Nettle and Primrose Cupcakes

Nettle and Primula Cupcake

It’s a bit like seasonal Groundhog Day when it comes to me in the kitchen.  I’m fairly sure that one day soon, a member of my family is going to ban me from leaving the house for fear that I’m going to come back with yet another carrier bag full of nettles.  (I think attempts have already been made to hide the gardening gloves.)

Today’s tongue tingler:  nettle cupcakes.

The basic method for these babies came from your cookbook-shelf-friend and mine, Nigella, and features in How to Be a Domestic Goddess.  Year after year I knock out batches of her lavender cupcakes, and I can pretty much guarantee that these are what you’d be served with a cuppa if you happened to accidently wander down our drive on a summer’s afternoon.

However, it’s not summer, and nettles are what I’ve got.  And fear not, I know that nettles work in a sweet capacity.  I can vouch that my nettle beer (which required an outrageous amount of sugar) was almost reminiscent of sparkling elderflower, and the nettle flavour in these cupcakes is very subtle – featuring mainly in the icing.

Method:

Use quantities as specified for cupcakes here, but only use two or three drops of vanilla essence.  You will also need a couple of handfuls of nettle tops too.

About half an hour before you want to bake these, pop about 250ml full fat milk into a pan and set it on the hob.  Just as it’s about to come to the boil, add the nettle tops and allow a few seconds for them to wilt down.  Remove the pan from the heat and press a circle of greaseproof paper onto the milk before placing a lid on top of the pan.  Leave the milk to infuse for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and greaseproof paper, strain the milk (squeezing out the nettles) and allow to cool a little.

Use the milk in the amounts specified for the cupcakes and for the icing, take 250g sieved icing sugar and whisk in nettle-infused milk (a little at a time) until you have a thick, but still slightly runny, icing.

Ice once the cakes have cooled and top each cake with a crystallised primrose (primula vulgaris).

Crystallised Primrose:

Primula (or primrose) flowers – 12, inspected and carefully washed

Egg whites – 1, just broken up slightly with a fork

Caster sugar – for coating

Using a small paintbrush, paint each flower individually with egg white, making quite sure that you get into all the nooks and crannies.  Sprinkle caster sugar all over the flowers, leaving an even coating and shaking off any excess.

Place the flowers on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and leave somewhere warm (above a radiator, or next to a woodburner, etc) overnight, until completely dry.  These should store well if kept in an airtight tin or jar.

PMT and an Homage to St. John

Rhubarb Sponge Cake

I apologise.  What I actually wanted to call this post was, ‘Afternoon Tea and an Homage to St. John’, however, my oh so droll subconscious had other ideas.  So PMT it is, I’m afraid.

Today’s Afternoon (or pm) Tea was something never before seen in our house.  (Although by normal standards what we ate would not have been considered terribly unusual at all.)  Allow me to explain.

I come from a long line of bakingly inept (on my mother’s side, at least).  On the odd occasion that she jokes about this impediment, my mother recounts the story that as a girl, she came home from school one day with a friend, to find that my grandmother had baked a cake.  Upon tasting it, my mother’s friend turned to her and said, “Ooh, it’s delicious! It tastes just like Yorkshire pudding!”.

Now, my grandmother could make the best Yorkshire pud in the world, but this must have been one of her last attempts at cake-baking, since I honestly can’t remember eating one at any point during my childhood.

(Actually, that’s not strictly true.  My grandmother did bake fruitcakes.  The boiled variety.  But that’s a story for another day.)

I’m happy to report that the deficient baking buck stops with me.  I love to bake.  But until I attended Ballymaloe, I’d never attempted a layered sponge cake.  They just didn’t appeal to me.  Yet since I’ve been taught the art of making them (and since I do love a bit of old school cookery every now and then), today I thought I’d make an event of it.

Our Afternoon Tea consisted of sponge cake layered with poached rhubarb and whipped cream, cups of tea (with saucers, naturally) and rhubarb cordial (made using the reduced poaching liquid).  Everyone enjoyed it so much, that they’re lobbying to make it a weekly event.  Damn it.

So after all that – hours after – supper needed to be a lightish affair.  Soup was called for.

Nettle Soup with Wild Garlic Cream

Along with purple sprouting broccoli, wild garlic and rhubarb, I’ve gone a bit nettle crazy over the past few weeks.  My nettle beer was more than a pleasant surprise and my risotto was a good one too.  I had been meaning to try nettle soup for a while and since my birthday visit to St John Bread and Wine, I’d wanted to try theirs.

It wasn’t bad either.  Obviously not as good as the one we ate at St John’s, but pretty good nonetheless.  Definitely worth the half a gloved hour spent picking the prickly little devils, but if you should happen to try their recipe, be prepared to get your sieve out and spend just as long making it smooth as smooth can be.  Serve with a dollop of wild garlic cream, thick slices of soda bread and a tasty young goat’s cheese.

Wild Garlic Cream (Hardly a recipe, really.)

Double Cream – 150ml

Wild garlic leaves – two large handfuls

Salt – to taste

Pour the cream into pan, tear the wild garlic leaves in half and add to the cream.  Season with salt, place a lid on the pan and bring to the boil.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a while before liquidising/blending the mixture until it’s as smooth as it will go.  Allow to cool completely.

When the soup is ready, dollop a tablespoon of wild garlic cream into the centre of the bowl and serve.