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I've always enjoyed being creative and have fond and very special memories of baking cakes as a child on a Sunday morning with my late grandmother. Throughout the years I have gained much experience and with the aid of a number of cookery books I feel confident in trying out something a little more challenging. Cupcakes have been the craze for the past few years and in Cardiff we have seen the opening of two cupcake shops; one of which is filled with bar stools and high tables where you can enjoy a delightful decorated cake from their huge selection.
However, the prices are astronomical and I was eager to try making my own and whilst I was confident in creating the perfect sponge it was the toppings that were to be my biggest challenge as icing bags and Alyson most certainly do not get on. I decided to purchase a book to help me and was quite overwhelmed as there were so many from which to choose. However, I decided upon Cupcakes and Muffins, particularly as I own another six books from this series; all of which offer easy to follow recipes for the novice cook like me.
The 352 page book, which offers a fairly sturdy and glossy cover is slightly smaller than A5 size and is full of inspiring ideas for all occasions with a short contents page followed by several pages of alternative choices for some of the recipes. We are provided with an introduction to cupcakes and muffins; both of which seem to be very popular together with some very basic information about oven temperatures and the utensils we need to produce our culinary delights. Whilst much of the information can be considered to be common sense we are advised of the difference with using metal trays as opposed to silicon or paper cases and the area of most interest to me were the necessary tools for decorating. My attempts to ice cakes in the past have resulted in huge splodges, which whilst they tasted good, looked absolutely appalling!
I had only previously cooked with granulated sugar, caster sugar or dark brown sugar, but the book takes us through various other types and details the results we can expect to achieve. As my intention was to experiment as much as I could possibly could, I found the sections on flavourings and icings extremely helpful, as the cookery aisle in Tesco never ceases to amaze me with its dozens of different types of sprinkles and glitters. The book fully discusses different techniques such as creaming or rubbing the mixture and how to prepare the tins in readiness for baking. Again, this might seem very basic and whilst I knew all of these techniques having been taught them by my grandmother, I found the reasoning behind them extremely interesting, particularly as I wanted to create some real masterpieces. We are provided with several pages of "what when wrong?" and the answers to specific problems, which I digested with great interest, as I knew I'd be referring back to this section many times!
Both my husband and I like the recipe for the basic vanilla cupcakes, which uses affordable ingredients and the cakes are easily created. The ingredients are clearly listed and followed by step by step instructions, which are not complicated unlike some cookery books I've used in the past. A point I always favour with cookery books is that clear coloured photographs are displayed in relation to each recipe, so I know exactly what my cakes should look like. The next few pages provide recipes for different flavoured cupcakes and muffins, such as fruit, chocolate fudge or carrot and then we are at the pages that provide easy to follow instructions on how to create different frostings and icings. Unfortunately, I'm a little behind the times as I continue to measure in ounces and the book is useful in this respect where it offers both imperial and metric measurements.
The section of the book which I couldn't wait to reach was the decorating, which again, is easy to follow with plenty of useful hints and tips. I have had so many disasters over the years where I have produced iced cakes that look as if I'd decorated them after a heavy session at the pub, so I was interested in learning different techniques. I was amazed that I eventually and I say "eventually" was able to create realistic looking roses and butterflies made from sugar paste icing and I found the more I practiced the more perfect I became. The instructions in the book together with the accompanying photographs inspired me to try out more designs and I was pleasantly surprised at how creative I had become.
A point I find a little odd is that whilst a number of cupcake recipes are given at the front of the book, each of the different types of cupcakes throughout provides an additional recipe. Consequently, I had expected to be referred back to one of the initial recipes, but this is not the case. Whilst I have attempted quite a few of the recipes such as the Mother's Day rose cupcakes and the butterfly wings and flowers cupcakes there are many more that I'd like to try. The photograph accompanying the recipe for the ruffled cupcakes looks absolutely stunning, as the icing gives the illusion of huge delicate petals. There are some beautiful designs for Christmas and weddings, which are out of this world and I've alternated some of the recipes to suit my own family's particular needs. I cannot wait until Christmas to try out the winter designs where I will purchase the doily style holders to deliver a more professional finish.
There are many designs that are intended for children such as the Halloween cupcakes with the icing resembling that of a spider's web, which is easily achieved with the aid of a cocktail stick. The muffin section is equally as delicious although I've only tried out a few of the recipes, such as the rhubarb and custard, which were simply mouth watering. On the upper corner of each recipe we are advised how many cakes can be created although this is where I experienced some issues as I would initially overfill my paper cases. A section of the book that I've used once is the sugar paste shapes, which can be traced and subsequently cut out of sugar paste. The end of the book consists of an easy to follow index, which lists all of the different style of cupcakes and muffins contained throughout the book.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough and whilst my sister owns approximately a dozen cupcake books, I feel that this one covers all I could possibly need to know. I purchased my copy from The Works at the beginning of last year and at the time of writing you can purchase this book on Amazon for £2.99, but unfortunately, the posting and packing will costs you £2.80.
ISBN - 978-1-84786-938-8
Written by Ann Nicol
Published my Flame Tree Publishing
This review will appear on both Ciao and Dooyoo under the same user name.