Recipe: gingerbread angel cookie and sparkling star Christmas cupcakes

“Gravy in cupcakes?” my husband cried.  Well. Crazier things have happened…

Saturday was, shall we say, a tad busy. It was “Caterpillar Day”, when I did my first ever baked-for-a-stranger cake. I keep taunting you but there will be a full post on the Very Hungry Caterpillar after Christmas.  Lots of you have been asking for pictures but I want to show how I made him and cannot do it justice yet with all these festive treats in the pipeline. So picture the scene: it’s 3pm, I was up until 3am and now I am 3 hours away from a party to which I’m taking cupcakes.

Nope, still not revealing any more than this!

I like to fly by the seat of my pants.  Actually I don’t. Nevertheless, rather like Teri Hatcher’s kooky Susan in Desperate Housewives, I tend to find myself these mad situations again and again. Sat in the kitchen, I had a rabbit-in-headlights moment mentally calculating the number of trays of cupcakes I intended to bake, time required in the oven and whether this was possible inside three hours. It was… just about.

Image: Slam

I had been inspired by these Lola’s Cupcakes that I’d first spotted on the I Heart Cupcakes blog. Their new gingerbread flavour is part of a bigger Christmas Ho Ho Ho and Snowflake collection on sale this month. I thought these gingerbread men sprinkles were adorable but there was no way I had time to source them. The alternative was to bake my own gingerbread cookies. My husband, the graphic designer and general typographic geek likes the Lola’s logo because it looks like icing sugar sprinkled over the letters and the apostrophe is round like a cupcake not apostrophe shaped.

Gingerbread batter poured into mini cupcake cases – see jug that looks like it’s full of gravy
We were attending a Christmas Party at my son’s pre-school. A Saturday night disco for both parents and children. Mothers had been clobbered with clipboards whilst dropping children off during December and my contribution was to be some cupcakes.
That was before I knew I was making a caterpillar the same day. By the time he was delivered and I’d had lunch, all I’d achieved was some buttercream and that fuzzy feeling you get after four hours sleep.
Tempting though it was to drop by Waitrose for my second emergency visit inside 18 hours, several friends had been psyched up to try my cupcakes for the first time so I didn’t want to a) let them down, b) not use the glitter I’d ordered for the occasion and most importantly, c) miss out on material for a Christmassy blog post.
Gingerbread cupcake bases out of the oven
A sensible person in this situation would have opted for two batches of bog standard fairy cakes thrown in the mixer. I was determined to make gingerbread cupcakes with gingerbread biscuits and buttercream on top. Using two recipes that I’d never used before.  Infact, I had used the cake recipe before, a Nigella Lawson one, several years ago but it was a mix for a loaf not cupcakes. I wasn’t sure if it would work in cupcake form but it was a gamble I was willing to take. The loaf was supposed to have one hour in the oven but surely cupcakes would only need 15 minutes? I would be stuffed if they didn’t. The gingerbread cookies were taken from Rachel Allen’s gingerbread house recipe in her book “Bake”.

Mini gingerbread cupcake cases out of the oven

Nigella does several recipes which are based on batters that you melt in one saucepan and this was one of them.  I was able to pour the brown sticky mixture direct from my plastic jug into the cake cases.  Hence my husband’s comment about the gravy, it was an easy mistake to make from across the room.

Gingerbread angel cookies made with ancient Grandma Kitty cookie cutter

Happily the gingerbread bases did only require about 15 minutes to cook and I was cooling them down at high speed by putting them on the stone window ledge in the back garden.  Rain threatened and I found myself humming MacArthur Park, “Someone’s left the cake out in the rain,” whilst I rolled out the gingerbread dough for the cookies.  The gingerbread angel cookie cutter is yet another item I have inherited from my Grandma Kitty.
Fondant sparkling stars
With time tight, I couldn’t bake a second batch of star shaped biscuits and instead opted to roll out some white fondant mixed with edible silver dust and cover it with edible silver glitter.  Time was really ticking by now and I slathered the buttercream on at high speed.  That’s why the little ones looked a bit messy.
We got to the party at 6.30pm, only half an hour late and it was one of those chaotic children’s discos with 8 year olds chasing each other up and down at high speed whilst that stupid song about “MacDon-alds! MacDon-alds! Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Piz-za Hut” blasted out of the speakers. My son was terrified.  I delivered my cupcakes to the kitchen where they were gratefully received and ended up tidying them up myself on the trays at the table where they’d been thrown onto the platters willy nilly.  The important thing is that they did get eaten and my friends loved them.
“I think you would have been better off doing plain fairy cakes,” said my husband (who prefers plain fairy cakes above all else), “The phrase Pearls before Swine comes to mind.”
I didn’t mind. I am even making some more for the children’s weekday party this week. I am planning mini Christmas puddings and some decorated with fondant candy canes.  Of course I’ll have time…
My Ho Ho Ho and Snowflake cupcakes from Lola’s
By merry coincidence, in the two days between making my gingerbread cupcakes and finishing this post, the nice people at Lola’s offered to send me a box of said Christmas collection of cupcakes. It did flash through my mind that this was like selling ice to eskimos but hey, eskimos do use ice and I like to compare cupcakes. I received my ribbon tied box of six cupcakes by courier this afternoon.
I’d been promised a gingerbread one in my selection which I was hoping to compare with my own version but instead I had red velvet, chocolate and another flavour I’ve not tried yet but it looks like vanilla. They’re nice but I found the bright red and green buttercream gave me flashbacks of The Caterpillar and the sprinkles (with the exception of chocolate) too hard and gritty for my taste. My favourite cupcakes from Lola’s have been the Toblerone and Oreo ones, I don’t tend to pick stuff with hard bits. My snowman looked a bit like the day after in Raymond Brigg’s animation too but I’ll put that down to the delivery man’s thumb through the box.
***
Special mentions are due to everyone who came up trumps when I wanted to order my edible glitter in a hurry:
Anne from I Heart Cupcakes suggested picking up and posting me some from Ellas Bakehouse – incredibly kind.
Morwenna of Bluebells and Butterflies and Liz Randell of Beauty and the Feast suggested the Cakes Cookies and Craft Shop site
Jane of Food Networking suggested Edable
Helen of A Forkful of Spaghetti suggested MSK
I ordered my glitters from Almond Art, as suggested by Janet of The Art of Cake but it was lovely to see how Twitter found me all these great suggestions within about 30 minutes and I have bookmarked all the other sites for future reference.
Gingerbread Cupcakes with Ginger and Cinnamon Buttercream and glitter applied
Do you like the makeshift cupcake tray? My husband made two of them out of the cardboard trays that you get a dozen tins sitting on in the supermarket. He complained a bit. He often does but I don’t let it get to me.
“You’re always giving me jobs!” he wailed brandishing the Stanley knife.
“Quiet Honey…” I replied… “I need you to finish our entry to the Food Blogger Connect logo competition next.”
***
Gingerbread Angel Cookie and Sparkling Star Christmas Cupcakes

Ingredients for the gingerbread bases (adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Gingerbread with Lemon Icing):
Makes 36 bun sized cupcakes, 24 muffin sized or 60ish mini cupcakes.
150g unsalted butter
125g soft dark brown sugar
200g golden syrup
200g black treacle
2 tsp powdered ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
200ml milk (less than Nigella… I err on side of caution with all liquids in recipes)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda dissolved in 2 tbsp warm water
300g plain flour

Ingredients for the ginger and cinnamon buttercream icing (adapted from Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook)
500g icing sugar
160g butter
50-100ml milk (I use semi not whole as Hummingbird stipulate)
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Gold edible glitter to decorate

Ingredients for the cookies (adapted from Rachel Allen’s Gingerbread House recipe, Bake)*

100g butter
40g caster sugar
40g soft dark brown sugar
75g of golden syrup or treacle (I did 50/50)
240g plain flour
2/3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Flour for rolling out
*These quantities represent one third of the gingerbread house recipe. It would be enough for around 36 cookies although I only made 12 and still have loads left for two forthcoming Christmas blog posts.

Ingredients for fondant stars*:
50g white fondant
1/2 tsp silver sparkling edible dust
Icing sugar for rolling out
*I made 12 small fondant stars for mini cupcakes so you would need more fondant if you were making fondant tops for more cupcakes than this.

Angel cookies applied to the cupcakes, ready to go in their tray!
Method for gingerbread bases:
1. Preheat oven to gas mark 3 or 170c. Line your baking tins with paper cases.
2. In a medium size saucepan melt the butter, sugar, golden syrup, treacle, ginger and cinnamon.  Off the heat add the milk, eggs and bicarbonate of soda in its water.
3. Sift the flour into a bowl and pour in the sticky liquid and beat until well mixed. Decant into a jug and pour into your paper cases to about 2/3 full. It will be very liquid (like thick gravy ha ha) so you should have no trouble pouring it out. This is much easier than dolloping blobs about with spoons.
4. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes (bun or muffin sized) or 12 minutes (mini cupcake size) or until a cocktail stick comes out clean. I quickly turned mine round after around 60% of the expected baking time had passed.
5. Allow to cool for ten minutes in the tray then transfer to wire cooling rack.

Method for ginger buttercream:
1. If your butter is not soft, give it 10 seconds in the microwave.
2. Put the butter in a large mixing bowl and pour over half of the milk.
3. Sieve the spices and a small amount of the icing sugar on top and mix with electric hand mixer.  I say to mix just a bit of icing sugar at first as I hate it flying everywhere.
4. Keep adding a little more sieved icing sugar at a time and mixing with hand mixer.  Add the rest of the milk if dust is flying about. As you reach adding the last of the icing sugar, add a little more milk if you feel buttercream is too thick.  It should be easy to spread with a small palette knife but hold its shape.
5. Spread the buttercream over the cooled cupcakes. Go right to the edge of the cases but it’s ok to leave it thinly spread on top as we will spread extra buttercream on the back of the biscuits to cover this in a minute. For the fondant star cupcakes, you need to cover them a little more thickly as the stars will not have that extra buttercream on their bottoms.

Method for gingerbread cookies:
1. Set oven to gas mark 4 / 180c / 350f. Line a large baking tray with parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a medium sized saucepan.
3. Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and spices in a large bowl.  Add the melted butter and sugar mixture to the dry ingredients and mix into a dough.
4. Knead the dough, add a tablespoon of water if necessary. Flatten into a fat disc and wrap in a plastic bag and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.
5. Dust your surface and rolling pin with flour and roll to 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out shapes with cutters. Transfer to baking tray.
6. Bake for around 10-12 minutes. Cool on the tray for a few minutes before transfering to wire cooling rack.

To decorate:
1. Sprinkle the buttercream surface of your cupcakes with edible glitter. I used gold.
2. Paste a blob of ginger buttercream to the centre of the bottoms of the cookies and gently press them onto the tops of the cupcakes.
3. For the fondant stars, roll out your white fondant icing to 1/4 inch thick, cut out stars with small cookie cutter. Brush a few drops of water to the top of each star before sprinkling with edible silver glitter. Turn each star over in your hand and brush a few drops to the reverse before gently pressing it onto the buttercream surface of your cupcakes.
4. Ta-da!

Sparkling Star Mini Cupcakes
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