It was about 9pm last Thursday evening that I was sat at my table, clothes coated in a peelable crust of flour and butter, burns tingling all up my right arm, sweating profusely from a combination of the unusually hot weather and the fact the oven had been on since 4:00, tearing up at the sight of 12 completely ruined cupcakes. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten so emotional about a tin of bloody fairy cakes (actually I don’t think anyone has. I used to mock the Bake Off contestants for crying when their choux pastry didn’t rise but now I totally get it).
This wasn’t just a random batch of cupcakes that I decided to make and then shitted up though, this was just one tin of cupcakes in the 3 day saga that ensued when I agreed to make 80 ‘Alice in Wonderland’ themed cupcakes for my Drama grad ball. I believe I must have been about 56 cakes in when the tantrum began, and probably about 10 cakes into icing that it subsided. All in all, it was hard. Especially when I only own one cupcake tin, one dodgy oven, a kitchen that nears the temperature of a sauna when the sun hits it, and one pair of very burnt hands. Here are a few things I learnt during my short stint as a professional caterer (I got a free ticket to the ball and a bottle of wine so I’m calling myself professional ok) in case you ever get asked to make 80 cupcakes.
- Warn your housemates beforehand that a) you will be dominating the kitchen for up to 3 days (subtly suggest takeaways every night if you’re like me and need total control of your workspace), b) their shelves in the fridge may be filled with 3kg of butter but it will be gone very soon, c) the only place to store the finished product is the kitchen table and if one of those cupcakes goes missing you will 100% hunt them down Liam Neeson style, d) expect PMS style breakdown when you find that your oven cooks unevenly and so 3 in every 12 cupcakes has to be thrown away because they’ve exploded.
- Get a good playlist going, this is like a gym workout but instead of lifting weights you’re creaming butter – which, if you forgot to take it out the fridge until an hour before baking like I did, is way harder than weights. I recommend the ‘greatest hits of 2002’ on Apple Music. Nothing pumps you up like Gotta Get Thru This – Daniel Beddingfield.
- It’s not you, it’s your oven. Repeatedly whining that ‘even fucking kids can make cupcakes so why can’t I’ won’t change the fact that sometimes, ovens are shit. Especially in student properties. So throw away those 3 cupcakes in the middle that resemble cooked vomit, and make another batch.
- Invest in a mini palette knife for icing – this is possibly the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s the only instrument that can get you a proper nice looking swirl on the cupcake with little effort or skill. Also really good for spanking anyone who gets too close to your cupcakes for comfort.
- The later at night you work, the more creative the decorations get. Making miniature fondant icing playing cards at 12:45am = stroke of genius.
Most importantly though, wherever your cupcakes are going, definitely make sure you go with them and see how amazingly grateful people are when they see all the effort you put into them. Seeing everyone tucking into their cupcakes after the grad ball dinner (and subsequently spending the rest of the night with slightly blue/yellow/green/purple tinged teeth from the icing) is far greater than any monetary payment I could have received – and the drinks bought for me throughout the night definitely topped it off (thanks everyone, I can say with total honesty that I don’t remember my journey home. Thanks to Dom as well for apparently picking me up and putting me to bed). I’d do it all again tomorrow.
I’m making this whole project seem like a second dissertation – in reality, I bloody loved every second of it. A legitimate excuse to take over the kitchen and cook for 3 days straight, making as much mess as I wanted, AND getting paid in alcohol for it? Heaven.
Against all logic, I’m not going to give you the recipe for the cupcakes I made. Partly because I’m sick of cupcakes, and partly because you can find it here on the ES Home and Property page, as well as a recipe for the earl grey biscuits (highly recommend making, I made extra) here on BBC Food. Instead, I’m giving you a recipe that I’ve made every day this week so far; cheddar creamed corn. It’s dead cheap, it takes 10 minutes, and I’m yet to find something it doesn’t go with – red meat, fish, mushrooms, bacon etc. Think of a sweeter, cheesier, quicker mashed potato sub. It’s adapted from the Rocket & Squash (or Ed Smith)’s recipe for creamed corn in his fantastic new book, On The Side – if you’re bored of pasta/potatoes/boiled greens with your main, get this book immediately. Not only is it packed with affordable, easy recipes to make normal side dishes far more interesting, but it has a great index at the end of the book that tells you what goes with what, depending on the main dish you’re serving and the other accompaniments to go with it. Buy it.
Cheddar Creamed Corn for 2, as a side
1 large tin of sweetcorn, drained
About 100ml milk (dairy alternatives also work), or enough to cover about 2/3 of the sweetcorn
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove of garlic, crushed
About 1/3 pack of chives, chopped
A large handful of grated cheddar – we used quite a strong mature Devon cheddar to counter the sweetness of the corn
- Drain the corn and place in a saucepan with the milk. Bring slowly to boil.
- Meanwhile, fry the onions and garlic until soft and fragrant, adding the chives in at the end.
- Throw the onions and garlic in with the corn, and blend with a stick blender until the desired consistency – I have mine quite smooth, like polenta.
- Add the cheddar along with salt and pepper, and stir through until melted and incorporated.
- Place back on the hob to heat through when ready to serve.
I had mine with hassleback thyme potatoes, green beans tossed in bacon, walnuts and cider vinegar, fried mushrooms and a dollop of aioli – all inspired by Rocket & Squash, bar the mushrooms.