The life scientific – Doctor, Doctor …

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… yes?  Er no, sorry can’t help with that … I’m not that kind of Doctor.

I now live in the full expectation of having to use that phrase frequently for the rest of my life.  As of 16:30 on Tuesday 3rd December, I am officially allowed to call myself Doctor.  Woop!!!!!  4 years of work were not in vain!!!!!  We cut it quite close to the wire to actually get my viva organised due to a few issues with some official forms, and I must admit I was starting to think that I was going to end up leaving without getting my degree, so to have it all done is such a relief.

The viva itselViva (2)f was nowhere near as scary as I expected.  I don’t know if I just had nice examiners, but I actually enjoyed my viva!  It was nice to be able to discuss my work with people who understood it and took an interest.  You spend so much time during a lab-based PhD feeling like you’re making things up as you go along and riding on the crest of imminent disaster, that your view of your own work becomes skewed.  It’s good to hear that you’re doing well from people that are objective experts.  It gives you some well-needed perspective.  It’s also nice to see people’s reactions when you tell them.  When practically everyone you work with has a doctorate, you lose a sense of their value, so it’s nice to be reminded of that by people that love you (thanks for the flowers Mum & Dad).

The last few months have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster at work, with what seems to be everyone I’m friends with either having their PhD viva or leaving, or both.  This has provided many occasions for celebrating, which in my book always includes cake.  I have a funny feeling I’m probably going to end up making the cakes for my own leaving do to make sure that there’s enough to really count as a party.  That’s a little bit sad isn’t it?  Anyway, it’s been a great time for me to try new recipes like chocolate & coconut eclairs, which taste like Bounty bars, and white chocolate & lemon cupcakes.  These went down particularly well at my friend Lolly’s viva celebration, so I thought I’d share the recipe with you.

Lolly's Cupcakes (2)

Lolly’s Vanilla, Lemon & White Chocolate Cupcakes

Vanilla cupcakes filled with homemade lemon curd and topped with fluffy white chocolate buttercream

For the Cupcakes

80g unsalted butter

280g caster sugar

240g plain flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

pinch of salt

240ml whole milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon lemon oil

For the Lemon Curd

1 large unwaxed lemon

75g caster sugar

2 large eggs

50g unsalted butter

For the Frosting

225g unsalted butter

175g good quality white chocolate

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Large pinch of salt

375g icing sugar

To make the Lemon Curd

  1. Grate the rind of the lemon and place with the sugar in a heatproof bowl.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and the juice of the lemon, then pour over the sugar.
  3. Add the butter cut into small pieces and place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water.
  4. Stir frequently until thickened (approx. 20 minutes), then allow to cool.

To make the Cupcakes

  1. Slowly beat together the flour, baking powder, salt, sugar and butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla extract and lemon oil in a jug.
  3. Using a mixer on low speed, add 3/4 of the milk mixture to the dry ingredients.
  4. Scrape down the sides of the bowl well and mix in the remaining milk mixture.
  5. Once incorporated, beat on a medium speed until smooth.
  6. 2/3 fill muffin cases (I find it usually makes 18), and bake at 170°C (fan oven) for 20 minutes.
  7. Remove and allow to go completely cold.

To make the Frosting

  1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and allow to cool a little.
  2. Using a mixer, whip the butter on a low speed until very pale.
  3. Add the chocolate to the butter and beat until incorporated.
  4. Add the salt and vanilla and mix on medium for a minute.
  5. Slowly add the icing sugar, switching up to a medium speed once incorporated and beating until fluffy.

To assemble the Cupcakes

  1. Cut a small core out of the top of each cupcake.
  2. Fill the hole with a teaspoon of lemon curd, then replace the piece of cake you removed (you may need to pinch off some of the cake to make it fit – these bits are perks for the chef).
  3. Top with a swirl of frosting.

Please do give these a go.  The lemon curd cuts through the sweetness of the white chocolate really well and stops it from becoming too cloying.  Any left over lemon curd can be kept in the fridge for a week and goes really well on toast.  I would also suggest using Green & Black’s white chocolate as it’s not overly sweet, and I like the way the vanilla seeds from the chocolate show through in the finished frosting.

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