Rachel Allen was brought up in Dublin and left home at eighteen to study at the world-famous Ballymaloe Cookery School. Rachel is now a busy ...
100 g (31/2 oz) butter, softened
200 g (7oz) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs, separated
175 ml (6fl oz) buttermilk
1/2 tsp red food colouring
175 g (6oz) plain flour
25 g (1oz) cornflour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 tblsp cocoa powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda, sifted
for the frosting
4 large egg whites
250 g (9oz) caster sugar
pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/Gas 4) and line the muffin tray with the paper cases.
Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy, then add the vanilla extract and the egg yolks, and beat again.
Mix the buttermilk together with the food colouring – it should be very red, so add more if you need to.
Sift the flour, cornflour, baking powder and cocoa powder into the butter and egg mixture and add the red buttermilk. Fold everything together gently but thoroughly.
Whisk the egg whites and salt in a large, spotlessly clean bowl until stiff peaks form. Add one-quarter to the batter and mix in.
Add the remaining egg whites in two stages, folding them in gently with a spatula until just incorporated and retaining as much air in the mixture as possible.
In a small bowl, mix together the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda until the mixture bubbles up, then gently fold this into the batter. Quickly divide between the muffin cases, filling each case two-thirds full, then bake in the oven for 15–20 minutes or until the cupcakes are well risen and springy to the touch.
Leave in the tin for 5 minutes, now remove the cupcakes and place on a wire rack to cool down while you make the frosting.
Make sure the cupcakes are ready before you start, as this icing begins to set very quickly. Place all the frosting ingredients in a heatproof bowl, add 2 tablespoons of cold water and set over a saucepan of simmering water. (The bowl should sit snugly over the pan with its base high enough above the water that it does not come into contact with it.)
Whisk slowly, using a balloon whisk, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is foamy. Continue to heat and whisk until the mixture reaches 60°C (140°F) when measured with a sugar thermometer – this will take about 4 minutes. If you don’t have a
thermometer, you can gauge whether the mixture is ready by how it feels and looks: it should be hot to the touch, glossy white in appearance and starting to thicken. Quickly remove the bowl from the pan and pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric food mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Alternatively, whisk in the original bowl using a hand-held electric beater. Whisk on a high speed for about 3–5 minutes or until the frosting is very thick, glossy and has cooled. Use immediately to spread quickly over the cupcakes with a palette knife and use the back of a teaspoon to shape them, regularly dipping the spoon into a bowl of boiling-hot water. Or the icing could be quickly placed in the piping bag or freezer bag, if you prefer, and piped over the cupcakes.
The icing sets very quickly at this stage, so speed is essential. Once the icing has set, you can then decorate with the crystallised rose petals, using either one large petal or three small petals per cake, or sift a little red sugar over each cake.