Baking · Cupcakes · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Natural Decorations

Italy: Rosemary and Olive Oil Cupcakes with Chestnut Frosting

English: Italian Flag

Ok, I know that I have already completed a cake for Italy, but I couldn’t resist trying this combination, and my goodness, it works! Loosely based on the Tuscan speciality Castagnaccio, this cake combines the flavours of chestnut, rosemary and olive oil into an intriguingly-delicious flavoured cupcake. The original castagnaccio is a very traditional poor-mans dessert in Italy. Chestnuts have a history of being a crucial food source for the poorer communities of Italy, as the fact that they grew wild meant that anyone could collect and prepare these nuts. The earliest example of castagnaccio can be traced back to Roman times, when they would make a paste from chestnut flour, water and salt and top it with rosemary and pine nuts. Whilst no doubt practical for long marches, I am rather glad they have improved slightly since this point!


The cupcake base is a dense olive oil and rosemary cake, which is topped with a chestnut frosting. Decorated with a sprinkle of chocolate shavings and a sprig of rosemary, these cakes are beautifully rustic, yet classically delicious in their design. Eat these and dream of being in the beautiful tuscan towns, getting the sun that we are missing dreadfully in the grey cloudy country that is England.


Rosemary and Olive Oil Cupcakes with Chestnut Frosting


  • 4 eggs
  • 6oz/56g caster sugar
  • 158ml olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 7.5 oz/225g plain flour
  • 1 tsbp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 50g chestnut puree
  • 100ml double cream
  • 10g caster sugar


Preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C/Gas mark 3 and line a cupcake tin with liners. Beat the eggs until foamy and the gradually mix in the sugar. Slowly pour in the olive oil, beating constantly. Add the rosemary, flour, baking powder and salt and mix until well combined. Spoon into the cupcake cases and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until brown and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely.

To make the frosting, whip the cream and sugar together until it is holding soft peaks. Add the chestnut puree and mix until well combined. Pipe onto the top of the cupcake and decorate with chocolate shavings and a sprig of fresh rosemary.


Baking · Cupcakes · Nation Cake Challenge · Natural Decorations · North America

Mexico: Chilli Chocolate Cupcakes with Horchata Frosting

Flag of Mexico See also: List of Mexican flags

Mexican food is a prime example of a fusion cuisine – the original cuisine of the Aztec people combined with the European cuisines of those who came over during the Spanish Conquest of 1519-21. Whilst the Spanish conquistadors made a failed attempt to superimpose the Spanish style on the conquered Aztec peoples, elements of the cuisine did enter the Mexican recipe books and are recognisable today. Due to the strong links between the cultural traditions and the cuisine, Mexican cuisine has been denoted an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO – the only cuisine to make the list!


At the moment, my entire knowledge of real Mexican food has come from the delightful restaurant Wahaca, and the books of it’s founder Thomasina Miers. I love Wahaca, and it is always near the top of my list of things to do when I’m near London. These cupcakes are a homage to some of my favourite things on the menu – churros, horchata and mole. It features a chilli chocolate cupcake, filled with a chilli-chocolate ganache and topped with an almond-cinnamon buttercream frosting.I then decorated these with a red chilli and a sprinkle of ground cinnamon. Enjoy!


Chilli Chocolate Cupcakes with Horchata Frosting

[Note on the spicing: I like my chilli and so enjoyed the quantities shown here. The cakes were not burn-your-mouth-off hot, but there was a definite after-heat from the dried chilli. If you are not a chilli fiend, feel free to decrease the quantities, they will still work well]

Ingredients: (Makes 12)

Chilli Chocolate Cupcakes

  • 4oz plain flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 4oz butter
  • 4oz caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp chilli flakes

Chilli Chocolate Ganache:

  • 100g good-quality chilli chocolate
  • 100ml double cream

Horchata Frosting:

  • 40g butter
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 10ml almond milk (plain milk will do)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp ground almonds


Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas mark 4. Line a 12 hole baking tin with paper cases and set aside.

To make the cake, cream together the butter and sugar until smooth, before adding in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour, baking powder, cocoa and almonds and mix thoroughly. Add the chilli flakes and stir through. Pour the mixture into the bun cases and bake in the oven for 30 minutes until firm and well risen.Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

Make the chocolate chilli ganache by melting the chocolate in a bain-marie, before adding the cream to the mixture. Leave in the fridge to cool for 30 minutes before using.

Use either a cupcake corer or an apple corer to remove the middle of each cupcake.Fill with a small amount of chilli-chocolate ganache and leave to cool for 20 minutes.

Make the horchata frosting by mixing together the butter and icing sugar until thick and fluffy (about 5 minutes) Add the almonds, cinnamon and milk and beat for another 5 minutes. Spread onto the cupcakes and top with a red chilli and a spinkle of ground cinnamon.

To make the chili flowers shown here, cut the chilli into 8 segments, ensuring you do not cut all the way to the stem (thus leaving the segments attached to the stem and head of the fruit. Place in iced water and leave until curled as shown. This may take quite a while, so don’t worry if it doesn’t happen immediately!

Baking · Cake · Europe · Nation Cake Challenge · Natural Decorations

Croatia: Orange, Almond and Lavender Cake

Civil Ensign of Croatia

Croatia has to be the most beautiful place that I have been to – I spent some time in Dubrovnik once and I can honestly say I have never been anywhere quite like it. The sea, mountains, islands, old city – what more can you ask for?


This cake had a lot to live up to then. Not only did it have to be delicious, but also look good – challenge accepted! Lavender is a key export of Croatia, and is heavily cultivated on the island of Hvar. I love the taste of lavender, and so it was a no-brainer that I would incorporate this flavour into this dessert. I added the flavours of orange and almond to this, in homage to the orange trees full of fruit which were evident all over Dubrovnik.


The cake is topped with an orange buttercream and decorated with dehydrated orange flowers and soft gold pearls. The technique used for the orange flowers is the same as that of the pineapple flowers used in the Nyamanku Cake – however they take far longer to dry out, due to the higher water content of the slices. Be patient – the result is worth it!

Orange, Almond and Lavender Cake


  • 8oz butter
  • 8oz caster sugar
  • 4oz flour
  • 4oz ground almonds
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • zest of one orange, finely grated
  • 5 tsp lavender (ensure this is edible and has not been adulterated with essential oils!)
  • 125g icing sugar
  • 40g butter
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 10ml orange juice
  • 1 orange
  • 2 tsp lavender flowers.


Preheat the oven to gas mark 5 and grease a 6in round cake tin. Beat together the butter, sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder and ground almonds until well combined. Stir in the lavender flowers and orange zest and pour into the tin. Bake for 50 minutes until golden brown and firm to the touch. leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes before removing and leaving to cool on a cake rack.

Turn the oven down to gas mark 1 and line a baking sheet with baking parchment. Thinly slice the orange and place in the oven to dry out, turning occasionally. This will take about 2 hours, but check as necessary. Remove from the oven and place into mini muffin tins to air-dry completely.

Make the buttercream by beating the butter and icing sugar until thick and fluffy – it will take about five minutes! Beat in the orange juice and zest to form a thick consistency. Spread over the cake and use a palate knife to smooth the edges and create a nice finish. decorate with the orange slices and the reserved lavender (this is absent on the picture as the wind blew all of mine away – it looked pretty before though!)

Africa · Baking · Cake · Cake Decorating · Nation Cake Challenge · Natural Decorations

Côte d’Ivoire: Nyamanku Cake

ivory coast flagToday, I take you on a journey, leaving the wet and cold England behind for a (hopefully) more sunny location. Specifically Côte d’Ivoire, or the Ivory Coast. Changing continents, I hear you cry? Unorthodox I know, but I think we could all do with some sun, particularly if you are in England at the moment!

ellie cake 1

This cake is truly a case of combining flavours found in a certain countries cuisine into a typically English cake, as I don’t believe that Côte d’Ivoire has ‘cake’, as shown here. However the flavours are taken from a specific drink, Nyamanku, which combines ginger with orange, lemon and pineapple juices. Little known outside Côte d’Ivoire, the drink is thought to have many health-giving properties due to the ginger, which seems to cure most diseases known to man, if Google is to be believed!

To reassure those of you who may be reading this thinking ‘I don’t like ginger cake’, do not worry. This cake has chunks of ginger in it, but the taste is very subtle and not at all overpowering, so do not let this put you off!

The cake is flavoured with ginger, orange and pineapple, before being topped with an orange buttercream. The decorative flowers are made from thin slices of pineapple which have been slowly dried out in the oven to give them their characteristic look. I first saw this technique on Pinterest, and have been longing for a suitable opportunity to try them out! They are completely edible and include no extra sugar, so you could even call them healthy! To make the centres, I used candied fennel seeds, which you can find in Indian supermarkets, but if you cannot get these soft gold pearls would also look lovely.

Nyamanku Cake


  • 1 small pineapple
  • 6oz butter/margerine
  • 6oz caster sugar
  • Rind of one orange, finely grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 8oz plain flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • A pinch of salt
  • 6 large lumps of bottled stem ginger


  • 125g icing sugar
  • 40g butter
  • 10 ml milk
  • Grated rind of one large orange
  • Sugar coated fennel seeds or soft gold pearls to decorate


Start by making the dried pineapple flowers. Preheat the oven to gas mark 1/275°F (or less if you have the option), and line 2 baking sheets with baking parchment. Peel the pineapple and remove any eyes before cutting into 12 very thin slices (about 1mm thick – you may need to use a mandolin slicer unless you are a whizz at cutting!). Transfer to the baking sheets and place in the oven for 30 minutes. At this point, if they are suitably dry, turn them over and return to the oven for about 20 minutes, checking regularly to ensure they don’t burn. Remove from the oven and place into bun tins to dry – this will shape them into the round flower shapes shown. Allow to dry out completely at room temperature. Use the best six for decoration, and cut the remainder into thin strips to add to the cake later.

Turn the oven up to gas mark 3/325°F, and grease and line a 6in round cake tin. Cream together the butter and sugar before adding the eggs, beating well after each addition. Add the orange rind, ginger, shredded dried pineapple (see decoration), milk and remaining dry ingredients and mix thoroughly to combine. Pour into the pre-prepared tin and bake for 75-90 minutes (1 1/4 hours-1 1/2 hours) until golden brown and cooked all the way through (a skewer should come out clean!) Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes before removing and cooling completely on a wire rack.

When the cake is completely cool, make the buttercream, by mixing the sugar, butter, milk and orange rind for about 5 minutes until thick and fluffy. Spread over the cake, smoothing with a palate knife to give a neat finish. Top with the dried pineapple flowers, putting a small blob of buttercream in the centre of each flower. Sprinkle with the candied fennel seeds or soft gold pearls to finish.

Eat and enjoy. Came back soon when we will travel back to Europe to visit the amazingly beautiful country of Croatia – I know I can’t wait!