Saturday, 10 January 2015

Chocolate Cuddle Cake

Hello Alpha Bakers, Nicola's husband Chris here. Due to some travel and her responsibilities as an executive for a multinational, much-adored mother of three demanding boys, and much-adored wife of a demanding husband, she is occasionally overcome by time pressures and falls behind on her blogging. So I heroically offered to step in this week. The look on her face was exactly that of a distressed damsel seeing a dashing knight riding to her assistance and, overcome with gratitude, she said "Um really? Have you ever baked a cake before?" For the record I have, thought admittedly the recipe only had three steps and one of those was "shake well".

So Chocolate Cuddle Cake. How hard could it be? I turned to page 136 and scanned over the recipe. For once I was not worried about having the right tools, since half of our cupboard space is devoted to baking equipment (and half of the remainder is baking ingredients), but since I couldn't find the rose nail I decided to make one by hammering a nail through the lid of a tin can, slicing open my thumb in the process. So far so good.


1. The Batter Cocoa, boiling water and oil? I can manage that and duly did so. The next bit required the mixer so I was starting to feel a bit out of my depth, but fortunately it tripped our mains circuit breaker and then wouldn't turn on. Broken electrical equipment I am far more comfortable with. It turns out the plug on Nicola's Kenwood is from the 1970s when folks were more relaxed about electrocution then they are today. After making some minor repairs and slipping on some rubber-soled shoes we were back in business. 

Note the digital scales, can I mention how much I love them? Vastly superior to fumbling around with a bunch of metal cups or spoons on a keyring which is missing the one you actually need. Although I did have a bit of an issue when the battery died whilst I was pouring in the sugar. Um, close enough hopefully. I used King Arthur flour, which means very little to me but I often hear bakers discussing flour so wanted to sound knowledgeable. 

The dry ingredients were mixed and a well made in the centre, into which I poured the cooled chocolate mixture. And then I noticed the egg yolks and vanilla still on the bench, said something in Australian that loosely translates as "Oh bother", and wondered if the point of making the well is that you can still sort-of whisk things in it if you discover you forgot something. I gave it a try, and figured it was worth photographing for the annals of baking horrors. 

I was quite glad to have a second mixing bowl, and felt a tinge of smug compassion for the poor souls out there that had to struggle by with one. But this didn't last very long, because it turns out our second mixing bowl, the one with "Kenwood" written on the bottom, doesn't fit in the Kenwood. I again said something in Australian, and set about scraping, washing, rinsing and drying.

Now, I am embarrassed to say I never knew meringues were made from egg whites, I also though cream of tartar was the stuff people made tartar sauce from. So this whole section was very new and exciting - it really did go foamy like Rose said it would and it really did form soft peaks. And having re-read the recipe whilst writing this it appears I was too excited to notice the bit about forming stiff peaks. There are several puns that spring to mind here, let's steer clear of them and quickly move on. 

I had an enthusiastic young audience whilst folding the meringue into the batter, all cheering me on with comments like "smells delicious" and "can I try some?". I really did like the texture, definitely something I'd cuddle if I could. Pouring it into the pan over my ingenious-but-dangerous rose nail was quite satisfying and I was feeling pretty good about myself as I shoved it in the oven, blissfully unconcerned that we were out of parchment (baking paper to us) and anyway I probably would have been too lazy to cut it into strips. I greased the sides of the pan instead. After about 15 minutes I noted with approval that it had started to rise, and headed to the living room to await the timer and head off an impending brawl over Super Mario Bros. 

Alas the initial rising I observed was in fact the full extent - it never really got an inch below the top of the pan let alone above. The wooden-skewer test seemed to suggest it was done, and leaving it in any longer wasn't going to achieve anything so out it came onto the wire rack. I've probably made pancakes that rose more than that. I must confess at this point I was feeling a little "deflated" and my dreams of blogging glory (or at least impressing my wife) were fading away. Later that night I lay in bed, questions floating through my mind. Could it be that the purpose of the well isn't really for belatedly mixing in forgotten ingredients? Is King Arthur flour not as impressive as I though it was? Were my meringue peaks not stiff enough? Do the 3-inch parchment strips create a frictionless sleeve that allows effortless superfluid-like behaviour? Did my amateur electronics somehow super-charge the Kenwood? I went sleep thinking tomorrow is another day.

The Peaks The Pour The Mix The Pancake The Horror

2. The Ganache As usual, tomorrow was another day but no-one told the miserable London weather. After the morning school run I bravely turned to the ganache and fired up the Magimix. The last time I used Nicola's food processor I was making habernero sauce after a bountiful harvest - the room had to be evacuated and the mixing bowl had to be disposed as hazardous waste. That was about 8 years ago, unsure if I've been forgiven. Anyway, with help from a little assistant the chocolate was basically powdered because it's a lot of fun playing with the pulse button. I actually can't tell which twin that is, because he's pulling such a crazed expression in response to my "OK that's enough!". We didn't have any Kahlua, but I did note Rose's attention to detail in putting the accent on the u. Starting to think attention to detail might be an essential part of this baking gig. Anyway, as a substitute I poured in a shot of espresso, and added a dash of an 18yo single malt. All too easy really. Pouring it into the strainer reminded me of a famous experiment at my alma mater that demonstrates pitch is a liquid at room temperature - 9 drops in 83 years. Fortunately much pressing with the spatula meant I didn't have to wait that long.

Espresso Drop Ganache Drop

3. The Caramel (completed). I was starting to get into the swing of things here, and contentedly watched my sugar mix turn a deep amber, the magical colour of beer. The thermometer I use for frothing milk turned out useless for the 188°C target because it only goes up to 100°C. Guess when I discovered that. It did indeed bubble up furiously when the cream was added, it's quite a confidence boost when things turn out like the book says it should. In with the butter and it was done. There was a little bit left over after the 150ml was set aside, but it tasted very good so was eaten before it could be stored. I scalded cream for the second time in my life (yeah, yeah, periphery bubbles, got it), and let it cool to something that probably wasn't 21°C.

I've never done anything with gelatin before, it is weird gluggy stuff and whilst mixing it into the cream I thought it was just going to congeal into something I could seal the bathroom with. I managed to find beaters for a hand-held mixer but not the mixer itself, and after a futile 10 minutes with a hand whisk resorted to the hand-held blender which whipped the cream to within an inch of cheese. After mixing in the caramel it certainly seemed the soft peaks were a little stiff.

Amber, my favourite colour We ate this straight A touch stiff?

4. Composing. I'd avoided looking at my chocolate pancake since removing it from the oven, and it certainly was looking a bit pitiful a day later. At least it was going to be concealed behind a layer of ganache and caramel cream, but given my complete ineptitude when it comes to anything "artistic" I wasn't sure how much it would be improved. My ganache was pretty firm by this stage, so I stuck the metal bowl into some hot water for a bit. For a moment it looked like it was going to separate (does ganache do that), but as it cooled it seemed ok so I got to work. Mine was not the most ambitious of frostings, but it sort of looked ok by the end. Do you like my opulent swirls? I wanted to do the chocolate shavings like in the book, but they kept disintegrating so I just grated some chocolate over the top instead. How do you make those things anyway?


Finally it was time to actually eat it. Given my pessimism when the cake first came out of the oven I was expecting to have to scrape it off my palate with a spatula, but in all honesty it wasn't that bad. In fact, if I hadn't been eating Nicola's baking for the past two decades I probably would have thought it was quite good. Sure the three flavours didn't really blend harmoniously together like I expect they should, but they didn't clash either. I thought the 70% cocoa chocolate I used in the ganache was probably a bit strong for a cuddle.


Anyway, that concludes the chronicle of the first real cake I've ever made, I think I am much better suited to eating them and will leave the baking to alpha bakers when possible. Nicola is back tomorrow so normal service will resume, although the boys and I missed her quite a lot so she might find it hard to grab a spare moment, even if the jet-lag permits.

16 comments:

  1. Funniest post ever on this blog. I think you are going to get a few more gigs.

    Thank you for fixing the plug. It has needed tender manipulation for a few months now. And I promise to throw out the half bits of destroyed appliances...

    Cake looks grand. I suspect the greased sides of the tin were what caused the cake not to rise quite so much - nothing to grip onto.

    Thanks for bringing a little bit if crazy laughing til crying woman to kuala Lumpar international airport. Hoping that approaching medic isn't for me...

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  2. OMG.. you both are hilarious! Nicola, I second the motion that your husband for sure needs to do a few more gigs... give him the Q&E assignments! And his caramel whip cream is far superior than mine (which was total flop) so, he totally gets HUGE brownie points.

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  3. This is without a doubt the most hilarious post ever! Not only did Chris manage to complete a three part cake, he did it with kids battling over Mario Bros!?! I thought they were in Australia to visit as well. That is truly impressive. And hammering out a rose nail! Brilliant.

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  4. Bravo Nicola's Husband (name?). How fabulous! Your cake looks amazing. Beautiful crumb, lovely swirls, and I'm really impressed with your ganache. I don't think I could ever get my husband to bake a cake, and even if I could, there's no way he'd ever write a blog post about it. There are lots of ways to make chocolate curls, but an easy way is to warm the chocolate a bit (with the heat of your hand, but not enough to melt the chocolate) and use a vegetable peeler. If you are super careful, you can heat the chocolate very gently in the microwave. Looking forward to your next baking project!

    Patricia @ ButterYum
    http://www.butteryum.org/roses-alpha-bakers/2014/12/21/tbb-chocolate-cuddle-cake

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    1. Oh, your name is Chris - oops, missed that when I read through the first time.

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  5. Chris, your cake looks wonderful. I think it resembles the picture in the book. Bravo!! Thanks for sharing your baking adventure with all of us. Very funny! :)

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  6. This was so entertaining. I really think that you two should become a baking team! It would lead either to fame and fortune or divorce, but I think it's worth a try.

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  7. Wonderful job, Chris, with both cake and blog. Doesn't matter how it looks if it tastes OK, right?

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  9. I can't stop laughing... my stomach hurts! Hilarious post! "amber, the magical colour of beer" - you should order a sticker for this LOL. Your cake turns out much better than mine. Love the artistic swirls. Nicola - please bring Chris back! :)

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  10. ב''ה

    Yes, actually, the 3-inch parchment strips DO "create a frictionless sleeve that allows effortless superfluid-like behavior".

    Well done dude. Especially the whipped cream that a few of us messed up...

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  11. Such a funny post! I read it twice while I was in macdonalds..eating nuggets..LOL! Great job for a first timer Chris!

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  12. My rose nail was a wooden skewer punched through the plastic top of a 35mm film canister (remember those?) that turned up in the bottom of my cake decorating drawer which unfortunately no longer contained a rose nail. Also unfortunately, I didn't realize that the skewer was too long and hit the broiler element when I put the cake in the oven and capsized. So not a pancake exactly, but chewy in the middle. Is it worth another try, or is it back to Rose's beat-the-butter-with-the-flour recipes that always turn out perfectly?

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  13. Hilarious.. Loved it Chris. Nicola travelling again this week so next cake by you please. I will turn up on Sunday morning to sample xx

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    1. Travel cancelled due to the snow storm... You lucked out the Mrs!

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  14. Wonderful - and what a fabulous alpha cake baker along!!!!!😻

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