A very merry Christmas.
It’s that time of year again. And even if you don’t usually partake in the perils of Long John Barleycorn and his inebriated brethren – when it gets into the party season you find yourself being offered all kinds of weird and wonderful drinks. And I don’t mean the good stuff like fruit flavoured vodka that could strip paint at fifty paces. Or flashy dry gin that is dotted with flecks of gold. There are some peculiar drinks associated with Christmas. And none more so than Advocaat. It’s a liqueur made from a mixture of eggs, sugar and brandy and looks like a thin and glossy custard. One of my most enduring memories of childhood Christmases past is of being allowed a little glass of “snowball” on Christmas Eve. Now a proper snowball is a rather grown up affair. A cocktail of Advocaat, cognac and lime served over ice. Before any of the ice has chance to melt you are meant to pour in exactly enough lemonade to double the volume. All very precise. And nothing at all like the slosh of Advocaat drenched in lemon and limeade that we enjoyed as young ‘uns. It felt like such a naughty treat. But looking back I think it was more of an insurance policy for the grown-ups. Designed to ensure the kids all slept soundly so that Santa could deliver his presents. How times have changed. Still. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.
And a happy New Year.
I know most folk will have had it up to their eyeballs with Christmas preparations by the 24th of December. But with one more sleep to go, I wanted to try to sneak in another quick recipe before the big day arrived. I had the Advocaat on hand thanks to Aunty Marge. There was also butternut squash puree that had been taken out of the freezer to make room for some last-minute Christmas party food. And you know how I hate to waste anything. So it seemed an obvious choice to make some spiced butternut squash cupcakes with Advocaat frosting. When I was putting the recipe together I could not think of anything that screamed Christmas quite as loudly as these cupcakes do. Advocaat, butternut squash and warming winter spices. They are like a Christmas triple threat. What with the dusting of nutmeg at the end and the carefully handcrafted holly motif. Delightful. Now I don’t usually bother with such fancifications. And it might have felt like my arm was going to drop off by the time I had finished delicately pressing each individual leaf and berry into the frosting. But these cupcakes turned out to be mighty purdy. They are just about my favourite of all the festive bakes I’ve made in the run up to Christmas 2016. We handed them out to all of our loved ones who dropped by to wish us well on Christmas Eve. And though they might be a little late for your Christmas celebrations I think they will look just as lush on your New Year’s buffet. Or any other get-together you might be having over the holly days.
The best thing you can use for these cupcakes is tinned pumpkin. There. I’ve said it. The problem with that is we don’t seem to be able to buy canned pumpkin puree so easily here in Blighty. We are lucky if one of the big supermarkets manages to ship some in occasionally. Most often it will hit the shelves late autumn and creeping into early winter. And it is often labelled as a speciality food. Or in other words – KERCHING! The prices are enough to make your eyes water. And buying online is no better. Prices for a can of Libby’s solid pack pumpkin on Amazon start at £3.25 for 425g and quickly escalate. Its sleigh bells that are supposed to ring at Christmas – not supermarket tills. So you might think home-made is the way to go. But it’s not just as simple as baking and blitzing your squash. There ends up being way too much water content. Your cake batter will be swimming in the extra moisture. So I have a little bit of helpful advice if you do go to the effort of making your own. Buy butternut squash in bulk because it’s cheaper than pumpkin. Bake and blitz as normal. Then portion up the puree into 400g batches to leave in the freezer. Take it out to defrost as needed. You will have noticed that so far there is no difference. But if you then hang the puree in some muslin or a jam bag suspended over a bowl and leave it to stand overnight it will strain out a lot of the excess liquid. After drip-draining you should be left with about 200g – 220g of puree that is much closer in texture to the canned stuff. And as luck would have it, that’s just the right amount you need for this recipe. You’re welcome.
A tin to bake it in.
This is a recipe for a standard 12 cavity muffin tin. No need to buy anything fancy. You can pick one up in most of the pound shops without any trouble. Though being Christmas it might be nice to use some muffin cases that are nice and festive. Having said that. I didn’t have any so I made mine in plain red muffin cases and nobody complained. And if you are expecting a lot of guests it shouldn’t be too much bother to double or triple the recipe. You don’t need to go mad and buy the expensive brands of Advocaat either. I’m not saying Aunty Marge is tight-fisted. But suffice to say she is a good old Yorkshire gal. She won’t have paid more than a fiver for hers from the Asda. And if you don’t want to be fussed with the decorative sprinkles that’s fine. But at the very least you really should scatter over some nutmeg. It adds an extra layer of flavour that enhances the cupcakes no end. This recipe is butternut squashed full of festive cheer. When your Christmas guests taste them they’ll be sure to agree. They really are the Advo-cat’s whiskers. Now here’s that recipe… Enjoy.
Christmas Cupcakes 2016.
- 180g Plain Flour.
- 1½ tsp Mixed Spice.
- 1 tsp Cinnamon.
- ½ tsp Baking Powder.
- ¼ tsp Bicarb.
- ¼ tsp Salt.
- 150g Granulated Sugar.
- 100g Soft Dark Brown Sugar.
- 55g Margarine (melted and cooled slightly).
- 70g Applesauce.
- 30ml Advocaat.
- 200g – 220g Pumpkin Puree.
- 250g Icing Sugar.
- 80g Unsalted Butter.
- 45ml Advocaat.
- ¼ tsp Ground Nutmeg.
- Yellow Food Colouring (optional).
- Extra Nutmeg and Cake Sprinkles (for decoration).
- Position a shelf in the centre of the oven. Preheat the oven to Gas mark 4. Line a muffin tray with 12 paper cases.
- Whisk together the flour, mixed spice, cinnamon, baking powder, bicarb and salt until well mixed and aerated with no lumps. Set aside.
- In the stand mixer and using the whisk attachment – beat together the granulated sugar, brown sugar, margarine, applesauce, Advocaat and pumpkin puree on a medium speed until smooth.
- Fold in the flour mixture in three batches until just combined, taking care not to over mix.
- Divide the mixture equally between the paper cases, filling no more than three-quarters full. It should be slightly less than one dollop from a 60ml ice cream scoop in each cup.
- Bake for 25 minutes or until well risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean. Mine took 30 minutes.
- Cool in the tin for 10 minutes before carefully lifting out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
- To make the frosting – beat together the icing sugar, unsalted butter, 30ml of the Advocaat, the nutmeg and food colouring (if using) on a low speed until just combined.
- Increase the speed to medium and beat until smooth. If the mixture is too stiff you can add the remaining Advocaat a teaspoon at a time until the frosting is thick but easily spreadable.
- Divide the mixture equally between the cooled cakes. It should be a generous scoop from a 15ml ice cream scoop in the centre of each cake.
- Spread the frosting out to the edges of each cake.
- Dust the cupcakes with extra nutmeg and scatter with cake sprinkles if desired.
- Allow to set a little before serving.