Monday, 28 February 2011

Off-Grid Baking

On Saturday, I spent the morning rowing as normal, but had a whole afternoon to myself as James was off coxing the men in the Norwich Head Race. After having done the laundry and the washing up, I decided to spend the time baking some cupcakes!

For inspiration I went online and searched for recipes from the Hummingbird Bakery in London. My sister Esther and I went there last year when I visited her, and ate delicious Red Velvet cupcakes, so I thought it was a good place to start.

I came across a recipe for Black Bottom cupcakes: rich chococlate sponge with a dollop of chesecake baked in and topped with cream cheese frosting. I couldn't wait to try them out. But then I noticed that the recipe required an electric mixer. Now, we could use one on the boat but that would involve either running the generator or switching the inverter on as our boat runs on 12V power, and these mixers require standard domestic 240V. So I decided to set myself a challenge: to try various delicious sounding recipes like this, and see if it's possible to make them simply using good old elbow grease, and a handheld whisk! Surely our grandmothers managed so we can too! I shall be posting on here about my efforts so here is

Off-Grid Baking V.1

Black Bottom Cupcakes

For the chocolate sponge base

  • 190g plain flour
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 40g cocoa powder, plus extra to decorate
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 40 ml sunflower oil
  • 1½ tsps white vinegar
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

For the cheesecake filling

  • 140g cream cheese
  • 60g caster sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • A pinch of salt
  • 100g milk chocolate chips

For the cream cheese frosting

  • 300g icing sugar, sifted
  • 50g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 125g cream cheese, cold


  1. 1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F) Gas 3. For the chocolate sponge base put the flour, sugar, cocoa powder and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and mix with a handheld electric whisk on slow speed until all the dry ingredients are well incorporated.
  2. 2. Put the oil, vinegar, vanilla extract and 125 ml water in a jug and whisk to combine. While the electric whisk is running in the flour bowl, slowly add the contents of the jug, increasing the speed of the blender as the mixture thickens. Continue to beat until all the ingredients are incorporated (scrape any unmixed ingredients from the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula).
  3. 3. Line a 12 hole cupcake tray with paper cases. Spoon the mixture into the paper cases until two-thirds full and set aside.
  4. 4. For the cheesecake filling beat together the cream cheese, sugar, egg, vanilla extract and salt in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until smooth and fluffy.
  5. 5. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand until evenly dispersed. Don’t overmix, otherwise the cream cheese will start to split.
  6. 6. Scoop about 1 tbsp of the cheesecake filling on top of the cupcake mixture and bake in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes are firm to the touch and they have an even golden colour on the cheesecake filling. Don’t overcook as the cheesecake will become very dry and crumbly.
  7. 7. Leave the cupcakes to cool slightly in the tray before turning out onto a wire cooling rack to cool completely.
  8. 8. For the cream cheese frosting beat the icing sugar and butter together in a freestanding electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a handheld electric whisk) on medium-slow speed until the mixture comes together and is well mixed. Add the cream cheese in one go and beat until it is completely incorporated. Turn the mixer up to medium-high speed. Continue beating until the frosting is light and fluffy, at least 5 minutes. Do not overbeat, as it can quickly become runny.
  9. 9. When the cupcakes are cold, spoon the cream cheese frosting on top, if using, and decorate with a light sprinkling of cocoa powder.
It all went pretty well at first, although I needed to add a little more oil and water to make the basic chocolate cupcake mixture. I also resorted to using balsamic vinegar since I didn't have anything else and it seems not to have caused any problems. But th cheesecake mix just wouldn't fluff up properly by hand. So I just drizzled it over the top:

After the required time in the oven,  they looked like this:

Not bad at all, although the cheesecake mixture has all run to the edges. While they were cooking I made the frosting which was surprisingly sucessful. Combining the icing sugar and butter was a bit of a faff, but after a lot of mixing I had a yellowish bowl of fluffy buttery icing sugar. Then I mixed in the cream cheese and I didn't manage to get rid of all the lumps but it still tasted good and I was pretty pleased.

When the boys got back from Norwich I took nine of them (the slightly mis-shapen ones, since they wouldn't care!) down to the boathouse as they were rigging the boat and they went down very well. Hopefully I shall be baking again next Saturday!


  1. They were thoroughly delicious - Philip and I made short work of them! Thank youuuuu!

  2. They look delicious...this will have to go into my queue for veganization...Have a great day!