Written by Amy Cooke-Hodgson

Food

Rhubarb rhubarb… with custard in a cupcake

When the general election results came in, only one thing was going to offer Amy Cooke-Hodgson any comfort. We’re pleased to report she’s a generous sort and was willing to share the details. Prepare to make happy noises.

Rhubarb cupcakesThe moment those election results were announced may seem like ages ago. But we’re all going to be living with them for the next five years.

Safe to say when they came in, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

In a vain attempt to rally the troops and buoy the mood, I took to the kitchen to conjure up some comforting cupcakes.

Some might call it emotional baking. I wouldn’t disagree… and I have a depressing feeling I’ll be doing much more of this between now and 2020.

The silver lining to this, of course, is the prospect of a steady stream of cupcakes to smack lips to; so let’s focus on that positive, shall we?

I enjoy using seasonal fruit and veg when cooking, and since rhubarb is arriving on our shelves right about now, I set about creating a reassuring childhood favourite flavour combination: rhubarb and custard.

They’re deeply satisfying to make (only if you’ve got time – don’t try making them on a tight schedule) and especially rewarding when you watch happy mouths sinking through the fluffy frosting only to hit upon the tart surprise within…

cupcakes being preparedAmy’s Rhubarb and Custard Cupcakes

Note to bakers: Start by making the rhubarb filling (though you could always use rhubarb jam if you’re strapped for time) and leave it to cool whilst you focus on the sponge. The filling can also be made up to a week in advance – it stores well in a jam jar in the fridge.

For the filling:

(This makes plenty and some for leftovers to add to a crumble, or serve with ice-cream, or eat with a spoon when no-one’s looking.)
3 rhubarb stalks (I don’t bother peeling it)
1 heaped tablespoon caster sugar (a little more if you prefer or think it is needed)
1 generous teaspoon lemon juice (or orange)

Wash the rhubarb and then cut into inch-thick pieces.

Place in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the lemon juice and sugar. Stir and allow to sit for a few minutes.

On a low heat, gently stew the rhubarb until soft. The smell is divine.

You can finish the process here or if you’d prefer smooth, rhubarb purée-style filling, place it in a blender (I used my NutriBullet for a few seconds) and blitz until the rhubarb is of the consistency you’d like. Set it to one side to cool down. Now, on to the sponge!

For the sponge:

110g salted butter (at room temperature)
225g sugar (caster or granulated work just fine)
115g plain flour
150g self raising flour
10g custard powder
120g skimmed milk (at room temperature)
2 largish eggs
2 teaspoons good quality vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 160°C (fan) or 180°C or 350°F or gas mark 4. Do not say I don’t cater for everyone.

Line a 12-hole muffin tray with cupcake cases (although this recipe can sometimes make 14/16 cakes, depending on how many people there are vying to lick the bowl.).

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.

In a small bowl whisk together the eggs, milk and vanilla essence and add a third of the mix to the large bowl. Mix well.

Combine the dry ingredients together and add a third to the large bowl, ensuring it’s mixed in.

Repeat the process until all the dry and liquid ingredients have been added.

Mix at high speed for about 30 seconds to ensure a light and airy batter.

Spoon the mixture into the cupcake cases, filling them to about two-thirds full.

Bake in the oven for about 20–25 minutes until raised and lightly golden. To check they are cooked, gently press the top of a cake. If it bounces back, they’re ready to come out.

Once the cakes have cooled on a wire rack, scoop out a centre in each of them. I use a cupcake corer, but you could use an apple corer, the reverse end of a piping nozzle or a good old-fashioned teaspoon (but do make sure it’s an old-fashioned one; they’re much nicer to look at in the cutlery drawer). Keep the centres for later; you’ll need them.

Fill each cake with a good dollop of rhubarb compote and place the cut out centres back on top as though you’re concealing a delicious surprise (which is exactly what you’re doing!). You’re ready now to pipe on the buttercream.

For the buttercream:

500g icing sugar
115g butter
60ml milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon custard powder

In a large bowl (I used my Kitchen Aid with paddle beater attachment), beat the butter, milk, custard powder and half the icing sugar until smooth. Gradually add the remainder of the icing sugar and beat until it has a fluffy consistency. I would recommend a minimum of five minutes on high speed.

Take a third of the buttercream and place in a small bowl. Add the desired amount of pink food colouring and mix well. Add up to two tablespoons of the rhubarb compote and stir in with a metal spoon. Now you’re ready to frost the cakes.

The two-tone buttercream effect is created by alternately spooning the ‘custard’ frosting and the rhubarb/pink frosting into a piping bag to create a layered effect. I used a large star piping nozzle to create swirls. If you’d rather not pipe your frosting, spooning it on can be just as good.

the finished cupcakes
For the decoration (totally optional – they’re delicious with just the frosting):

Add sprinkles (pinks, yellows, white) and edible glitter.

During a recent road trip and requisite service station stop off, I discovered a glorious new addition to the M&S checkout snack range: freeze dried rhubarb covered in white chocolate. A gentle sprinkle of these on top of the buttercream makes a very pleasant topping.

Enjoy! They’re delicious enough to forget (for a few minutes at least) that your next visit to the dentist might require a subsequent trip to see the bank manager.

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Written by Amy Cooke-Hodgson

Amy is an actor, improviser and singer currently appearing in award-winning improv show Austentatious. You can also visit her Etsy shop: www.etsy.com/uk/shop/RowleyandCooke