This is the time of year when bloggers do their retrospectives, but I don’t feel like doing a blog retrospective for 2015. For one thing, I did hardly any blogging, and barely kept up with reading other blogs. For another, the end of 2015 was made absolutely horrible for us by the disappearance of our beloved cat, Mystery. She slipped out on the evening of December 22nd, and has not been seen since. We’ve letterboxed and doorknocked and rung vets and visited shelters, but to no avail, and at this stage, we hold out little hope. It’s been a painful and distressing way to end an exhausting year, and it’s very hard to look ahead and come up with plans, resolutions, or even hopes for 2016 at this point – because right now we are all too aware that life is uncertain and cannot truly be planned for.
So no perspectives from me, just a remarkably silly recipe, inspired by Rosanna Pansino’s Nerdy Nummies Cookbook. She has a very fun recipe for a cupcake that looks like a cheeseburger, with a brownie patty, coconut lettuce, and buttercream piped to resemble cheese, tomatoes.
It’s very cute, but it also looked terribly sweet. Also, I was cooking in part for Steph, so I needed a vegan recipe, and frankly, I found the idea of a vegan cheeseburger cupcake absolutely hilarious and thus irresistible, so off I went.
To avoid the excessive use of buttercream, I decided it would be more fun to give the burger a fruity sort of theme. Mango fruit leather strips make an excellent (and truly revolting-looking) substitute for plastic cheese, jam makes a fine substitute for tomato sauce, and tinned plums replace the beetroot that is a necessity in any Aussie hamburger. Mint leaves made a delicious substitute for lettuce, and at that point, you’re done.
The results were surprisingly good. The cupcakes actually taste delicious (I feel the need to state this upfront, because they do look terrible) – by some miracle of the food Gods, the flavours somehow work together as if they were meant to be that way, rather than screaming at each other from across the room. This was, of course, the aim, and I knew that every individual pair or trio of ingredients worked together, but it’s always a risk putting together so many flavours that you can’t taste them all simultaneously in your imagination.
But what makes these cupcakes really work for me is the fact that they look *awful*. They look like terrible, cheap cheeseburgers that one might find sitting in a bain-marie at a dodgy servo in a country town in the middle of the night, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, between Adelaide and Melbourne, or perhaps between Adelaide and Darwin, where grocery deliveries happen less often. The patty looks dry. The bun looks stale. The cheese looks like it’s made of plastic. The whole thing looks completely unadvisable. I would not eat a cheeseburger that looks like this, and I’m the sort of person who secretly likes Macdonalds. (Yes, I know, and I am properly ashamed of this.) I totally adore how terrible these look. They make me giggle.
And yet, it’s lovely. The bun is not too sweet, with a light sesame flavour. The patty is nicely chocolatey but not insanely rich, and the various fruity condiments and toppings give the cupcake a lovely, fresh taste, in total contrast to their terrible looks. I admit that they are mildly fiddly to make, but they are not that hard, and they actually do taste delicious.
Also, you don’t have to share them with non-adventurous people, because such people will just make faces (or excuses) at you, which means MORE CUPCAKES FOR YOU.
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For the Cupcakes
250ml almond milk
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
2/3 cup raw caster sugar, or caster sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp tahini
1/2 tsp orange flower water
1 1/4 cups plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
For the Patties
225g three-berry jam or raspberry or blackberry jam
1/4 cup almond milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g dark chocolate, melted, plus 50 chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
1/4 cup baking powder
For Everything Else
100g strawberries (fresh or frozen)
100 g raspberries (frozen or fresh)
200g CSL Jam Setting Sugar
1-2 packets mango fruit leather
1 bunch mint
1 tin plums in syrup (optional)
toothpicks, preferably the pretty ones with cellophane
Now what will you do with it?
First, make the cupcakes. You might consider doing this the night before, or in the morning if you plan to assemble the cakes in the evening. The cheeseburgers assemble better if brownies and cupcakes are fridge-cold to start with.
Preheat the oven to 180°C, and line a 12-cup muffin tray with reusable muffin cups or baking paper (because they are a little less sticky than paper cups – use paper cups if you have to, but remember you will need to get the cupcakes out of their cups in the end).
Combine the almond milk and cider in a bowl, and stir. Leave for five minutes – I’d use this time to assemble all the ingredients, or alternatively to make the jam (see below).
Add the sugar, canola oil, tahini and orange flower water to your almond milk, and beat well. The tahini will take a bit of whisking to come apart.
Add all the dry ingredients except the sesame seeds, and whisk everything together until it is free of lumps. Pour/scrape this batter into the cups. My batter was quite liquid, and my buns correspondingly very soft, so I’ve added a smidge more to this recipe – soft is nice, because it makes the cupcakes easier to eat with everything else, but these were a little too soft.
Sprinkle each cupcake with sesame seeds.
Bake for about 25 minutes, or until risen, lightly golden, and springy. Cool in tray for a few minutes, then remove to a rack. Take the wrappers off when practical to do so – mine come off nicely when warm, but if you have paper cups, you will probably need them to be cold.
Now make the brownies. Reduce the heat in the oven to 160°C, and line a 24 cm x 30 tray with baking paper.
Melt 100g of dark chocolate in the microwave, and let cool slightly while you do the rest.
Combine the jam, almond milk, sugar, oil and vanilla in a bowl, and whisk well. Use a spatula to scrape in the melted chocolate, and mix again. Whisk in the dry ingredients, and stir in the chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into your cake tin, and spread it out as best you can in the tray. It might not go all the way to the corners, and that’s fine, because it will spread a bit, and in any case, you will be cutting circles out of it later.
Bake for about 35 minutes, or until well set. Let cool in tin. Once brownie is cold, use a 7 or 8cm round biscuit cutter to cut out 12 circles. Place on baking paper on a plate, and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.
Make the jam, which is your tomato sauce. If you are feeling very fancy, start by blending the berries and straining them through a sieve to get rid of the seeds. If you are not feeling fancy, put the berries and sugar in a saucepan and use a fork or potato masher to mash very well. You don’t want your jam too chunky, basically. I was not feeling fancy, and the result was that my sauce looked like sweet chilli sauce. Fine by me.
Place over a low heat, and stir until sugar is dissolved enough for your purposes. You are not trying to make perfect jam here, so near enough is good enough. Bring to a boil, and then keep at a rolling boil for 4 minutes. You have made jam! Remove from heat, and pour into a jug to cool. You will have more jam than you need, isn’t that a shame? You shall have to have jam on toast or with your zeppoli tomorrow for breakfast. Life is hard that way.
Some assembly required…
Before you go full on with the assembly, you need to do faintly disgusting things with your mango fruit leather. Essentially, you are going to want to end up with little squares of mango leather that sit on top of your patties and overflow a little, so about 7-8cm squares. My mango leather came in strips about an inch thick, so I had to lie the strips next to each other on baking paper and press them together with my fingers (they were sticky enough that this mostly worked), and then roll them out with a rolling pin to make them a bit bigger and flatter. And then cut them into squares. This is totally worth the effort, but if you can get a bigger piece of mango leather, all the better.
You should pull out and drain a few plums at this point, and slice them thickly (I sliced them side on to avoid holes in the slices) and also wash and pat dry your mint leaves.
Now identify your proposed serving dish.
OK. Here you go. Use a breadknife to cut your cupcakes in halves horizontally.
First thing on the burger is sauce, so off you go with a teaspoon or so of jam dolloped on.
Next is your ‘single leaf lettuce’, in other words one great big mint leaf, or a few little ones. (You could also go with the classic ‘shredded coconut with green food dye trick, of course, but the mint tastes amazing with the jam, so stick with mint if you can.)
Now your brownie patty goes on, topped with a square of mango cheese.
Beetroot can be a controversial burger choice, so add a slice or two of plum to just a few of your burgers.
Now a little smear of jam on the inside of the other half of your bun (the half with the sesame seeds on top), and press it down gently to top the burger.
Add a toothpick to hold everything in place – for me, the toothpick got from the top of the bun to the bottom of the brownie patty, but not necessarily further, and this was enough for structural integrity.
You are done!
This recipe is obviously vegan. It can be made nut-free if you substitute soy milk for the almond milk. If you have a good gluten-free flour mix, you could probably make it gluten-free, but be aware that you do need good structural integrity for both cake and brownie, and be a bit careful – this recipe may not work in its current form with both vegan and gluten-free options in play.
In terms of variations, I’m still a bit stunned that this tasted so good, and I don’t want to mess with a good thing. However, other forms of fruit leather might work instead of mango (pineapple or apricot, perhaps?), and you might have fun making a poppy-seed bun rather than a sesame seed bun, and give it a light orange flavour. You could also make your burger a bacon burger with a fruit leather that had a redder hue, cut in the shape of a rasher. I was a bit tempted to add a glacé pineapple, cut lengthways to make it much thinner, but felt this would be overkill. But if you had pawpaw bacon instead of mango cheese, it might work? Just think about whether you wanted a different jam flavour as sauce or in the brownie.
Note that you do not have to make your own jam, but the jam setting sugar really does give you a lovely bright flavour and it is worth the five minutes plus one saucepan to wash. Speaking of the saucepan, if you pour really hot water into it as soon as you pour out the jam, and leave it for ten minutes, it will be very easy to wash.