Whenever anyone asks me to make a cake for them, I have a little private panic attack. I’m like an iceberg, all cool and icy calm on top but under the surface I’m a giant mass of frozen anxiety. I am a cake perfectionist. I want the cake to be the most amazing cake ever in the history of the world which is putting myself under some unnecessary pressure and the inevitable failure to live up to the impossible standards I have set. Especially when there’s a timeframe with which make the cake, the fact that it has to hold up for a length of time and also withstand the judgement of friends and random people. Random people are the scariest of them all.
I watch enough reality cooking shows to know things go wrong all of the time in baking, because baking is a precise little bitch and she will ruin your cake if you don’t play by the rules. My problem is that I often think, screw your stupid rules, I’m just going to do it like this, and end up crying into dirty tea towels when the whole thing goes hideously awry because I’ve run out of eggs and clean mixing bowls and the will to live.
I was asked to make a cake for my beautiful friend Rachel’s birthday, and as she is a sparkly fun person, it made sense to make her a sparkly fun cake. My original plan for the cake was simple, but somehow I ended up creating an over-the-top giant layered confection iced completely in vanilla frosting and every inch of the cake covered in coloured sprinkles for the full glittering effect. It sounded awesome in theory until I found myself frantically hurling handfuls of sprinkles at the cake with 5 minutes to get it together and leave the house. I was in labour with this cake for a whole day. It weighed more than a newborn baby.
The next day I needed some therapy to get over the birthing of that epic cake, and whilst my preferred method involves retail, I chose to bake cupcakes because it costs a lot less and also I wouldn’t have to put any make up on. These cupcakes are a dream because they smell and taste heavenly, and won’t make you want to throw yourself though a window halfway through making them. As much as I love a complex dessert, sometimes all I need is a simple fluffy moist (ugh sorry about that word, dammit why is there no other word for moist) vanilla cupcake – and it absolutely without question must be topped with something delicious. I always prefer a delicate ganache because I adore the silky smooth chocolatey creaminess over a sugary frosting.
I’ve stuck to using silver cachous as decoration for these cupcakes, because I never ever want to see sprinkles again for the rest of my life. There are more sprinkles in a kilo of sprinkles than there are people on this earth. And if glitter is the herpes of the art world, sprinkles are their culinary cousins. Those tiny coloured balls keep coming back out of nowhere even though I swear I’ve eliminated every single one. I keep finding those little fuckers in all kinds of weird places, and not even confined to the kitchen. They’re now migrating to other areas of the house and presumably raising families there.
VANILLA CUPCAKES WITH MILK CHOCOLATE GANACHE
Cupcakes adapted from Sweetapolita
5 large egg whites (150 g), at room temperature
1 whole egg
1 cup whole milk (237 ml), at room temperature
2-1/4 teaspoons (12 ml) pure vanilla extract
3 cups (345 g) cake flour, sifted 2
2 cups (400 g) sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon (17 g) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (5 g) salt
12 tablespoons (170 g) unsalted butter, cold and cut into 24 even pieces
MILK CHOCOLATE GANACHE
200g milk chocolate
250ml pouring cream
silver cachous for decoration
Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). In a medium bowl or measuring cup, combine and stir the egg whites, whole egg, 1/4 cup of milk, and the vanilla. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the dry ingredients together on low speed for 30 seconds.
Add the butter one piece at a time, about every 10 seconds, ensuring it’s cold (you can keep some in refrigerator while you’re adding pieces). Continue to mix on low until the mixture is a fine crumbly texture. Add milk, and mix on low speed until just moistened. Increase to medium speed and mix for 3 minutes. Scrape the sides of the bowl and begin to add the egg mixture in 3 separate batches; beat on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition. Fold once or twice to ensure the batter at bottom of bowl is incorporated.
Spoon into cupcake cases (I use an ice cream scoop for even sized cupcakes). Bake until a cake tester comes out with a few crumbs when inserted into the center, about 30 minutes. Be so careful to not over-bake. Check cake at 20 minutes, but not before, and then set the timer for 5 minute intervals. Let cool on racks.
Break up chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl. Heat cream until boiling in a small saucepan. Pour hot cream over the chocolate and let sit for a minute, before stirring to melt the chocolate and combine thoroughly. Leave to cool and thicken to a spreading consistency. Spread over cupcakes and sprinkle with cachous.