For those of you that don't know, I'm not a native of Scotland. I grew up in Merry Old England. I just came up here for university because they had an awesome programming course that would also let me study Japanese. However, I met the guy who would eventually become my husband and so, after a couple of years commuting back and forth over 500 miles I came up one summer and then never really left. I'm grateful I have such lovely in-laws, since I was living in their house for 9 months without officially asking. Not that I didn't offer to pay rent but I was told having their son back home was probably more expensive than having me there too since he ate way more than I did. Anyway, whilst I didn't know I would end up up here, I couldn't be happier. I love Scotland.
One thing I've learnt though, since living here, and especially since starting work as a teacher, is that Scotland is a country that is very proud of its heritage. Every year (usually the beginning because of Burns' Night) at school we dedicate some topic time to some cultural aspect of the country. There will also likely be a ceilidh (so we all teach dance in PE at this time) and indulging in some traditionally Scottish food. At primary school, that often translates to shortbread (because a lot of kids will refuse haggis) and that classic Scottish drink: Irn Bru.
If you've not heard of Irn Bru, it is a luminous orange fizzy drink with a distinctive blue label. It tastes of...well, I don't know. If I ask anyone they struggle to explain. I've seen people on the Internet say it tastes like bubblegum with a hint of ginger. I've also seen other people on the Internet heatedly disagree with this assessment. Someone described it as 'an orange drink without tasting like oranges'. I have personally not drunk it. I'm incredibly picky about drinks, especially fizzy ones. I can tell you it smells ridiculously sweet. Almost sickeningly so and I find that off-putting. A lot of people like it though. And it's oh-so popular in its native Scotland.
These cupcakes came about at a request from the Hubby's roleplay group. If I don't have anything I particularly want to try out, I take suggestions for flavours. Irn Bru was quite an interesting notion. I've made cakes with cola before, as well as a couple of biscuits, so the principle would be quite similar. However, I didn't have a syrup I could use for flavouring (although apparently the SodaStream Highland Fizz syrup is like Irn Bru) so I ended up making my own. I've heard about boiling a drink down to a concentrated syrup but I'd never tried it before. For the most part, it is quite easy, but I learnt that you have to be careful not to boil it too far. If you remove a bit too much water from the syrup it will become a sugar solution that will harden as it cools. You don't want it to do that because it is impossible to mix into your batter. Believe me. When your syrup cools, it should stay a syrup. My first syrup was a disaster and I only realised after I made a second. My third syrup was perfect.
I ended up with 3 syrups because I made two batches of cakes on two different Fridays. During my first attempt I made 2 batches of syrup because I only bought 1ltr of Irn Bru and it wasn't enough for the cakes and the buttercream, especially because it hardened. However, my main problem with the first batch came about when cooking them. These cakes rise quite a bit and despite putting what I thought wasn't much in each case, they spilled up over the top and made a mess. They tasted great and were wonderfully soft, but they looked ugly. I was annoyed but send them anyway with the intent to make them again the next week so I could make them look prettier and take pictures for the blog. As you can see, that batch came out really nice. I had a couple overflow but most rose juuuuuust to the top of the case. Perfect.
They went down well. You have to eat cake and buttercream together to get the full effect of the Irn Bru flavour. It's subtler in the sponge but there's a big kick in the buttercream. And for the sake of aesthetics, baking them in blue cases and adding blue sprinkles gives a nice nod to the bottles.
Recipe - adapted from Baking With Granny
Irn Bru Syrup:
- 2ltr Irn Bru (must be full sugar, not diet)
- Put the Irn Bru into a large saucepan and set over a medium heat.
- Bring to a boil and then allow it to simmer until the amount of liquid in the saucepan has reduced to about 200ml (this can take a couple of hours). It will take on a syrupy consistency. (Be careful not to boil it beyond this point, otherwise it will harden up when cooled, rather than staying a syrup).
- Transfer to a jug and leave to cool. It will thicken slightly as it does so.
- 240g/8.5oz plain flour
- 200g/7oz caster sugar
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 80g/3oz butter
- 200ml/7fl.oz milk
- 2 eggs
- 100ml/3.5fl.oz Irn Bru syrup
- Orange food colouring (optional)
- 400g/14oz icing sugar (plus extra just in case)
- 100g/3.5oz butter
- 4-5 tbsp Irn Bru syrup
- Orange food colouring (optional)
- Blue sprinkles (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas Mark 3 and line two muffin trays with 15 muffin cases.
- Sift the flour, sugar and baking powder into a large bowl.
- Add the butter and beat together until the mixture takes on a sandy appearance.
- Mix in half the milk.
- Whisk the eggs and Irn Bru syrup into the remaining milk and then gradually add the the mixture, beating until just incorporated. Do not overmix.
- Fill the muffin cases just under 2/3 full and then bake for about 20-30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool.
- Sift the icing sugar into a large bowl and then beat in the butter.
- When the butter starts to come together, start adding your Irn Bru syrup a tablespoon at a time.
- Mix until buttercream has a light, fluffy consistency.
- If you want a more intense flavour, add more syrup but you may need to add more icing sugar to compensate so it doesn't turn runny. Add orange food colouring at this point for a deeper colour.
- If using, decorate with blue sprinkles.