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The Baker's Quest-Part 1

Ahead: Quite possibly the geekiest post I have ever written. :-)

I like quests. I like them a lot. It's probably why my two biggest hobbies (besides cooking) are reading fantasy novels and playing RPG (role-playing games) video games. A quest is not a sport, it is not an activity, and it is not to be taken on lightly. A quest is a story-in-action, and this story is about me trying to learn to bake. And not just bake, bake well. Remember the bread debacle from May? Yeah, I want to be able to bake a loaf of bread and eat it too. Over the next few weeks, I will be trying my hand at baking different things. I will not rest until I can stop saying, "I cook. I don't really bake."

First up! Cupcakes!

Earl Grey Cupcakes

Makes about 12 regular cupcakes

125ml semi-skimmed milk, at room temperature

4 Earl Grey teabags

110g unsalted butter, at room temperature

225g granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon almond extract (optional)

2 large eggs

125g self-raising flour, sifted

120g plain flour, sifted

Preheat the oven to 350F/gas mark 4 and line a 12-hole muffin tray with the appropriate size cupcake cases

Heat the milk in a saucepan over a medium heat until it just begins to boil. Remove from the heat and add the teabags. Cover with clingfilm and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes, then discard the teabags.

In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is pale and smooth, which should take 3-5 minutes using an electric hand mixer. Add the almond extract, if using, and the eggs, one at a time, mixing for a few minutes after each addition.

Combine the two flours in a seperate bowl. Add one third of the flours to the creamed mixture and beat well. Pour in one third of the infused milk and beat again. Repeat these steps until all the flour and milk have been added.

Carefully spoon the mixture into the cupcake bases, filling them to about two-thirds full. Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes until slightly raised and golden brown. To check they are cooked, insert a skewer into the centre of one of the cakes - it should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and leave the cakes in their tins for about 10 minutes before carefully placing on a wire rack to cool. Once they are completely cool, you could ice the cupcakes with the lilac coloured vanilla buttercream and sprinkle with a little extra granulated sugar and sugar flowers.

What's the first thing you notice about this recipe? Depending on where you live, you may not notice anything unusual about this. If you're an American like me, however, you probably noticed (with horror) that the measurements are all in metric. My sweet, English friend Sally sent me this recipe from Mother England. Think of Sally as the wise sage that initially sends me on my quest. Yeah, sages are usually pretty cryptic in some way, shape, or form about the quest, and this is no different. I don't even know what a gram is! Luckily for me, I have a handy-dandy digital map, erm, scale.

See! It tares my mixing bowl and can switch between standard and metric units. Love it!

Speaking of maps, let's talk some more about tools. If you set out on a quest without the proper tools, you're going to end up as dragon food. Allow me to introduce my other life savers.

Beatrice the KitchenAid stand mixer. She's like a good paid of trekking boots.

Heavy duty cupcake/muffin pan. Baking cupcakes without one of these babies is like heading out on the road without a backpack. Or, if you prefer, a Bag of Holding. :-) Holla back, D&D fans!

Sifty, my little Swedish friend from Ikea. One handed sifting. It may sound odd, but Sifty is like a horse. Sure, I could walk/sift with a strainer, but why do that when I can ride/sift with one hand?

My hand mixer, the backup trekking boots. This little guy came into play when I was mixing the frosting. Granted, this isn't really necessary if you either have a second stand mixing bowl or you clean your bowl after mixing the cupcake batter, but it's nice to have.

Okay, now that we've gone over the necessary quest items, let's talk about the actual quest. It was...not as successful as I would have hoped. Here's the thing, baking is a lot like alchemy. I mean chemistry. Everything must be measured exactly and mixed exactly and then not. How's that for some Yoda-speak? I followed the recipe exactly and my cupcakes were tough and ugly and the icing was drippy. I spoke to my friend Jennifer, who makes amazing cupcakes, and she informed me that I should have used cake flour, mixed the batter until it was just wet and then stopped, and eyeballed the icing for consistency. Is this the part where I find out I could have gone back to Kansas at any time if I had just clicked my heels three times and said, "There's no place like home"? Apparently I might have done better, though not much, if I had just listened to my instincts/heart.

So that's what I've learned so far, so, without further ado, the final product:

Are they not the ugliest cupcakes you've ever seen? What did I say about the icing being drippy? Well, at least they tasted okay. My friend Nova took to calling them biscuitcakes, lol, which was kind of appropriate considering their texture. Next week the quest continues. We'll see how well I do then.

Bonus: In case you'd like the recipe for the frosting, it's here. Sally texted it to me, lol. This reminds me of the message Obi-Wan sent to Princess Leia via R2-D2.

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