Well so far this blog may not have stretched you enough as a reader. Isn’t it time to challenge your prejudices, shatter some misconceptions and as David Brent would say to ‘think out of the box’ a bit?
What I’m meaning of course is to consider whether you can cope with savoury instead of sweet, or to be exact, can you contemplate a savoury muffin recipe as an ‘individual portions’ type of bake instead of a sweet cupcake one?
I’m a little bored of cupcakes. To be honest the whole cupcake decoration obsession has passed me by, I think because the ratio of filling to topping just seems plain wrong to me: too much buttery sweet topping in relation to what is often bland dry cake when overbaked (an easy thing to do), so I find them a disappointing waste of calories.
Moreover although I’m sure there are many men who are really into making cupcakes as a means of self expression and creativity, I can’t help feeling all that cuteness of decoration is just pushing stereotype too much. The Jeremy Clarksons of this world make bread as a display of virility (well at least when it’s raining or snowing so heavily that the barbecue won’t light up) and the rest make…cupcakes, or so baking magazines might like us to believe: there’s at least one whole magazine devoted to cupcakes. I’m still waiting for the one devoted to tasty, plain, unshowy bakes – “Amish Baking” perhaps?
Did Emily Wilding Davidson really throw herself under the King’s horse for women’s equality so that we now have the choice of whether or not to vote but feel the stigma of inadequate domestic skills if we don’t cover a supersized fairy cake (because in essence that’s what they are) with hand made decoration that would put Escoffier to shame? Most leaders of the women’s suffrage movement wouldn’t have been seen dead even visiting a kitchen at that time, so in that respect we’ve got progress. However they were all eating much better cake then, even if they didn’t make if themselves. It was the era of Macaroons and Victoria sandwich and the newly established Woman’s Weekly published recipes donated by the editor’s cook.
I’m not suggesting anyone who makes cupcakes as a means of expression in their baking is abnormal, rather that the apparent perceived wisdom of current baking appears to be the other way. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for cupcake refuseniks like me in the rush for self expression through cake. We are in the baking Gulag, quietly beavering away with our plain, taste-focussed recipes like culinary Ivan Denisoviches.
But the point remains, to me cupcakes seem to be being used as modern tools of manipulation, especially in the workplace. I have had professional women tell me their bosses (male and female) offer them cupcakes in return for working late as a ‘reward’ for their diligence. The portion size, cuteness and lack of cost are meant to convey appreciation in the way that a bottle of wine, flowers or chocolates have too many connotations of broken diets or assignation to be risk free tokens of appreciation. I can see there may be good intentions behind the gesture, but at the same time, I think I’d prefer a simple expression of thanks (and maybe a decent reference the next time I went for a promotion).
So here is my position. I bake muffins far more frequently than I do cupcakes and just lately I’ve been playing around with savoury ones instead of just sweet. Why? Because most of the food I bake at the moment is to eat on a daily basis not to give away, and savoury muffins are great with soup instead of a sandwich and much more transportable in a lunchbox. They feel a bit more special than a prepacked cheese and pickle sandwich.
This recipe has caused a schism amongst my usual tasters. Grace is struggling with the notion of looking at something she expects to be sweet and finding it savoury. It’s the sweet and sour onions that are confusing her I think, which at first taste are like apples, but then have a slight tang of sourness and fieriness to match the savouriness of the strong cheese coming through.
John Shuttleworth, Sheffield’s most famous musician ( what do you mean ABC, Jarvis Cocker, Human League and Def Lepard all got there before him?) highlights the problem: sometimes in life it isn’t possible to go back to savoury after sweet.
Of course if a batch of these muffins cost £40 and were made by Heston Blumenthal there might not be so much bitching, but let me just reassure you, these are lovely and all those who have eaten them otherwise have enjoyed them.
They are perfect for school and work lunchboxes, are easy to make by older children (and younger ones with supervision if you chop everything up for them), and actually give out quite a good message about baking. Not everything has to be sweet, and sometimes you can bake ‘real food’ to eat every day as part of a normal diet and not as a way of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.
The onions are beautiful and you can make a larger quantity to store in the fridge for eating on sandwiches, with cheese or putting in other dishes. The muffins themselves will store in the freezer and keep in the tin for 2-3 days without going stale.
Plus I’ve made them with gluten free flour and they work just fine, so those on a GF free diet can have a ‘sandwich’ equivalent without the bread.
Go on, tell John Shuttleworth he’s wrong, and you can go back to savoury now.
Cheese and Onion Muffins
110g salted butter, melted
300g self raising flour (you can use Dove’s Farm gluten free self raising flour fine here, I have and they taste good)
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1/2 teaspoon table salt
250g natural yogurt
1 tablespoon English mustard
200g sweet and sour onions
200g strong cheese (Glastonbury cheddar is good, as is Red Leicester) chopped into small chunks
black pepper (a grinding to taste)
200g sweet and sour onions to sprinkle over the top
1 x 12 hole muffin tin lined with paper cases (I prefer the tulip kind)
Bake at 180 degrees C fan oven
- Sift the flour, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the centre.
- Whisk together the yogurt, eggs, melted butter, black pepper and mustard until combined
- Pour half the liquid mixture into the well of dry ingredients and add the cheese and onions.Stir together to just mix.
- Mix in the rest of the liquid and mix until just combined. Don’t overmix- figure of eight motions from bottom to top of the bowl will do the trick.
- Divide the mixture quickly between the paper cases using an ice cream scoop or a tablespoon. Top with the onions if using.
- Put the muffins into the oven in the middle section and cook for 20-25 minutes until golden brown. They should feel firm when you touch them. My oven takes 25 minutes and I turn them around after 20 minutes to ensure even browning.
- Cool in the tin for a few minutes before cooling fully on a wire rack.
Sweet and Sour Onions
Adapted from a recipe in David Lebovitz’s “The Sweet Life in Paris” which he acknowledges was inspired by a Franco Italian cook. This is my version which I played with as an excuse to use some new spice mixture that I’d bought from Bart Spices. If you don’t have the Berbere mix that Bart make, you can leave it out or add a bit more Harissa, a pinch of fenugreek and a bit more pepper if you want to try and get the idea of the spice mix.
If you can leave them for a day in the fridge before using them they taste even better. They keep fine covered in the fridge for a week.
450g small onions chopped into small chunks
2 tablespoons soft light brown sugar
60ml cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Harissa
1/2 teaspoon Berbere spice (Bart spices make it)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- Put all the ingredients in a large pan with a lid, cover and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes. They will soften and not colour.
- Remove the pan lid and cook the onions. As the liquid reduces they will need to be stirred.
- Cook until there is very little liquid left on the onions at the bottom of the pan and it looks syrupy.
- Remove from the heat, allow to cool and then mix onions and juices together into a bowl and store in the fridge until needed.