When I look at my pantry shelves with their somewhat muddled contents, I am mindful of how much things have changed. We now have access to the most obscure, and in some cases outlandish, ingredients.
In the past few years I have accumulated spices, sauces, vinegars, and dry goods our forebears would not have had the slightest idea what to do with. In fact, I'm still in the dark about the full potential of some.
Case in point. I have always made sweet and sour sauce with plain white vinegar but I read somewhere that Chinese rice wine vinegar is better as it imparts a sharper flavour. So what did I do? Bought rice wine vinegar the next time I went to the supermarket.
But here's the interesting thing. I had absolutely no doubt that the vinegar in question would be there and, what's more, that I would have several to choose from.
We are spoilt for choice yet, in many ways, the more things change the more they stay the same. Families have to be fed, budgets have to be considered and waste minimised.
Today's recipe is one that is virtually fail-proof. The important thing when baking cupcakes is to time them. They dry out if you overcook them but, that aside, the batter is straightforward and the flavour can easily be varied by adding zest or changing the essence.
Decorating makes all the difference. A swirl of icing with a scatter of nuts or grating of chocolate can turn the plainest cupcake into a thing of beauty.
BUDGET CUPCAKES (makes about 18)
200g very soft butter
1 cup soft brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
1/4 cup sifted cocoa powder
Method: Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
If using soft paper cups, place in medium muffin tins for support. If using the cardboard variety, pictured, place on an oven slide.
Beat butter, sugar and vanilla together until light and creamy.
Add eggs one by one, beating well after each addition.
Place cocoa in a small bowl and add enough hot water to make a paste with the consistency of thick cream.
Gradually stir the flour into the butter mixture in batches, alternating with cocoa paste (you can use the K attachment for this stage). The mixture should be soft and of dropping consistency; add a little milk if necessary.
Two-thirds fill cups and bake in the centre of the oven for 15-17 minutes. Tops should be firm and spring back to the touch.
Cool on a rack, then ice.
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1/4 cup sifted cocoa
60g melted butter
Method: Put icing sugar, cocoa and butter in a bowl.
Stir well, then add enough water to make a spreadable consistency.
Store iced cupcakes in layers in an airtight container.
- The Southland Times