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.
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).
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.