Archive for August, 2011

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Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 3

August 29, 2011

When I first started thinking about finding a suitable chocolate bunt recipe for my dad’s cake there was one source that I knew I would have to consult. Mary, the Food Librarian, is an accomplished and passionate baker and, like me, has a love of the bundt cake – so much so that every year in the month leading up to National Bundt Day in the States she bakes, and blogs, a bundt a day in the wonderfully titled ‘I Like Big Bundts‘ series of posts. Last year I was one of 86 people who joined her in baking a bundt on the final day and I can’t wait for this years series

I emailed Mary asking for her recommendations based on the many recipes she must have trialed over the years, she recommended a Chocolate Velvet Pound cake from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet (a book that is challenging my current self-imposed cookery book embargo) and the recipe has been reprinted here with permission from the author.

I could see from the recipe that if I wanted to use a large (12 cup) bundt pan then I would need to increase the quantities (Mary baked in mini bundt pans). I assume the original recipe is for a standard loaf tin, in which case a doubling of the quantities would be right. But the risk of using up 6 eggs and seemed a little excessive should my calculations not be correct, so I used the original stated quantities in my 12 cup pan.

Even whilst mixing the batter the high cocoa content was obvious and the obligatory pre-dawn licking of the bowl (what this must do to my sugar levels throughout the day I dread to think) certainly ranked this recipe at the top.

The batter nicely covered the bottom of the pan and although the result was a smaller than normal cake it baked evenly in 40 minutes and came out of the pan wonderfully cleanly.

During baking it smelled divine – really chcolatey and the feedback, whilst not unanimous in declaring this the winner, has been very positive. The best, and most accurate description from a tester is ‘like chocolate mousse in cake form’ how can that not be a winner?

I’m tempted to make it again immediately with the doubled recipe to see what that yields, but I will work my way through the other bookmarked recipes first – if only for the tester’s sakes – I can hardly stop after just three cakes can I?

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Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 2

August 22, 2011

Cake no 2 is the aptly named Black Chocolate Party Cake from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s ‘Rose’s Heavenly Cakes‘. A book I’ve had for some time but never actually baked from. The recipe can be viewed here  in an extract from the book via Rose’s site. As you can see she lays out her recipes in a particular way and her instructions are very detailed. I think this has put me off as my recipe reading tends to be of the scanning variety (a habit for which I’ve paid dearly in the past) and my baking sessions tend to be a little last minute and taking place first thing in the morning I’m not always in the best frame of mind to follow such detail. I think I found the layout it intimidating and have discounted the recipes as being too complicated.

This one wasn’t complicated, it was very clear and concise and the inclusion of weights if ingredients as well as the American standard cups helped greatly. I have two more of Rose’s recipes bookmarked to try so I will be making up for lost time with this book.

The batter was quite different to the previous cake, thicker, more like a pound cake in texture, containing toasted walnuts that have been ground to a fine powder which I think contributes to the final moist texture of the cake. Another difference to the cakes I’m used to baking is that she adds all the butter, along with some liquid to the flour and sugar and beats from there, rather than beating the butter and sugar first. This is the first time I’ve baked like this, I’ve just checked the other two recipes and they follow the same procedure.

It baked evenly and needed 55 minutes. The cake has a cocoa syrup that I used and the result smelled heavenly indeed. As an example of the detailed instructions Rose suggests placing the cake on clingfilm before brushing the syrup over the cake in order to catch the drips, which can then be absorbed from the bottom of the cake as it cools completely.

So where does this cake stand in the competition so far …. well, with only one cake to compare with it seems to have come in second with the taste testers. It sliced far more cleanly, being denser with the syrup. It was sticky though and may not have been the cleanest of cakes to eat by hand. The addition of a ganache or buttercream may also push the richness too far. I would make the cake again, served with creme fraiche or ice cream even it would make a lovely desert, but it’s not going to be the one for the party.

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Project Chocolate Cake – Cake no 1

August 21, 2011

Project Chocolate Cake begins. I have 41 days until my Dad’s 80th Birthday party for which he has asked me to make the cake(s). There will be 40 or so guests and the party is being catered, so I’m aiming for 2 – 3 large bunts which should allow for enough cake to go round and room for all those candles.

He’s helpfully requested a chocolate cake saying ‘You remember that one you made me once? That was lovely‘. Not the most helpful of descriptions for someone with a three cake a week baking habit, I was also fairly sure he would want a ginger or fruit cake, so the chocolate request has thrown me somewhat.

The party is on a Sunday afternoon and with family and friends arriving over the weekend the cakes will have to be baked on the Friday – keepability is going to be an important factor. A moist and dense cake, something ‘fudgy’ to allow for good slicing might be needed. But then again after the food that will be on offer during the afternoon, perhaps something lighter? There could be additions, nuts, chocolate chips, a hint of orange perhaps or even a touch of alcohol but at the moment it’s the texture and taste of the base mixture I’m interested in.

Project Chocolate Cake started with a selection of my baking books and some sticky labels spread out before me, the cake below was chosen as cake no 1 simply becuse I had all the ingredients in stock and wanted to start early the next morning and coming from Cake Keeper Cakes, a book I’ve found highly reliable it seemed like a good place to start. I have recruited several friends and neighbours as official testers and reviewers, a task they seem quite eager to engage in, it will be interesting to see if it is possible to tire of chocolate cake.

The batter was easy to mix and a lovely light and moussy consistency. It raised to just above the height of the tin and although I turned the cake halfway through I neglected to check early enough for browning, it needs to be covered at about that point with a piece of foil.

The cake sunk and cracked quite a bit in the ten minutes that it was cooling in the pan. I didn’t add the suggested chocolate chips so I wonder if that changed the structure of the cake, it stuck a little bit, and the outside looked dry and unappealing.

 

I thought, that considering the amount of chocolate and cocoa used, the finished cake should have had a deeper  flavour, the texture was  lovely and light though, it sliced fairly well but I can’t say that I thought it was special enough. Comments from the official testers are at odds with my initial assessment though – it was greatly enjoyed. After baking I thought I had one to discount immediately, but it’s still in the running

Double Chocolate Bundt Cake

(messed around with from an original Triple Chocolate Cake by Lauren Chattman in Cake Keeper Cakes)

114g dark chocolate (I used 70% Green and Blacks)

30g cocoa

250ml boiling water

250ml buttermilk (milk suggested in original recipe)

3 large eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon instant coffee (my addition)

337.5g plain flour

2 Tsp baking powder

1 Tsp bicarb

1/4 Tsp salt

220g unsalted butter – room temp/softened

450g caster sugar

(original recipe also had the addition of 1 1/2 cups mini chocolate chips)

 

Preheat your oven to 170C, grease and flour 12 cup bundt tin.

Place chocolate, cocoa and coffee in a bowl, pour in the boiling water and mix until smooth. Set to oneside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl sift or whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a large jug whisk the buttermilk, eggs and vanilla extract.

Beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (they should change colour becoming very pale) add the chocolate mixture and mix until incorporated.

With mixer in low add 1/3 of the flour mix, followed by 1/2 the buttermilk and repeat. Mixing between each addition and scraping the sides as necessary. If you are adding the chocolate chips do so at this point.

Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 – 60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean, rotating half way through baking and covering loosely with a piece of foil if needed. Allow to cool in the pan for 10 mins before turning out to cool completely.

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A Plum Job

August 17, 2011

This year promises to be a good one for fruit trees. The English apple season has started earlier than ever before thanks to the freezing temperatures of winter which put the trees to sleep meaning that they awoke in the unuaully warm spring with vigour ensuring lots of blossom and good pollonation. I would imagine that this reasoning extends to all fruit teres and a friend’s plum trees were certainly laden and I came away from an afternoon visit with bags of fruit, sweet eating plums that vanished quickly and a sharper, darker variety that begged to be baked.

I always forget just how lovely plums can be, the hard, tasteless fruits found in supermarkets are nothing in comparrison to those picked ripe from a tree. My tiny garden enables me to play with pots of compost and seeds resulting in harvests of salad leaves, slug ravished radishes and of course the essential courgettes. But what I would love, more than anything, would be a fruit tree. A tasty variety of pear or even apple would be a thing of joy, the blossoms, the fruits, the weeks of pies and chutneys, baked goods and compotes.

But a plum tree would be just perfect.

Eager to get started with the bags of fruit I came home with I looked for something quick and easy, this Oat Slice recipe from Delia.

I added some ground cardamom (from about 8 pods) as it pairs well with plums and is one of my favourite spices, I reduced the cinnamon slightly to a level teaspoon rather than the suggested heaped one to make it a bit more balanced. This really took no time at all to bring together, the nutty oats contrasted beautifully with the sharpness of the plums and the earthiness of the spices. You could adapt this to use a wide variety of fruits and I bet the addition of some chopped nuts in the oat layer would be divine.

There were still plenty left and a weekend poker evening meant hungry guests to share with. I didn’t want the stress of pastry and a pie, and a crumble, whilst one of my favorite puddings wasn’t right either. Nigel Slater’s Tender Volume II provided the recipe for a pudding like cake. There was homemade ice cream brought by one of my guests and  I popped some of the remaining plums in a pan with the juice of an orange, a table spoon of sugar, a cinnamon stick and some crushed cardamom pods and reduced them to make a sharp yet deep and spicy compote to cut through the richness of the cake. I upped the spices from the original recipe by once again adding cardamom and also half a teaspoon of ginger and  teaspoon of vanilla. I also used butternilk rather than milk.

Honey, Spice and Plum Cake

(slighty adapted from Nigel Slater’s recipe in Tender Volume II)

250g plain flour

Tsp baking powder

Tsp bicarb

Tsp cinamon

1/2 Tsp ground ginger

Ground cardamom from about 10 pods

Tsp vanilla extract

200g golden syrup

2 tbsp honey (NS specifies ‘thick’ but I used standard runny honey which was all I had to hand)

125g butter

125g light muscavado sugar

250g plums, halved (or quatered if large) with stones removed

2 large eggs

240ml buttermilk (or milk)

Preheat your oven to 180C, grease and line a 24cm square tin

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarb and spices

Gently heat the golden syrup, honey and butter until the butter is melted then add the sugar

Whisk together the eggs buttermilk and vanilla extract

Stir the syrup mixture into the flour mixture using a metal spoon then the egg and milk mixture, stirring until no traces of flour remain

Pour the mixture into the tin then drop in the plums (vague)

Bake for 25 minutes then cover loosly with foil and bake for a further 10 – 15 minutes. Switch off the oven but leave for a further 15 minutes then remove from oven and allow to cool in the tin.

I can’t help but wonder how Nigel comes up with these recipes – is it based on one tried and tested perhaps handed down or has he (or a minion) experimented with different baking times and options? I’ve not come accross a recipe before that states you should leave a cake in a cooling oven as part of the baking process.

I’m not sure whether a little longer was needed in the oven – you can see the dense moist crumb, and that the plums have sunk to the bottom, but it didn’t taste under done in any way. Not that there was any way to test this theory but I suspect well wrapped it would keep well being so moist. This one disappeared swiftly.

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Investment

August 11, 2011

More is needed. In this blog obviously, my neglect is shameful. I have been baking but not with the same regularity, or joy, as previously. The reasons are many and varied but my old foe apathy has set in. However, recently I’ve been in the kitchen a little more and the more I do, the more I enjoy being there. It might feel wrong to force myself to bake when the mojo is missing, but it seems a little more discipline will allow me to rediscover that joy and the rewards it brings.

That bit of effort invested into my kitchen should then provide rewards; both in terms of my enjoyment and the lift to the spirits an hour or so spent zesting oranges, chopping nuts or standing perplexed over an ice-cream maker can bring; but also for those that I share those proceeds with.

My family, my friends, my neighbours, my community.

Recent events have shown that more investment is desperately needed in the relationships with those around us. I’m not talking about financial investment, or here to debate the budgetary cuts – there are those far more knowledgeable than I who are able to provide arguments on that subject. But the investment of time and care. Last weekend a group of neighbours and friends hosted a BBQ for the rest of the Avenue, a truly collaborative event attended by every house, and more, from those who had lived here for decades to those who had yet to move into their new home.

It was a great evening, there was good food, great company, and plenty of laughter. Most importantly connections, relationships and friendships with those around us have been initiated or strengthened. A couple of hours of planning, a few more of preparation and several more enjoying ourselves can only serve to reward us all. Sadly, at the same time as we were extending these friendships and sharing food the riots and looting were starting in north London and we could never have imagined that in just 48 hours it would extend to our city centre a few miles away.

I have no idea how I/we go about extending this feeling of connection to the wider community in order to prevent the chaos of recent days recurring, I’m not naive enough to believe that an offering of dips, muffins or bowls of salad is going to make much difference, but we must try, even if it starts in a small way with those next to us – a little investment in these relationships would be a wise and beneficial one for us all.