How many times have I raged that life isn't fair?
Sometimes it really isn't; I seem to have reached that stage in life where every day seems to bring more bad news than good.
Really? I don't know how lucky I am. I have a job that pays me well. I have enough money to put food on the table with plenty leftover and a comfortable flat to go back to at the end of the every day. The only complaint I have about my working environment is the somewhat over-enthusiastic air-conditioning.
There are millions of people across the world though for whom life really isn't fair though. People who struggle every day in ways that I can't even imagine.
The Fairtrade Foundation has launched a year long campaign called Take a Step which is aiming to get the UK to take 1.5 million steps in support of fair trade and the farmers that rely upon it. Fairtrade aims to support some of the poorest people in the world by giving farmers a fair price for the goods that they grow and promoting safe and sustainable working practices.
As part of the campaign, cake lovers across the country are taking part in the Big Fair Bake from 24 September - 7 October and baking delicious treats for friends and families using fairtrade ingredients.
I like the idea of eating locally and seasonally but this has to be balanced with the potential impact on overseas agriculture. Some economies almost completely dependent on our consumption of the goods that they produce. And yes, the fairtrade sugar and honey that I used has probably been shipped several thousand miles but I'm also, hopefully, given the farmer that grew it a better future. For me, that's not a bad trade off (but I firmly believe that it's up to everybody to make their own decisions about what is best for them).
I'm not naive enough to think that there aren't any issues with the fair trade system in its current form and there are endless debates to be had by minds wiser than me to find a better solution but, for now, it's quite a lot better than nothing.
I think it's probably time for some cake after all that.
I was smitten with a recipe for a caramel layer cake in this month's issue of Martha Stewart Living. I didn't think our post-America diets really needed a layer cake though so I cut the recipe down and turned it into a small batch of cupcakes. And pretty stellar cupcakes they were too; a perfect dome of tender toffee flavoured cupcake, full of the depth of dark sugar but without being overwhelmingly sweet.
Honey is in constant use in my kitchen; I use it in whenever I can in baking as well as in my breakfast every morning. Not wanting these cupcakes to be sugar overload, I used a cream cheese frosting sweetened with fairtrade honey rather than the caramel buttercream that the recipe suggests. It has just the right balance of sweetness and tartness to complement the dark sugar of the cupcakes without making my teeth hurt and, frankly, it's just a bit more interesting.
For more information about fairtrade products in the UK, please visit The Fairtrade Foundation website. On the right hand side of the website is a link to a map which provides details of fairtrade organisations in other countries.
Brown sugar cupcakes with fairtrade honey frosting
Cupcakes adapted from Martha Stewart's Brown Sugar Layer Cake
Yield: Makes 8 cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
- 115g (1 cup) whole wheat flour
- A generous pinch of salt
- 75g (2 1/3 oz) sour cream
- 1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda/baking soda
- 75g (2/3 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- 75g (1/3 cup) unrefined fairtrade caster/granulated sugar
- 120g (2/3 cup) unrefined dark brown fairtrade sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- 170g (6 oz) cream cheese, softened
- 55g (2 oz/ or 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
- A generous pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 - 3 tablespoons fairtrade honey
- Preheat the oven to 170C/325F and line a cupcake tin with paper liners (as this recipe makes 8 cupcakes, you might have some empty holes. I never bother filling the empty ones with water as some people advise because it seems like a waste of time and because sometimes the steam makes the cakes come out funny).
- In one large bowl, lightly whisk together the flour and the salt and set aside until needed. In another bowl, mix together the sour cream and bicarbonate of soda/baking soda and, again, set aside until needed.
- Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy; about 3 minutes in an electric mixer.
- Add the eggs one at a time and beat for about a minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and beat again for a minute to combine.
- Using a metal spoon, fold in a third of the flour mixture. Follow this with half the sour cream, then another third of the flour, then the rest of the sour cream and finally the last of the flour, gently folding between each addition.
- Spoon the batter into your cupcake liners, filling each about 3/4 full and bake for 25-30 minutes until the cupcakes are brown and feel firm to the touch.
- Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- To make the frosting, beat together the butter, cream cheese, salt and vanilla until combined and silky smooth (about 5 minutes in an electric mixer). Add a tablespoon of honey and beat again until combined. Taste the frosting and add more honey until you get your desired level of sweetness.
- Transfer the frosting to a piping bag or a bowl and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes until firm but still malleable.
- Frost your cupcakes however you like!