Mocha Cupcakes

So, let me level with you. The reason these mocha cupcakes exist is because I fairly recently got a kitchen blowtorch and since then I have wanted to blowtorch everything. I got the idea of topping cupcakes with an Italian meringue and finishing them off with the blowtorch and got a bit obsessed with it. You might, rather reasonably, be thinking ‘well, I don’t have a blowtorch so this recipe is of no use to me’. I hear you. I get that most people do not have a blowtorch. But the Italian meringue topping these cupcakes is still perfectly delicious un-blowtorched.


When you make Italian meringue, the hot sugar syrup you incorporate into the egg whites cooks the egg, so going over it with a blowtorch is for effect and a bit of toasty flavour rather than cooking. And if you cannot really be bothered with the whole meringue deal anyway, you can simply top these delicious chocolate cupcakes with buttercream. Or leave them plain and shove them, unadorned, directly into your mouth. It’s all good.

But, should you wish to go down my mocha cupcake route, then do read on to the recipe below.



The recipe makes around 18-20 cupcakes.

The coffee in these cupcakes is mostly to boost and enhance the chocolate flavour, but it’s not really dominant. This is because I do not drink coffee. But if coffee is your jam, do feel free to up it here by raising the quantities of espresso powder, adding coffee extract, or brushing the finished cupcakes with a coffee syrup.

If you are making the meringue, you will need a sugar thermometer and some sort of electric whisk – hand held or a stand mixer will do it.


for the cupcakes

170g butter
170ml very strong black coffee
3 tsp espresso powder
40g cocoa powder
85g dark chocolate, finely chopped
225g light brown soft sugar
2 tsp vanilla
½ tsp salt
3 eggs, plus 1 extra yolk
130g plain flour
1.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda

for the meringue topping

50g of egg white
100g of white granulated sugar
25ml of water
2 tsp espresso powder


  1. Heat your oven to 190C/170C fan/gas 5. Line two muffin tins with around 20 paper cases (if you only have one tin, just bake in two batches). Put your butter and coffee in a large pan over a low heat to melt the butter, then add the espresso powder and stir to dissolve. Whisk in your cocoa and chopped dark chocolate until the chocolate is melted. Add your sugar, vanilla, and salt, and mix again. Mix in your eggs and extra yolk. Finally, sieve your flour and bicarb over the pan and fold that in too. You should have a very runny cake mix.
  2. Fill your paper cases two thirds full (I use an ice cream scoop). Bake them for 15 minutes, or until your cakes are risen and fairly firm.
  3. While your cakes are baking, make your meringue. Beat your egg whites with an electric whisk or in a stand mixer until they form stiff peaks. Put your sugar, water, and espresso powder in a pan and heat gently, stirring a little, to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is dissolved, whack the heat up and let it bubble away until it hits 120C on a sugar thermometer. Then pour the syrup into the stiff egg whites in a thin stream, beating all the while on high speed. When it’s all in you should have thick, glossy meringue. Keep whisking it for around five minutes, until the bowl is cool to the touch.
  4. When your cupcakes are baked, top them as you wish. If you’ve made the meringue, you can either spoon or pipe it onto the cakes, and you can blowtorch them or leave it at that. You could also top the cupcakes with buttercream or leave them plain.

Banana, Date, and Nutella Cupcakes

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.


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.


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.


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.


  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.

Cherry and Almond Cupcakes

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?


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.


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.


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


  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.



Blackberry and Coconut Cupcakes

If you go to a restaurant these days, you will be served by an assortment of waiters and waitresses. Perhaps I am choosing to go to the wrong places or getting unlucky, but every time I have been out to eat in the past year, at least, I’ve been served by multiple people. I am sure it used to be different; I am sure it used to be customary for a table to have one waiter or waitress who said ‘Hi, I’m Lucy’ (or whatever their name actually is) at the beginning of the evening and stuck with you for a whole meal. In a helpful way, not a creepy way. That used to be a thing, didn’t it?

Now, you go out to eat and one person takes your order, another brings you drinks, a third puts your food on the table, and so on. This seems to me to be an infinitely worse system. Firstly, you don’t have one person responsible for your table – if you need service, you don’t know whose eye to catch, and if you want to praise or complain about the treatment you’ve received, there is no one person that’s accountable. Secondly, it is hugely inefficient. Stupidly often, someone will come to take a drinks order when you already a placed it with another person five minutes ago, or three different people will check if your food is okay, or no one thinks to look in on you for twenty minutes while you’re desperately trying to find someone to ask for the bill. Thirdly, you don’t build up a rapport with anyone. If you have the time and are feeling social, it’s nice to chat to your waiter or waitress throughout the meal as they come and go, and you end the evening knowing them by name and feeling rather fond of them and more willing to leave a large tip. This doesn’t happen if you’re visited by five different people in passing.


For all these reasons and more, it seems like it would make far more sense to simply assign each table in a restaurant to one dedicated server and have everyone look after their own patch. I literally can’t think of a single reason why the haphazard approach of having multiple people serving one table has become the norm. But I suppose there must be a reason, or all these restaurants wouldn’t be doing it. What is the reason? Why don’t tables just have one server any more? This isn’t rhetorical – I really would like to know, so if you have the answers then please enlighten me.

I am writing this because we have just been out to lunch in London at a moderately fancy restaurant where the food was lovely and the service was poor. I mean, I’d much rather that than having service that was lovely and food that was poor, but still. When you go out to a restaurant your main focus is obviously (probably) the food, but you’re paying for a whole package of food and service and atmosphere, surely?


Rant over. Time for cupcakes.

I was asked to bake a couple of things for a charity event last weekend, and the idea of a blackberry and coconut cupcake popped into my head, doubtless because blackberries are everywhere at the moment. I’ve never really noticed it in previous years for some reason, but this August I can barely walk past a hedgerow near where we live without stopping to marvel at the abundance of the soft, bounteous berries, blushing through shades of deep crimson to dusky purple and black.

Notes: These cupcakes are soft and moist from the coconut cream and oil, dense and lightly scented. They will keep reasonably well and stay moist for a couple of days, especially with the jam in the middle and buttercream on top.


for the cakes

3 eggs
175g caster sugar
120ml coconut oil
70ml coconut cream
175g self raising flour, sifted
50g dessicated coconut

for the frosting

100g softened butter
200g icing sugar
3 tbsp blackberry jam

to decorate

blackberry jam
12 blackberries
handful of dessicated coconut


  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4, and line a cupcake tray with twelve cases. Pop your eggs and sugar into a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric whisk for two minutes. In a measuring jug, combine the coconut oil and coconut cream (it will separate and look weird, but don’t worry, it will all be fine), and add this to the eggs and sugar. Mix until just combined. Keep your mixer on a low speed, and gently add your flour and desiccated coconut to the batter.
  2. Using an ice cream scoop if you have one (or any old spoon if you don’t), divide the mixture evenly between the cases: they should be about 2/3 full. Bake for fifteen minutes, or until well risen and golden (it could be more like twenty minutes in a different oven). Put the cupcakes on a wire rack and let them cool completely.
  3. Once the cupcakes are cool, core them. I have a set of cookie cutters, and I use the smallest one to core cupcakes, which works perfectly. You might have a proper cupcake corer, or you can just cut out the centres with a knife. Spoon blackberry jam into the holes.
  4. Make the buttercream. Beat the butter until soft, and then sift the icing sugar over it. Mix the icing sugar in roughly with a spatula, and then use the electric whisk to beat the buttercream until completely smooth and fluffy. Beat in the blackberry jam – if you want a completely smooth frosting, sieve the jam first. Pipe the frosting onto the cupcakes using a piping nozzle with a star tip, or simply dollop it on to each cake if you’d rather.
  5. Top each cupcake with a blackberry and sprinkle with coconut.