Christmas Cupcakes

If you’re feeling festive but haven’t much time for baking these Christmas Tree Cupcakes are really quick to make and look impressive too.

Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 2 large eggs
  • weight of the eggs in caster sugar
  • weight of the eggs in butter
  • ¾ of the egg weight in self-raising flour
  • ¼ of the egg weight in cocoa powder
  • 12 brown cupcake cases (you can use any colour of course, but these give the cupcakes a nice “tree trunk” effect)

Alcoholic Syrup – optional

  • 80 ml water
  • 80 g caster sugar
  • 40 ml liqueur of your choice

Buttercream Icing

  • 125 g butter
  • 125 g icing sugar
  • green food colouring

To Decorate

  • silver balls / multi-colour dragées / mini smarties
  • icing tube – red, yellow, whichever colour you like for the “tinsel”
  • chocolate stars

Make the cupcakes by the all in one method.  Simply add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix together until the mixture is light and drops off the spoon easily.  Spoon into the cupcake cases.  Bake for approximately 20 minutes at 160° C. They’re done when the centre of the cupcake springs up when you press it gently.    Remove from the tins straight away and leave on a wire rack to cool.

At this stage (if the cupcakes are for adults) I like to add a syrup made with a liqueur such as Tia Maria or Cointreau.  Gradually dissolve the sugar in the water, then boil for 1 minute.  Leave to cool before adding the alcohol.  If you have one, a medicine syringe makes it easier to control drizzling the syrup onto the top of the cupcakes.  Start with small drops to avoid the liquid just dripping off the top of the cakes and onto the worktop.

Soaking the cupcakes

Soaking the cupcakes

Make the buttercream icing by mixing the softened butter with the icing sugar.  Like Nigella, I make mine in a food processor; it’s quicker and you don’t have to sift the icing sugar first.

Colour the buttercream icing to a nice bright Christmas tree colour.  I like using gel colours for buttercream; they don’t alter the consistency of the icing as much as liquid food colourings and mix in better than the more solid paste colours.

Pipe the buttercream around the cupcake top gradually moving in towards the centre and raising the height of the buttercream.  Finish by pulling the icing tube up directly above the centre to get the “top of the tree” effect.

Pipe a swirl of icing “tinsel” in a spiral around the buttercream tree.  Sprinkle on silver balls / dragées / mini smarties for the baubles and lights and top the tree with a chocolate star.

Christmas Tree Cupcakes

Christmas Tree Cupcakes

If you’re looking for any more last minute baking ideas I’ll be on BBC Radio Derby on Christmas Eve between 10 and 11am.  All the recipes will be posted on here over the next few days.

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Maths & Baking Part 3

Well, after the fun that was the Science Grrl launch and the whirlwind of Eat Your Heart Out Mr Quirky and I were really looking forward to a fun night out as Festival of the Spoken Nerd made their long awaited visit to Derby. Well, how could I resist the excuse to spend my day off doing more baking!

First up were the props for the show. Back in the summer Matt Parker asked if it would be possible to make some custard creams in the shape of a Pythagoras triangle as a surprise for the last show in FOTSN’s run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.  How could I resist!  I’d thought a little about how to decorate them but my first attempts were less than satisfactory, so I was glad of the chance to have another go.   This time, I took inspiration from making Hot Cross Buns, and simply thinned down some of the biscuit mixture with milk in order to produce a piping consistency.

Pythagoras Triangle Custard Creams waiting to be sandwiched together

I settled on a suitably maths related decoration – you might just be able to spot the infinity and pi signs I piped around the edge to mimic the classic custard cream design.

The finished FOTSN Pythagoras Custard Creams

Following on from my musings on a Menger Sponge cake I decided to go back a step and make a cake based on the basic Sierpinski Carpet pattern upon which the Menger Sponge is based.  A Battenberg cake seemed the obvious way to go.  You could make it in any combination of colours and/or flavours.  This one was chocolate and vanilla.

First you make all the sections – easy in a Battenberg tin.

Sierpinski Carpet Cake Sections

Then you simply trim and assemble the cake, as you would for a normal Battenberg.

Sierpinski Carpet Cake

Of course once you’ve made one section you can make your Sierpinski Carpet Cake as big as you want.  I did contemplate making one of the subsequent iterations, but the combination of only having one tin, and baking with a migraine meant I settled for this one.

We had a fabulous time at Festival of the Spoken Nerd – if you’re as geeky as us and like your comedy too then do go and see the show if you can.  One last thing – I haven’t yet given up on biscuits of constant width – as soon as I can get hold of the supplies I need I’ll be baking as long as it takes to nail that one.

Maths & Baking Part 2

I’ve been promising myself that I’d get the time to develop these ideas a bit more before blogging about them, but months have passed and we’re still as chaotic as ever at Quirky Towers so here goes.  I’ve been fascinated with the idea of communicating ideas about science, engineering and mathematics in unusual ways for a while now. Much of my inspiration for baking comes from scientific concepts, indeed I’m more likely to be found reading a book about science and/or maths than anything else.  I’m especially inspired by projects such as Helen Storey’s Primitive Streak or the Wellcome Image Awards. Here are a few of my ideas so far.

I’m a huge fan of the Venn diagram.

Venn Diagram Quiche

Making a Venn Diagram quiche is tricky, but possible.  I used the thickest foil tins I could find, and cut them up to make the basic Venn shape like this.

A Venn Diagram pizza is much easier to make…..

Bacon & Mushroom / Red Pepper

and still looks fairly recognizable once cooked…

Venn Diagram Pizza

As soon as I read about the Menger Sponge in one of my favourite books Alex’s Adventures in Numberland I knew I had to make one.  Here’s my first attempt as a work in progress.

Menger Sponge Cake


I’m determined to get better at this one.  They’re the devil’s own job to cover in sugarpaste and so I’m rethinking my approach and will have another go soon.

My first homemade Pork Pi really didn’t work as well as I’d hoped.  WID & I went to school in Melton Mowbray, so the idea of using cured meat in a pork pie really goes against the grain, but I hoped the mixture of ordinary pork and bacon would mean the shape of pi would appear once the pie was cut.  It didn’t.

Pork Pi

Like the Menger Sponge though I’m determined to have another go at this one.

I’ve got lots more ideas (biscuits of constant width) which I hope to get nailed by the time the Festival of the Spoken Nerd come to Derby later this month, so watch this space.

Skull Cake and Cookies

I had a really fun commission recently for a young man’s 11th birthday – just make it gruesome! After a brief chat about designs, the theme of skulls quickly emerged as the way forward.  We had a really, really tight deadline for this commission – just a few days instead of our usual 4 week plus lead time.  Luckily, Quirky Towers is full of books about science.  We even had a model skull!

I love making marshmallow, and have thought for a while that it would be great for brains.

Skull cookies with Marshmallow Brains

I’m not done with marshmallow brains yet though – there’ll be more to reveal later this month for Eat Your Heart Out.

The cake was really fun to make.  If you don’t have a skull shaped cake tin (and let’s face it, who does?) then don’t despair – you can carve the skull from a couple of square cakes.

From this start

I covered it roughly in fondant, allowing it to crack and dry out in places to make the texture more like a really ancient skull.

I then made a start on adding fondant muscle groups, as though the cake was a partially completed forensic facial reconstruction. The finished cake looked like this.

Skull Cake

October is officially science month at Quirky Towers. Keep your eye on the blog for more science and baking fun during the next few weeks.

HotCan Cake

Every now and again I get a commission which I really, really enjoy making. Recently, I was approached by Amber Locke of Derbyshire Life magazine and Bear PR who asked if I could make a replica of a HotCan tin.

HotCan are a locally based company who make self-heating cans. The geek in me absolutely loves how these cans work, and so I was thrilled to be asked to make the cake.

There’s some more great photos on the HotCan Facebook page. I especially love the “Angry Chef” photo with the cake instead of the original can.

Thanks to HotCan and Amber for a really fun commission.

Tardis Cake

Another year has passed more quickly than I care to admit, and so last week included the task of baking Hannah’s 15th birthday cake.

I had planned a wonderful surprise for her of a cake complete with electronics and lots of other fun cakey stuff, but all hell broke loose at the beginning of the week, and so there I was on the morning of her birthday with only the base icing done. Best laid plans eh?

Matt Smith was the obvious choice for the Doctor, as he is her favourite incarnation. The assistant is Hannah in typical teenage slouched-against-something-with-her-arms-folded fashion.  One light for the top of the Tardis was all I could manage in the end, but we did at least get that.  The sombrero is a family in-joke from a fabulous storyline idea Hannah had months ago. (She was gutted to be too old to enter the recent script writing competition.) I’m biased of course, but if perchance any Dr Who peeps may read this post (in my dreams!) then seriously, Hannah is bursting to tell someone her idea.

I’m the first to say it’s not the best Tardis cake I’ve ever done: we tried a few different techniques which were less than successful, but given the time I had to make it I was pretty chuffed.  Onwards to Emily’s 7th birthday.  At the moment she wants a street scene from the Great Fire of London.  I’m already thinking about smoke!

Tardis Cake
Photograph Copyright Wendy Staples

Maths & Baking – Part One

I’ve been thinking about this blog for a while.  It all started when I did the Geek Calendar cookies last October.  Here’s some of my maths cookies from that night, ably modelled by Matt Parker & Alex Bellos.

above photo courtesy of Ben Thompson and Geek Calendar

By the way, please, please do go and read Alex’s book “Alex’s Adventures In Numberland“. Now.  It’s utterly absorbing.

Now, I want to start by admitting that maths was about as far from my favourite subject as was possible when I was at school.  In fact I always thought that I was pretty rubbish at maths.  Six hours of possible brain injury testing after the accident proved otherwise, but that’s a whole other story.  The point is, I THOUGHT I couldn’t do maths.

It’s only with the passing of time, (well that and listening to Matt Parker talk about the beauty of a Möbius Loop), that I’ve realised that I really like maths.  I’m relatively good at it too: cue competitive “discussion” with Mr Quirky as to who’s best at navigating & packing the freezer (although I have to admit, that time he navigated through London using only the sun was awesome!).

The reality is I use maths all of the time in my work. From simple multiplying and dividing ingredient quantities, through working out percentage profits to the more complicated geometry for some of the sculpted cakes.  Whilst leafing through Hannah’s GCSE Higher Maths book, I even came across an example of using maths to ensure the right number of trays of eggs is ordered, a “Real-Life problem” I calculate every Monday! Although Ed-Excel, I have to point out that a tray of eggs is 30 not 24!

So in honour of this being Pi Approximation Day, here’s  some fun maths cookies and cakes.

Quirky Junior’s fantastic maths teacher Mrs Boyd is leaving us for the USA, and to mark this sad day  Hannah made some fabulous maths based cookies this week.

They reminded me of some I helped her make 3 years ago, before I set up Quirky Cookies & Cakes.

You can see how her piping has improved from age 11 to now.

I’d been thinking about a Möbius loop cookie for quite some time, so Mrs Boyd’s departure seemed the obvious time to have a go.  My normal cookie recipe didn’t stand up to the cooking process so I decided to try a fortune cookie mix.  I’d never made them before but I just about managed to get it to work. Next time I’ll know to make the strips of fortune cookie at least 30cm long, as most of the ones I made simply weren’t long enough to fold back on themselves.

I’ve had some helpful suggestions as to possible improvements from BakeMe.Com and my good friend Jules of  Butcher, Baker I’ll be returning to that one as soon as I’ve got the energy!

I couldn’t let today go by without making at least one pi cake.  Having compared methods with @standupmaths following his pi cupcakes earlier this year I thought it should be possible to use the marbling method to make a cake which, when cut, showed the pi symbol.

Well, it clearly needs more work, and if I hadn’t been spending most of the day finishing these and a plethora of other things, I’d have made another one.

One final thought…we were honoured to welcome Matt Parker to Quirky Towers earlier this week when he was working in Derby.  Whilst we happily chatted about maths and baking, I suddenly had the idea of a Venn Diagram pie.  I’m working on it now…so watch this space for more maths baking fun soon.

ER Hospital Cake

Although I’ve always baked traditional cakes, it wasn’t until I became a mum that I started making the carved novelty type cakes that are now my favourite to create.   So far Hannah has had everything from the Teletubbies, the Tweenies, and Groovy Chick in her early childhood, through lots of Harry Potter cakes to last year’s Twilight cake.

Twilight Cake

This year she wanted a medical theme.  ER has long been a favourite of hers; we just had to decide which bit of the set to recreate.  Hannah eventually decided on the green trauma room with her as the patient and, after several hours of watching DVDs, we found some clips which showed the whole room.

I had originally thought that in order to make the cake as detailed as we wanted to that I would have to take a whole week to make it.  However, the best laid plans etc… and after two poorly girls at the beginning of the week, and an order for Brown & Green, I found myself starting to decorate the cake on Thursday afternoon for the party straight after school on Friday. Not ideal to say the least.

Hannah was really keen to make the cake with me, but a heavy homework schedule meant that she only managed to make herself.  She did a great job for her first sugar figure don’t you think?

One of my favourite elements was the X-ray screen.  Hannah has had problems with her joints since being very young, and regularly ends up in A&E herself, so it was an obvious choice to depict her most frequently x-rayed limbs etc on the cake.

The walls were made of gum paste.  I was really nervous about these.  Normally I would allow at least 3 or 4 days for them to dry before attaching to the cake but this time they had less than 24 hours.

This wall had a blind on it, and this was made by overlapping rice paper strips,  and dusting with silver food colouring powder.

The cupboards were made by drawing onto rice paper with food colouring pens.  The rice paper simply adheres to the damp gum paste.

The coloured rice paper then had a further layer added, to make the cupboard doors and to give an overall impression of opaque glass.  At Emily’s suggestion, one of the cupboard doors was left open.

ER Hospital Cake

Given all the time constraints, I was really pleased with the finished cake.  Hannah and her friends were certainly impressed.

I really enjoyed making this cake for Hannah.  Happy Birthday to you! x

Christmas at Quirky Towers

Here at Quirky Cookies & Cakes  the last few days before Christmas are a really busy time.  We’ve been busy baking Christmas goodies, and now there’s just a couple of days left to get your last minute orders in.  We’ve had a lot of fun designing the cookies and developing some new recipes to tempt you all during the holiday season.  Here’s just a selection of some of the things on offer.

Large Cookie Christmas Tree Table Centrepiece

 

Christmas Design Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

 

Christmas Design Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

Some more Christmas Designs

Placename Cookies
Copyright Wendy Staples

Biscotti

If you’re tempted, you can get an electronic order form by e-mailing us.   We can post UK wide, but hurry as our last order date is 12 noon on the 20th December.

If you can’t see what you’re looking for here, then why not get in touch, we’d love to help!

How It All Began

It all started nearly 40 years ago, with two books. 

Before I go any further I must add that I hadn’t actually realised this until, listening to Aleena Naylor discussing old cookery books on BBC Radio Derby a few months back, I suddenly realised that my cookie obsession had started as a toddler, with those two books. So thanks Aleena, for making me understand where Quirky Cookies really began!

I had always loved baking as a little girl, and was usually to be found in the kitchen with my Nan when we visited.  Mum was always baking too, and whereas my Nan taught me to bake scones and cakes I can trace my obsession with unusually shaped biscuits back to rainy days in the kitchen with my Mum, and those books.

Many years later my love of baking had remained and I made my first wedding cake for my own wedding in 1991.  I was all set for a career in education policy when in 1997, aged just 27 and with an 8 month old baby, our world came crashing down when I was seriously injured in a car crash.  For many years I was unable to do very much at all, and at one stage I was told I would never work again, but with the support of my friends & family I never gave up.  Eventually, following a change of treatment when we moved to Derbyshire in 2007, I started to get better, and that’s when the idea of Quirky Cookies and Cakes started to form in my mind.

Although I’d always done well in any cake competition I had entered, (winning my first prize as a child in 1979) the turning point came in June 2008.  I was quite nervous about my first entry in a WI Home Economics competition since in the weeks running up to Derbyshire County Show I had received dire warnings about the super-high judging standards from my WI friends! 

First prizes for both my cupcakes and iced biscuits (which were part of our co-operative display, above) gave me a huge boost in my confidence and I decided then and there that I would try to make a living from baking.

It took another year of researching suppliers and testing out my recipes before I felt ready to launch the business at the end of June 2009.  Here’s me at our first event – Duffield Carnival – our village fête and still one of my favourite events.

Our cookies and cakes are still homemade with a huge amount of care and attention to detail, and the whole family are now involved in the business.  My chemist husband Jason is fabulous at precision mixing royal icing colours.  Hannah is great at making cupcakes & rocky road and is an expert packer, and young Emily helps with sticking labels onto bags and boxes. Even my parents and my Aunt & Uncle have been known to help out when we are attending the larger and busier events such as the recent fabulousplaces Christmas Market.

We’ve come a long way already, and are looking forward to another exciting year in 2011.  First though, is a rather exciting snippet of news……we can’t say too much, but why not watch Market Kitchen’s Big Adventure on the Good Food Channel (Sky 249, Sky HD 283 Virgin 260)  – 7pm every day this week….you never know who might pop onto your screens!