Archive for April, 2010

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The Anxiety of Birthday Baking

April 23, 2010
I have made several cakes recently for colleagues and friends that have been for birthdays (or on one occasion a leaving do) and I think I may soon stop. Usually, I bake, allow to cool , then cut and portion the cakes at home before leaving on the doorsteps of neighbours or taking into work to share. But when, for a particular person or occasion, I take the cake into work whole, without cutting into it, so I can’t tell how it’s turned out. I’ve had a couple of baking fails where the finished product looks and smells divine – the batter was tasty and enjoyed from the bowl – but when I’ve cut into it the inside has been leaden, dense and uncooked – inedible. The image of these stays with me, as does the disappointment at the waste of the time, effort and ingredients. Then there’s the confusion over what went wrong, or worse the frustration at realising the stupid, and avoidable error.


I made Nigella’s Quadruple Chocolate Cake (although mine technically is only a triple version as I didn’t finish with the chocolate curls, but hey there’s still plenty of chocolate in there) in bundt form for a colleagues birthday a while ago. I’m fairly confident that doubling loaf cake recipes makes for a good large bundt (and the reverse) and have made this cake before, albeit in loaf form and did my usual of substituting the sour cream for buttermilk. I have no idea what I was doing when making this but I did think, as I spooned the batter into the pan, that the recipe direction of ‘pouring’ was a little off but it wasn’t until the cake was in the oven and I was reviewing the recipe to check baking times I realised that I had missed out an entire step; adding the boiling water. 250ml of boiling water, not a tablespoon or a piffling amount, but 250ml.


I stared at the cake in the oven a fair amount whilst it was baking, trying to imagine what this error might mean. The cake came out of the oven fine, it felt a little heavy, but it’s a chocolate bundt, not a chiffon cake, it was hardly going to be a light and airy thing that I held in my hands. I couldn’t work out how this might have affected the finished cake and spent an evening of anxiety, trawling the net for advice, asking the question on the Serious Eats Talk board (a great resource and an enjoyable and compelling read, there are some great threads on there and some very knowledgeable, helpful and amusing people on there). I eventually cored out a small section of cake from the underneath, which whilst dense seemed ok – in fact it tasted great. It was cooked all the way through which was my main fear, so I decided to risk it. Everyone commented on how rich and moist the cake was, and whoever got the slice with the missing section didn’t say anything!


I have also made Smitten Kitchen’s lemon cake twice recently. I’ve had this cake in my ‘Cakes to Make’ folder for months and when you look at the recipe and photo’s you’ll understand why it’s a cake to make. I have yet to come across a recipe from Deb that hasn’t not only been reliable, but also absolutely delicious. She has such a loyal and proactive following that reading the comments below her posts in full is always worth it for the revisions and suggestions. The reason this cake had remained in the folder rather than in my oven was due to the quantity of lemons needed. I usually have a couple of lemons in the fruit bowl ready to lend their zest to a cake (or, of course, to contribute to a Saturday evening G&T) but to have 8 at one time takes planning. I discovered that a colleague, due to leave work, liked lemon cakes so I had time to plan and purchase enough lemons. It was more than worth it.



So much so that I made another later the same week, with the frosting, for a good friends birthday. The syrup should brushed on slowly over a cake pierced multiple times with a toothpick or skewer – it’s worth the effort of taking the time to make sure as much as possible is absorbed as the difference it makes to the taste and moistness of the cake is considerable.


Another, more recent citrusy, request was for a Tart au Citron. For the recipe I reverted to the trusty Leith’s Baking Bible as I’m anxious about the technicalities of pastry and despite the success of December’s Gin Mince Pies was still hesitant. The recipe for the Pate Sucree was for one to be made by hand and there were no tips on converting to be made in a food processor, an essential adaptation as these hands were not for pastry making made. Once more Serious Eats helped me out and I ended up with pastry that came together well. I suspect I didn’t quite leave it to chill for long enough before trying to work with it, or perhaps it was because I was trying to bake in the evening rather than the morning, so unbalancing the natural order of things, but I didn’t have the time to leave it for that long and the recipe was vague, with only the direction to ‘chill’. When I came to roll it out it cracked and split and was an absolute disaster. I tried to rescue it by putting it back in the fridge but was too tired and frustrated too leave it long enough. I toyed with the idea of using to make little mini jam tarts but to be honest I had lost the will to bake and just gave up. I went to bed intending to nip to the local French Patisserie to buy one of their spectacular tarts to give along with the story of my disastrous effort. However, I woke at 5, and decided to have a go at another lemon recipe from Smitten. Not something I would usually make, but when searching the site for a lemon cake it had come up. Oh the anxiety! It’s been a while since I made shortbread, I’ve not made lemon curd before and to top it all off the pictures of the finished recipe weren’t displaying properly so I couldn’t see how it should turn out. And of course I had to take the bars in the tin they were baked in as they would not have travelled well so I had no opportunity to taste to see what they look like. In my anxiety to get this ready in time to take to work I didn’t manage to take a photo, but I have a plan to make them again in the near future and will make sure there are pics. Oh, and it was enjoyed.