Easter is just about here. I know because the supermarkets have been telling me ever since they took the Christmas decorations down and started stuffing the aisles with chocolate eggs. Also, there's a large white marshmallow bunny hiding in the fridge. So in celebration of the season, I decided that this week I would make Hot Cross Bun Cupcakes. Here's the recipe, courtesy of that most esteemed of publications, Cupcakes: a fine selection of sweet treats (Murdoch Books).

For the base, you will need:
250g SR flour
3 tsp ground cinnamon
125g chopped unsalted butter, softened
125g sultanas
45g mixed peel
170g caster sugar
185 ml milk
2 eggs

For the topping, you will need:
2 tsp pectin
2 tbsp caster sugar
60g icing sugar
lemon juice

This is what you do:
1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C and line your cupcake tins with paper cases.

2. Sift the flour and cinnamon into a big bowl. Add the soft chopped butter and rub until the mixture looks like bread crumbs.

3. Add the sultanas, mixed peel and sugar. Make a well in the centre.

4. Whisk the milk and eggs together and then pour the mixture into the well.

5. Mix together until just combined. It should look a bit lumpy.

6. Spoon the batter into the cupcake cases and put in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

7. While the cupcakes are cooling, make the glaze. Put the pectin powder, sugar and a couple of teaspoons of water into a suacepan. Cook over the heat until dissolved.

8. Brush the glaze over the cupcakes and allow to cool.

9. To make the icing, mix the icing sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Spoon the icing into an icing bag and pipe a cross on each cupcake.

Makes about 20 cupcakes.

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So I've been doing a little bit of research on Easter and something that caught my attention was this reading from Corinthians: Get rid of the old yeast so that you may be a new batch without yeast - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.

Apparently, (according to Wikipedia, anyway), this is a reference to not allowing yeast in the house for Passover. I was reading somewhere else (a celebrity e-newsletter I subscribe to - yes I know my sources aren't great), that leavened bread represents our selfish ego, that thing which rises up, all overblown and proud, and overshadows the needs of others. By removing the yeast from our bread, we have a chance to decide what puffed-up, self-important stuff we want to remove from our lives.

I guess this reading from Corinthians struck a chord with me, not only because of the baking analogy, but because it made me realise that there's been a fair bit of yeast in my life lately. I'm obviously talking metaphorically here, and not about candida. OK, so that clarified, I hereby pledge that I am going to try to unleaven my life so that I may be a new batch, as I really am. 

Just a random thought here - someone needs to send a memo to Coles and Woolies about their hot cross buns. Those bad boys look like they have so much yeast in them they might pop as soon as you glance sideways at them.

And the random recipient is...

OK, so just to set the scene, I was attending this workshop today on how to relate to people who are grieving and other pastoral care stuff like that. This workshop was put on by the hospital for their volunteers and the speaker was the hospital chaplain.

Originally, my plan had been to hit the pavement after the workshop and find my random recipient on the street. But during the workshop, the thought occurred to me, what better person could there be to receive my random cupcake than the chaplain lady herself? I know she wasn't a random stranger, per se, although it has to be pointed out that prior to the workshop, I had never met her before. So I think she meets the criteria (which I haven't written down anywhere, but whatever). Anyway, her name is Stephanie and she's very un-chaplain like. I always imagine hospital chaplains to be crusty old dudes with lots of liver spots and thinning hair, crouched over in black robes, kind of like a cross between a vulture and the Mr Burns character in The Simpsons (but a bit less Macchiavellian). OK OK, so I'm clearly exaggerating here, but you get my drift.

When I told Stephanie about my random cupcake gig she laughed and said "God bless you!", which is kind of nice because even though I'm an agnostic, it's always good to have some spiritual insurance. She also said that I'd made her day, which is good to hear. I like that I helped make someone else's day.

Anyway, so here's Stephanie, my fifth random recipient! Happy Easter to you, Stephanie, and to anyone out there who is reading this little blog.
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Today's random recipe is Pistachio, Lime and Cardamom cupcakes, otherwise known as PLCs. This is my all-time favourite cupcake recipe and a guaranteed winner every time. Bake these and you will have people rubbing up against you like crazy kitties.

For the base you will need:

140g shelled, unsalted pistachios
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
150g chopped, softened butter
185g SR flour
170g caster sugar
3 eggs
125 g natural yoghurt

For the topping you will need:
juice of 1 lime
250g plain yoghurt
1 tbsp honey

This is what you do:
1. Pre-heat your oven to 180 degrees C. Line about 18 holes of your cupcake tin with paper cases.

2. Put the pistachios and ground cardamom in a food processor and pulse until the nuts are chopped up.

3. Remove the nutty mixture and put in a bowl. Add the butter, flour and sugar and mix until crumbly. Then add the eggs and yoghurt and combine.

4. Spoon the lovely batter into the cupcake liners. Bake for 15 minutes. Put on a rack to cool.

5. Once the cupcakes have cooled, drizzle some lime juice over each cupcake.

6. Mix together the natural yoghurt and honey until smooth.

7. Put a dollop of the yoghurt mixture onto each cupcake. If you like, you can sprinkle crushed pistachios on top of each cupcake, just to give them that extra-delicious nuttiness.

This recipe comes from an amazing cupcake cookbook called Cupcakes: a fine selection of sweet treats (Murdoch Books). It's my cupcake Bible.
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And now for a random story about pistachios. OK, so one day my hubby and I were having brekky at an amazing roadside dumpling place in Urumqi, which is in north-west China. If you want to track this dumpling place down, all I can remember (apart from the awe-inspiring dumplings) was that it was huddled in the shadow of the Urumqi Holiday Inn, which, coincidentally, was also overshadowing the cockroach-infested fire-trap of a hotel we'd picked out for ourselves.

Anyway, while we were stuffing these most incredible dumplings down our throats, we managed to make the acquaintance of an Australian travel guide writer who was sitting next to us. So we got talking and he ended up telling us about his latest find, which he'd only discovered the day before. "The best ice-cream in the whole world,' were his words as he scribbled some directions on the back of a paper napkin.

A couple of bus rides across the city later and there we were, standing out the front of a tiny little hole-in-the-wall ice-cream parlour. Inside (which consisted of two tiny adjoining living rooms) were crammed lots of Uighurs from all walks of life - grandmas, grandkids, young lovers, hipsters and the odd businessmen - all wolfing down ice-cream served in petite glass jars.

We weaved our way through this mass of Islamic ice-cream-eating humanity to the counter, whereupon I asked the assistant in very bad Mandarin what flavours were on offer. He looked at me like I was mad. "Only one,' he said, "and that is pistachio."

An ice-cream parlour with only one flavour? Granted, it is the best flavour in the world, but still...only one flavour? That's pretty random.

But I digress. Back to cupcakes. It's time for the taste test.
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Obscenely good, even if I do say so myself.

The next day...

And now to reveal this week's random recipient. Before I found him, though, I approached an older couple and ran the spiel past them. The lady smiled, patted me on the shoulder and said in what sounded like a northern English accent: 'Bless your heart, but not today, love." Meanwhile, her partner was shaking his head, with a look on his face that said "You're well overdue for your medication, aren't you?"

Anyway, after that, I rallied my resolve and approached a bloke sitting on a park bench on the council lawns. I gave him the same spiel and he said he'd be happy to accept my random cupcake gift. So here's Sean, my fourth random recipient!
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Sean seemed like a good bloke to me. He even invited me to sit down for a chat and never once gave the impression that he thought I was loop-dee-loo for my random act of cupcake. Good on you, Sean. I appreciate that.

Anyway, so the scoop on Sean is that he's from Sydney but currently travelling around Oz with his partner and two kids. They've been to Tassie and travelled up through South Australia, taking in Coober Pedy and its numerous flies along the way. Anyway, after a rest stop in the Alice, Sean and his tribe are off to Queensland, hoping to get to the far north by winter. If you're reading this, Sean, I hope you liked the cupcake and that you and your family continue to have an awesome road trip.

Well, that's all from me for now. Until next week, may one and all keep enjoying the randomness that is life.
 
This week, in honour of St. Patrick and the Emerald Isle (from whence my mother hails), I've decided to make Irish Barmbrac cupcakes.

Barmbrac is supposed to be a kind of bread with sultanas and raisins in it, but you can also make Barmbrac cake. My mum used to make it when I was little. It's an overnight job - you need to soak the dried fruit in black tea so that the sultanas and raisins and currants get nicely plumped up. If you want, you can hide a coin and a ring in the batter before popping them in the oven. Finding a ring means you'll get married and finding a coin means you're in for a windfall.

You will need:
100g raisins
100g sultanas
100g currants
1/4 litre brewed black tea
 450g plain flour
1 tsp mixed spice
75g brown sugar
1tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
1 egg
115g melted unsalted butter

What you do:
Put the dried fruit in a big bowl and pour in the tea. Leave the whole lot to soak overnight. Add a nip of brandy if you like.

1. After the fruit has soaked, strain it. Set aside the strained tea juice.

2. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Line cupcake trays with paper cases. Alternatively, you can grease the trays with some oil and go without the paper cases.

3. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients.

4. Get a big bowl and put in the egg and butter. Mix well.

5. Add the fruit to the egg and butter mixture, making sure they are well combined.

6. Fold in the dry mixture. Add a bit of the strained tea juice if the mixture is dry. Knead the mixture so that you get a dough. Resist the urge to eat the dough. Oh what the hell, go on then.

7. Roll the dough into balls and put into the cupcake tray. At this point, you can hide a ring and a coin in the batter if you want.

8. Bake until the cupcakes are a dark golden colour and feel firm. Twenty minutes or so should do it. Let them cool for 5 minutes before removing them from the tray and placing on a rack to further cool.

9. Scoff them down nice and warm with a bit of butter. 
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I have an overwhelming urge to Photoshop a cupcake in place of the shamrock, but I won't.
I wonder who will be my random recipient tomorrow? Stay tuned and all will be revealed...

12 hours later...

So it's the next day - St Patrick's Day - and this morning I rose with the birds to get started on baking the cupcakes. The mixed fruit which had been soaking overnight in tea were plump and juicy - lovely!

I started to make the batter, but after a while I noticed it was turning more into a dough. There seemed to be way too much flour for the wet ingredients to absorb. Maybe I had gone wrong with the measurements? My heart started to race and my breathing grew shallow. It was at this stage that I started to worry that perhaps this batch of cupcakes was going to fail.

Failure.

The word fills me with dread and fear. Normally, when staring in the face of failure, my first thoughts turn to flight. But I've recently decided that that's not a good way to live. Life is no fun if it is played as a zero-sum game. So instead of thinking that I should throw out the batch along with the blog, I took a deep breath and kept going.

Surprisingly, they turned out just fine. Different, but fine. Thank you, St. Patrick.
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And now to the important and fun part...the random recipient! I decided that as the recipients for the last two weeks had been female, I should choose a male.

And so it was that I homed in on Prasad, who was standing outside a travel shop in the centre of town.
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My 3rd random recipient, Prasad.
I introduced myself, explained my mission and also added that I was not crazy. Prasad listened very patiently, asked some questions and then, once he realised I wasn't scamming him or being a dodgy geezer, he happily accepted my St. Patrick's Day gift.

It turns out that Prasad is from Sri Lanka and he's here on holiday with his family. Prasad, if you're reading this, I very much hope you enjoyed the cupcakes and that you and your family have a wonderful holiday!
 
So this week I decided that pineapple cupcakes might be nice. According to the recipe, which comes from Fergal Connolly's 500 Cupcakes (again), these go down a treat with a cuppa tea. The base recipe is from the book, but I've adapted the icing.

For the cupcakes you will need:
225g softened unsalted butter
225g caster sugar
225g SR flour
1tsp baking powder
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
175g drained crushed pineapple

For the icing you will need:
250g cream cheese
100g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 tbsp drained crushed pineapple

1. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Line the cupcake trays with paper cases.

2. In a large bowl, combine all the cupcake ingredients except for the pineapple. Use electric beaters to get the batter nice and fluffy.

3. Add the pineapple and stir in.

4. Spoon the batter into the cupcake cases and bake for 20 minutes. Put the cupcakes on a rack to cool.

5. Put all of the icing ingredients in a bowl except for the pineapple and mix with electric beaters. Then add the pineapple.

6. When the cupcakes are cool, spread the icing onto each one.

Makes 24-28 cupcakes.
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Before...
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...and after.
So after I had conducted my quality control procedures, I went for a random stroll down my street in search of some random cupcake recipients.

After about 100 metres, I came across a young fellow walking in the opposite direction. He was wearing aviator sunnies and had a super well-pressed shirt and was wired for sound, but without the rollerskates like in the Cliff Richard video. I thought I'd give him a go. So I attracted his attention and explained how I was writing a blog about giving cupcakes away to random strangers and would he like a cupcake? He smiled and said no thanks and kept walking.

My first random rejection! It was a historic moment, that's for sure, but as I kept trudging down the road it also got me thinking about this little venture of mine. I mean, how would I react if some random stranger stopped me in the street and offered me something to eat? To tell the truth, I'd probably say no, too.

Which is why I take my hats off to people like Lisa, last week's random recipient. There she was at the cinema, minding her own beeswax, waiting to go in to watch Alice in Wonderland, when I rocked up and offered her random baked goods. Actually, I wonder if the thought ever crossed her mind that she was a bit like Alice in the movie, what with being asked to eat random cakes and all. Truly, to accept a random cupcake from a stranger is much more of a courageous act than people might be willing to acknowledge.

Anyway, while I was thinking these thoughts, I came across a group of five women. I told them about my blog and offered them the cupcakes. Their initial reaction was kind of along the lines of: There's nothing evil in these cupcakes, is there? (I don't think they were referring to calories.) And a fair question it was too, given what I'd been thinking about just moments earlier. After I reassured them that, no, the cupcakes weren't deadly, they completely entered into the spirit of the thing, even agreeing to have their photo taken for this blog. So say hello to my second lovely random recipients Kelly, Abbey, Sarah, Jenny and Leanne.
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They're students studying in the area of health and are from down south. It turns out that they're studying where my husband works. Forget about six degrees of separation, this town operates on about 1 point five.

OK, so just another random thought: I feel kind of bad that they only had two cupcakes to share between five people, so ladies, if you're reading this and you liked the cupcakes, just pop in to see the IT guy (my hubby) tomorrow and he'll give you some more.
 
Welcome to Random Acts of Cupcake, where I make a different cupcake each week, give a cupcake away to a random stranger and then blog about it.

So this week's cupcake is Chocolate and Beetroot. I actually made these cupcakes a few days ago, but they're still really moist and yummy. Here's the recipe:

500g fresh beetroots
250g SR flour
2 tbsp cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
2 eggs
75 ml vegetable oil
75 ml buttermilk

1. Steam the beetroot for 50 minutes, until tender. Drain and rinse under cold water. When they're cool enough, peel the skin off. Put the beetroots in a food processor and blend until mushy.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 175 degrees C. Line the cupcake tins with paper cases.

3. In a bowl, combine the flour, cocoa, sugar and baking powder.

4. In another bigger bowl, beat the eggs, oil and buttermilk. Add the beetroot and mix in well. Then add the dry ingredients and stir until everything is mixed in.

5. Spoon the batter into the cupcake cases, filling about 2/3 of each case. Bake for 20 minutes. Put on a rack to cool.

(Makes about 12-16 cupcakes)

Technically speaking, these are supposed to be muffins (I got the recipe from Fergal Connolly's book 500 Cupcakes), but I've decided to call them cupcakes.Which raises the question, what's the difference?

Anyway, it's time to go out and practise some random acts of cupcake! Wish me luck!
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So I'm back! I went to the cinema to see Alice in Wonderland with my friend, Kathleen. As soon as I walked into the foyer, I was anxiously scoping the place out for my first random acts of cupcake recipient. After about a nano-second of fretting, I decided on a young woman sitting by herself who looked open-minded and friendly (I didn't want to get rejected on my first random act, after all).

So I after I bought my ticket, I approached my random recipient and the encounter went sort of like this:

Me:                Um. Hello there. Do you like cupcakes?
Recipient:    (A bit uncertainly). Uh...yeah. Who doesn't?
Me:                Well in that case, I was wondering if you would be
                      interested in participating in a
social experiment I'm 
                      conducting?

Recipient:    Um...
Me:               Basically, I make a different kind of cupcake
                     each week and then I give them away to a
                     random stranger. It's for my blog. Would you
                     like one? (whipping out a box of cupcakes)
Recipient:   Sweet! What kind are they?
Me:               Chocolate and beetroot.
Recipient:    Oooh, they're warm! Did you just bake these?
Me:                Um, no. It's just that they've been in the car
                      for a bit. But anyway....

Unfortunately, I was so excited that my first random act of cupcake had been well-received that I didn't find out much more about Lisa, apart from the fact that she was going to watch the same session of Alice in Wonderland as me and was waiting for her friends. But I did ask if I could take her photo and she very kindly obliged. Here is Lisa, my very first random acts of cupcake recipient!
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