After the first three weeks of spring were cold, wet and miserable, this week arrived with plenty of sunshine, slightly balmy days and the sensation that beach days are back. We were elated! So elated that we (finally!) bought garden chairs and lots of white wine and soda water to enjoy with dinner out on the balcony again.

But we awoke this morning at 5:30AM (to climb Lion’s Head again) to an overcast city. Despite a slight crispness in the air that was not there yesterday we went ahead with our climbing, enjoying the mist that enveloped us on the way up and down and the new flowers in bloom all over the mountain. The weather would clear as soon as the sun is out, I told myself.

Well, it’s much later in the day, I’ve checked the weather forecast for the weekend and I have shut all windows to keep the chill out. Spring has been taken from us! And this on the day my northern sister is coming to visit us from Gauteng. I’ve been so excited to show her what she’s missing by not moving here; lazing at the beach, picnics in the Gardens, sunshine shopping sprees at Milnerton Market and a lazy cheese and wine tasting at Fairview.

I wish I had one or three of these to enjoy now… 

salted cashew cupcakes

…salted cashew cupcakes.

I made these a while ago, tweaking a recipe from Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook for maple walnut cupcakes. They tasted incredible, especially after Alexander decided to throw pinches of sea salt on each to balance the decadently rich frosting. They were incredibly good, so much so, we had to give some away as we were risking eating the whole giant batch ourselves.

Yes, one of those would make me feel better now. But instead I’ll be baking banana and strawberry muffins for sis’s arrival and prepare cookie dough for Saturday nights dessert with friends. Hopefully all of that will lift my spirits and I’ll be sharing the recipes with you in sunnier weather.

many cupcakes

I got reprimanded by Alexander one evening last week for not using one of my birthday gifts often enough. Since he gave me the book cupcakes back in March I have, admittedly, only made one of the recipes in the book. I have used it as inspiration for a couple of other ideas. None of which I ever, unfortunately, took pictures of.

So I decided that instead of going to bed at 8:30 we should bake. He picked a recipe for peanut butter cupcakes and suggested we add some apricot jam (inspired by another recipe for jam cupcakes) to make peanut butter and jam cupcakes. Clever fiancé I have.

By the time they came out the oven I was seriously in the mood to crawl in (I’ve been waking up in increments of 30 minutes earlier each day this week and then feel beat pretty early) and so we decided to leave them to cool and do the frosting the next morning.

unfrosted cupcakes
It does not take a genius to notice something seriously wrong with these cupcakes, both frosted and unfrosted. They are decidedly dark. This is because our apartment’s oven has issues. I think the owners skimped out on quality, so it does not heat up really well and it is always a bit of a mission getting the temperature just right. I had more success with our tiny oven in Bangkok. Lately almost everything I bake comes out a little too dry around the edges and too moist in the center. Oh well, it all still tastes good and hopefully I’ll figure out the heat settings soon. Perhaps being out of cupcake liners was part of the problem in this case.

If you felt like attempting these you should have:
1 cup self-raising flour
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon apricot jam
150g butter at room temperature and cut into cubes
½ cup soft brown sugar
2 eggs
½ cup peanut butter (I used crunchy)

And for the frosting:
¼ cup peanut butter
½ cup confectioner’s sugar
2 tablespoons apricot jam

And to make them:

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a muffin baking tray with cupcake liners, I made about 12 large ones. Sift the two flours together and set aside. Measure the tablespoon apricot jam into a quarter cup and fill the rest with milk, set aside.

Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Then add the peanut butter and beat until combined. Add the flour and milk alternately, starting and ending with the flour. Fill the cupcake liners with spoons full of the batter and bake for about 12 minutes until ready. Let them cool while you whip up the frosting.

In a mixing bowl, beat together the sugar, peanut butter and apricot jam until smooth. Spread over the cupcakes and serve with some tea on a sunny lazy morning.

two cupcakes

Photobucket Image Hosting

Ever since my first visit to Vanilla Industry in Siam Square I’ve been thinking about taking one of their patisserie classes, so when Alexander gave me a class for my birthday this year I was super excited about the prospect. But it seemed I was going to have to wait, first they were renovating the property, and then we went to Taiwan. After a very long wait I finally got to attend my class yesterday.

I selected vanilla cupcakes with butter cream frosting and strawberry shortcake from the menu for my lesson. Two items I feel are good staples to know and expand from. I was nervous about the class, not knowing what to expect from it. What if my teacher was dull? What if she was really strict and I made a mess?

Luckily, all my fears were dispelled as soon as I met my teacher, Darin. We clicked almost instantly, as if we knew each other forever. In between demonstrations and baking we discussed travel, global politics, our shared love for baking and Thann, the story behind Vanilla, family and shared personality traits like being extremely particular about where things go in our kitchens.

Photobucket Image Hosting

The course is held in Vanilla’s gorgeous kitchen, upstairs from the café at Vanilla Industry. I received a Vanilla ledger with my recipes cards with all the ingredients needed, the instructions I had to write myself, which is a great idea as I wrote it down and made notes so I could follow it more easily when I attempt it myself at home.

Photobucket Image Hosting

Darin (who turned out to be the creator of the Vanilla Crepe cake which inspired my panCake) would demonstrate a process to me first, and I would then get the opportunity to measure and make my own. She was very informative and explained to me a lot of the science involved in baking, which cleared up a lot of past mishaps in baking to me. For example, turning your mixing bowl in various direction when mixing the wet ingredients and flour together will cause the batter to become more dense, as the protein in it develops and expands more, which is something you do not want.

First we baked and decorated the cupcakes.

Photobucket Image Hosting

Followed by the shortcake for which we prepared some whipped cream and strawberry syrup and filling. Delicious!

Photobucket Image Hosting

The morning whizzed by far too quickly, and before I knew it the class was over and Alexander was waiting for me downstairs. Reluctantly I took off my cute Vanilla apron and started collecting my handiwork, all neatly packed in Vanilla’s trademark boxes, only to be told by Darin that I get to keep the apron!

With a heavy heart I said goodbye to her and exchanged email addresses. Not only did I have an incredible patisserie class, I also made a new friend.

Photobucket Image Hosting