Some pretty great people have birthdays in September: me, Matt, my brothers, and my friend Helen. Helen turns 30 this week, and we celebrated at the weekend with a heap of her friends and family. Her parents had ordered her a birthday cake, but one of her friends is both lactose-intolerant and allergic to nuts, so wouldn’t be able to eat that. And which looked to me very much like a culinary gauntlet being thrown (and considering we’d be eating them at a medieval banquet, quite fitting).
But oh my. How hard did I find it to source or adapt a recipe to fit? Butter, milk, yogurt, ground almonds, all out. From reading the backs of many packets, I decided chocolate was out too as most aren’t guaranteed milk or nut-free. For some mad reason, I wanted to be reasonably purist and use as few obvious substitutes as possible (no soya margarine or rice milk) but that proved harder the more recipes I read. I was pretty stumped and about ready to give up when I found a recipe in Eat Me for a yogurt-based lemon and elderflower cupcake.
Or so I thought. I had somehow convinced myself that goat milk was lactose-free and felt that would be a good substitute for the greek yogurt the recipe contains. Turns out it’s certainly the case that some intolerant to lactose find goat milk more digestible, but it’s by no means lactose-free. So I was stumped again. My last idea was to find some Alpro soya yogurt somewhere and hope that’d work…
The only flavour I could find was raspberry, so the recipe quickly became raspberry and lemon cupcakes. I’ve been watching far too many episodes of season one of Australian Masterchef, and saw them make Italian meringue in a high tea challenge, so wanted to try it myself, so that was chosen as the topping. I was worried about the effect the soya yogurt would have on the texture of the cake, so got some fresh raspberries too in the hope they’d keep everything nice and moist.
To know for sure, I should really now make the cupcakes the way the recipe suggests, and compare the two. But going on the raspberry and lemon ones alone, I don’t think they were too bad at all. I think I should have probably made the icing that Eat Me suggests too (an elderflower water icing) as the meringue wasn’t quite the right match, but was good fun to make and pipe!
The Italian meringue recipe and method came courtesy of the Leith’s Techniques Bible, and I added a pinch of cream of tartar as I was worried about the eggs collapsing back into liquid. I overheated the sugar the first time round, way past the soft ball stage the recipe calls for, so ditched that batch and started again. The egg whites had previously been frozen, so I was a little nervous they wouldn’t whip up sufficiently, but I should have trusted the knowledge that old eggs whites are the best for meringues as once the sugar was beaten in, it was perfect.
I’d made the cupcakes in an oversized silicon mould, so they turned out beautifully. I made four little muffins with the rest of the mixture, and learned a valuable lesson – take more care than usual when wielding a blow torch around cakes in paper cases!