Oh, it’s been such a long time since I did a baking post! And this is a perfect way to celebrate post #200!
Mum came up to to see me a couple of weeks ago for Mothers’ Day and one of our outings was to one of the Asian supermarkets in Victoria Park. They’ve intrigued me since I used to get dragged around them as a kid. So many spices, so many fantastic finds (like the Hakubaku green tea noodles I’ve been searching for), and lots and lots of things you would never consider eating and quite probably don’t want to. But hey, it’s probably different if you’ve grown up with it. After all, not everyone likes Vegemite either.
One of my finds was sugar coated fennel seeds.
When I was younger our family had an Indian penfriend who we sponsored to come out and stay with us a couple of times. She would bring us gifts and sweets and one thing she brought were sugar coated spices. Then as an adult I’d visit our favourite Indian restaurant and they’d have them at the counter as a little palette cleanser (an alternative to a mint lolly). The fennel seeds have a sweet aniseedy flavour, not unlike a humbug. You either love them or hate them – I gave them to a friend and she thought they were awful!
So I have a huge bag of these things sitting in my pantry and was pondering what on earth I could do with them besides eating them by the handful. Also in the cupboard was a little bit of T2 Choc Chip Chai tea which I bought Jas for his birthday last year. I don’t really drink tea (and when I did drink chai I had it black), but I do like the smell of cloves. So I got thinking about incorporating it and the fennel seeds into cake.
I was inspired by this recipe from Anita at Dessert First Girl for 2 kinds of Chai cupcakes and I went out and bought some of my favourite chocolate – Green and Black’s “Maya Gold” which is dark chocolate with orange and spices. I found it frustrating though trying to convert the recipe quantities for Australia. Every site I found on Google gave me a different answer. In the end I turned to Australian cook Donna Hay for a vanilla cake recipe. I then pounded and ground up about a dessert spoonful of the chai tea and then sifted it into the cake flour. I always use Anchor Lighthouse cake flour for my baking.
The end result is a sweet, delicately spiced vanilla cake with flavours of clove and cardamom. I wouldn’t mind adding a little more spice next time and perhaps even some dutch cocoa. But it came out quite nicely for the ingredients I did use.
When I served it to Jas I coated the top of the cake in melted Maya Gold and sprinkled it with the fennel seeds. He said it wasn’t bad, but that he felt the topping needed to be sweeter. I had been planning on vanilla buttercream but because it was too dark to take photos yesterday evening I decided to whip up a little this morning instead, just for the photos.
This recipe for just 2 cupcakes came in handy! I altered it and used ~2TBS butter, ~3/4 cup sifted icing sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract with 1/2 TBS milk. My blender is really cheap so setting 1 is like a jackhammer, so I mixed it all together with a fork first. I then carefully iced the cupcakes with a tiny spatula, studded them with the fennel seeds and got to work setting up my diffuser and a tripod so I could photograph them.
They’re so delicious! You only need a few fennel seeds as they have a strong taste, but they’re so much more exciting than a plain vanilla cake. Because they are already strongly spiced and sweet, I probably wouldn’t serve with chai tea as it would be overkill, but maybe an earthier drink to counteract the sweetness.
To sum these cakes up, I’d say they are delicately spiced, moist but not heavy, crunchy on top (before icing), fragrant and very sweet.
Have a go making them and share your own baking improvisation stories below!
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