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. 25 – Sweet Potato Brownie (Gluten Free)

This challenge was due to be posted last Thursday, however, on Wednesday evening I received the terrible news that my brother’s soon to be father-in-law had been killed in a motorcycle accident.    Dave was a wonderful man who was so full of life and laughter.  It is a heartbreaking loss for his family but also all those who knew and experienced Dave (it has been said that you didn’t just know Dave, you experienced him!).  Sadly Dave died as a result of a car driver pulling out in front of him, the type of accident bikers cannot account for.  His family have already tried to increase awareness for other bikers and so I start this post with my condolences and love to the Cook family but also a message to all those who use the roads – please be aware of motorbike riders, look twice maybe even three time before pulling out.  That final check could stop another family having to go through this painful experience.   Rest in peace Dave, you will be sadly missed by all those who had the pleasure of knowing you.

And so, through teary eyes, I continue with this post…

This challenge was suggested by my friend Danny and it was a bit of a tricky one for me.  Sweet potatoes have soared in popularity in the UK recently and a quick search online revealed lots of recipes for sweet potato brownies.  However, Danny specifically requested the brownies be gluten free.  Trying to find a simple recipe for gluten free sweet potato brownies was more difficult.  All the ones I found used ‘cups’ for the ingredients measurements (which I never use!) and also gluten free flour.  I wanted to avoid using a gluten free flour and so I searched until I found a recipe which used other ingredients.   

Eventually I found this recipe by Lindsay on The Lean Green Bean blog (be sure to check it out)!  I’ve converted the recipe away from ‘cups’ and to make these delicious sweet potato brownies, you will need the following ingredients:-

  • 175 g chopped, pitted dates
  • 130g cooked sweet potato, mashed
  • 190g  nut butter (I used peanut butter)
  • 2 eggs
  • 63g applesauce
  • 40g unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g dark chocolate chips

Edited - ingredients

I started off by cooking the sweet potato.  I’ve made sweet potato fries before, but I wasn’t sure of the best (and quickest) way to cook the sweet potato for mashing purposes.  I did a bit of research and decided to use the microwave.  I simply pricked the potato with a fork and popped it in the microwave on high for 8 minutes (turning it over half way through).  After cutting the potato open, I realised this wasn’t quite long enough to cook it all the way through.  However, the outside bits were soft enough to give me 130g of mashed potato.

Whilst the potato was in the microwave, I added my dates and peanut butter to a food mixer.  I then added the mashed sweet potato and blitzed it until smooth.  This actually took quite a while because the mix was so thick.  I was slightly worried the motor on my mixer was going to blow, it definitely got very hot but managed to survive the challenge!

Edited- step 1

Once the mixture was smooth, I added the eggs and applesauce and blended the mixture until it was combined.

Edited - step 2

I then decided to tip the mixture into a large bowl before adding the final ingredients.  This is mainly because my mixer is small but also the motor was really hot after working such a thick mixture so a rest was clearly needed!  Once the mixture was in the bowl, I sifted in the cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda. 

Edite - in the bowl

I tried mixing this together with a spatula but it was so thick, the tip came off the handle! So I switched to a nice sturdy wooden spoon and it came together nicely.

Edited - step 3

Finally, I added the chocolate chips before spooning the mixture into my dish (9×9 inch pan) which I had lined with baking paper.

Edited - in the pan

I popped the dish into my pre-heated oven on 190 degrees celsius.  I checked the bake after 15 minutes and re-set the timer for another 5 minutes.  I then checked it again and decided to give it another 3 minutes.  When I inserted my skewer it wasn’t coming out completely clean but the coating was melted chocolate rather than uncooked batter so I decided it was done.

I left the brownie to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before popping it onto a cooling rack to cool completely.   I then chopped it up into squares and packed the brownies up to take round to my friend’s for the evening.

Edited - cooling Edited - chopped up

Dave and I spent the evening with our friends Matt and Helen, where we enjoyed a beautifully cooked lasagne and a homemade victoria sponge cake made with lemon curd and a coconut topping – all courtesy of Helen. 

Helen is a keen baker, a celiac and a chocaholic making her the perfect taster for my gluten free brownies.  The verdict – a success. 

We all enjoyed these little chocolate treats; even Dave who had turned his nose up at the idea of potato in a brownie (he didn’t believe me when I tried to tell him all brownies have potato in! hehe).  The peanut butter added a really nice flavour to the brownies and I will definitely be making these again!

Edited - served up 2

Coming up next, Challenge No. 26 – chilli con carne.


Challenge No. 09 – Gluten Free Date, Banana and Rum Loaf (With Disaronno instead of Rum)

I have two friends who can’t eat gluten, one is simply gluten intolerant whereas the other is a celiac.  It’s therefore unsurprising that I have been give a couple of gluten free recipes to try throughout Challenge 52. I thought I’d start with date, banana and rum loaf as suggested by my friend Chloe, who is gluten intolerant.

I did a quick google search for “gluten free date, banana and rum loaf” and it brought up a perfect recipe which ticked all the boxes.  So I decided to use this one.

The recipe calls for the following ingredients:-

  • 250g pack stoned, ready-to-eat dates
  • 2 small or 1 large bananas (140g/5oz in weight)
  • 100g pecans, 85g/3oz roughly chopped, rest left whole
  • 200g raisins
  • 200g sultanas
  • 100g fine polenta (also known as cornmeal)
  • 2 tsp mixed spice
  • 2 tsp baking powder (use gluten-free if needed)
  • 3 tbsp dark rum
  • 2 egg whites
  • a few banana chips and 1 tsp sugar (optional), to decorate

First things first, I didn’t have any dark rum in and considering I only needed 3tbsp I didn’t want to buy a full bottle. I therefore opted to make my rum loaf with Disaronno. I suppose this is therefore really a date, banana and Disaronno loaf 🙂

Edited - ingredients

I have to admit, despite having a couple of friends who can’t eat gluten, I’m quite ignorant about what this actually means for their diet.  It’s a new world for me and I really didn’t and still don’t really understand what they can and cannot eat.  I have learnt that gluten is protein found in wheat, and that it helps food to hold its shape.  However, I’ve not managed to get my head round all the places gluten may be hiding. 

This recipe has given me a taste of what it would be like to be gluten intolerant and I must say I do not envy my friends!  I took a look at the “free-from” section in a number of supermarkets and found all of them to be tiny.  Whilst there is generally a selection of ready to eat gluten free food, I felt the range of ingredients available for making food from scratch was not very good at all.  Plus everything had a ridiculous mark-up because it was gluten free.

I thought I was onto a winner with this recipe as there appeared to be nothing which would be a special gluten free ingredient except the baking powder.  My baking powder is already gluten free and I therefore thought it would be nice and easy to go ahead and make it.  However once I had bought all my ingredients, I had a quick look at the comments on the recipe and found out that polenta is not always gluten free! I sent a picture of the pack I’d bought to my celiac friend and she confirmed she would not be able to eat it.  So I popped into a supermarket the next day in search of a suitable product – they didn’t even sell polenta! That night I tried another supermarket and thankfully had success.  However, there was only one gluten free option and the bag was huge!

So anyway, I finally had all my ingredients ready and I got started.

I put 200ml of boiling water into my pan and bought it up to a bubble.  I then added the dates and set the timer for 5 minutes.  Whilst the dates were simmering, I broke up the banana and popped it into my food processor.  Once the 5 minutes where up I drained the dates, being sure to reserve the liquid, which ended up being exactly 100ml!

Edited - simmering dates

I was a bit concerned about adding the hot liquid to my blender and I therefore waited about 10 minutes for the dates and liquid to cool down.  Whilst they were cooling, I chopped my pecans ready to be added to the other dry ingredients.  I have a bit of a thing about textures and don’t like it when I have big crunchy nuts in a soft cake so I chopped the pecans quite small but this is just personal preference. 

Edited - chopped pecans

When the hot ingredients had cooled enough, I blitzed the dates, banana and liquid until smooth.  I put all the dried ingredients into a big bowl and added the date/banana purée and the Disaronno.  I then mixed it all together with a wooden spoon until well combined.

 Edited - pureeEdited - dry ingredients

Next, I got out my glass bowl and electric hand whisk to prepare the egg whites.  I beat them until soft peaks formed and then carefully folded the whites into the mix.

Edited - whites

Practical Tip: be careful not to knock the air out of the egg whites when stiring them into the mix.  Cut down vertically into the centre of the mixture and fold the bottom of the mixture up and over the top of the egg whites. Turn the bowl and repeat this action.  Fold slowly and carefully until the egg mix is combined.

Edited - ready for tin

I added the finished mix to my lined tin and decorated the top with the dried bananas, left over pecans and a little bit of sugar. 

Edited - oven ready

I popped the tin in the oven and set the timer for 30 minutes.  When the timer went off, I re-set it for 15 minutes and then checked the loaf.  At this point, I decided to cover the top with foil to stop it burning and left it in the oven for another 10 minutes.  Finally it was done!

I let the loaf cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then took it out, removed the lining and left it to cool on a cooling rack.

 Edited - cookedEdited - ready to serve

The finished product made the rounds this week, a few slices were taken to work, a few to Cardiff and a sizeable chunk was given to my celiac friend. 

The verdict from everyone was that it was very nice, everyone that is except my other half.  Dave doesn’t like fruit cake so I wasn’t that surprised.   Personally, I thought it was lovely.  It was so moist, full of flavour and best of all easy to make.  I’ll be making this a few times, even if its just to use up the huge bag of polenta!

Coming up next week, Challenge No. 10 – currywurst. I hope to see you then 🙂