Little Bee by Chris Cleave is a wonderful novel about two women, Little Bee and Sarah O'Hara, from different worlds, who in the worst circumstances imaginable find a way help each other. These cupcakes, like the book cover for Little Bee, are cute, but let me be clear - the book is not cutesy in anyway - it is truly heart wrenching throughout. The title character, Little Bee, is a teenage Nigerian refugee, who, at the novel's start, finds herself in a stark British immigration detention center. Little Bee is not her real name, but a name she created as she fled her country. She is a refugee, has been through hellish, traumatic experiences and lost her family, but her immense strength enables her to be kind and loving to Sarah and her child. I made these honey sweetened cupcakes with honey buttercream for Little Bee.
This is the profound voice of Little Bee, one of two narrators in Chris Cleave's Little Bee - first, a teenage refugee from Nigeria who when we first meet her is in a detention center in the U.K. and Sarah, a young mother and editor-in-chief of a women's magazine. It is hard to write everything I want to write about the book without giving away some details that I think are better left for the reader to discover on their own. At the beginning of the novel it is not clear how these two women are connected, but chapter by chapter this is revealed. In addition, the reader at first does not now how or why Little Bee fled Nigeria and came to the U.K. Again, the revelation of these facts I think are important for the reader to experience "real time" as they happen in the book because these revelations help illustrate the extraordinary nature of Little Bee and Sarah's role in each others lives. I found the parts of the book narrated by Little Bee to be especially enjoyable - the book is not overly sentimental and is wryly funny, especially Little Bee observations about the U.K (Little Bee periodically thinks about how she would explain things she encounters to "the girls back home.") Cleave does a great job at dialogue and getting voices and speech patterns right, from Little Bee, who learned English from reading the Times everyday in detention (and therefore speaks, as she calls it, "the Queen's English"), to one of Little Bee's fellow immigrants in the detention center, a woman from Jamaica and finally Sarah's 4 year old son Charlie, who is convinced he is Batman and will only respond to that name (who refers to people as either "goodies or baddies.") Although Little Bee is clearly the heroine of the novel, I found Sarah's story equally compelling. In the end, what you get from the book is a lesson that even when the worst thing that can happen does happen, you can survive and there are people in the world (in this case people you least expect) that will be kind to you and help you through it. This book is both moving and really entertaining, go read it now!
Chocolate Honey Cupcakes with Honey Sweetened Buttercream
Adapted from Nigella and Rose
This is a cute little cupcake if I do say so myself. The cake I adapted from Nigella Lawson's Sticky Honey Cake in her Feast cookbook. For the frosting I started with Rose Levy Berenbaum's Queen Bee Honey Buttercream recipe in her Cake Bible book and fiddled with it heavily, because I did not like the taste or consistency when it was finished. Because of my fiddling, the honey taste was less pronounced by the frosting tasted better overall. Next time I would use the sticky honey chocolate glaze from the Nigella recipe. I made the bees with marzipan and almonds for the wings. Not many people invest in black food coloring, so I think a good alternative to the marzipan would be to use black and yellow M&Ms. These cupcakes, in my opinion, were super easy as well as light and moist, though the chocolate flavor could have been punched up more. If my taster reads this and disagrees, pipe in in the comments below.
Cake (makes 12 -14 cupcakes)
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 and 1/3 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 sticks softened butter
1/2 cup honey
1 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
1 cup boiling water
6 large egg yolks
2 cups unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup honey
(this is where I started fiddling, so excuse the weird measurements)
10 tablespoons confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon lemon zest (this really brightened up the frosting's taste but definitely made it pretty lemony, I liked the combo with chocolate but others may not, so you can leave this out if you wish or lessen it, I do think it is a nice counterbalance to the heavy honey flavor)
yellow food coloring (optional)
yellow food coloring
black food coloring
almond flakes (or whatever they are called)
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 and line muffin tins with cupcake liners. Beat together butter and sugar till it is light and creamy looking, like this:
Then add the honey. Add one of the eggs, and 1 tablespoon of flour and beat it in. Add the other egg and another tablespoon of flour and beat it in. Fold in the melted chocolate, and then the rest of the flour and baking soda.
Then add the cocoa powder. Here it is all folded together and before the next step, this stuff looks and tasted heavenly!
Now add the boiling water. You will see the batter goes from mousse-like to soup-like. No worries, the cakes came out great. I do think the water, ahem, watered down the flavor a bit, so next time I would add more cocoa powder or maybe add some hot coffee instead of hot water, as Ina Garten does.
Pour into the cupcake tins and bake for approximately 20-25 minutes till tester comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely before frosting.
For frosting, beat egg yolks in stand mixer till very light yellow in color. Put honey in heavy saucepan on stove and bring to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Remove to a grease glass measuring cup. I just sprayed Pam on it. Here is the honey and the eggs before they were combined:
When the honey is in the glass container, start beating the eggs, then pour in a small amount of the honey and beat for 5 seconds. Then pour in another small amount of honey and beat for 5 seconds. We don't want too much hot honey to mix with the eggs or we will have scrambled eggs. After these first two tempering steps, pour the rest of the honey in and keep beating till the mixture is cool. Then beat in the butter till it all looks like frosting, and not a second longer.
I tasted it at that stage and did not love it. It wasn't sweet enough and the consistency was a little soft for piping nicely. So I added the confectioners sugar a bit at time till I found a consistency and level of sweetness I liked. Then I added the flour for a bit more stabilization, then I added the lemon to brighten. Then I added some yellow food coloring to up the cuteness factor. For frosting these cupcakes I loaded the frosting into a pastry bag and used Wilton #32 tip.
For the bees: Take a small handful of marzipan, I would say a quarter cup is more than enough per color. Mix in the food coloring to get desired color. I needed the coloring in like you need bread or pizza dough. I rolled out the yellow and black into little ropes. I cut pieces about a centimeter long, rolled them into balls, then stuffed them all together - two yellow, two black, to make the little bees. I painted on the eyes with food coloring. Chocolate would work too. And then when I placed them on the frosted cupcake I added the almond wings.