Cupcakes and Muffins!

OK, so a first for me. I’m writing a review of the production of the various sweetmeats that I am cooking today – as I cook them! Aye caramba! I hear you all cry. Yes, it really is that exciting!
Now, onto the cooking. As you will remember from the last posting, I am baking Baklava Muffins, Carrot Cupcakes and Pistachio Macaroons. And in that order too. Easiest first. Now I have to find the walnuts for Baklava mix. Easier said than done.
Joy of joys! They are in the fourth place I look! This must be a record!! Now to chop them finely.
OK, add some melted butter, cinnamon, Demarara (the most outgoing sounding of all the sugars) Sugar, stir and stand to one side. The bowl that is, not you. This is to be our Baklava filling and topping.
Then mix up the muffin mix, which is fairly plain, buttermilk, flour, baking powder, bicarb of soda, egg, melted butter, sugar.

Suffice to say, the limitations of typing a review of a recipe whilst simultaneously cooking said recipe are great. Therefore, some four days later, I am now writing about it. Incidentally, these recipes are from Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess.
The Baklava muffins emerged from the oven, the tops encrusted with the chopped walnut/brown sugar buttery mixture and smelling aromatically of Cinnamon. Whilst still hot the eight bronzed muffins were to be drizzle with 150ml honey. This seems like an awful lot and I thought to myself that they would taste even sweeter than traditional Baklava, in all its honeyed/filo glory. The muffins absorb most of the honey, leaving the nutty tops looking glossy and tempting. It is advisable to leave them for a little while or run the risk of bee-inducing honey fingers – not such a bad proposition if you’re sharing them with your husband. Unfortunately I wasn’t and I still couldn’t wait for them to cool off: they are not as tooth-achingly sweet as you might think, the plain buttermilk muffin batter and the slightly bitter crunch of the walnuts counter the sweetness perfectly. Perhaps not as enduringly desirable as true Baklava but then again, we don’t always want to consume so much sugar that we get a migraine. It dawned on me, as I looked at the cooling rack of 11 glistening cakes that perhaps making another dozen or so that day would seem a crazy bored woman’s notion: who would eat them all??
So, the next morning, alone once again, I prepared to make Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing. The Baklava muffins had been devoured by my husband, I had delivered two to my mother and another three to my grandparents. Families are always welcome recipients of cakes it would seem, Easter traditions or not.
I have always loved Carrot Cake, even in the days when it belonged, somewhat erroneously, to the realm of tie-dye kaftan wearing Vegan hippies. I even made a carrot cake for my end of year Domestic Science exam, way back in 1980something. There is a certain perfect, perverse alchemy in turning a vegetable into a cake. Kids love the idea of eating gross sounding food (and another quick dessert springs to mind: from Italy, sea salt and good quality olive oil poured over proper vanilla ice cream, very unusual, but good in the same way that French Fries dipped into Chocolate Shakes is good). And not just any old cake. I first tasted green tomato chutney turned into a gloriously sweet and moist loaf cake (more of a pudding really but they don’t have pudding as per know it in America), served with the heavenly 100% pure chemical Cool-Whip (relatively similar to Dream Topping but even lighter and less granular in texture), when my mother-in-law served it to us one Thanksgiving. It was reminiscent of an apple cake but with an ethereal taste, difficult to pinpoint – almost impossible to imagine it starting life as an unripe tomato. Courgettes are another savoury delicacy used in cakes, as are potatoes, beetroot and I can only imagine that swede and squash and parsnip might work too. Including the tomato, which is technically a fruit anyway, the reason that certain vegetables work so well is due in part to the sweetness of their flavour, their relatively high moisture/starch content and the fact that when grated, they break down, almost imperceptibly into the cake batter as it cooks. Carrot is very sweet and very juicy, hence it works so successfully.
Like fruit-cake, a vegetable cake has many variants: sultanas, walnuts, brown sugar or white, cream cheese icing or butter icing or no icing at all. It is a cake that either demands an age-old family recipe or constant tweaking, depending on how obsessive you are about baking (or carrot cake). The cupcakes are a modern-day twist on the carrot cake, utilising all the traditional elements but in a dinky size. Like most cupcakes and muffins they are also incredibly easy to prepare, no more than 30 minutes from start to finish. The only problem, as always with cupcakes, is waiting for them to cool off sufficiently to be iced and then consumed voraciously.
The flavour is delicately spiced, with a wholemeal taste (although I used plain white flour, I think you could use wholemeal flour for an extra nutty taste, but you would probably need to adjust the carrot), the crunch of the chopped walnuts and the slightly sweet, slightly sour cream cheese topping that has been balanced perfectly with a spritz of fresh lime juice. They are delicious but I have a feeling that a large carrot cake is slightly moister, more carroty, more satisfactory. But these would be perfect for a healthy kid’s lunchbox (if such a thing exists these days).
The point about making cupcakes and muffins is that they are almost foolproof. They are easy and quick. There are so many variations of muffins that you could have one for every day of the week for the next 5 years, and probably more.

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