Friday, 11 October 2013

The Totoro Cake


I made one attempt at finessing the chocolate cake, but with no melted chocolate and 50g less cocoa (replaced with flour) it STILL tasted super rich. So when we found out the cake was to serve 40 we figured super rich was fine. Tiny slices, super rich... it all works.

So recipe wise, we used the recipe below but made two batches worth in a roasting tin. I actually carried my nice flat based roasting tin home from my house to my mum's to make it. Anyway, it was fairly standard, left it in for about 5-10 minutes more and it was baked through. The only problem is the edges are slightly more crumbly than normal (but that might have something to do with adding twice the required baking powder to one batch because I forgot whether I had added it or not!


The Totoro is made of rice krispies and melted marshmallows with a bit of butter. Coated in a little ganache, the icing went over the top. Can I say, this was the BANE of my night. It's the reason that having started baking at 5pm, why at 1.30 am in the morning I was swearing because I had bought black gel colour at the supermarket (figuring I probably wouldn't use it enough to buy paste) and basically gel makes the fondant a little bit too soft and thin and as a result, it rips when you put it over the rice krispies. A shedload of icing sugar after, the colour was lighter, but it fit on top. The only problem was that now with multi-odd patches of icing, my Totoro was no longer Totoro shaped - so I went to bed. It really is the only sensible thing to do. It really did look like a wrinkly giant pyramid. 


Anyway, come morning, I made the executive decision to carve most of the base off to make it a proportional size and then start the cover up job. I swear all fondant cakes are so original because they are the mother of all cover-up jobs. I covered, and covered with leaves. Kept patching and covering, made some new things and ultimately, I think it worked out well. I LOVE the little white one, especially in the kitchen window light because it actually looks translucent like the real one!! :) 

I got a slice back with my nephew and it tasted okay. Apparently it was a bit difficult to slice at the party because it crumbled but I think that was because it was sliced so small as the one we sliced at home was fine. Is this cake the best to date? I don't know. I definitely know that on the day I was thinking this is why I make novelty cakes for fun only - i.e. the fact it is so demanding and tiring means that I shouldn't make this into a profession. But at the same time, when I was compiling my pictures, I couldn't help but feel a little proud. If I wasn't studying, then I would have had another commission for this month on the back of this so that was sweet, but hey. Got to pass! Here are the pics, warts and all! xx

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Best Chocolate Cake Quest


I got a request for a birthday cake for the end of the month and how she put it was "please make the same chocolate cake [from last year] as everybody loved it".  

Gleep. 

I tried to move her on to trying something a little new... Oreo buttercream maybe? But I knew she really didn't want it.

 "heavenly" as she described the cake last year. 

Gleep two. 

Admission time. It took me two days to remember(ish) what her cake was. I did a ninky nonk. That was known. But all I remember was that I thought the cake was dry. Very dry. So I sandwiched it with extra layers of ganache. Three in fact. I am now (post searching online and realising it wasn't there) that I used Rose Levy Beranbaum's cake recipe from her book the Cake Bible. (How bad is that I forgot I actually used my hundred odd books sometimes?!) After wandering the shops I realised I used Galaxy in the ganache rather than dark which is quite bitter and grown up. Afterall, this was a cake for two year olds. So I can't QUITE remember if I did it with dark in the middle and galaxy on the sides, or vice versa, or just pure milk chocolate ganache. 

GLLLLLLLLLLLLLLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP.

Oh to be fabulous and say "Oh darling... I never look backwards, only forwards."

Anywho... I am now on a quest for the BEST chocolate cake. By which I mean, fudgy, moist and non-crumbly. I definitely have best brownie recipes but not chocolate cake. Heck I could be close to making plain old victoria with the replace a scoop of flour with cocoa soon. You never know, it could be the best. The woman at work is in love with Betty Crocker mix... if you missed my trial with that. It bounced. Cakes do not bounce. Reject.

So, to run down the list: Rose Levy Beranbaum. Assumed dry but if I don't find a better one I will do for her again. 

My current go to courtesy of the BBC although I didn't like it the first time. It has an annoying crumble effect when you slice it so you don't get a slice, you get a pile with frosting.

And today's trial courtesy of the Guardian who I definitely loved for the lemon drizzle cake I previously did from them, although that might be because I finally got a microplane that it turned out better than the rest.

Recipe repeated below in case I love it and they pull it...(Note I only used the choc ganache but I have value pack bourbon biscuits to make a rip off/cheapskate Oreo buttercream one day)

50g dark chocolate, melted and allowed to cool slightly
250g butter, at room temperature
250g light muscovado sugar
½ tsp salt
100g cocoa powder
250g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
3 large eggs
250ml milk
50g chocolate chips


For the buttercream:
140g butter, softened
50g cocoa powder
200g icing sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tbsp milk
5 Oreo cookies

1. Grease and line the bases of 2 x 20cm springform cake tins with greaseproof paper. Preheat the oven to 180C (160C fan) 350F / gas 4. Cream together the butter and sugar with ½ tsp salt until light and fluffy.

2. Sift together the cocoa, flour and baking powder. Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time and beat until well combined, then fold in half the dry ingredients followed by the melted chocolate. Fold in the rest, followed by enough milk to give a soft dropping consistency, and then the chocolate chips. Divide between the two tins and bake for about 25–30 minutes until firm in the centre.

3. Allow to cool completely on a rack, then make the buttercream. Beat the butter until fluffy, then add the cocoa, icing sugar and salt and, if necessary, a little milk to loosen the mixture. Put one of the cakes on a serving plate and spread a third of the icing on top. Place the second on top, then spread the rest of the icing over it.

4. Blitz the biscuits to a fine crumb in a food processor and sprinkle them over the cake.

I'll let you know after dinner whether this one's a hit or not. Whether she'd notice that this year's might have chocolate chips in the mix. Whether I put some in last year just to try and moisten it. GLEEEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPPP
For bespoke but remarkably cheaply priced (love, costs and the odd floral arrangements) cake I do a lot of research and obsess.

EDIT: I love this cake. I really do. It went down well at dinner with the only edit being it may be TOO rich which limits the amount you can eat. It was chocolatey and the hit of the smell when the box opened really did it. It was fluffy. It sliced well. I'm going to try my "too dry" Rose Levy again just to see what exactly about it that the lady might have liked and then adapt this one. Maybe it doesn't need the 50g of melted chocolate. Maybe it could do with a little less cocoa because 100g did seem a lot to me. We'll see. But this one for me was a bit of a winner :) Two more recipes to try I think before I call it a day. I looked up something called Weddingcake project and she uses my go-to Sky High vanilla for the vanilla cake, so I have to try her chocolate choices as well. Fatty colleagues here we come!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Chocolate transfer


I bought this transfer ages ago on a whim and finally tried them out for my sister's birthday (faux birthday as we celebrated with Bea's of Bloomsbury cupcakes on the day!) Since they were a bit worse for wear you can see where the transfer was a bit patchy even before we stuck chocolate on it, but it decidedly worked better with a thick coat of milk chocolate than the dark. I assume it's because there's more fat to make the transfer stick but that's a guess. It worked anyway. Pretty simple to use. Put it out with the transfer on the right side. Pour over chocolate. Leave to set. Done.


The cake was an oil based sponge which I won't make again (Rachel Ray) but that's because I always know that any sponge that involves a lot of milk in the mix tends to be a bit "tighter" and I don't like that texture. The coating is some chocolate stuff I bought in Brazil. Bear with me, that was a year ago but it worked fine. For some reason when I started buying food stuffs from abroad, I bought chocolate coating in both Brazil and I think Madrid? Good stuff. You just put it boil in a bag style on the hob and then cut it open and voila, instant er... not buttercream but kind of like an emulsified moussy ganache which sets quite nicely.

What I learnt about chocolate and transfers has to be that it's pretty hard to make nice NEAT triangles out of the chocolate as it shatters under the blade. Ergo the artistic chunks above. Tasty all the same and didn't need a filling. Till the next time. x

Sunday, 21 July 2013

This year's birthday cake!

How do you follow the farm cake and the Ninky-Nonk? With a Carcrash cake that's what!

My nephew's latest obsession is Traffic lights. In fact he ran off with the two spare ones and then complained loudly every time we removed them so he could, you know, eat dinner, get a bath that kind of thing.

A bit of a low effort one from me, but I'm studying at the moment. The cake was baked before midday and iced quite quickly in the afternoon. Mum (aka grandma) was disappointed I wasn't going to be making a carved number but personally - study and the prospect of needing a chiropractor after I'd made it... figured I'd wait till he was older. I'm sure car cakes will make an appearance again.

Traffic lights made of those sweets called Drumsticks (Poundland!!) dipped in water and wrapped in black fondant with jelly tots dabbed with water and then pressed in. Now that was impressive - I thought they'd fall off pretty quick but they lasted all the running around and tapping.

The zebra crossings are simply lollypops with stripes drawn on and ... oh the traffic cones were a surprising pain to get right. They just are. Allow time for them if you're doing them, just that the white band seems to stretch more than the middle and yet it doesn't quite look right etc.etc.

All in all, happy kid :) He mostly ignored the chocolate cake (sandwiched with ganache) but then his fixation with the traffic lights were so great he didn't even pick off the jelly tots!!

One year till the next one - unless Penny's birthday isn't in fact during my holiday! Laters xx

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Lemon Drizzle Cake - best to date


This is getting worse than my ACTUAL journal!! When was my last post? Err... best not to ask.

Forgive me - I have an excuse. I have many excuses *slaps self*. I moved into my own place. Ergo tiny kitchen, lack of equipment.... who am I kidding? I've baked quite a bit here, but nothing too interesting. The first bake was a rhubarb eve's pudding of sorts, then there was a brownie at my housewarming, lemon curd bread and butter pudding for my neighbour, key lime pie... for my neighbour and my colleague... the list goes on. It's just that there wasn't anything particularly inspiring as such. Until this. A lemon drizzle. Which I've probably baked a million times before. But this time, I used the Guardian's "perfect" recipe. Which, apart from using normal granulated sugar instead of demerara on top (this is what happens when you leave your purchase on the till in M&S - picking it up tomorrow!) I actually followed the recipe. It was yum. The best to date. I'm kind of annoyed it has ground almonds in - I prefer my food cheap and those things... aren't cheap. The possible reason it tastes better than my usual is that I actually bought a MICROPLANE grater. Yes I think these things have been around since Nigella Lawson went on her first carb-free diet, but still. Repeat: I'm cheap. So I finally bought one - naturally it was the only thing in Selfridges that WASN'T on sale yesterday, but it makes beautiful zest. I swear, my lemon was balded in seconds. No more picking out the odd bits of zest stuck to the grater.

The recipe is here - and for some reason the site crashes a lot when I'm on  my work PC *ahem* lunch hour surfing only! And they're reaping the benefit since I'm taking most of it in tomorrow.

Just in case they pull the site I repaste it here:

175g butter, softened
175g caster sugar
2 unwaxed lemons
3 eggs
100g self-raising flour
75g ground almonds
A little milk
100g demerara sugar
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180C/160C fan. Grease and line a 2lb loaf tin with greaseproof paper. Beat together the butter, caster sugar and the finely grated zest of 1 lemon until light and fluffy. Add a pinch of salt and the eggs, one at a time, beating until well combined before adding the next.

2. Sift over the flour and fold in, followed by the almonds. Add just enough milk to bring the mixture to a dropping consistency (so that it falls off the spoon), then spoon into the prepared tin and even out the top. Bake for about 50-55 minutes, until a skewer comes out dry (crumbs clinging to it are fine).

3. Briefly mix together the remaining lemon zest, and the juice of both the lemons with the demerara sugar, then poke holes all over the top of the warm cake and pour over the drizzle, waiting for the cake to absorb one lot before adding the next.
4. Allow to cool in the tin before turning out.

Oh and my second excuse - exams. Welcome to CFA. Welcome to the suck. I should have probably done this exam a decade ago when my old colleagues and grad year were doing it, but I was sane back then. Apparently I am less sane now. *High five for old age*

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Macaron recipe (current favourite)


I'll post the On recipe (french) at some point but my current go to will be the following from Bravetart. Read her post first. What I actually absorb from it is as below. I think at this point I'm going to say it's all technique and less about the recipe.

On my oven (and my oven alone) I have it on the middle shelf at Gas Mark 4. Bravetart lists it as 300 degrees F

I use a normal metal baking tray of a reasonable thickness. It's old and probably slightly warped. There's nothing special and I don't put two trays down. When I cook using the new, thicker and flatter brownie tin to cook some of them on, that works as well.

I cook on baking parchment because that's what I use. I have a sil-pat which I would use but I still haven't cut it to the right size. Good luck!

4 ounces (115g) ground almonds
8 ounces (230g) icing sugar
5 ounces egg whites (144g) (I used fresh in the picture, I've used aged and microwaved before)
2 1/2 ounce (72g) caster sugar
Colouring paste


1. Take egg whites and whisk together till frothy and then add caster sugar and mix to a meringue (fairly standard)
2. Put in colouring and whisk at high speed for another minute until you have an even coloured meringue.
3. Take the sieved almonds and icing sugar (I sieve icing sugar first, then almonds into a bowl - note if you have bits that don't go through, weigh the bits and replace with some finer stuff.)
4. Take meringue, chuck it into the bowl of icing sugar and ground almonds.
5. Fold together. It's part fold, part squish. You're not actively trying to keep in as much air as you normally would. I take a spatula and fold from underneath and press the mix into the middle whilst rotating the bowl. Work fast as the mixture collapses in on itself if you take too long. You'll use probably less than 25 strokes before most of it is mixed together but remember to scrape the bottom properly so it's combined. The term is "lava-like". You can do a drop test, but personally I find that if you can get it to barely combined (no stray bits of icing and almond), chuck it into a piping bag with a metal circular nozzle (mine is about 1cm opening). It will get more liquid as you wrangle it in anyway.
6. Pipe onto parchment paper. It helps if you follow a template to make it evenly sized and spaced but I don't always. You just end up with a more mismatched set to match later.
7. To pipe, hold piping bag vertical, squeeze without moving the bag and then stop squeezing before the end. Hopefully you have some kind of "nipple" which then settles in. If you have a stiff mixture like the "On" recipe, stop piping and "cut" the flow off by pulling to one side - I am bad at this.
8. After you've finished piping, start the pre-heating of your oven. 300 F, it's Gas 4 on mine because my oven set up is skewed so I always go 1 gas mark above where I need it, and because I am using the middle rack, it defaults to about 1 gas mark lower than the top rack (use the top and the macarons crack on me, see what I mean about knowing your oven?). Therefore instead of Gas 2 for 300F I use Gas 4.
9. Tap the tray on the table (not always essential tbh), remove any large bubbles you can see with a cocktail stick/toothpick and then leave to stand for about 15min -30 min. I usually do about 15 post me finishing as when I've finished piping the bagful the first tray has probably sat for five/ten minutes already. You also don't want it to stand too long overall.
10. When you put your macarons in, wait about five minutes, look to see if there are feet, open the door, turn the tray, shut the door again. You might not need this. I have a gas, non-fan assisted oven.
11. Keep watching to see if they collapse and give you a skirt instead. If so, tough, it was probably because it was too liquid and you folded it too long. If they crack, it's usually  because they were too hot.
12. When you think they are done (18 min for my "normal" sized) open the door and try to peel one off. If it comes off and there is a base on the bottom then it's done. If half the innards fall out then it's not done and shut the door. You can check before hand because if they are really not done, when you touch the top it wobbles a bit as it's essentially a macaroon on jelly legs.
13. Remove from oven, whack in your next tray, cool and sandwich with filling of choice.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Macaron and Ganache: Fix and Fix Again


So I admit it, I've been a little bit loony tunes on the whole macaron front recently because, well finally if I get this right, I don't have to keep paying Herme and Laduree for theirs, albeit the once in a blue moon foie gras number isn't too bad (seriously, in a macaron. Not bad.)

If you go back enough, I've had a go a few times over the years, but not tried consistently starting from the very beginning with the Roux brothers recipe. Anyway I went to a Groupon course taught by On Bakery. We took the basic and advanced class which goes through the french meringue method and the swiss meringue method (I also took the choux class which is another story). 

The first thing you should probably know is that the teacher Loretta Liu is a bit loony tunes. Not an insult by any means. Normality is overrated. She is Singaporean and those traits are really, really present. Her english is fine, there is no "la"s at the end of sentences like in university and apparently she's the wife of a friend of a friend (after I went to the class). Just expect a little abruptness, a little, "sorry ran out of time so your buns will be screwed, should have baked them longer for that size, but your fault for piping them a little bigger than we told you to." It means you finish on time but after paying for a class and perhaps more western sensibilities you wonder, "well if you could see that why couldn't you leave them in for five minutes longer?!"

Anyway, the macarons you make in her class are very stiff. Since I can't pipe and cut off the peak with the little "comma" whisk of the piping bag, I end up with little nipples. 


It's not just me - this is the product of everyone else's leftover mix being piped out as practice/for charity.

Stacks of macarons from the oven.


My macarons for taking home - they give you some ganache to sandwich it with. After the choux class, the basic macaron class and then the advanced class, you just cba to watch them teach you ganache again.


Hmm. Well, the recipe she gave us was very good for making "solid" macarons without hollow air pockets. My major problem with macarons is overbeating to get the colour incorporated. 

For the advanced class they let you do Swiss Meringue and also decorate it with royal icing which is pretty boring if you already do decorated biscuits. However, observe. Skirting.  That's my overbeaten mixture. It fell pretty lava like and it had nipples so I was surprised but apparently this mixture is easy to go over without noticing.



Even my mother can tell me which ones are "pretty" or not now. She knows what a macaron should look like. Help me.

The ones here were the ones I did two days ago using the "class" french meringue recipe. Knew as soon as I piped nipple free that it was overdone.


However, I found a means to resolve that online.

The ones in the picture are the ones I made today using BraveTart's shell recipe. The notable thing about these are that they don't get as much "feet" as other recipes and even in the pictures on her site and on her followers, it is an inherent thing with the recipe. They pipe but settle flat.


I've yet to work out whether me popping the large bubbles with a cocktail stick/tapping it does much good, but it doesn't do them any harm. I blame Roux for this compulsion.


See the sort of feet? Not the same are they? But respectable. Also worryingly there's a large quarter teaspoon of yellow in that mix and can you tell the difference? No, it's slightly golden. Fantastic. What on early do we eat when we eat the lurid colours of the commercial macarons?

In case you're interested, they were filled with:
1. White chocolate ganache infused with a cinnamon stick and stiffened with icing sugar
2. White chocolate ganache with passion fruit essence and icing sugar
3. Cream cheese and icing sugar
4. Some of the chocolate mousse before I decided it was too bitter on its own.

I also picked up a few things. With my oven I know that there are hot spots which give me cracked shells so I've been piping half sheets for awhile. Then I started turning the tray. I don't know why I haven't been doing this before? Risk of both sides cracking? Inherent cake baking mantras not to take cakes out till they're almost done in case they sink? Genius. Now I get two cracked ones and they are exactly where some gust of heat comes in at the start of the cooking time.

So what have I learnt for Macarons?
1. Whisk the colour in with the meringue first - it will make the colour mix in with the overall so you don't have to risk overbeating. I use the paste/gel and if it's become a solid lump, do smush it around a lot before you put it in otherwise, it will end up freaky.
2. Turn the tray in the oven once you have feet. Too early and you don't get feet on some of them.
3. Don't bother with a timer. Most of the recipes will make about four or five trays of macarons, each with about 11 or 12 on. If you put them in on one layer (because I don't have a fan-assisted oven) to get the right heat, then once you've taken them out, you can stick in the next one, busy yourself with the ganache/filling and turn them, cook them, take them out and put in the next tray. I now just test them by doneness i.e. when you take some off and it doesn't leave half its belly on the parchment. I'm probably a little prone to overdone-ness this way but if you whack enough filling in it's okay. It's somewhere between ten and eighteen minutes for a small to a "normal" macaron size.
4. Ageing eggs doesn't necessarily matter (maybe that's why we get mediocre feet?), but you can put it in the microwave for ten seconds on high (as in 1,2,3,4 not 1 crocodile 2 crocodile, which gives you some partially cooked egg - but FYI still works when you fish out the white bit)
5. Spatulas work better. They just do. I usually bake with metal spoons but the plastic spatula works.
6. Buying an oven thermometer was redundant. I know my oven. It doesn't cook on the bottom rung and I need to amp up the temperature to the next Gas Mark compared to what the recipe says. I spent more time dropping it through the rack, almost burning my hand and letting the hot air out when I was trying to read it that I gave up and went back to trusting myself.
7. If you're interested, the On class taught us to keep the icing sugar and almonds separate in the bowl before we folded it together. Theory being keeping the oil and sugar separate as long as possible. Not sure that has that huge an impact, I gave it a quick stir through before I folded it today, but I didn't sieve the two together like I used to.

For Ganache:
1. When you try to make four types of ganache in one go you don't whisk and therefore it WILL split. To rescue, adding corn syrup didn't seem to work (couldn't find my glucose) but heating a small puddle of milk and whisking it in gradually made me a nice bitter mousse into which I loaded all my rejected macarons. If I'd have used cream it might have been ganache again. 
2. When you make white chocolate mousse, they aren't kidding when they say you will find it doesn't set. White chocolate melted is already pretty liquid so adding cream basically leaves you with sauce. However, you just need to remember to have a brain. I whisked sieved icing sugar into it until it stiffened. No longer technically a ganache but at least it works. For some reason, tunnel vision makes you forget basic solutions. I also found cream cheese makes it pretty interesting.

So can you be a$$ed to make macarons now? It's a tasty almond biscuit and you acknowledge that you are chasing some rather pointless feet and shine but it's the journey. And it beats paying up to £2 for one of the wretched things. Not bad for a few afternoons experimentation.