Chocolate buns for Easter treats

In my last post I mentioned that I had recently received some cupcake cases and Easter picks in a gift, from the Baking Mad website. Yesterday I decided it was time to press them into use:

I pinched an excellent recipe from Karen Burns Booth (of the beautiful Lavender and Lovage website), courtesy of a cookbook I got at Christmas. Karen’s cakes feature on the front cover of the book:

Her recipe is for Karen’s Little Chocolate and Violet Fancies which end up looking like the above, quite exquisite. This is her recipe:

Mine weren’t quite up to Karen’s high standard, and as I wanted to use my new cake cases and Easter picks, they ended up looking like this:

I didn’t have any violets or violet sugar, and I fancied using Earl Grey tea, so I tweaked the recipe and ended up with Earl Grey Chocolate Buns.

From my youth I remember that my mum always called this sort of individual cake a ‘bun’, as opposed to a ‘fairy cake’ or a ‘cupcake’ (I don’t think that word was known in Scotland until fairly recently) or indeed a ‘muffin’ (which, to Brits, is something quite different from the large cakey delight known across the pond).

A few days ago, before I had decided to borrow Karen’s recipe, I was thinking about what sort of cakes to put into my new cake cases and liked the idea of making them chocolate flavoured, but with a little surprise inside.

When I saw these creme filled chocolate eggs in my local supermarket, I thought they’d do for the surprise:

It seemed a pity to remove the pretty foil wrappings, but I don’t think they’d have improved the taste of the cakes:

After putting cake mix into a batch of cake cases I squidged an egg into each one:

Then I stuck another blob of cake mix on top of each egg:

I put too much cake mix in each cake case and so the buns overflowed a bit:

To my mind there’s nothing wrong with a cake that’s a bit on the large side, so I acceped their burgeoning girths, slapped on the icing and threw on a scattering of decorations while whistling a merry tune:

Once the icing was on I planted plant Easter flags and declared the cakes ready for consumption:

I was interested to see how the creme filled eggs inside might have been affected by baking, and was pleased to find that they had remained intact:

The creme was still very much as it had been in its pre-baked condition, and the thin chocolate outer layer had begun to melt nicely:

I made a total of 16 cakes using the recipe above. Most of them have gone into the freezer, where I hope they will survive all right with their ganache icing, but if they come out looking a bit the worse for wear I could perhaps bung them into an ovenproof dish and make them into a hot chocolate pudding.

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Tip-toeing through ancient pines

Following consumption of a delicious star in Braemar, my delightful assistant and I skipped merrily through the pine forests of Royal Deeside to the Old Brig O’ Dee:

The Old Brig O’ Dee, or the Invercauld Bridge as it’s also known, is a splendid piece of granite architecture.

According to J R Hume, a chap who knows a thing or two about bridges, it is “a handsome rustic ashlar bridge, with three main segmental arches and a smaller arch at each end. There are rounded cutwaters, and occuli in the spandrels between the main spans.”  I don’t know about you, but when I come across occuli in spandrels, I stop to observe.

Walking across this bridge, which is no longer used as a crossing for traffic, I felt I’d gone back in time. The dusty surface with grass growing at the edges seemed to me just as it might have looked when it was being used for carts and horses in the 1800s (construction began in the late 1700s):

There was a fine view of the River Dee from the top of the bridge:

On the other side, I found signs of spring in a quiet pool next to the river:

Through one of the arches I spied the road bridge now used in place of the Old Brig O’ Dee:

On the south side of the Dee sits a forest regeneration project, kept behind gates that the public are welcome to pass through, as long as they come in small groups and stay very quiet, so as not to disturb the sensitive wildlife within the reserve: 

In 1878 Queen Victoria purchased Ballochbuie forest, in which the regeneration project is housed. She didn’t want the old Caledonian pine trees to be sold off to an Aberdeen timber merchant, and her intervention is apparently one of the earliest recorded acts of forestry conservation.

The forest contines to be preserved by the current royal family, as it nestles in the grounds of their holiday home, Balmoral Castle, and it now contains some of the oldest Scots pines in the UK.

We heard capercaillie in here as we tip-toed quietly along the path, but none of them popped up and showed themselves (I have yet to see one in the wild and am ever hopeful of fulfilling this long-held ambition). The trees were very nice though, and it was such an astonishingly warm and cloudless day that we felt we were in the Canary Islands:

For anyone not familiar with capercaillie, here’s a picture of one I snaffled from the Birdlife website:

A fine fellow.

After all that frolicking in the pine forest, we were ready for a bit of refreshment and, since it happened to be lunchtime, we scooted off to the Victorian town of Ballater a few miles along the road for a light luncheon.

Ballater was founded in the early 1800s to accommodate visitors flocking to the nearby Pannanich Wells Spa. At first it was just a small village, but it expanded rapidly when Queen Victoria bought nearby Balmoral Castle, and the railway arrived (in 1861).

Despite still being quite small, Ballater now boasts four decent looking tearooms (I haven’t checked them all out yet), and we went to one I’d been to years ago that I wanted to revisit. My lovely assistant had ham and tomato sandwiches:

And I had sandwiches with tuna salad:

The sandwiches were fresh and tasty, but quite filling, so rather than take tea and cake afterwards we selected a chocolate each from the excellent selection in the chocolate cabinet at the counter.

Regrettably, I was so busy admiring and choosing chocolates, that I completely forgot to photograph the display. I did, however, photograph the two that my assistant and I chose as our small sweet snacks.

My splendid assistant’s choice was a rum truffle, which was prettily decorated with a treble clef:

I found it very difficult to choose, but eventually plumped for a pear ganache:

I had no idea from looking at the outside that the inside would turn out to be so superbly constructed. There was an outer layer of dark chocolate, with the pear motif on top, and inside that there was a milk chocolate layer. Inside the milk chocolate was the beautifully smooth and silky pear ganache:

Before leaving Ballater I was keen to buy some of the famous Balmoral bread, recently brought to my attention by fellow blogger Christine.

Ballater is a very royal town, everywhere you look there are signs of royal patronage.  There doesn’t appear to be a candlestick maker in Ballater, but both the butcher and the baker have gained the royal seal of approval.

I was delighted to find, on entering the bakery, that they still had four unsold loaves of Balmoral bread. I very happily purchased one:

I wish I could show you a slice of the loaf to give an idea of just how marvellous this bread was (it deserves to be famous, in my opinion), but unfortunately it had all disappeared before I thought of taking a picture of it.

On the up side, this gives me an excellent reason to return to Ballater in the near future, and I can combine my bread buying with a visit to one of the other, as yet unsampled, tearooms.