It’s Andrew’s birthday today! Happy birthday, Andrew! Every year, I ask him what kind of cake he would like for his birthday, and every year, I get a slightly terrified look (you want me to make a decision? About food?), followed by a sheepish acknowledgement, after some discussion, that yes, he does want something chocolatey and minty. Again. Because being an Andrew means wanting choc-mint everything all the time. (He knows what he likes…)
The problem with Andrew having a birthday at this time of year is that he never gets a truly elaborate birthday cake, mostly because I am in the middle of grant season. This grant season has been particularly diabolical, too, what with the NHMRC compressing all the due dates so that all the grants are due a week apart, changing the rules twice (so far), and then our finance department providing the coup de grace by introducing new costings for all our internal services the day all the budgets were due to the grants office. It’s all rather exhausting, not to say demoralising, and while it’s awfully early in the year to be losing the will to live, I, for one, am getting close to that point.
(The good news is that I’m getting a lot of singing work, which is always a balm to the soul. Though not conducive to blogging. So yes, there is a significant chance that I will be disappearing off the radar quite a bit over the next couple of months. And I’m sorry about that lengthy whinge. As I said, I’m feeling rather demoralised.)
Anyway. Cake! So, as you may have gathered, my priority for Andrew’s birthday cake is to produce a cake that is on the one hand suitably choc-minty and decadent, and on the other hand really, really fast to make. Which, oddly enough, tends to mean vegan or nearly-vegan, since most of those cupcake recipes are very straightforward. As a bonus, of course, this means that I can easily cater to my sister-in-law, who prefers to avoid dairy if possible.
These cupcakes, then, are just a nice, simple, vegan cupcake, flavoured with really good cocoa, and an optional (non vegan) cube of mint-filled chocolate in the centre. I’ve topped them with a really basic peppermint-spiked chocolate tofu mousse, which is, frankly, easier to make than chocolate ganache, and not a lot more complicated than chocolate buttercream, and much tastier.
Not elaborate, but entirely delicious. Which is really all you can ask for from a cupcake…
Your Shopping List (Makes seven big cupcakes – one for everyone in the family, plus an extra one for the birthday boy)
2/3 cup almond milk + 20 ml for the topping
3/4 tsp cider or white wine vinegar
3/4 cup plain flour or plain spelt flour
1/4 cup really good Dutch-style cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
1/4 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sugar
7 squares of Cadbury Peppermint Block, or similar (optional)
125 g silken tofu
2 tsp creme de cacao (optional)
115 g dark chocolate
6 drops peppermint oil, or peppermint essence to taste (start with 1/4 teaspoon)
Green sugar, optional
Now what will you do with it?
Pour the almond milk into a 500 ml jug, and stir in the white wine vinegar. Leave to stand for five-ten minutes while you do the next few steps.
Pre-heat the oven to 180°C, and line a muffin tray with seven patty cases.
In a medium-sized bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarb.
Add the canola oil and sugar to the almond milk, and whisk together. Pour this wet mixture into the flour mixture, and beat with a fork until it is well-combined. You should have a nice batter that drops from the spoon.
Divide this batter between the seven patty cases. Press one square of peppermint chocolate into the batter in each patty case until it is nearly completely submerged.
Bake the cupcakes for around 30 minutes, or until they are risen and spring back when pressed gently (obviously, press them around the sides, not in the middle where the chocolate is).
Transfer to a wire rack to cool – they will be quite soft, so be gentle when transferring them.
When the cupcakes are cold, make the topping. First, blend the tofu, the 20ml of almond milk, and the crème de cacao in a blender until smooth.
Melt the chocolate. I break it into small squares, and then microwave it at half power for 2-3 minutes, stirring every minute or so. You want the chocolate to be completely melted and hot, so don’t stop when it is just barely melted – give it another thirty seconds. Otherwise, it will set the moment it hits the tofu, and you will have trouble getting the texture you want.
Add the hot melted chocolate to the tofu along with the peppermint oil, and blend again until smooth. You will probably need to stop the blender a couple of times and scrape it down with a spatula.
Transfer the chocolate mixture to a piping bag immediately, and pipe onto the cakes. Sprinkle with the green sugar just before serving.
Obviously, this is vegan until you add the Peppermint Block chocolate. If you want the peppermint surprise while still being vegan, you could look around for peppermint fondant chocolates that are vegan, or you could buy a jar of soft fondant and flavour it with peppermint oil. This will give you a LOT of fondant, but it will be vegan – fondant is basically sugar syrup that has been heated to the soft ball stage, then kneaded until it is opaque. You may need to make a lot of cupcakes to justify this option. Or you could skip the fondant entirely.
These cakes are low FODMAP if you use spelt flour instead of wheat flour, and they can of course be made with a gluten-free flour mix and become gluten-free. They are not nut-free, but you could make them so with soy milk or rice milk.
In terms of flavours, you could make a jaffa version with orange oil replacing the peppermint oil, and maybe a little orange zest in the cake. Or you could keep the cupcakes a simple chocolate cupcake, and top with an icing or topping of your choice, of course.