I have a new respect for the Cbeebies ‘I Can Cook’ lady. She cooks with five or six children on each episode, and having recently made cupcakes with two toddlers, I don’t know how she does it. Granted, her children are older and their ingredients are pre-measured and laid out on the table ready for them.
Small Boy and I had been invited over to a friend’s house for an afternoon of baking, and I’d offered my favourite chocolate cupcake recipe. It used American measurements, but that was OK as I brought my measuring cups, and it turned out my friend had a set too. Who knew they were so common?
A small difficulty arose when I realised I’d forgot to bring a copy of the recipe, but luckily I’d e-mailed it to my friend so she could bring it up on the laptop. We searched out all our ingredients and filled the table with bags of flour and sugar, tins of cocoa powder and baking soda, eggs and oil.
Then the real work began: making sure each child had something interesting to do. Small Boy 1 and Small Boy 2 were poised at each end of the table, wooden spoons ready. I made a mistake at the beginning by asking ‘Who wants to sift the flour?’ Naturally there were two immediate cries of ‘ME!!!’ from either end of the table. I gave the job to Small Boy 1, simply because he’d done it before, and swiftly began dumping flour and cocoa powder into his sieve while promising Small Boy 2 that his job would be equally prestigious.
While Small Boy 1 was flinging cocoa across the work surface (proving that experience does not equal expertise), I moved to the other end of the table and hastily scooped three quarters of a cup of sugar into the second bowl and asked my friend for a third of a cup of oil. ‘Please stir these together, and make sure all the sugar gets wet. Try to keep it all in the bowl.’ Given something goopy to work with, Small Boy 2 stopped shooting envious glances at the sieve.
While I was trying to keep the two boys happy and relatively neat, my friend performed the vital task of finding the right ingredients and putting the proper amount into the measuring cups. I should have given her the measuring spoons as well. As I rushed over to the laptop to glance at the recipe again, I somehow mistook ¾ teaspoons of baking soda for 3 teaspoons, and I plopped it into Small Boy 1’s sieve.
I knew what I’d done immediately, but it was too late. Baking soda is a powerful substance, and I imagined our chocolate cupcakes replaced by little chocolate balloons. I conferred with my friend.
Me: ‘The only solution is to double the recipe!’
(I’ve occasionally been accused of being bossy.)
So we rushed around putting extra sugar, oil, flour, cocoa, salt and egg into the bowls, then stood the boys down and, to avoid favouritism, let an adult stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones. Small Boy 1 licked his fingers and rubbed cocoa into his hair while Small Boy 2 (remaining surprisingly tidy) put the cupcake liners into the tin.
Most of the batter went into the cupcake liners and then into the oven, and the rest of it was spread over two wooden spoons and given to the little cooks. (‘Who’d like to lick a spoon?’ ‘ME!!!’)
We ended up with 24 cupcakes instead of 12, and they were pretty delicious. My friend kindly gave us half of them to take home, and Small Boy 1 dissolved into happiness.
The recipe we used makes 12 cupcakes. It’s McCalls Best Chocolate Cupcakes, from the 1963 edition of the McCall’s Cookbook:
- 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup sifted cocoa powder
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup oil
- 1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk (easiest way to get this is to put 1/2 tsp lemon juice or vinegar in a cup and fill it up with milk to the half-cup mark)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 egg
Preheat oven to 375F (gas mark 5). Place paper liners in 12 cupcake cups.
Into large bowl, sift flour with cocoa, sugar, soda and salt.
Add shortening, buttermilk and vanilla and beat until mixed. Add egg, and continue beating 1 minute longer.
Spoon batter evenly into prepared cupcake cups, filling about half full.
Bake about 20 minutes, or until surface springs back when gently pressed wtih a fingertip.
Remove to wire rack; cool thoroughly. Frost as desired.
You can make these slightly more healthy if you like. The last time I made this recipe at home, I used half plain white flour and half whole-grain spelt flour, and it turned out perfectly. Also, although it calls for a teaspoon of salt, I just used 1/4 teaspoon.