Wow, I’ve finally caught up with all the pre-programmed posts and here I am… in, it must be said, a rather less auspicious space than I would prefer to be at this time of year.
It’s been a difficult year for me. I’ve lost a lot of people to cancer, several of them friends who were close to my age. Our cat, Mayhem, went into acute kidney failure in May and had to be put to sleep. I have been having ongoing problems with my wrists and now also my knees, which might be arthritis, and basically there is always some part of me that is hurting. And work has been in the throes of a restructure which has been extremely stressful and is now reaching the pointy end. It looks like I’m going to find out on the day of the Christmas party whether I still have a job, whether it is still with my scientists or somewhere totally different, and whether my workload is going to double in the new year. (And also whether I win an Institute award, which is… an interesting combination. I mean, it would be sort of hilarious if I won an award at the same time as I lost my job, but I think that’s a form of hilarity I could do without.)
So I’ve been kind of depressed. Though the Employee Assistance Program chappie who came in to talk to us at work this week says it sounds to him less like I’m depressed and more like I’m having an entirely congruent reaction to a deeply shitty year. (And then he suggested that maybe one reason I’ve had trouble writing recently is that the ‘voice’ I use for writing no longer reflects my reality, which… may be true. On the other hand, does anyone really want to read recipes by someone who is alternating between depression and fury? Let’s find out!)
Anyway. These are the kind of cupcakes I make for a work fundraiser when I am actually really fed up with everyone and everything and also wondering why men who grow moustaches for Movember can’t bake their own cupcakes if they want to do a morning tea fundraiser. But since some of the men in question are my very own scientists who I want to support, and since I know full well that even if they did bake, they probably wouldn’t bake vegan cupcakes, and since I like my vegan colleagues and feel that they deserve morning tea, I pretty much have to bake vegan cupcakes.
But – and I want to be clear about this – I absolutely refuse to ice them.
Yes, that’s where my hard line is. I will, apparently, bake cupcakes in my spare time and when I don’t have to even when I am feeling angry and miserable and let down, because my scientists are the ones fundraising and I still love them (none of this is their fault, after all, except the moustaches), and also because everyone knows that vegan cupcakes are pretty much at the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, so it would be unethical not to provide them.
Icing, though? Icing is way up at the top of that pyramid, in the land of faffing around and spending lots of time on things, and that is something I reserve for organisations who actually value me.
So instead of icing, these cakes are topped with sliced apples and Viennese Christmas Sugar, which tastes good, and also is a really fast way to make a cupcake look pretty without putting a lot of effort into it.
That’ll learn ’em.
Your shopping list
1/4 cup glacé ginger
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
4 tsp ginger )
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup molasses
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup soy yoghurt
zest of 1 lemon
2-4 tablespoons Viennese Christmas Sugar (this is a really coarse-grained white sugar – sanding sugar, I think, in US terms – mixed with pieces of star anise, hibiscus, rosehips, nutmeg, coriander, cassia and probably a few more things. You could make something similar with demerara sugar and whatever appeals to you in your spice cabinet) (also, this measurement is a complete guess, sorry.)
Now what will you do with it?
Preheat the oven to 175°C and line a muffin tray with paper cases.
Finely chop the glacé ginger. Even if your oven is slow, that will give it plenty of time to come to the right temperature.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and spices.
In a jug, mix together the oil, molasses, maple syrup, yoghurt and lemon zest.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and mix until just combined. Now stir in the glacé ginger.
Divide the mixture between your twelve paper cases.
Quickly slice your apples crosswise into circular slices about 5mm thick. I’m bad at this – all mine were different thicknesses, but it still worked, so don’t be scared. Cut out the seeds from the centre.
Place an apple ring onto each cupcake and press down slightly.
Sprinkle each apple piece with Viennese sugar – this will caramelise as it bakes, so be generous.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until the cakes spring back a bit when you gently poke them. You could try the skewer test, going through the hole in the middle of an apple ring.
Cool on a rack and serve to people who may or may not deserve them (but really, doesn’t everyone deserve cake?)
I am too cranky for variations, but if you have Gewürzhaus gingerbread spice or any lebkuchen spice mix, you could swap out the ginger and use that instead, and it would be fabulous. Also, I bet apricot halves would be lovely on top of this, but maybe a little mushy… you might have to cut off their round cheeks and eat them first…
This recipe contains gluten, but no nuts, dairy, or eggs. You could make it gluten-free with a gluten-free flour mix. Or not. I feel like I’m channelling Bad Janet from The Good Place now, so I’m going to stop.