Monday, 23 November 2009

Catalan Salt Pinch Cake

I now know why this is called a Pinch Cake - because you can't cut it neatly.  My parents will be surprised to hear that I do have *some* deeply ingrained table manners - I was horrified at the idea of pinching of a wodge of cake to then stuff in my mouth.  Could you have more than one wodge?  Or was that akin to a Seinfield double dip?

Anyway, enough amateur psychoanalysis, how about some amateur baking instead?  This was a pretty easy cake to make, with thankfully no icing!  Toast and grind some almonds, make a meringue with sugar and almonds and then beat in small amounts of egg until you think you will lose your mind.  Actually, it wasn't that bad but twenty minutes does allow for alot of thinking.  Most of it along the lines of ... "Surely it wouldn't make any difference to add all the egg at once and beat for twenty minutes." and after twenty minutes of the same thought, as I carefully dosed in two tablespoons every two minutes, I did feel perilously close to insanity.

The resulting cake took an age (forty minutes or so) to bake - but I think that was because I didn't cut the parchment collar down to size.  That minute I saved in prep time cost me about ten in baking time.  I will now have to plant another tree to offset the carbon footprint of my laziness.

My cake did dip a little in the middle - probably more than in Rose's fabulous picture, although not quite enough for me to resort to weeping.  I think I may have slightly undercooked this cake (I seem to be repeating that quite a bit - over/undercooked each week).  Although my cake tester came out dry, the cake emitted a mushing noise when I touched the top.   Even now, the day after, still that same mushing sound.  This may be the reason it is such a mess to cut.  The knife either compressed it akin to slicing a hot loaf of white bread or else it grated it like cheese.  So in the end I hacked it with a serrated knife and also did a bit of pinching.  The pinching was far neater, but fraught with the aforementioned psychological issues - who knew!?

We ate the cake with what were apparently the last twenty UK grown raspberries (based on the price) and whipped cream.  On the whole, I was unimpressed by this cake.   Yes it is moist, with a touch of lemon and the subtle crunch of ground almonds, but if I were to seek out an almond cake, then I would turn one more page in Rose's book and go straight for the Almond Shamah Chiffon.  That way I wouldn't have to confront any of my phobias (other than maybe that one about eating such a girly pink cake) and I would have a cake that I could serve my Nana (I am not implying that she is a non- handwasher, although, now I come to think of it...).


Playing Catch Up - Woody's Lemon Layer Cake

What an unmitigated disappointment this cake was or perhaps it was just the baker...  I read a few posts on it and marveled at the light texture and general gorgeousness of it.  There were no real warnings to heed, so even though I was running a week behind, I figured I would whip this cake up for a Friday the 13th morning tea.

The method of beating the butter into the flour and then slowly adding the eggs/liquid always leaves me with a flat, tough cake.  I am not sure what I am doing wrong.  Am I beating too much?  I have no idea.   The old fashioned creaming butter and sugar, beating in the eggs and folding in the flour always gives me a better textured more airy cake.  One of the great mysteries of the world - any tips will be gladly received.

I have been entirely slack in the photo department for this cake - I will get my act back together for the Pinch Cake.  I think the jetlag has eaten my motivation!  The cake came together pretty well, though the time between uncooked and overcooked was about a nanosecond.  Needless to say I missed it, and one of my cakes was overcooked.  I really need a double oven - did you hear that Santa?  I also used some silicon pan liners in the place of the parchment paper - what a mistake.  I thought silicon didn't stick to anything, well, I can now attest that cake sticks to silicon.  This cake at least.  Hot, warm or cold, it stuck just the same - even worse on the overcooked cake.

I did cheat and chickened out of sacrificing even more eggs to this cake - I used the Tiptree Lemon Curd instead of standing over a double boiler stirring.  I have done my lemon curd time!  My icing came together without any issues.  The white chocolate custard tasted a bit liked condensed milk but maybe that was because I had tasted it too much?!  It was smooth and creamy and a dream to wrap around the cake.  I also trimmed off the browned tops and bottoms - surely Woody did that for the photo shoot, because I can't imagine how he got them to stay so unbrowned...

I am pretty sure that I will never ever make this cake again.  Well, maybe I might attempt it if I get some remedial lessons on the method.  The icing I will most definitely make again.  The texture was fantastic and it would be great on cupcakes.  Given that, I have to correct my opening cry of this cake being an unmitigated disappointment - the icing saved it.  Having said that the friends I served it up to, raved about it.  I just love how the English are so so terribly polite!

Baby Chocolate Oblivions

The last time I made this cake was for the base of our wedding cake over five years ago.  I can remember the heating and beating of 18 eggs in my super sized Kenwood the day before the wedding.  Great fun, but not as much fun as assembling the cake at 5.00am the morning of the wedding!

My approach this time was not as exacting as five years ago... after all, I wasn't trying to impress 128 people with my wifely baking skills!  It is quite a simple recipe - chocolate, butter, a touch of sugar with folded in warmed, beaten eggs, baked in a bain marie.  I think I lost the plot a little bit with Rose's instruction to cover the muffin pans with a baking tray.  I was thinking myself very clever as I put the lid on the baking dish... which after the 15 minute baking time, wasn't so clever as it resulted in baby cakes that didn't wobble in their middles.  Their middles were quite taut, without a wobble or a quiver in sight.  I wasn't too worried, as I know that even overcooked, Rose's cakes are more than edible!

I didn't use a silicone muffin pan, and weirdly, I didn't grease the massive muffin pan that I used instead.  I definitely must be on holiday - very laxidaisical baking.  And the proof was in the pudding.  I had to warm the pan to remove the cakes, and of course the pan held tight to some of the cake.  My little cakes were less than perfect looking.  And the overcooking made for a denser texture - not unpleasant, just less creamy smooth than I remember.  In hindsight, the texas muffin pan was a mistake.  I think a mini muffin pan or even the one that we used for the Barcelona bars would be a much better idea because these cakes are very very very rich.

These cakes were served up with a scoop of strawberry ice cream.  That ice cream was really needed to cut through the richness.  They were a bit too rich for the men in particular.  Those that were accustomed to eating chocolate (ahem) were able to finish off a half serve of those massive texas muffins, but only if paired with the strawberry ice cream.  There was alot of stomach holding and groaning after they were eaten, so maybe a quarter serve would have been ample.  As an aside, you will be relieved to know that the dog ate none of these little cakes - chocolate being a dog killer and all.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Pumpkin Cake with Burnt Orange SMB

I am pleased to say that we arrived in pretty good condition after our long long long flight.  I thought my little assistant travelled really well and he slept much more than he would have at home.  Sure there were a couple of crying jags, but I think by that stage everyone on the plane was probably feeling like howling with the frustration of extended turbulence.  His love of travelators knows no bounds as we spent 99% of our in transit time in Hong Kong going backwards and forwards.

I can honestly admit, that if not for this group, I would never ever have baked this cake.  This is when baking with pictures can actually be a bit intimidating rather than inspiring.  Thankfully though, I did suck up some courage, buy a bundt pan (pumpkin pans are definitely not available in this sleepy little town!) and finally made my interpretation of Rose's very grand and very literal Pumpkin Cake.

Apart from a couple of ingredients - the walnut oil and pureed pumpkin- this was actually a very simple cake to make. I searched high and low for walnut oil (well, maybe not that high or low - just one grocery store) but to no avail.  I just substituted canola oil for the walnut oil. I made my own pureed pumpkin which added to my trepidation - how wet is canned pumpkin?  Would it ruin the cake if my pumpkin was too wet/not wet enough?  I let my pureed pumpkin drain while I prepared the cake mix, just to be cautious.  Making pumpkin puree is hardly brain surgery - so don't let that put you off making this cake.

The cake mix looked quite wet to my eye - and this is where I started to question how wet canned pumpkin puree could be?  Though not enough to do any research on the internet!  I was baking to a deadline - we were planning a visit to friends in Curio Bay to watch a couple of rugby games and stay the night.  I just hoped for the best, placed my faith in Rose, and whacked the pan into the oven.  I think it took about 40 minutes to cook.  About a quarter of the time it took to make the faffing icing.

Ayeee.  That icing.  Okay, so it probably isn't best to multitask while making caramel.  My first batch of burnt caramel was a bit too burnt.  More black than deep amber.  But onwards I soldiered, adding it into the milk - which promptly split.  At that stage, I couldn't just pretend it would be okay.  I started afresh, with single minded dedication and produced a rather thin looking not too burnt Creme Anglaise. 

I had to use a hand beater to get the meringue, as my Mum's kitchen has a Kenwood and a swift whip hand beater with not a lot in between.  So perhaps my meringue wasn't as firm as it could have been.  I tested all the temperatures of the anglaise, the butter and the meringue and all averaged around the 21 degree celsius.  So I don't know where I went wrong, but I suspect that the icing should be creamy smooth rather than looking a bit airy.  It tasted fine, but just looked a bit weird.  My Dad thought it was a special effect to make the icing look like the skin of an orange!  Um.  Not the intended result, but thanks.  Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of the icing as I was making it.  I suspect I beat the butter a bit too much and it became to airy?  I think I will have to watch Rose make it on line - except I can't find it.  Help!  See how it looks weirdly solid but holey (don't I have a way with words?).  Was it too cold?  That orange string on the top is actually orange zest that I cooked in the remainder of the orange juice concentrate with some more sugar to crystallize it.  The cake looked a bit bland without it.

In the end, my extra air bubbles (or whatever they were) did nothing to detract from the cake.  Actually, I think the cake could more than stand up without any icing - it was that good.  Moist, fragrant, flavourful and delicious.  Definitely an alternative to the more ubiquitous carrot cake.  Actually, I can see that this cake would be excellent as a last minute whip up (without the palaver of the icing though).  I will keep making this cake - just not with the icing.

And the photo above is the view from where we ate Rose's Pumpkin Cake.  Curio Bay or more correctly Porpoise Bay.  A truly beautiful place, maybe 40 houses and a camping ground skirting the beach.  A pod of Hector's dolphins regularly frequent the bay and frolic amongst the surfers and those souls brave enough to swim in the ocean.  There is also a colony of Blue Penguins nesting around the bay - even under the back step of our friend's house.

So looking forward to seeing everyone elses perfect icing adorning their pumpkins.  Hopefully there will be a few photos of the in process icing so I can do a mental comparison.