For me, the best part of a new school year was always just before it actually started. As a child, I loved buying new matching sets of multi-coloured stationery, writing my name carefully in block capitals on the spines of folders, and going on excursions to choose a new backpack. As a teenager, I’d always vow that this was the year I would keep all of my work in neat, chronological order, always start my homework the night I was assigned it rather than the night before it was due in, and somehow start having good hair. As a young adult, during the summer before I started university, I dutifully purchased all of the books on our sickeningly long reading list, with real and honest intentions of reading them before term started. Everything was always so full of promise.

To be honest, the best part was usually shopping for new things. It tended to go downhill after that.

The problem was that I always assumed that I could fundamentally change somehow. I knew that this year things would be different, and better, because I would be different, and better. The purchasing of new studying aids – be they pretty stationery or stacks of crisp new books – always represented a new beginning. It was a chance to wipe the slate clean. The gift of infinite possibility. The opportunity to be perfect. After all, I had the perfect pack of rainbow Sharpies – surely there couldn’t be much more to it than that?

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Of course, I was never actually perfect, so always fell short of my own expectations. After a few days, weeks, or even months, my carefully structured timetables would always start to crumble, my reading plans would get neglected in favour of dossing about in the kitchen, and my notes would slide from neat cursive into a slapdash scrawl. It was always so much harder in reality than it had been in my imagination. And somehow, I never learned my lesson, and began each new term and each new year with boundless optimism, only to be crushed again by my own mediocrity. Or perhaps ‘mediocrity’ isn’t fair: I was normal, imperfect, and human. After I finished my undergraduate degree, I swore to anyone who would listen that I had finished, that I was done with studying, and that I would never change my mind, forever and ever, amen.

And now here I am, looking to buy a new backpack.

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Yes, I know, I did a cupcake post mere days ago. I’m afraid there are many more where that came from too. What can I say? Cupcakes are quick to bake, easy to transport, customisable, and pretty. I make them a lot.

They have absolutely no connection to the ramble at the beginning of this post, except in that they are also ‘new beginnings’ cupcakes. I made them at the request of a lovely friend of mine who has just had a beautiful baby daughter.

Notes: I didn’t want to make a cherry and almond cupcake with weak flavours: I think cherry and almond are a great combination and so I have done my best to make each flavour bold and distinct.

You can’t really tell from the pictures, but the frosting here is actually two different colours swirled together. Part of the reason you can’t see this is because of the light when I was taking the photos, but part of it is that the colours weren’t massively distinctive because I wanted to create them naturally. If you want something bolder, add some red food colouring to your cherry buttercream.

Ingredients:

for the cakes

150g butter
150g caster sugar
100g self-raising flour
3 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
60g ground almonds
1 tbsp milk
jar of cherry jam

for the frosting

100g butter, softened
200g icing sugar
4 tbsp cherry jam
1 tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp almond extract

12 cherries
toasted flaked almonds

Method:

  1. Heat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4 and put paper cases in a twelve hole muffin tin. Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl with an electric whisk until light and fluffy. Add the flour, eggs, baking powder, ground almonds, and milk, and blitz until smooth. Scoop the mixture into your cases and bake for about 15 minutes, or until they are golden and risen. Leave to cool.
  2. When your cupcakes are cold, core them and pop about a teaspoon of cherry jam into the centre of each cake. Eat the cores. This is compulsory.
  3. For the frosting, beat the butter until soft and smooth. Sift the icing sugar and mix it in roughly with a spatula, then beat with an electric mixer until smooth and fluffy. Divide the mixture in half. Flavour half with the cherry jam (add food colouring for a brighter colour), and half with the vanilla bean paste and almond extract. Fit a piping bag with a star nozzle. Push the cherry buttercream against one side of the bag and the almond against the opposite side, and then pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes.
  4. Top with a cherry and flaked almonds.

Perfect for taking in to school as a bribe.

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