I work in a community centre which is run as a "fresh expression" of its mother church (Methodist Church Ireland); a fresh expression church "seeks to transform communities and individuals through championing and resourcing new ways of being church". Through this model, I run a lot of interesting projects from community film groups to my monthly Afternoon Tea party event, which is a social group that revolves around baking and sharing, and is usually attended by women. The aim of this event is to bring people of similar interest together and to give them a social outlet in a non-judgmental and safe environment, but it also gives those who attend a creative outlet.
This month's theme was Valentine's Day, as it was actually on that same day (Saturday February 14th), so I made a selection of Valentine themed goodies:
- Bouquet of spicy chocolate cupcakes with buttercream roses (gluten- and dairy free)
- Dark chocolate dipped strawberries (Dairy free)
- Caramel shortbread with heart-decorated chocolate topping (Wheat Free)
Spicy Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream Roses (Gluten- and Dairy Free)
These were made with a nice and simple recipe, which is basically my basic sponge recipe but prepared slightly differently. Using basically the same ingredients in the similar quantities, I prepared them as follows (using the same oven temperature):
- 6 ounces (170 grammes) of self-raising gluten-free flour (or gluten free plain flour with 2 teaspoons of baking powder)
- 2 tablespoons cocoa power
- 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
- Half a teaspoon of cinnamon
- Pinch of salt
- 3 ounces (85 grammes) caster sugar
- 3 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 ounces (85 grammes) sunflower oil
- 3 fluid ounces (90 fluid ounces) warm strong coffee
- 3 medium eggs
I sifted the dry ingredients together into a mixing bowl, and in a jug I mixed the wet ingredients, adding the eggs in last one at a time. I beat the wet ingredients well, then added them to the dry, folding gently until well combined. This made 12 cakes, but I only used 8 for the bouquet. There are countless of tutorials online for the method, but instead of a styrofoam ball (which I could not find for love nor money) I used half a red cabbage wrapped in cling film. Did the same job!
I used a traditional buttercream, loosening with a little warm water and flavouring with a few teaspoons of cocoa powder, but instead of butter I used margarine to make it dairy free. I had to use about half a teaspoon of red gel colouring to get this colour, but my food dyes are old so maybe a brand new bottle would need less. Using a closed star tip, I made the roses by starting in the centre of the cake and spiralling out, applying consistent pressure to the bag; again, many tutorials for this technique can be found on YouTube.
These turned out beautifully, and I even managed to get my brother and his girlfriend involved when they expressed an interest in trying out the piping technique! The only issue I had is that buttercream made with margarine can sometimes split, but I think it gave the roses a slightly wild look.
Dark Chocolate Dipped Strawberries (Dairy Free)
This is a simple one, and especially so when there's two 300 gramme punnets of strawberries in the reduced section in Tesco. To cover a pound (450 grammes) of strawberries, I simply melted 3 and a half ounces (100 grammes) of dark chocolate with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil in the microwave and dipped the washed and dried strawberries in. I allowed them to set for ten minutes, then gently reheated the chocolate to running consistency and re-dipped the strawberries. I also dipped some cherries and white grapes for myself to eat later with my Valentine (or, in other words, my mate Niamh who was doing nothing that evening).
Using this recipe, I made a triple batch of shortbread. I made such a big batch because I had a bake sale on Thursday too, so I just made on massive batch and donated half for the sale, and kept half for myself. In addition to the milk chocolate topping, I melted some white chocolate topping at a 4:1 ratio (chocolate:sunflower oil) with 2 ounces (55 grammes) of chocolate and dropped dots of the white onto the milk. Then, using a cocktail stick, dragged the tip of the stick through the middle of each dot, making a heart shape. Simples!
These were very successful, both at the bake sale and the Afternoon Tea Party. The day you make these, the caramel is super chewy, but over the days in storage is becomes a little more creamy and fudgy as the sugars crystalise.
All in all, I was very pleased with myself and how the event went. The women were full of chat, brought along some delights of their own, and a great time was had. I did, however, have lots of leftovers which I'm currently palming off on friends and siblings...