Monday, 9 November 2009

Flame filled fairy cakes

The traditional cake for Bonfire Night celebrations is Thor cake, a cake made using black treacle, oatmeal and ginger, but no flour. The mixture is kneaded into a dough and rolled out to a thickness of about 2 inches, before being baked. The recipe probably pre-dates Guy Fawkes to the Celtic Festival of "Samhain" and has similar ingredients to Parkin, a cake originating from the North of England. Parkin has overtaken Thor as the cake more commonly associated with Guy Fawkes Night and is more of a cakey cake, in that it contains flour and rises on baking.

I was asked to make some festive cupcakes for my friend's Bonfire Night party at the weekend and wanted to keep some of the traditional flavours of Thor and Parkin, but with a more modern feel and lighter texture. I chose ginger cupcakes with ginger buttercream and spiced chocolate cupcakes with rich chocolate buttercream. I adore ginger, so tend to be quite heavy-handed when adding the powdered spice, but if you prefer a milder flavour, by all means add less. The same goes for the spice hit in the chocolate cupcakes; you can even just use cinammon if you'd rather make chocolate and cinammon cakes.

To make the cupcakes properly festive, I decided to make sugar flames, chocolate bonfire wood, sugar rockets and gold stars. For the ginger cupcakes, I made some with undyed buttercream topped with sugarpaste rockets and some with flames and buttercream matching the colours in the flames. I made the flames out of sugarpaste (roll out fondant icing) with yellow centres, wrapped with orange and then red. I also divided the buttercream into 4, left one part undyed, and dyed the other parts yellow, orange and red. Then, using a No. 10 star nozzle, I filled the piping bag with the three colours. The easiest way to do this is to place the bag (fitted with the nozzle) in a glass and then fold the bag down the outside of the glass. Using a palate knife, place the different coloured buttercreams vertically in 3 separate sections, so that when piped, the buttercream will be striped, like Aquafresh toothpaste. When piping with a star nozzle, start on the outer edge and pipe a ring, and then follow the ring inwards until it ends in a point at the top. I then stuck a fondant flame on top of each flame cake.

For the other half of the ginger cupcakes, I used a palate knife to smooth over the undyed ginger buttercream and then topped them with a sugar rocket (a triangular cone on a cylinder of sugarpaste in your choice of colour, with a little tail made out of black sugarpaste for the fuse and with a little gold star at the end for the spark.

I decorated half of the spiced chocolate cupcakes with chocolate buttercream and bonfire wood made out of milk chocolate plastique, and topped them with more fondant flames. I dyed the rest of the buttercream black and piped it with a No. 10 star nozzle, topped with edible gold glitter and edible gold stars (I used a tiny star cutter on chocolate plastique rolled very thinly and painted them with edible gold lustre dust). The black icing will dye your mouth black, like you've eaten a big bag of black jacks, but it doesn't last long and it's fine, and indeed fun, if everyone's eaten some.

Obviously Bonfire Night has been and gone for this year, and the cakes don't need to be decorated with flames and fireworks, but then again, I don't really think you need to wait a whole year for an excuse to make these pretty, fun treats either.

Ginger Cupcakes with Ginger Buttercream

Preheat the oven to 160C (140C if you have a fan assisted oven) and place your cupcake cases in muffin trays. The mixture makes 24 cupcakes.


8 oz (200 g) unsalted butter
6 oz (175 g) molasses sugar
3 tbsp black treacle
1/4 pint (150 ml) whole milk
2 large eggs, beaten
5 pieces of stem ginger, drained and chopped (retain the syrup for the buttercream)
10 oz (300 g) self raising flour
1 1/2 heaped tbsp ground ginger
A pinch of salt
2 - 3 tbsp ginger wine

7 tbsp ginger syrup (the syrup from the stem ginger)
8 oz unsalted butter, softened

16 oz (450 g) icing sugar, sifted

5 tsp lemon juice

  • In a large saucepan, gently melt the butter, sugar and treacle together until the sugar is fully dissolved. Allow the mixture to cool slightly.
  • Stir in the milk and add the beaten eggs and stem ginger. Mix thoroughly.
  • Sift the flour, ground ginger and salt over the warm mixture and combine.
  • Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases and bake for 20 - 30 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • While the cakes are still hot, stab the cakes all over with a skewer and, using a teaspoon, pour a little ginger wine on to each cake.
  • Transfer on to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.
  • Beat the butter until extremely soft and sift over the icing sugar. Mix thoroughly.
  • Add the ginger syrup and lemon juice and beat again until the buttercream is smooth and fluffy and ready to be dyed (if you want to), smoothed or piped on top of your cooled cupcakes.

Spiced Chocolate Cupcakes

(Preheat the oven to 180C or 160C Fan and line your muffin trays with cupcake cases. This recipe is enough to make 24 cupcakes, but you can reduce the quantities by half for 12).


8 oz (200 g) good quality dark chocolate (70% plus cocoa solids), broken into pieces
7 fl. oz (200 ml) whole milk
9 oz (225 g) molasses sugar
3 oz (125 g) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 tbsp cocoa
5 oz (125 g) plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
A pinch of salt
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp cinammon
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

Rich Chocolate Buttercream

8 oz (200 g) unsalted butter, softened
14 oz (350 g) icing sugar, sifted
8 oz (200 g) dark chocolate, melted
2 tbsp milk

  • Place the chocolate, milk and 3 oz (75 g) of the sugar into a saucepan and heat gently, until the sugar and chocolate have melted. Allow the "chocolate milk" to cool.
  • In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter and remaining sugar together until pale and creamy.
  • Gradually beat in the eggs and then the cooled "chocolate milk".
  • Sift the dry ingredients over the mixture and fold in. Mix in the salt and spices.
  • Spoon the cake batter into the cupcake cases and bake for 10 - 15 mins or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
  • Once baked, leave the cakes in their tins to cool for a few minutes before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
  • Beat the butter until really soft.
  • Sift over the icing sugar and beat again until well incorporated.
  • Pour the chocolate and milk into the mixture and beat until smooth and fluffy and ready to be smoothed or piped on to your cakes.

As with almost all of my cake recipes, these cakes can be baked as a whole cake in a loaf tin or 8" round/ 7" square.

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