Lifestyle: baking bad

Undated Handout Photo of Tarek Malouf. See PA Feature FOOD Mothers Day. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FOOD Mothers Day.
Undated Handout Photo of Tarek Malouf. See PA Feature FOOD Mothers Day. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/Handout. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature FOOD Mothers Day.

If Mary Berry is the reigning queen of baking, then Tarek Malouf is surely next in line to the throne.

The founder of the exceedingly good Hummingbird Bakery brought cupcakes back into fashion, when he opened the first of his six bakeries back in 2004, and is just about to publish his fourth - and very eagerly-awaited - cookbook, Life Is Sweet.

It’s the result of a three-week road trip in October 2013, around his spiritual baking home, America, which took him from New York to Atlanta, New Orleans and Dallas. He stayed with friends and relatives, and demanded one thing: that they show him the best desserts in town.

“Many of the recipes are regional or known in an area in the US, but not known here in the UK,” he says.

“Because American bakery is not too familiar to British people, it’s the equivalent of me writing a book on Indian cookery or Thai cookery - you’re teaching a new audience about something that’s already in existence that’s amazing, and you want them to experience it yourself.”

They all feature names that defy your mouth not to water; Gooey Butter Cake, Molasses Pecan Crumb Cake, Red Velvet Ice Cream and Alabama Little Layer Cake, and t hose looking to wow their mums this Mother’s Day would do well to seek inspiration among the book’s brightly coloured pages.

“The rise is home baking is really nice to see,” adds Lebanese-born Malouf, who moved to London when he was two.

“People are rediscovering the fun you can have making things yourself, and you get more adulation from friends and family when you bring in cookies or a big cake, rather than savoury food. There’s more of a wow factor, and people are always excited.”

For Malouf, the roots of American baking are steeped in traditional British recipes, but with added ingredients over the years, from the country’s rich melting pot of natives and immigrants.

By his own admission, he and his sister grew up in “an American bubble”, both attending an American school in Central London.

“American baking is fascinating to me, I love it,” he says.

“We used to visit the US once a year, and I have a couple of aunts and cousins who live there, so we used to stay with them. And I have a very sweet tooth, so between school and friends’ houses, and visiting and baking with my relatives, I developed a real taste for American desserts and cakes.”

Of course, Malouf has been asked countless times since launching Hummingbird Bakery, whether the cupcake trend is going to last - and 11 years on, he’s still convinced it’s not a passing fad.

“They appeal because they’re smaller, you’re eating it yourself, so you can be picky with the flavour. It’s just a better version of a fairy cake, and hopefully not as dry!”

Fancy whipping up a batch, or a fancy American-inspired cake for Mother’s Day? Here are Malouf’s new recipes for inspiration...

HONEY CORNBREAD CUPCAKES

(Makes 12)

Using cornmeal to make cornbread was something the early European settlers in America learned from the Native Americans they encountered. These cupcakes are sweet, denser than our normal sponges, and have a tangy cream cheese frosting flavoured with honey.

For the cupcakes:

170g yellow cornmeal (polenta)

135g plain flour

1tbsp baking powder

1tsp ground cinnamon

1/2tsp ground nutmeg

110g caster sugar

1tsp salt

2 large eggs

235ml whole milk

115g unsalted butter, melted

60g runny honey

For the frosting:

340g unsalted butter, softened

75g runny honey

285g icing sugar

150g full-fat cream cheese, such as Philadelphia, cold

To make the cupcakes, preheat the oven to 175C/ Gas 4, and line a 12-hole deep muffin tin with paper muffin cases.

In a large bowl, mix the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar and salt together thoroughly.

Using a freestanding electric mixer with the whisk attachment or a hand-held electric whisk, whisk the eggs, milk, melted butter and honey together on a medium speed until very well combined. Add the dry ingredients on a low speed in one slow but steady addition. Mix thoroughly but don’t overbeat.

Carefully scoop the mixture into the paper cases until three-quarters full. Using a 50ml ice-cream scoop can make this process easier and will result in even cupcakes. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the cupcakes bounce back when lightly touched. Leave to cool slightly before removing from the tin and placing on a wire rack to cool completely before frosting.

To make the frosting, in the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer with the paddle attachment, or using a hand-held electric whisk, beat the butter for a minute to loosen it up, then add the honey and beat for a minute. Slowly add the icing sugar on a low speed until incorporated and beat for two to three minutes until light and fluffy. Add the cream cheese and mix briefly until incorporated - don’t overbeat or it will split and become runny.

Pipe or spoon generous amounts of the frosting onto each cupcake, gently smoothing over with a palette knife or spoon and making a nice swirl of frosting on each one.