I hadn’t ridden a bike before I came to Oxford, but you can’t really get away with not doing it when you’re living here. When I gave in and finally got my own bike, I was terrified about riding it on roads. Surely this shouldn’t be allowed? Surely some sensible person will stop me doing this? Surely there must be some sort of training to do before I risk my life dodging irate taxis and oblivious tourists?

There is not. No training. The first time I rode a bike on the road I fell off after about three minutes – on a quiet residential street, luckily – and got a cut and a massive bruise which together looked like the Eye of Sauron on my leg. It took weeks to heal and every time I looked at it I felt judged for my poor cycling ability.

DSC_0062-1024x683

Slowly, slowly, things improved. When I first started cycling, I was so afraid of tackling roundabouts that I would simply get off my bike and walk every time I encountered one. Turning right was a minefield of terror. Every time a bus pushed me up to the curb I was convinced that I was about to be crushed.

I still wouldn’t say I like it. I find cycling kind of a drag, to be honest. If it’s raining or you have to carry a lot of things or get somewhere further than five miles away, it’s a hassle. But I’m certainly far more competent and confident than the girl that simply keeled over sideways onto the pavement the first time she tried to cycle on a road.

Now, five years later, I am staring into the face of a cycle commute in London, which is starting at the end of this month. If anyone has any tips for doing this with minimal pain and sacrifice, please do pass them on, because I am mildly terrified.

DSC_0068-1024x683

Dates are one of those things that I never quite ‘got’ for ages. I know that lots of recipes that are raw and sugar free and all natural and so on use dates as a sweetener or a binding agent or something, and say that if you blend them enough they taste just like caramel. You have probably seen by now that this is not at all that sort of blog. However, I am all for using dates in and of themselves.

Notes: As an experiment, to make the cores of these cupcakes I actually froze Nutella in silicone ice cube trays and inserted a frozen lump of chocolatey joy into the centre of each cupcake before baking. However, I don’t think it made a great deal of difference, and it’s a bit of a (delicious) hassle, so in the method here I am recommending you simply core the cupcakes as usual.

Ingredients:

for the cakes

2 eggs
180g caster sugar
100ml coconut oil (or whatever oil you like)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 large or three medium ripe bananas, mashed
185g plain flour
1 tsp bircarbonate of soda
10 dates (roughly), pitted and chopped into chunks
100g Nutella

for the nutella frosting

50g butter
100g Nutella
100g icing sugar
25g cocoa powder

optional: additional toppings to sprinkle over the cupcakes. These are very soft cakes, so I think something with a bit of crunch works well. I have used chocolate covered little crunchy biscuit pieces, but chopped nuts would also be good.

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4, and a line a muffin tin with 12 paper cases. Pop the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and beat with an electric whisk for 2-3 minutes until it starts to thicken. Add the oil and the vanilla extract to the eggs and sugar, and beat until just combined. Mix in the mashed bananas.
  2. Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together over the top of the wet mixture, and fold it in. Beat the mixture briefly on a low speed to ensure it’s smooth, and finally fold in the dates. Divide between the paper cases and bake for 15-20 minutes until the cakes are well-risen and pass the skewer test.
  3. When the cupcakes are completely cold, core them. Heat the Nutella in the microwave for 30 seconds to loosen it, and then spoon it into the cupcakes with a teaspoon
  4. Make the buttercream. Beat the butter in a large bowl with an electric whisk until smooth and soft, and then beat in the Nutella. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder over the top, and roughly fold it in before beating until smooth. Spoon or pipe the frosting over the cupcakes.