This time last year, I was in stress-central. I was just about finishing up at the student paper: kissing goodbye to long evenings of cabin fever and fussing over typefaces, trying to let go of the tiny frustrations that made up my final weeks in the insular world of student media.
Instead, I’d begun spending 9-5 in a badly lit room with grey-tinted windows, worrying about the projects that would decide what grade would be on that piece of paper I would receive in July. I thought back to being 18, sitting, terrified, in a local cupcake shop and conducting an interview for the first time as my voice wobbled with nerves. My dreams took on the form of the work I was doing during the day, and I’d wake disappointed that I’d spent all night working and yet had to do it all over again.
But those final months were also when we spent evenings in the park and scorched black rectangles into the grass outside our house with our throw-away barbecues. They were the days when Pimms was on offer in the Tesco down the road and we drank it from tiny paper cups adorned with union jacks. They were the hours, days, weeks, and months we tried to savour as they rushed by and took us, willingly or not, ever closer to a more grown up life.
Recently, one of my best friends asked me: if someone had told you a year ago that this is where you’d be now, would you take it?
In the not-quite-year since I finally handed in that last project and went to bed, at long last, after being awake for 30 hours, a lot has changed. I have discovered what I love to do and I’m excited for what the future holds.
I left university, left home, and watched as everyone I’d come to love in those three years was scattered across the country, leaving us connected by only wires and signals. It has been scary and it has been sad, but blackened grass, too-strong Pimms, and cupcakes will always take me back.
As I mulled over the question my friend had asked, I made these strawberry and coconut cupcakes to transport me back to the wonder of that cupcake shop, to the array of colours and decorations nestled among retro cake stands and gingham fabric.
Strawberry and coconut is one of my most recent food obsessions: like pumpkin last year, I’ve tried to put it in almost everything. Strawberries and yoghurt and honey and coconut. Porridge with jam and coconut. Plotting and planning to make dairy-free ice cream with this extraordinary pairing. Of course I had to try it in cake form. What I love most about these cupcakes – apart from the fact that the cake is really simple – is that they look totally unassuming…and then you bite into one and bam! Flavour bomb.
I baked these cupcakes and then I took them to the best place I could: to a bar, to be eaten with three of the girls I slaved over that student paper with.
Strawberry and Coconut Cupcakes
Makes nine cupcakes
100g self-raising flour
2 medium eggs
185g unsalted butter
260g icing sugar
4 1/2 tbsp desiccated coconut, plus extra to decorate
1) Pre-heat oven to 160C and line a muffin tray with cupcake cases. Cream margarine and sugar until pale and fluffy.
2) On a low speed, beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the flour.
3) Split the mixture between the nine cases and bake on the centre shelf for about 10-15 minutes, or until firm to the touch and a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of a cake comes out clean.
4) Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely. While they cool, whisk together the butter, sugar, and coconut on a low speed, and when combined, turn the speed up and continue until smooth.
5) When cook, use a sharp knife to make the space for the jam centre. Holding the knife at a slight angle, cut a cylinder about 1.5cm wide out of the centre of the cake. Discard (or, er, eat) these centres. Fill the space with about half a teaspoon of jam, so that the jam comes level with the top of the cupcake. Repeat for all cakes.
6) Using a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle, pipe the frosting on. Sprinkle with desiccated coconut to decorate.
P.S. Go and check out the Saveur food blog awards! There are so many incredible nominees, you need to give them your time.