When I was little, I went to camp in Maine. The camp director's wife would often tell stories about a good witch who lived in the woods named Varna (this was long before the Blair Witch Project -- had I seen that, you can bet I would have never stepped foot out of Manhattan again!). Legend had it that Varna would do good deeds for all the good campers and if they were very very good, she might leave you a piece of candy. It was Varna who would leave a SkyBar (anyone remember those?) under your pillow if you lost a tooth while at camp and yes, I do admit to twisting and wiggling many loose teeth during those summer months.
One of the most memorable and secretive traditions at my camp (and I hope I am not spoiling this in case the tradition lives on) was Varna's Tree. This involved the campers from the most senior bunk decorating a tree in the middle of the woods in gold spray paint and candy...yes, candy! Late that night, they would creep into the youngest kids' bunk and lead them out into the woods. Once there, they were told that Varna had left the tree because they had been so good and as long as they kept it a secret, the tree would be there for them whenever they wanted candy (which was of course forbidden at camp). As soon as the little ones were led back to bed, the older kids would return to the tree, dismantle it and remove the evidence.
To this day, I can actually remember being woken from my sleep one night when I was about 6 years old and being lead out into the woods while still half-asleep. And I can completely recall the surprise and delight I felt when I saw the tree and gathered up some candy. Some of my friends and I returned the next day and found a few stray gold leaves but no tree. We were pissed as hell and didn't talk to one of the other girls in the cabin for about a week, convinced that she had spilled the beans. I also remember about 10 years later, when I was in the oldest cabin and the camp director's wife came to us one night to help her with that year's tree set-up. It was a fun night and of course the best part was we got to eat all the left-over "evidence" afterwards!
Many of my US friends will tell you that I often ring them up and ask them to send me care packages of impossible to find candies here in France. Tops on my list? Mike & Ike's Hot Tamales, atomic fireballs, Reese's pieces, SweeTarts, candy corn, candy canes, Peeps and Cadbury eggs. Wanna get on my good side? Send me some...puh-leese!
My cupcake menu actually includes versions of some of my favorite candies: Peanut butter cups, Rolos, After Eight, etc. and in the past year, I have paid homage to some of my favorite candy bars by recreating cupcakes around them like my Twix Hi Hats or Snickers cupcakes. My newest menu addition is the "Touch Me Tease Me" cupcake which is essentially a Malteser (or Whopper for those in the US) in cupcake form. I have been playing around with Nigella Lawson's recipe for the better part of a year, and finally have come up with an adaptation that I really like. I think my fans must like them too cause I put them out for sale last week at the pop-up store, and they were gone in about an hour!
Now I can't tell you the exact changes I have made to this recipe cause then I might have to kill you! But prepared exactly as is, Nigella's gets two thumbs up from me. I'll give you a hint as to the changes I made...it just didn't taste Malteser enough to me! Here's how you can make these at home:
Chocolate Malteser Cake
From "Feast", Nigella Lawson (2004)
Makes about 24 cupcakes
150g soft brown sugar (muscavado sugar is best for flavour)
100g caster sugar
3 large eggs
15g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Horlicks powder
175g plain flour
25g cocoa, sieved
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
For the icing and decoration
250g icing sugar
1 teaspoon cocoa
125g soft unsalted butter
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 x 37g packets Maltesers
Take whatever you need out of the fridge so that all the ingredients can come to room temperature (though it's not so crucial here, since you're heating the milk and butter and whisking the eggs).
Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 3/170C. Butter and line two 12-hole cupcake tins.
Whisk together the sugars and eggs until light and frothy. Heat the milk, butter and Horlicks powder in a small saucepan until the butter has melted and the mixture is hot but not boiling. Beat the milk mixture into the eggs a little at a time. Fold in the dry ingredients thoroughly. Divide the cake batter evenly between the two tins and bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes, by which time the cakes should have risen and will spring back when pressed gently. Let them cool on a rack for about 5-10 minutes and then turn lift out of their tins.
Once the cupcakes are cold, you can get on with the icing. Put the icing sugar, cocoa and Horlicks in a processor and blitz to remove all lumps. Add the butter and process again. Stop, scrape down, and start again, pouring the boiling water down the funnel with the motor running until you have a smooth buttercream.
Spread on top of cupcakes or use a pastry bag and tip to make pretty swirls. Stud the top of each cupcakes with a few Maltesers or crush them leaving large pieces and sprinkle on top. Eat, enjoy!