Monday, 28 December 2009

Holiday PineCone Cake - it may be a holiday but it sure ain't no pine cone

I didn't realise when I joined the Heavenly Cake Baker's that I would laugh so much at myself.   This cake, whilst it may not have resulted in flames or deep navel gazing or volcanic eruptions, it has dashed any fantasy I may have had about becoming a sculptor and it has made me laugh alot. 

Like alot of tourists, I have traipsed past loads of old stuff.  Churches, museums, ruins, palaces, paintings, sculpture, mosaics - you know how it goes.  It gets to the point, where I just can't look at one more human made thing with anything other than overwhelm.  Except for sculpture.   That  always amazes me.  That someone was able to take a solid hunk and make it come to life - incredible.  If, for some reason, I awoke one morning to suddenly discover that I was "artistic", then I would be definitely become a sculptor.

Most assuredly, on Christmas morning, I did not wake up to discover that I was artistic.  This cake is evidence of that.  Every time I look at this photo, I laugh.  Hilarious.  Every time I walk past the cake I laugh.  Every time I even think about this cake, I smirk and then laugh.  I may be nearly as cracked in the head as this fondant.  Curses to the English and their derision of trans fats (which Rose points out are kind of necessary to get the elasticity in the fondant).

I made this cake over three days.  Which sounds alot, but it really isn't.  On the 23 I made the fondant.  Easy.  Melt stuff and then mix it into the icing sugar and cocoa and knead until soft, smooth and supple.  Hmm. 

 It mixed together okay.  I substituted golden syrup for the corn syrup and I used a solid vegetable fat instead of the Spectrum.   The glycerin, which I bought in the pharmacy section of the supermarket, was thankfully not in suppository form a la Mendy's comment.  Apparently glycerin can be used for dry chafed skin or a dry throat - who knew!  Now I do.  And now you do too.


Anyway, I kneaded and kneaded that fondant.  It seemed a bit dry to me, so I added more water.  And then some more water and then even more water.  After considerable time,  I decided it was enough mainly because I was over the kneading.  It definitely didn't look like bought fondant - not supple and not really soft.

Christmas Eve I made the ganache - again easy.  Whizz up the prerequisite toasted almonds, grind up the chocolate, add scalded cream and then stir in said almonds and cognac.  Maybe a fifteen minute job.  It made about four cups of ganache - I ended up freezing my leftovers of about two cups.

The roulade I made on Christmas morning, before I baked the turkey.  It was easy enough too - a sponge, so lots of beating etc before placing in a half sheet pan (17 1/4 inches x 12 1/4 inches).  Which I am glad I didn't buy since my oven only measures 16 inches internally and I don't really have room for any more redundant kitchen equipment.  So my roulade was a bit smaller than Rose's roulade.  Also, my roulade had *nice* little white lumps through it, which is where the flour didn't dissolve.    I am not sure why Rose instructs us to dust the surface with icing sugar before rolling up.  The icing sugar had completely disappeared when I unrolled it to assemble the cake.

I did the assembly of this cake on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) to take to a dinner with friends.  After the roulade is unrolled and spread with the ganache, it is rerolled and then you start to sculpt.  Which isn't that technical really.  You just simply cut off the side bits on an angle and reposition them at the bottom of the cake/pine cone.  Except when I did that, the cake looked like a rocket.  A chocolate, flour flecked, rocket.  I think I started laughing about then. After laughing at your cake, you coat your rocket pine cone in chocolate ganache and then apply the fondant - rolled to 1/8 inch thickness.

Except my fondant was rubbish.  It was not 1/8 of an inch.  It was not soft, smooth or supple.  It was hard, dry and crumbly.  I was able to roll it out and coax it onto the cut cake, but any attempt at smoothing the sides or joining seams was impossible.  And I laughed even harder.

I searched high and low for a stanley knife, but they appear to have been confiscated, so I just used a carving knife to form the pine cone petals.  It appears I will never be a sculptor nor a surgeon. 

Look at the dryness.  Look at the cracks.  Look at those pine cone *petals* - more like the teeth of a great white shark.  Row upon row of serrated teeth.  But really, it just looked a bit like a weird brown Christmas tree.  One that had been left until well into the New Year.  Without water.   And with no decorations.  Hilarious.

How did it taste, you may ask?  Too much chocolate for me.  And the texture contrasts weren't so great either - since you are asking.  Not sure if that was because my fondant was more like leather.  Even after I picked off the fondant, the roulade with the ganache didn't rock my boat.  The roulade is such a light sponge, it seemed overwhelmed by the heaviness of the ganache.  Come to think of it, it tastes more like a truffle than a cake, and truffles should bite sized, not eaten with a cake fork.  Maybe that is the secret to enjoying this cake?  I served small half slices for the tasters, and even though they said it was nice, no one asked for a second sliver.  Nothing speaks louder than no second helpings!

I won't be making this Pine Cone again - holiday or not.  And to be honest, I don't think I will even be eating another slice of it.  Afterall, I still have to eat my way through the second fruitcake (now more moist and rummy, but strangely, the fruit seems less pronounced - I preferred it fresh).

Wishing you all a happy, cake filled New Year.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

English Gingerbread Cake

As I was preparing this cake for the oven, I did ponder Marie's casual remark that she had selected two  easy cakes for us in the lead up to her (and now my) nemesis: the chocolate pine cone.  I reflected on the 2007 Rugby World Cup, which was played in France.  I am a New Zealander and if you didn't already know, New Zealander's (or Kiwi's) have a evangelical love/pride/obsession for their rugby union team.  So much so, that my grandfather, a farmer aged 76, whose previous overseas travel had taken him to Australia, travelled the 31 hours with my aunt and uncle to Europe to watch the All Black's rightfully seize the Rugby World Cup.  The All Black's were in great form and almost certain to win.  My family had only bought tickets for the semi finals and finals.  You know where this is heading, don't you?  The All Black's lost in the quarter final against the host nation.  Devastation and disaster and tears from many many men.  My Uncle's theory was that the All Black's hadn't been stretched in the lead up games and instead of playing the current game, they were focused on playing the Grand Final.

I admit to not being a true Kiwi, one who watches every single All Black game.  Actually, I don't think I have watched one game since that 2007 World Cup quarter final loss.  And I only watched that one because my grandfather, aunt and uncle were with us in Scotland.  This admission is kind of like saying that you have never loved your parents or your children: strictly taboo.

Anyway, like the 2007 All Blacks, I may have been focused on the Grand Final Chocolate Pine Cone rather than the English Gingerbread, when I *whipped* this cake up.  And last week's carrot cake did little to stretch my cake baking form.  I did display some dedication to the task at hand.  I made Kate Flour, except without the Xanthan Gum and without the cornflour.  It was such an easy cake.  Melt the butter, golden syrup (alot), sugar and marmalade, and allow to cool.  Whisk in eggs and milk.  Then mix the wet into the dry ingredients.  Job done. 

Except it wasn't.  Because my mix, although soup like, was a bit too lumpy for my liking.  So I dug through it with my hands to break up the flour lumps.  Calling it good enough and praying to Rose that the remaining lumps would sort themselves out during the baking, I put it into the oven.

When I opened the oven 10 minutes from full time, I realised that maybe this was like the All Black quarterfinal against France.   Doomed.  What did that mean for the Chocolate Pine Cone?  I am pleased to say that I didn't cry - I am reserving that right for next week.  However, I did swear.  Alot.  Who knows what went wrong (www).  My pan was 9 inches round and 2 inches high.  Maybe I added the wrong amount of baking powder?  But then it doesn't taste soapy.   Oh well.  I am pretty sure I will be the only baker with a three tiered gingerbread cake and the only one with such a grotty oven. 

So, I persevered and let the cake cook through.  I dressed it with its lemon syrup, wrapped it in plastic and put it to rest.  The middle sunk.  The edges where it overflowed the pan were as crisp as a brandy snap.  I sliced it 24 hours later and it was stodgy.  None of Rose's light crumb for me.  Just heavy cake.  And not that gingery either.  Spicy yes, gingery, um, not so much. 

Now 48 hours later, the flavour of the ginger is peeking through a little more with the tang of lemon much mellowed.  And I am now eating it the way my grandmother would have served it, slathered with salted butter.  And it isn't too bad.  The gingerbread cakes of my memory were more loaves, with a very fine yet dense crumb, that desperately needed the butter to aid digestion.  I think I need to add the cornflour and the xanthan gum to make the proper Kate Flour to get the Rose lightness.  I also made the mini vanilla bean pound cakes and they were tough - not at all tender.  The flour definitely needs more work to make it less work to chew. 

On the other hand, I may just admit defeat and buy the stupid bleached flour.  Afterall, £10.59 or $17.00 USD isn't too much to pay for two bags of flour delivered?  Apparently bleached flour makes you hysterical if you eat it, but quite frankly, I will be hysterical if I don't get a non stodgy cake soon!

This does not bode well for the Holiday Pinecone.  I am thinking that chocolate roulade would not go so well with a healthy swipe of butter?  I have all the ingredients, bar the right flour and the corn syrup - I am hoping that golden syrup can be substituted as per usual.  On the plus side, they stock the chocolate fondant in the 24 supermarket, so all is not lost if the fondant is rubbish.  That said, if my roulade is more heavy than light, I won't waste my time dressing the concrete log - it will be straight into the bin and I will be straight into the wine and onto the computer to bake vicariously through the more talented and brave.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Pine Cones to everyone. 


Sunday, 13 December 2009

Classic Carrot Cake

I remember my little sister coming home from pre-school telling us that they had made Carrot Cake that day.  I was horrified.  I thought it akin to mud pies.  Who would eat a cake made from carrots - disgusting!  Surely she meant banana cake?  I was a very worldly (!) six years old and far more knowledgeable on flavours of cake than my little sister - they came in white or brown or banana or fruit, most definitely not carrot!  I recall that I may have told her as such and maybe made her cry.

I am glad to say that my cake world has expanded exponentially and I am far more open to flavour.  I have now made cakes with carrot, potato, beetroot, pumpkin, zucchini - enough to explode the mind of many a six year old.  Though most three year old's I know drink baby capuccino's while nibbling at their croissants; the six year old's are probably doing the Times crossword online, eating foie gras on toasted brioche and drinking freshly squeezed guava and pomegranate juice.  The world is indeed a different place!

 Anyway, on to the classic carrot cake.  Oh boy, this is totally NOT disgusting, it is the furthest thing from mud pies.  It is quite frankly, superb.  There, I said it up front, usually I dally about with method and what not before getting to the punch line of how it actually tastes.  But you know what?  You need to know right now that this is a great, all round, easy to make, great tasting carrot cake.

It is very easy to make - you could definitely make it with just a box grater, a mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.  You don't need a mixer or a food processor - not for the cake at any rate.  Like most carrot cakes, it is oil based so no need to beat the living daylights out of anything.  There in lies the "quick" of the cake.  Mix together sugar, eggs, oil and vanilla; lightly mix in flour, leavening, cocoa powder, salt and spice; mix in grated carrots and some raisins if you like.  Easy and takes maybe ten minutes.  Whack it in some pans - make sure you smooth the tops, otherwise they will be a bit lumpy (but easily hidden by thick icing).  Can you tell that maybe I didn't smooth out the tops of the cake so well?

There were some detailed steps, which I followed, but which I am guessing you could leave out.  The first was to sift the whisked dry ingredients onto a parchment before adding to the wet ingredients.  It definitely makes a cleaner addition of the dry to wet, but I guess you could just sift directly into the mixer bowl without too many problems.  The second was dividing the amount of floured raisins so one half was mixed in and the other half sprinkled onto the top of the pans and pressed in.  Like the before and after photo above.  This is, I presume so that all the fruit doesn't fall to the bottom.  I don't think that this would be the case with this cake.  The mixture has a thick consistency and is not very deep in the pan, so you could probably just mix in the full measure of raisins and skip the scatter and poke in step.  Also, I skipped the flouring of the raisins - and my raisins didn't fall to the bottom.


I experimented this time with my cake liners - one pan I used parchment and the other I used the silicon liner.  There was no difference between the final cakes, although I am not sure if this is just because the mixture was less demanding, given it is a heavier cake than say, a genoise.  More of the cake sticks to the silicon liner than the parchment but no difference is detectable once iced!

The dreamy creamy white chocolate icing is exactly that.  So easy to melt white chocolate and add it to cream cheese, butter and sour cream.  On that, I admit to adjusting the ratios a little.  Here in the UK, my chocolate came in a 200 gram slab and the cream cheese in a 300 gram pack, so I used a bit of creative license and reduced the other ingredients accordingly (read randomly, because I didn't use a calculator, just a finger to taste the final product).  I refrigerated the icing for a little bit to get it a wee bit firmer - my cake was still cooling anyway.

And because the cake and icing were such a walk in the park, I decided to make some candied carrot to decorate the top.  We were having people over for dinner, so I wanted the cake to look a bit special, rather than classic!  Just a note on the candied carrot - it is nice and crispy at the time, but if it hangs around that moist cake for very long, then it soon becomes less crispy.

To make the candied carrot, I just peeled two carrots into a pot with half a cup of sugar and half a cup of water and let the carrot cook until it was translucent and the liquid became very syrupy.  Then I removed the peelings (sounds great doesn't it?) to a silpat lined baking tray and baked in a medium oven until they were crispy. 

Yes, this is a very classic carrot cake.  It doesn't entertain walnuts, coconut, crushed pineapple or any other fancy embellishment, aside from the cocoa powder.  I assume the cocoa powder is for colour - it would be great to know what that does in the final cake, because I can't taste it.  And that simplicity of both ingredients and method means that it is a quick and easy cake that will easily impress.  Especially with the addition of the dreamy creamy white chocolate icing.  The faintest undertone of white chocolate is not cloying instead it provides just the right sweetness, with the sour cream delivering the tang.  Gorgeous.  But if you didn't have the white chocolate in the cupboard, then the traditional icing would be just fine. 

Definitely a keeper and this recipe will be replacing my fiddly carrot cake recipe.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Fruitcake Wreath

First off, I must admit to being a fruit cake fancier.  I was a late starter, preferring instead the thick white icing, but firmly rejecting the tacky layer of yellow marzipan and the dense dark dry fruitcake - the corner piece of cake was much fought over.  But now I pick off the thick white icing and reject the marzipan so as to enjoy the dense, hopefully not dry, fruitcake.  I am still not a fan of the dry fruitcake, but I love a moist, fruity, slightly boozy fruitcake.

I am also quite a fan of Rose's Less Fruity Fruitcake from the Cake Bible.  It is very rich, nicely fruity with not too many nuts.  I am not a fan of nuts in my fruitcake - I think it is the stark contrast in texture between the plump fruits and the nuts that turn me off.  So, given that the Fruitcake Wreath contains roughly equal proportions of nuts to fruit, I was almost reluctant to make it.  But make it I did.

At Marie's prompting, to get our fruit marinating in the rum, I made a batch of candied citrus peel.  It isn't a big deal to make your own - I followed the recipe in The Cooks Companion.  I prefer this recipe over Rose's, primarily because you boil the rinds first to get rid of the bitterness in the pith.  I think it maybe took about an hour from start to finish.  I used a combination of orange, lemon and ruby grapefruit as my candied peel and combined this with uncoloured glace cherries, golden raisins, flame raisins and ruby raisins to marinate in the Captain Morgan Rum for just over a week.

Apart from the weird butter instructions that everyone has already mentioned, the cake came together pretty easily.  The toasting of the nuts.  Creaming (or whatever it was) the sugar and the butter in the mixer.  I mixed in the flour, then fruit, then nuts by hand rather than the mixer.  Glad I did, because by the time I got to the nuts, my bowl nearly runneth over.

The substitution of "exotic" raisins is something that I will continue to do in the future.  The exponential impact in flavour was definitely noticeable even to my non discerning palate.  I half filled two bundt tins and they took just under an hour to bake.  Though it was a little tricky getting that thick cake mix perfectly flat so one of my cakes *may* be a little lopsided.  And even though I oiled and floured my tins, one tin held tight to the cake and so I had to wodge that back together... hence no photo of a perfect specimen unlike the other Heavenly Cake Bakers.

But in the end, it didn't matter that it looked less than perfect - it tasted grand.  All those nuts?  Divine.  As I ate it I thought, this isn't a fruit cake, it is more a nut cake with a touch of fruit, and I actually liked it.  It is a pain in the neck to cut - I have no idea how Marie managed such a gorgeous slice.  It is that messy slicing and crumbling nature that will result in it not becoming my Christmas cake of choice.  I think you need to be able to eat your Christmas cake from your hand, not sure that you could do that with this cake very easily.


See that missing bit on the bottom left corner?   That was a nut that wouldn't be sliced.  

I don't think that this cake will become my replacement Christmas cake recipe, but it is a strong contender.  It is light, not too sweet, the molasses from the dark muscovado provides some spice, the nuts definitely star and the fruit gives it depth and character.  I will post again once I have sampled the second cake closer to Christmas.

I am looking forward to next weeks Carrot Cake - a cake without nuts!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Pure Pumpkin Cheesecake

Woo hoo.  Finally a cake where I didn't over nor under cook.  That in itself is cause for much celebration round here.  Though, as usual, it did not go totally to plan.  The plan being that I would serve it to dinner guests on Saturday night.  I started baking the cheesecake at lunchtime on Saturday.  Somewhere in the instructions, it specifies overnight refrigeration.  Which is not unusual for cheesecakes.  I swear that this bake along is actually a test for memory and brain function.  And apparently my memory and brain function ain't what it used to be.

So, let it be known that you don't in fact, need to refrigerate overnight.  You can definitely get away with about four to six hours in the fridge and no one will be any worse off for the experience.  Apart from their waistlines, because this cheesecake is so seriously fantastic it is difficult to stop at just one slice.

I grew up eating cheesecakes that were the holy union of gelatin, condensed milk, cream cheese and a fridge.  The result being overly sweet, very rich desserts with the best bit being the crumb base.  There seems to be an overriding obsession about using the oven as little as possible when it comes to family pot luck dinners.  This last trip back to family pot luck NZ, I ate green fluff with crushed pineapple and tiny marshmallow bits and I think maybe some rice.  Not sure what that was - I didn't stop for the recipe, but I do know it contained alot of gelatin or instant pudding and it never saw the inside of an oven.  Before you ask, I made a Plum Duff which was my Great Grandmother's recipe.  I will hopefully do a post on the Plum Duff prior to Christmas. 

This cheesecake is very sophisticated, and much more refined than the cheesecake of my youth.   Even though it should definitely grace the family pot luck table, I am pretty sure it never will.  You see, it spends some time inside an oven, enjoying the steamy depths of a water bath.   I would take an oven water bath over dealing with gelatin any day of the week, but I guess that is just me.

The only slightly involved step in this recipe was boiling the pumpkin puree with the sugar.  Apart from that, all you had to do was introduce food processor to ingredients in the right order.  Rose's tip for pressing the crumbs into the base with a flat sided measuring cup was genius.  My biscuit base has never been so thin and even.  Personally, I like my biscuit base a little less oily so next time I will add the butter gradually to the biscuit and pecan crumbs.

The other great tip was to use a silicone pan to protect the springform pan.  I have made Rose's Cake Bible baked cheesecake a few times and every time my tin foil shroud has let water into the cheesecake.  I am not sure if it is healthy to be so excited about this addition to my baking tips repository?  It certainly is better than the tip I got from my Great Aunt Betty to add a couple of tablespoons of instant pudding (doesn't matter which flavour!!) to my whipped cream to keep it from weeping.  Rest assured that her tip is filed quite a distance from the top.

This was a very liquid cheesecake and a very small part of my brain did wonder if it would set.  The larger part, dominated by Rose, assured me that this would be fail proof.  And you know what... it was.

Before it went into the oven, it was looking pale and unassuming, nestled as it was amongst the pre dinner party detritus on my bench.   When it emerged from 45 minutes in the very steamy and warmish oven and then an hour of post water bath recovery time it had taken on an orange glow.

It does amaze me how different the colour is pre and post baking.

In summary, this cheesecake will definitely go in the repeat pile.  It is much lighter than the Cordon Rose Cream Cheesecake in the Cake Bible.  For any non Americans - don't be put off by the thought of pumpkin in your cheesecake... the flavour is very subtle and I think it provides a gorgeous colour and texture to the cake.

Edited to add :: I didn't make the caramel, because after making the cheesecake and then getting everything ready for our dinner guests, the last thing I felt like doing was fiddling about making caramel - particularly because it usually takes me at least two attempts, one where to sacrifice to the cake gods and one to grace the final project.  Maybe next time, since everyone's caramel looks fantastic.

Until next week, when we will be baking the Fruitcake Wreath.  I candied some orange, ruby grapefuit (amazing flavour) and lemon peel last week and my fruit has been soaking nicely is some Captain Morgan Rum.  I don't usually like nuts in my fruitcake, so with this one topping in at a massive 600 grams of nuts, the results should be interesting.  I think Faithy and I will end up with similar posts re our dislike of pecans and walnuts...