“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not”
One of the only things (things only, not people) I love more than books is baking, and my dream is to one day own a business that combines the two. I started cooking when I was about 12, and over the last 10 years I have developed a love for food, and for baking in particular. I’m not usually one for making things up when it comes to cooking (instead I stick to a recipe from one of my many, many cookbooks – seriously, I brought about 2/3 of them interstate recently, and they weighed over 40kg!), but over the last few months I have had a few recipes rolling around in my head inspired by some of my favourite books, so I thought I would give creating one a go!
“A gargantuan tiered caked shaped to resemble a circus tent and frosted in stripes, the filling within a bright shock of red”
I decided that the first book I would try my hand at creating a recipe for would be one of the books that first generated the idea of book-inspired recipes in my head – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I first read this book about 5 years ago, and to this day it is one of my all time favourites. I am not a particularly visual person when it comes to reading, and while I become very much drawn into the characters and their emotions, I rarely get drawn into the places where the stories play out. The Night Circus is one of the few exceptions to this rule – every time I read the book, I become immersed in the incredible world of Le Cirque des Rêves; I feel as if I am really there, surrounded by the sounds and smells and, in particular, the tastes. At the beginning of the year I re-read the book (for what I think must be the 6th or so time), taking care to note each and every mention of food throughout. I then considered the overall atmosphere created by the book, along with a number of specific quotes, and created the recipe which I detail below. My hope was that the cupcakes would evoke similar feelings in the people who ate them as the book evoked in me when I read it, though on a much smaller, less intricately beautiful scale.
“Confections deliriously executed in chocolate and butterscotch, berries bursting with creams and liqueurs.”
The recipe for my Night Circus-inspired creation is a conglomeration of different recipes I have loved over the years, all slightly altered to better suit this particular situation. There was a bit of trial and error when it come to getting things just right – I discovered that not all food colouring is created equally, and that eating large quantities of caramel sauce on an almost empty stomach is a very bad idea! In the end, I have come up with a final recipe I am quite happy with. A few of my friends tried the cupcakes at various stages of their creation, and so far no one’s said anything bad! There are quite a few different components, but they are all fairly simple in and of themselves, so this recipe shouldn’t be too hard for even the most novice of bakers.
“But you think perhaps you can smell caramel wafting through the evening breeze, beneath the crisp scent of the autumn leaves. A subtle sweetness at the edge of the cold.”
Dark Chocolate Cupcakes
- 125g butter, softened
- 165g caster sugar
- 2 eggs
- 190g self-raising flour
- 2tbs cocoa powder
- 1/2 cup milk
- 100g dark chocolate, melted
Salted-Caramel Secret Centre
- 75g butter
- 50g brown sugar
- 50g caster sugar
- 50g golden syrup
- 200ml double cream
- Fleur de sel
White Chocolate Icing & Secret Red Centre
- 100g butter, softened
- 250g cream cheese
- 250g white chocolate, melted
- Red food colouring
Dark Chocolate Icing
- 50g butter, softened
- 125g cream cheese
- 125g dark chocolate, melted
- Black food colouring
Equipment & Decorations
- 12-hole 1/2-cup capacity cupcake tins
- Appropriately themed cupcake wrappers. I used silver ones for these, but you could also use black, or black and white striped ones would be amazing if you could find them!
- Electric mixer and bowel(s)
- Wooden spoon
- Dessert spoon
- Wire cooling racks
- Small sauce pan
- Piping equipment – I used a Wilton Colour Swirl Decorating Set, which I purchased from Spotlight. It took a little bit of fiddling with to get it working, but once I did I found it simple and easy to sue, and I was very happy with the results.
“Often, just before dawn, there is no color to be seen in Le Cirque des Rêves save for [the rêveurs] small splashes of scarlet.”
- The first thing you want to make is the dark chocolate cupcakes. To start, preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F), and line the cupcake tins with the cupcake cases.
- Place the butter and sugar in a bowel (it helps to chop the softened butter into a number of smaller chunks, rather than just plonking all 100 grams in at once) and beat with an electric mixer until light and creamy. Gradually add the eggs and beat well.
- Sift over the flour and cocoa powder and beat until combined. Fold through the milk and chocolate (I recommend doing this with a wooden spoon rather than the electric mixer) and spoon the mixture into the cupcake tins. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool on wire racks.
- The next thing to make is the salted caramel sauce. This particular sauce is an adaptation of a Nigella Lawson recipe, and it is delicious! If you have any leftover after filling the cupcakes, I highly recommend it on top of vanilla ice-cream, or just eaten straight from the spoon. Place the butter, sugars, and golden syrup into a small saucepan over low heat until they have started bubbling. Simmer for three minutes, and then add the cream and stir. Add the fleur de sel, tiny quantities at a time, tasting after each edition until it has reached a saltiness you like. Take the sauce off the heat and put it aside until it has completely cooled.
- While the cupcakes and caramel sauce are cooling, you can start making the icing, starting with the white chocolate icing. Place the softened butter and cream cheese in a bowel and combine with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the melted white chocolate and mix. Place 1/3 of the mix into a seperate bowel and add the red food colouring, stirring through.
- Repeat the process for the white chocolate icing for the dark chocolate icing. Rather then separating into two bowels, leave the entirety in one bowel, and add the black food colouring. The first time I tried this, the food colouring I had wasn’t particularly good, and after adding three tubes of it I still hadn’t achieved anything close to black. The second time I used a different colouring (Queens Food Gel), and I got a good colour after adding about a third of the tube. The variaties you will be able to source will vary depending on where you live, so I would recommend doing some googling to try and find out which ones are good. Also, be warned – black food colouring stains terribly!
- Once the icings have been made and dyed their respective colours, it is time to combine the different elements of the cupcakes. It is important that the cupcakes and the caramel sauce be completely cool at this stage, so if you have been incredibly efficient and gotten everything finished before they have cooled, you may need to wait a little longer. Once both the cupcakes and the caramel sauce are cool, use a teaspoon to scoop a section out of the cupcake – I have included an image to show you approximately how much I scoop out.
- Using a second spoon, fill the hollow in the cupcake with the caramel sauce, so that the sauce reaches a few millimetres below the top of the cupcake. Taking the section of cupcake that was removed from the cupcake, remove the majority of the cake, leaving just the top circle. Replace said circle in its original position, so that it acts almost as a lid for the caramel sauce.
- Place a small blob of the red icing in the centre of each cupcake – about two teaspoons worth. You will then need to ice the cupcakes.
- As mentioned above, I used a decorating kit specifically for swirling different colours of icing. If you don’t have one, and are not particularly interested in finding one, I would suggest watching a few Youtube videos which show how to create swirls of icing. It is something that is much easier to show than to tell, and they are much better qualified than me to do so! Using your chosen method of piping, pipe swirls of black and white icing on top of each cupcake, covering the red icing completely. I discovered that temperature plays an important part in piping this particualr icing – if it was too cold, it didn’t pipe smoothly, and had an almost jagged appearance; too warm and it became to soft and messy, without the swirl affect I was aiming for. If you live in a hot climate, I would recommend doing the piping in an air-conditioned room.
- The last step is to sprinkle some silver cachous pearls (or, as I like to call them, little edible silver balls). Your cupcakes should now be complete! It is best they be stored in the fridge if they aren’t being eaten straight away, but if you do store them in the fridge I suggest taking them out of the fridge about 10 minutes before you want to eat them. Biting into the cupcake should reveal an unexpected shock of red – which I conveniently forgot to photograph, but trust me, it is quite effective!
“Each course is styled in black or white but bursts with color once pierced with forks or spoons, revealing layer upon layer of flavors”
Well that’s it – my first ever Baked* By Bonnie, and the first recipe I have ever created myself! If you decided to give this a go, I would love it if you could post a picture in the comments, so that I can see your creations! I am already in the process of creating my next recipe, and I’ll give you a hint – it is perfect for a Murder with a sweet tooth!
*Not all recipes will involve baking, but all will involve me, and I couldn’t resist the alliteration for the name!