Let me just warn you straight off. This is going to be a rather nerdy post littered with numerous Star Trek references. Why? Because it's time to ENGAGE! (See, it's already started...)
I have a confession to make. I am somewhat of a Trekkie. But to insert another disclaimer here aimed at true Trekkies, I am more of a Trekkie dabbler rather than a dedicated follower, so please don't get upset if I show love for only parts of the franchise. While I'm sure that every crew of the various Enterprises are awesome all in their own ways, my devotion lies with Captain Jean Luc Picard and his crew. Second to Picard is Janeway. The rest, well, let's just say I haven't spent as much time with them, if any time at all (Especially not the members of Deep Space Nine. I'm sorry, but they just don't hold my interest.)
Only recently have I started watching every episode of TNG (The Next Generation, for those of you a little less nerdy). I had dipped in and out of TNG as a kid, but my parents weren't dedicated followers so I'd catch an episode here or there. Again, later on during school holidays, I'd dip in and out of the crew's going ons, but never religiously enough to even realise there was an ongoing storyline. (Side note, I love that you can just dip in and out of TNG and still know what's going on, each episode is self contained so you don't really need to know each crew member's history.)
But then late last year, the SyFy channel decided to run TNG from the very beginning, one episode per night. I set my recorder to series link, and I've been going ever since. (Hopefully they run Voyager next!)
With the latest Star Trek movie imminent, I had an itch to scratch.
It all started when I spotted their badges in some of the press photos floating around the web. I thought to myself, that would make a really cool topper for a cupcake. But I wasn't about to spend a small fortune on enough real badges to top a dozen or so cupcakes. No, I'd have to replicate them somehow.
Enter Silli Mould. Something I've been wanting to try since I spotted it in one of the baking stores in town. Basically, once you mix the two components together, you can make your own food safe silicone mould to use with fondant, chocolate, sugar etc. Yes, it's so awesome that a Ferengi would want it. For what, I don't know, but it's cool enough just to want.
After a bit of shopping on Amazon, my badges were on their way to me, along with my Silli Mould.
At this point in time you might be wondering. If I'm such a TNG and Voyager fan, then why was I making the badges from the movie "Into Darkness"? Firstly. I absolutely loved the reboot in 2009 and I can't wait to see "Into Darkness". Secondly. They're AWESOME looking badges. And thirdly, I will be making the commbadges from TNG & Voyager in the near future, don't you worry about that! But with the movie being topical, I thought I'd add my own bit of enthusiasm with some dedicated cupcakes.
I toyed with the idea of decorating the tops of the cupcakes with a smooth coating of fondant in the relevant colours to give the look of the smooth uniforms that is the background to the badges. But, to quote a few lines from another show, one that's not Trekkie related at all, in fact, it's not even on the SyFy channel, but please excuse this unrelated show's input to this Trekkie fest simply because it mirrors my thoughts on fondant's use to entirely cover cakes and cupcakes as a "frosting":
Said while investigating a murder involving a dead cake baker and rooting around his delivery van:
Korsak: (Eyeing out tubs of gumpaste) What the hell is ‘fun-dant’?
Rizzoli: Fondant, and it’s sticky, sweet, inedible crap that they put on cakes.
Korsak: Don’t put it on my retirement cake.
Rizzoli: Duly noted.
That's all I'm going to say on this subject. For now.
Back to Star Trek. So, fondant tops ruled out, I thought a simple swirl of buttercream would do just fine. Swirled with a large plain tip instead of a star tip to help with the smooth appearance.
I was almost all set to make it so for baking at the May bank holiday weekend, all I needed to do was decide on a flavour. For all the careful planning and prepping, carefully making my gumpaste badges and making sure I had the right colours for my frosting, I had yet to decide on the type of cake. I ended up making the decision while standing in the grocery store while Googling cakes on my phone.
I'd done vanilla and chocolate what feels like thousands of times, and as lovely as those flavours are, I wanted to do something a little different. Something a Klingon might approve of. Somehow my brain transported to a cake recipe I'd once made years and years ago from an old fashioned book my mom had bought at a second hand store. It was an almond flavoured silver white cake with chocolate frosting.
I really love almond cake, I enjoy its strange aroma, it's sort of a perfume, but not as floral or soapie as rose or lavender. I also enjoy marzipan, and when it comes to eating traditional Christmas fruit cakes, I peel away the fondant from the marzipan layer and push it to one side of my plate before getting back to the good stuff, my marzipan covered cake.
Like SciFi, almond isn't loved by all. It seemed fitting. And I was excited about making the silver white cake again after what seems like lightyears ago.
Of course, chocolate frosting wasn't going to work as I needed the icing to be white, so a bit of perusing the shelves of the store settled me on white chocolate for the buttercream. I think white chocolate and almond is a great flavour combination. The almond tames the sweetness of the white chocolate perfectly.
When I got home with my loot, I dug up the old recipe book with the silver white cake in it and compared that recipe to the one I'd found online, Magnolia's version of a vanilla silver white cake. My recipe book used shortening, Magnolia's used butter. I opted with butter. Actually, I ended up using Magnolia's recipe entirely because it used self raising flour instead of plain. A small convenience that I liked. Apart from the use of almond extract instead of vanilla, and the butter vs shortening, the recipes were identical with regards to sugar, flour, eggs etc.
However, I did make my own tweaks. I reduced the sugar by half a cup (the white chocolate buttercream would be plenty sweet enough) and I substituted some of the flour for ground almonds. I wanted the texture as well as the moisture that the almond meal would add.
I was worried that the cake wouldn't be very rich because of the ommission of egg yolks, but after hubby and I thoroughly taste tested the cupcakes with and without frosting and found that resistance was futile, we both decided they were perfectly rich enough, especially with the Swiss meringue buttercream.
Also, the almond meal did exactly what I'd hoped it would do. While the crumb looked almost too moist, as if underbaked, it was actually light and fluffy with the perfect amount of moisture. I was also really glad about cutting down the amount of sugar, it really didn't need any more than the one cup.
So the result after considering all the Data? Perfect! Even missing some of the self raising flour, they still rose beautifully and were light and fluffy thanks to the beaten egg whites. The lovely flavour of almond in the sponge was complimented by the white chocolate in the buttercream, and very importantly, the badges looked AMAZING!
I wasn't sure how they would be received at work, but as it turns out, more people like almond cake than I thought. They went quickly, near speeds of warp 9, and of course, plenty of "How did you make the badge?" "Can you really eat it?!" "How did you make it silver?" followed by "That was SO good" while wiping crumbs off faces. Yup. Success. (And if you're wondering, yes, the red one was demolished first ;) )
I'm sure I don't need to say this, but of course you can decorate these cupcakes any way you choose. Pale pink frosting with silver dragees or white sprinkles. Sprinkled with roasted almond flakes or maybe even a marzipan cherry. This recipe is also originally meant as a cake, so if cupcakes aren't your thing, this will make a two layer 9" cake.
However you choose to make this recipe, I leave you with these words.
Live Bake long and prosper.
Almond Cake Ingredients
Makes 18 cupcakes or 2x 9" cake sponges
4 large Egg Whites, room temp
225g Golden/White Granulated Sugar
115g Unsalted Butter
1/2 tsp Almond Extract
200g Self Raising Flour
50g Ground Almonds
Pinch of Salt
- Preheat oven to 180°C (160°C Fan assisted)
- Line 1 and a half cupcake pans with papers (18 in total)
- Combine flour, ground almonds and salt in a small bowl, set aside
- Combine milk and almond extractin a small jug, set aside
- In a large clean bowl, beat eggwhites until stiff peaks form, set aside
- In a separate bowl, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and well creamed
- Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients to the butter and beat until just incorporated
- Beat in 1/2 of the milk & almond
- Repeat the previous 2 steps, ending with the last of the flour. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between each addition
- Mix in a small amount of the beaten eggwhites to loosen the mixture
- Add the rest of the beaten eggwhites and carefully fold into the batter until you no longer see white streaks
- Fill prepared cupcake papers to about 2/3
- Bake for 16 - 18mins, until the sponge springs back when lightly pressed or a toothpick inserted comes out clean
- Allow to cool in cupcake pan for 10mins on a cooling rack before removing cupcakes from pan to cool completely
- Frost with white chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream once completely cooled
White Chocolate Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Enough for a generous swirl of frosting on 18 cupcakes
4 Large Egg Whites, room temperature
200g Granulated White Sugar
350g Unsalted Butter, room temperature
100g Good Quality White Chocolate
Pinch of Salt
Gel or paste colouring, optional
- Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave, set aside to cool
- Combine the egg whites and sugar in a heatproof bowl
- Put the bowl over a pot of simmering water
- Whisk over heat until all the sugar is dissolved and it resembles marshmallow fluff, about 3 mins
- Pour the mixture into a large bowl and beat until the mixture is cool and you have a glossy meringue
- Beat in the butter a tablespoon at a time, making sure it's completely mixed in before adding more
- Tip: At some point it will look curdled, DON'T WORRY! Once you've added all of the butter, just keep beating and it will come together to form a smooth, creamy buttercream
- Beat in the salt and then mix in the cooled melted chocolate
- Tint using gel or paste colours, optional
Sponge recipe adapted from Magnolia's Silver White Cake