The candy floss added a nice speckled effect to the cakes and they tasted yummy.

Edited - inside cupcakeComing up next week, Challenge No. 14 – moussaka.