Monday, February 21, 2011

Sticky Toffee Cupcakes with Fleur de Sel Caramel – fall for them!

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There is something about the whole Gym thing that makes me think of battery farming. I much prefer free-range exercise, particularly as I am fortunate enough to live in one of Ireland’s most beautiful counties.
Sticky Toffee Cupcakes - I've fallen for them! 
Free-range exercise offers a dilemma of its own - which route to choose? Which view will be more spectacular today?
The lakes are a no-brainer on a frosty morning when a mist sits just above the surface of the water giving the scene a dreamy Camelot-like quality.  The forest has its own charms, and is full of interesting wild life. If I take my mountain bike there I am quite likely to spot a stag; or a doe with its fawn; or on a really good day, a rare red kite.
My beloved will happily hike with me but refuses to take his mountain bike out. There was that unfortunate incident when his rear wheel slipped off a narrow path and his bike came to a dead stop. Making a brave attempt to balance, he wrestled with the uncooperative contraption for a long moment ... before toppling head-over-heels into a ditch.
Luckily he had a soft landing. Unluckily, it was an evil-smelling liquid mud that was the exact colour and texture of warm caramel sauce. Once I established that only his pride was injured I cried with laughter at the bedraggled sight. I still cannot eat this sticky toffee dessert without snickering at the memory!
Ahem! Anyway, it is light and sticky. It is sweet with little hits of salt in the caramel. Good vanilla ice cream completes the picture. Resign yourself to second helpings.

Did I mention it is also extremely versatile? Swap the dates for some of that left-over christmas mincemeat and a teaspoon of grated orange peel and ditch the salt in the sauce for 4 tablespoons of Grand Marnier liqueur. Magic!
For 12 cupcakes you will need...
... to pre-heat the oven to 160°C

200g ready-to-eat dried dates, quartered
100mls tea
1 tablespoon treacle (or molasses)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

110g butter
175g dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
250g plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine table salt

It's a date!
1          Place the dates, tea and treacle (or molasses) in a saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil then turn down the heat and simmer gently, uncovered, until the dates have absorbed most of the liquid. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract and the bicarbonate of soda (which will fizz alarmingly but helps make the cake light and fluffy). Leave to cool.
2          While the dates are cooling, line a 12-hole muffin tin with muffin cases.
3          Cream together the butter and sugar until paler in colour and fluffy – an electric mixer/beaters is best for this. Meanwhile in a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt.
4          Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well between additions, and alternating with a tablespoonful of the flour mixture. When the egg has been combined, add the rest of the flour mixture and beat until just combined.
5          Add the cooled dates - they don’t have to be completely cold – and mix until just combined.
6          Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin cases and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes until well risen and cooked through. A toothpick inserted in the centre should come out clean. If any mixture adheres, bake for a further 5 minutes and test again.
7          When cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.
Ooooooh yeaaaaah!
To make the fleur de sel caramel sauce you will need...
... to exercise caution – boiling sugar is very, very hot

180g caster sugar
1 teaspoon white malt vinegar
75g butter, cut into walnut-sized pieces
150mls pouring cream
½ teaspoon fleur de sel salt (or other large crystal salt)

1                   Place the sugar and vinegar in a medium saucepan over a medium heat. After 3 minutes or so, the sugar will start to become liquid. Stir until all the crystals have melted into an amber-coloured syrup.
2                   Add the butter and stir until melted - the mixture will bubble vigorously but will soon subside. Remove from the heat then add the cream and stir until smooth. Finally, stir in the fleur de sel salt. Allow the sauce to cool a little before transferring to a sterilised jar.
Le Salt

To serve, remove the cupcakes from their papers. Warm the cakes and the caramel sauce. Dust the cakes with icing sugar and add a generous puddle of caramel sauce and vanilla ice cream.

The first sticky toffee cupcakes of the year, with the first daffodils.
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