Aga toast is probably the best toast in the world.
Other than that, and the occasional slow-cooked one-pot wonder, I’m not an enormous fan of agas. Aside from the fact that I’d boil to death were we to install one in our tiny London kitchen (that is, if it’s great weight didn’t cause it to fall through the floorboards to the foundations below), they can guzzle enormous amounts of gas and slightly scare the obsessive baker in me with their lack of precision dials and just four basic oven temperatures.
But they do make seriously good toast.
This toast was always an enormous treat when we went to stay with my Granny in her old Suffolk farmhouse. Located on an apple farm, her house was exactly the kind of place that suits an aga: the centre of a kitchen where milk could be heated for coffee, cakes baked for tea, plates warmed for dinner and a place for her two cats and dogs to lie in peace, toasting their fur in a long lazy stretch against the aga’s lower doors.
Breakfast was always conducted in a formal manner. The butter came in a dish with its own knife, while an array of homemade jams were allocated a single silver spoon each. Milk was transferred from foil-capped bottles to a china jug, and if you wanted bread you had to apply for it from my Granny’s husband in his place at the end of the table. Toasting, however, was generally my Dad’s job: thick slices of fresh-cut bread sandwiched within their metal grill then transformed under hotplates into the most perfect toast in the world, crisp on the outside, soft in the middle, with lots of lovely little square ridges for soaking up extra melted butter.
My Granny was always amazed at the amount of bread I could consume, raising her eyebrows ever so slightly along with her husband (my Grandfather died before I was born) as I requested yet another piece to put on my plate. But an army marches on its stomach, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and as a hungry little loaf I was happy to sit for hours enjoying my meal as my Dad read the paper, the dogs snuffling around our feet for crumbs.
My Mum and brother, on the other hand, were always a little more eager for action when we visited my Granny. Every summer, after enough time sitting around the breakfast table to eat their fill, they’d announce their imminent departure to the local pick-your-own fruit farm. The door would slam, then with my Dad and I still barely out of our pajamas, they’d return, fingers sticky, stomachs full and punnets overflowing with freshly picked raspberries to eat, boil, bake and freeze for the coming months.
That was a slightly long-winded way of saying this recipe is perfect if you have a surplus of slightly over-ripe raspberries to hand. A generous punnet’s-worth is stirred through a basic sponge batter, moistened slightly with ground almonds and baked until soft and sweet with jammy little pockets of juicy cooked fruit. Dark chocolate and raspberry is always a winning combination, so here I’ve topped these cupcakes with a chocolate ganache swirl, but if you want something simpler you could leave it out altogether.
Served plain they’d even make a pretty good breakfast. Actually served with chocolate they’d make a pretty good breakfast too, as I discovered when baking these beauties before work the other day. Good enough to last until my next fix of aga toast anyway . . .
Raspberry Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache
(makes 12 large cupcakes)
For the cupcakes (adapted from BBC Good Food magazine)
200g self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
200g unsalted butter, softened and cubed
4 large free range eggs
200g golden caster sugar
3 tbsp full fat milk
50g ground almonds
165g raspberries, lightly crushed with a fork
For the ganache
125g dark chocolate, finely chopped
125ml double cream
25g white chocolate
For the cupcakes
Preheat the oven to 175 degrees C. Line a 12 hole muffin tin with paper muffin or cupcake liners*.
Sift together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
Place the butter, eggs, sugar, milk and almonds in a large bowl and beat with an electric whisk until smooth. Fold in the flour mixture and crushed raspberries, then divide the batter between your 12 cases.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until golden and just firm. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
For the ganache
Place your chopped chocolate in a large, heatproof bowl.
Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it begins to bubble then pour over the chocolate. Leave for one minute then, using a rubber spatula, slowly bring the cream into the middle of the bowl from the sides, folding it over the chocolate until the mixture is smooth, combined and glossy.
Set aside to cool and thicken for a few minutes, then divide equally between your twelve cupcakes, pouring the ganache over each cake then smoothing the top.
Melt the white chocolate and drizzle over each cupcake. Using a toothpick or skewer, swirl the two chocolates together.
Pop the cupcakes in the fridge for 20 minutes to set, but don’t store them there – the cakes will be happier and taste better at room temperature in an airtight tin.
*For a more rustic look (as in my photos) use high sided muffin cases. For a smooth, flat finish, use cupcake cases but you’ll need to judge the filling quite accurately to allow enough space for the ganache to sit on top once your cupcakes have baked and risen.