Every family has a secret recipe, right? On my Mum’s side of the family, it’s her mother’s pasta sauce recipe. In fact, it was such a secret that Nonna never actually gave it to my Mum or my aunty. She’d just say to them “you’ve watched me make it, you know what goes in it.”
Let’s just say my Nonna was always far more patient with me (the golden only grandchild) in the kitchen than she was with her daughters.
And it was true, they did know what went into this perfect pasta sauce. That wasn’t any secret. They just didn’t know how much of it went in. It took my Mum a long time to work out approximately how much of all the ingredients went into the sauce, including the secret ingredient.
Sorry, can’t tell you what that is. I’ll give you any of my cake recipes under the sun, but this is a secret. Total secret. But if you happened to be at our place and I was cooking it for you, then, well, I’d probably let you see. So it’s a semi-secret.
But you know what, even though we know the ingredients, and we make it the same way she did, it never tastes quite as good as when she used to make it. When I’d go to stay for the weekend, she’d ask me what I wanted for dinner, even though she knew exactly what I was going to ask for (and she always had the pasta ingredients ready, because she knew.)
I guess sometimes, it isn’t just the ingredients that make things perfect.
As for these here spaghetti and meatball cupcakes, I have the ‘recipe’ for you, step-by-step-by-step, so you can make them perfectly. With photos, once again starring the lovely hands of Loralee from My Cake Kitchen.
Like the “sweet sushi”, we talked about a while back, these were another of the ‘fake out foods’ Loralee served at her son’s Minion birthday party a few months back.
And these are so much easier than slaving over a hot stove for hours (or even stirring a pot of sauce every half hour or so, for hours).
So here are the edible bits you’ll need:
- White chocolate ganache or pale coloured buttercream
- A 50/50 mix of white modelling chocolate and fondant. You’ll need approximately 30g of this choc/fondant mixture for each cupcake
- Cake crumbs + frosting to bind them (for the meatballs) Loralee used chocolate and banana cake crumbs, with dark chocolate ganache
- Some berry dessert sauce or coulis
- A piece of white chocolate
- Gold food colouring
You’ll need a bit of specialist equipment for this, an extruder (this one here is the Makin’s clay extruder)…
…and the little disc that has seven little holes. This isn’t the one with the itty bitty teeny tiny holes, or the one with the small-ish holes. It’s the one in the middle. Mmmmkay?
The reason you need fondant and modelling chocolate for the spaghetti is because fondant gives the stretch you need when extruding, and the modelling chocolate gives the softness and, well, a much better flavour than eating straight fondant. To make the mixture to the colour of pasta, it just needs a dab of gold food colouring. This isn’t shiny/metallic gold, it’s a yellow-brown gel colour. You could use a little dab each of yellow and brown if you don’t have gold.
Make a baking paper or waxed paper template to ensure your little spaghetti nests are the right size for your cupcakes by drawing around a circle cutter or other round object that is a similar size to the top of your cupcake. Flip the paper over so that the pencil lines are underneath.
For each cupcake, knead a little over 30g of the modelling choc/fondant mixture with a decent dab (start with 1/4 teaspoon or so) of shortening until soft and pliable. The texture should be a bit like chewing gum. Rub a bit of shortening into the tube of the extruder, then roll the paste into a long sausage, and place it into the tube. You’ll need to twist and jiggle and shove it to get it in. If it’s not all going in, you can unscrew the opposite end of the extruder, as there may be air trapped in there that is stopping the paste from going all the way to the end. Load in as much as you can, remove the excess and screw on the end piece (with the multi-hole disc inside).
Start screwing the, um, what do you call it? The screwy end, until the ‘spaghetti’ begins to appear. Try to hold the extruder a few inches above the paper and let the spaghetti fall in a natural, messy manner. You don’t have to keep it precisely inside the guide, if messy s’ketti is what you’re going for, then by all means, go crazy!
Pretend that this next photo isn’t blurry. Or pretend that Loralee is really a spaghetti ninja and her hand was moving so fast it blurred the photo.
Repeat those steps for each nest of spaghetti. Once they’re all extruded, tuck in any loose ends (like the one in the pic below) then let them sit just until they’re firm enough to lift without squishing the strands. If you want to do these in advance, cover them with plastic wrap or put them in a container with the lid just sitting on top. Don’t make it airtight or the fondant will sweat, but you don’t want the nests to dry out and get too firm or they will sit stiffly on the cupcakes and the spaghetti won’t fall naturally.
Side note: Most self-respecting Italians would never, ever serve ‘naked’ spaghetti. Pasta should always be mixed with the sauce, not served as a nude pile, with a smidgen of sauce dolloped on the top. But for the purposes of cupcakes, well, lets face it they would look like brains if they were dripping in sauce. And they’re fake-out food cupcakes, not Halloween cupcakes.
Right, where were we? Meatballs. The meatballs were made just like a cake pop, with crumbled up cake off cuts and a spoonful or two of icing/frosting. Loralee used mainly chocolate cake, but you’ll notice a bit of banana cake there, which is totally fine to use as well as the chocolate. The flecks of white give the meatballs some extra texture, like garlic or onion, perhaps? Another side note: Loralee makes the best banana cake. Ugh, so good it makes me hate her a little. (It also makes me determined to make a good gluten free version of it, stay tuned for that.)
The crumbled up cake just gets mixed up with a spoonful or two of icing (chocolate ganache, in this case), just enough to hold it all together. We were only making a few here for photographing purposes, but you can make however many you need for your cupcakes.
Then roll teaspoons full into balls (or be the photographer and get someone else to get their hands dirty. Mwahaha. Thanks Loralee.)
You can make these in advance and keep them in an airtight container (in the fridge, if your frosting requires it).
Then you just need to put them all together! Bake and cool your cupcakes, then smear them with a little buttercream or white chocolate ganache.
Arrange the spaghetti on top. Be gentle with it, you don’t want to squash it down. You’ll end up with fetti-ghetti. (Fettucini/spaghetti. I’m doing the non-self respecting Italian thing again.)
Pop a meatball on top. Or two, if you want. Because more food is always better.
For the sauce, you can either make your own berry sauce, or in Loralee’s words “I’m a mum, I don’t have time for that” and just use a store bought berry dessert sauce. Drizzle that over the top. Then, use a microplane or fine grater to grate some white chocolate over the top, like parmesan cheese.
Then we just topped them off with these little plastic forks.
‘Cause lets face it, no one wants to eat spaghetti with their fingers. Oh, wait…
Fork shmork, fingers are better. Seems that Loralee’s littlest boy didn’t mind my Nonna’s pasta sauce when I made it for them. Even if it does look a little naked when the sauce and meat have been separated in kiddy plates. Probably for the best, when it’s getting slurped all over his little face. And clothes. And perhaps even the floor. Hey, not my house! 😉
Go on, make these cupcakes and then eat ’em with your fingers. I won’t judge.