Podcaster, writer, and former 2019 Great British Bake Off contestant Michael Chakraverty has revealed his top tips to perfecting those oh so delicious treats, all in aid of supporting Alzheimer’s Society’s Cupcake Day on Thursday 17th June.
Although 2020 saw a rise in baking, it also saw one of the worst years for people affected by dementia. Over a quarter of all Covid-19 deaths in the UK were people living with dementia , thousands have faced an increase in symptoms and mental health decline and it’s been a heart-breaking time for families, who have either been cut off from loved ones or facing a lack of respite from caring duties.
As an active Dementia Friends Champion Michael, who has first-hand experience of having a family member living with dementia, knows just how much of a difference your donations can make, which is why he is sharing all we need to know to achieve those star baker quality bakes! An Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends Champion runs Dementia Friends’ information sessions, helping to tackle the stigma and lack of understanding about dementia that means many people with the condition experience loneliness and isolation. There are currently over three million Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends in the UK.
Using Michael’s tricks of the trade will mean anyone and everyone can get involved in Alzheimer’s Society’s Cupcake Day whether you’re a piping queen or baking newbie. You could organise a delivery ‘drop off’ of goodies to your neighbours, host a driveway bake sale in your area or have a virtual ‘bake-off’ with colleagues, friends, and family however you like to do it, you will be raising vital funds in support of people affected by dementia.
Michael’s baking top tips:
- Cure to curdling: A really easy way to prevent curdling is to ensure that all your ingredients are the same temperature – this means that they’ll combine a lot more easily. I tend to leave all the ingredients on a countertop overnight before baking in the morning so that I can be sure they’re at the right temperature. Make sure you add your eggs one by one, beating them to combine fully before adding the next – and if it curdles, just add a little bit of flour which will bring it back together. And if all else fails, just don’t worry too much – it’ll probably sort itself out in the oven!
- Miracle meringues: To achieve the perfect meringue don’t over-beat it! Start whisking lightly, or on a low speed, until bubbles form, before increasing the speed gradually. Once you’ve got to the ‘soft peaks’ stage (where the mixture is white and frothy, and when you remove the whisk it folds over onto itself but maintains its shape) you can add a dash of lemon juice or a pinch of cream of tartar to stabilise it, before whipping to stiff peaks (when you remove the whisk it stands to attention!). Always bake meringues low and slow!
- Sugar secrets: Sugars can generally be substituted for one another – the main difference between light brown sugar and white sugars is that light brown sugar lends a caramel-like taste to the bake, and brown sugar can also make the bake’s crust a deeper/darker colour. The one exception to this rule is icing sugar, which is in a league of its own – but if you happen to have a spice grinder handy, you can always whizz some white sugar down to a powder!
- Baking or Bicarbonate: With Baking Powder and Bicarbonate of Soda, you can’t substitute one for the other! Bicarbonate of soda (or in American recipes, baking soda), is an alkali – meaning that it needs to react with an acid within the recipe (lemon juice, vinegar, sour cream etc) – whereas baking powder contains both an alkali and an acid – which activates when mixed with other ingredients. If you are really struggling and don’t have baking powder, I’d suggest adding a third of the amount of baking powder as bicarbonate of soda, and add a good pinch of cream of tartar. Then cross your fingers.
- Decorative designs: For simple but effective decorating, buy a piping bag! It looks a lot more intimidating than it is – and piped buttercream looks SO much more professional! If you’re really worried, a glace icing always looks good too (just mix icing sugar with a little water) with sprinkles on top!
- Fruity fun: You can replace fresh fruit with frozen. Frozen fruit actually retains its shape better within bakes – though it does lower the temperature of the bake slightly so you may need to lengthen the baking time slightly. I always coat my frozen fruit with a bit of flour to prevent it sinking in the bake – the flour ‘grabs’ the mixture and holds the fruit in place!
Money raised will go towards Alzheimer’s Society’s vital support services, like its Dementia Connect support line. Our services have been used over 3.6 million times since March 2020 and have been a lifeline to thousands, but there are so many more who urgently need help.
Michael Chakraverty said: “It has been heart-breaking to hear about the devastating impact the pandemic has had on people affected by dementia. Being the worst hit in terms of deaths, cut off from loved ones and struggling without any social interaction for so long, it’s never been more important to fundraise for such an amazing charity. I always knew baking can bring people together but this past year especially, knowing your baking can make a difference to someone does make it that bit sweeter. I’m calling for as many people as possible to get in the kitchen then get out delivering your baked goods and start raising money on June 17th for this important cause.”
To sign up and find out more please visit – www.alzheimers.org.uk/cupcake-day and read on for a delicious recipe.
Lemon Meringue Cupcakes
- 125g unsalted butter, softened
- 250g caster sugar
- grated zest of 1 lemon
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 150g self-raising flour
- 2 tbsp milk
- 3-4 tbsp lemon curd
2 egg whites
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C fan, Gas mark4. Line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases.
- Place the butter, 150g of the sugar and lemon zest in a bowl and cream together until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs, flour and milk and mix to a smooth batter.
- Spoon the batter into the paper cases and bake for 20-22 minutes, until springy to the touch. Leave to cool on a cooling rack.
- Using a teaspoon, spoon out a hole about 1 cm deep in the middle of each cupcake. Spoon 1 tsp of the lemon curd into each hole.
- Whisk the egg whites until stiff then gradually whisk in the remaining sugar, a little at a time, until you have thick glossy meringue.
- Spoon the meringue onto the top of each cake, adding spikes with a fork or the back of the spoon.
- Cook the meringue either with a chef’s blowtorch, or under a hot grill – keep an eye as they can burn very quickly!
Recipe and images credit Joy Skipper