Do you have a sweet tooth?
Given the content of this blog, the content of my kitchen cupboards and the way in which I can talk for hours about the joys of cake, baking, butter and sugar, it would be foolish to even try to suggest that I don’t. But my sweet tooth (or teeth, some might argue) is not exclusive or exclusionary – I’m unlikely to choose dessert over a main meal, I like to have it in addition to what I’m eating on a daily basis, enjoying flavours that are savoury, salty and sharp as much as I do anything sweet.
When I was a littler loaf, my biggest weakness was always savoury. While I loved chocolate, cake and sweets as much as the next child, sandwiches, crisps and Twiglets were always my first port of call at parties (my Mum, apparently, was the same). While other kids were getting hyperactive on luminous bowls of jelly, multicoloured sprinkles and synthetic sweets, I’d be quite happy munching on the corners of a Marmite sandwich (normally cut into triangles by the birthday boy or girl’s Mum, the crusts removed in an attempt to get everyone to eat them, much to my dismay).
At home we were never really exposed to sweets. Homemade cakes and the occasional treat, of course, but we didn’t have the weekly tradition in which so many of my friends indulged of spending our pocket money on bags of pick and mix. Sweets were saved for special occasions, and even then their rationing was sensible to the extreme – a single Polo to stop our ears popping when an aeroplane took off, a Murray Mint to suck on long car journeys (I still associate the taste with feeling slightly car sick), or a tiny paper bag containing a couple of fizzy cola bottles to cheer us up if we were feeling ill.
Fizzy cola bottles are, apparently, the nation’s second favourite sweet after juicy strawberries, something I find slightly strange since I’m not sure I could even tell you what a juicy strawberry is. Tiny, tongue-tingling and with a unique, synthetic cola taste all of their own, these little bottle-shaped sweets are the kind of thing I’d never eat nowadays, but which hold a strange nostalgic place in my heart. They’re the stuff of midnight feasts, crumpled paper bags, sticky fingers and after-school afternoons, a taste of childhood and a trip down memory lane.
I’ve been wanting to bake with Coca Cola for a while now. Strange really, as I don’t really drink it much, but I’ve seen how it lends a sticky sweetness to Nigella’s cola-glazed ham recipe, and numerous websites and blogs wax lyrical about the incredible moistness it brings to a cake batter. So when my company decided to have a competitive Bake Off in aid of Sport Relief with the theme of ‘Sweets’, I decided it was time to try a chocolate cola cake.
Because the Bake Off was in aid of charity, with the proceeds being sold off afterwards to raise money, I decided to go for cupcakes – in my experience big cakes can be a bit daunting at that kind of bake sale and people tend to go for bite-sized treats they can eat at their desk with minimum mess or pack up to take home for their kids. A single slice of a larger cake can dry out within minutes of cutting, whereas a little cupcake stays beautifully moist under its layer of fluffy buttercream icing.
After finding the recipe I wanted for chocolate cola cupcakes on this website – rich and moist with a hint of cola flavour, without being overly intense – I decided to have a bit of fun with the decoration. The best thing about fizzy cola bottles is the tongue-tingling fizz, so I adapted a cola frosting recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery book, adding a little popping candy to make the icing crackle and pop as you take a bite. I’d originally intended just to top them with cola bottle sweets, but when I was in the sweet shop, I spied a jar of tiny candied lemon halves. On the rare occasions I drink coke, it had to come with ice, a slice and a straw (preferably also from a glass bottle), so what better way to mimic all this than with these candied lemon sweets?
The resulting recipe is a lot of fun. If you like Coke, you’ll love these cupcakes, but even if you don’t, I’d urge you to give them a try. The addition of Coca Cola to the cake batter makes for a light, moist, chocolaty crumb with a slightly sticky, shiny top, and although the icing undeniably tastes of Coke, the overwhelming flavour is of caramel sweetness, which works wonderfully with the chocolate sponge. The addition of popping candy is totally unnecessary, but absolutely essential for the full fizzy cola bottle experience. And enough to satisfy even the sweetest of teeth.
In case you’re wondering, I won the Bake Off, getting awards for both the best little cake category and Overall winner. Not that I’m competitive, or excited about winning, or anything like that (*polishes trophy with glee*), but if you’re wondering whether to try these cupcakes, please do. They are award-winning, after all :-)
For the cupcakes
200g plain flour, sieved
250g golden caster sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 large free range egg
1 tsp vanilla essence
125g unsalted butter
2 tbsp cocoa powder
For the frosting
400g icing sugar
125g unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 tbsp cola syrup (I used Soda Stream)
40ml whole milk
Popping candy, to taste
Fizzy cola bottles, candied lemon slices, stripy straws, to decorate
For the cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line two 6 hole muffin tins with papers.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the egg, buttermilk and vanilla.
Melt the butter, cocoa and Coca-Cola in a saucepan over a low heat. Pour this mixture into the dry ingredients, stir well with a wooden spoon, and then add the buttermilk mixture, beating until the batter is well blended.
Pour into your prepared liners and bake for 15 minutes, or until risen and a skewer comes out clean. Set aside to cool.
For the frosting
Beat together the butter and sugar until no lumps are left – I use a free standing mixer with the paddle attachment but you could also use an electric whisk. Stir the cola syrup and milk together in a jug then pour into the butter and sugar mixture while beating slowly. Once incorporated, increase the speed to high and whisk until light and fluffy. Carefully stir in your popping candy to taste. It does lose it’s pop after a while so the icing is best done a few hours before eating.
Spoon your icing into a piping bag and pipe over your cooled cupcakes. Decorate with fizzy cola bottles or slice of lemon, straw and an extra sprinkling of popping candy.