Admittedly, fennel has never been my favourite ingredient. So, naturally, I thought I should include it in my blog! It is arguably quite a controversial ingredient with its aniseed flavour being an acquired taste but I always like to try and challenge myself with my baking and use more unusual flavours, so I thought the idea of using fennel could potentially be an interesting experiment (emphasis on the experiment). Since Charlie is now safely in Japan I decided to go back to the farm shop this week. This time, however, I decided to choose something that was a little more familiar with. In this case it is North Chocolate. I first came across it at one of the Christmas fayres that take place around the end of October every year at Kirkharle and I was instantly sold by the more diverse flavours and the cute packaging. I have tried countless flavours including lemon and poppyseed, geranium and the seasonal christmas stollen: all of them have been amazing, none of them have lasted long and I eventually stopped sharing them even with my nearest and dearest. Chocolate, chilli and lime salt is the next on the list and will be perfectly timed with a convenient decision to put my parents on a diet.
But even before I had chance to begin my baking they were sniffing out the flavour I am experimenting with in this post: fennel and ginger. This was based purely on a snap decision. My manager came to me with a list of the flavours and offered to put a special order in for me, so I decided to go with the one that sounded the hardest to bake something out of, hoping it wouldn’t prove to be a foolish decision! It was a close call I have to admit; so many of them sounded delicious while putting a really interesting twist on what people would typically associate with chocolate. So after a few days brooding I landed upon chocolate, fennel and ginger cupcakes. I have made tonnes of cupcakes in the past so since I am quite familiar with the recipe I decided to play it safe. I went with a basic chocolate cupcake recipe from the primrose bakery cookbook I used for my Dandelion and Burdock Loaf Cake and my go-to buttercream recipe. However, I decided to replicate the process of braising fennel in order to try and create a compote-like filling. After braising some for a special at work I decided to put a sweet twist on it. I still fried it off and softened it slightly on the hob with some sunflower oil, but I added some slices of root ginger in with it before pouring over a little ginger syrup, sprinkling over some demerara and chucking in some water. I then covered with foil and baked as usual.
I have to say, however, this didn’t go exactly as I had hoped. Although the fennel tasted ok, it didn’t look particularly appetising. I added some extra caster sugar, some cocoa powder and some of the north chocolate to the mix and this added a bit more flavour, but I don’t think it contributed a huge amount to the cakes themselves as it felt a little lost. I therefore tried adding some slightly crushed fennel seeds to the mix as well as the compote and this was more effective. It combined with the ginger to create a more gentle heat and paired really well with the ginger buttercream I was making. I was quite reserved with the amount I added and crushed them in a pestle and mortar but you could always add a few more seeds or blitz them to get a more even distribution of flavour. I then used the rest of the north chocolate for decoration and it gave the cakes a really nice finish that I was extremely happy with. The more visible decoration on the back of the chocolate bar definitely made them special and slightly more interesting. So although these cupcakes may not have been my most successful ever, they are still really lovely and go well with the chocolate! Either way, I hope you enjoy!
Dark Chocolate, Ginger and Fennel Cupcakes (makes around 24 small cupcakes)
For the braised fennel:
- 1 bulb of fennel
- A thumb sized piece of root ginger
- Demerara Sugar
- Ginger syrup
- Cocoa Powder
- Caster Sugar
For the cupcakes:
- 115g dark chocolate
- 85g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 175g soft light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 185g plain flour
- 3/4 tsp baking powder and bicarb of soda
- Pinch of salt
- 250ml semi-skimmed milk at room temperature
- Stem ginger
- Fennel seeds
For the icing and decoration:
- 250g unsalted butter
- Icing sugar
- Ginger syrup
- Powdered Ginger
- 200g Fennel and ginger dark chocolate
- Preheat your oven to 180 Fan.
- For the compote, finely chop the fennel and roughly cut the ginger into cirlcles. Add to a pan and fry gently on the hob with some sunflower oil until softened.
- Once softened sprinkle over some demerara sugar and pour in a little bit of ginger syrup. Then fill the pan with water so that the whole base of the pan is covered and the fennel is completely immersed.
- Cover your pan in tin foil and bake for around 30 minutes until the fennel is completely soft. If your pan cannot go in the oven simply transfer to a roasting tin. Leave to cool completely.
- Once the fennel has cooled pick out most of the ginger, leaving a few pieces for flavour. Put the rest of the mix in the food processor and add a sprinkling of caster sugar, a couple of pieces of the fennel and ginger chocolate and a couple of teaspoons of cocoa powder. Blitz until as smooth as possible.
- Decrease the temperature of your oven to 160 fan.
- Melt the dark chocolate and leave to cool slightly
- Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together, ideally with an electric mixer, until pale and smooth. Slowly add the egg yolks and then the chocolate and beat well.
- Sift the flour, the baking powder and the bicarb into a bowl and mix. Add alternative amounts of this and the milk to the mix, beating well between each addition. Add as much chopped stem ginger as you want (I think I used about 3 balls) and pour in a little bit of the syrup. You can add your fennel seeds at this point as well. You can either crush them in a pestle and mortar or grind them in a food processor before adding in order to release the flavour.
- In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently combine this with the cake batter.
- Start spooning the mix into your a lined cupcake tin, filling each case about 1/3 full. Then spoon in a little of the compote. Then cover the compote with more batter.
- Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes and leave to cool completely.
- To make the buttercream, whisk the butter and about 300g icing sugar with an electric mixer until completely combined and smooth. Then add a little of the ginger syrup and mix thoroughly again until the buttercream becomes even smoother. You can then add more syrup and icing in order to get the right flavour and consistency.
- Pipe the icing onto the cooled cupcakes using a star-shaped nozzle, starting from the inside and working your way out in order to create a rose effect. Break the fennel and ginger chocolate up with a knife in order to create shards and position these on top of the cupcakes as decoration.