Posts Tagged ‘Baking Fail’

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A Big Bundt-Up

November 19, 2011

For the past two years I have baked on National Bundt Day in America. Inspired by Mary, the Food Librarian I, along with many others who follow her blog have celebrated this, my favourite type of cake, on the 15th November along. My enjoyment of baking this kind of cake pales into insignificance when compared to Mary’s dedication. For three years she has baked a bundt a day for the month leading up to the 15th. That’s 90 Bundts people. This year saw the spectacular Jello Bundt, the slightly freaky Doll Bundt and also the Tomato Soup Bundt – have a look at her site on the link above to see her collection of recipes.

Last year Mary sent a badge to all those who baked along with her, even kindly posting one out to me here in the UK, I would’ve baked again this year anyway, but confess that the thought of another badge spurred me on especially as I have misplaced this one.

There are tentative plans forming that may enable me to sell my wares so test recipes are taking up much of my baking time. I recently made Blueberry & Coriander muffins which where a great success, so I decided to try this flavour combo in Bundt form. I took the Lemon, Yoghurt Anything Cake from Smitten Kitchen to use as the base recipe. This is a cake I’ve cooked numerous times before as both a loaf and doubled to Bundt size, I’ve made it a couple of times with blueberries too. I added 3 teaspoons of dried coriander and some lime zest – coriander lime being firm friends, I also planned a lime glaze.

As I said, I have made a cake very similar to this before, in this tin even. But …. well ….

I perhaps could’ve take more out of the 10 cup pan (I made a small loaf too, no photos of this as I was too preocupied with the disaster above) but it didn’t overflow, just rose above the lip of the tin. I greased and dusted the tin with flour, as always. I put some batter into the base of the tin before mixing the blueberries into the rest of the batter to help prevent the berries from sticking.

And yet ….

Even once I extricated the disaster from the tin it was obvious it wasn’t cooked properly. I toyed with the idea of using a cookie cutter to rescue parts of the cake, but it was never going to taste pleasant. I couldn’t even taste the coriander.

I feel like I’ve had too many sticking disasters recently and it’s so disheartening. On Tuesday I felt like stepping away from my Bundt tins and sticking (no pun intended) to those tins that can be easily lined.

But then I wouldn’t be in with a chance of getting my badge or feel part of the Bundt-fest.

So I made this.

The base recipe is from Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks site, a wonderful blog filled with inspiring photography and recipes. I have both of her books and  regularly look to her for inspiration when planning meals. I do love a banana cake and have been researching and testing recipes to potentially sell, this one was on my list to try as it uses olive oil, dark muscovado sugar and part wholemeal flour. I liked the look of this one as it doesn’t have much sugar in it so isn’t too sweet, especially as I decided to swap the  chopped chocolate for chopped toasted walnuts. I often put lemon in my banana cakes and also added in a mix of spices (cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg) along with the vanilla to add warmth and depth.

I stood for a while surveying my tin options and, decision made, tentatively spooned the batter into the pan. It baked evenly and was done in about 35 minutes. Fearful of the turning out process I photographed the cake still in its tin, the use of dark muscovado sugar adds a lovely darkness to the crumb. Ten minutes cooling time and I turned the tin onto the cooling rack, and felt that wonderful sensation of the cake slipping easily, neatly and in one piece out of the tin.

The glaze is a mix of dark muscovado sugar, icing sugar and lemon juice, the sharpness of the lemon combined with the richness of the muscovado sugar in both the cake and the glaze lift the flavour of the banana which is still noticeable as the cake itself really isn’t that sweet. I like the crunch and earthiness of the walnuts in there, but I’m sure the original suggestion of chocolate would be just as delicious.

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Kitchen Crush

November 14, 2011

As may be apparent from the previous post my current, primary kitchen crush is with Dan Lepard. An extra helping of his recipes courtesy of last week’s Saturday Guardian provided these spicy Bonfire Night Biscuits.

A quick and easy recipe to knock up even if you’re not lucky enough to have a bonfire in your back garden to provide the autumnal smell of wood smoke, the aroma of these baking in your kitchen will make the dullest November day sparkle. The recipe asks for glace ginger but I used stem ginger and the comments section suggest that crystalised would do just as well if you wanted. I also cut out into rounds and adjusted the baking time down a bit to compensate. The base biscuit recipe I imagine is adaptable by swapping the spices and additions – I’m planning a Christmas version. Watch this space.

My other current crush is on Mr Hugh Fearnly-Wittingstal. My summer holiday this year was spent in Dorset taking part in the Four Day  Cookery Course at Park Farm, the headquarters of River Cottage. They run day courses that cover everything from bread and baking to curing meat, even seashore foraging.

I’ve long wanted to do the four day course; which dedicates a day each to meat, fish, veg and bread and baking; and I’m so glad that I did. It’s not cheap, but I turned it into my summer holiday – with a few days spent exploring and walking the surrounding area – and I can honestly say that having done the course it was the best value for money of any holiday I have ever taken.

I’ve tried to blog about it, but I can’t find the words to do the week justice. I could write a list of the dishes cooked, decipher my notes into recipes to share with you, but this would not convey what I learnt or the fun that I had. The team at Park Farm go out of their way to ensure you have good fun and the hours whip by as their share their passion and knowledge and you share, with the others on the course, the fruits of your labour.

I made and ate things that I would not normally try and it has given me more confidence in the kitchen and with my palate and skills. Should I try to more accurately describe all that I learned, made and ate I would run out of adjectives by the first lunchtime. There are photo’s on my Flickr page which chronicle the dishes cooked and eaten over the four days and I hope they give an indication of the fun that was had.

On the course I bought a copy of  ‘River Cottage Veg Everyday!’ book – the latest from Hugh. It accompanies his current TV Programme where he extolls the virtues of a veg based diet by giving up meat and fish for the summer. The book accompanies his current TV show on C4 which follows the usual River Cottage format of HFW taking something he’s passionate about and making an entertaining and informative programme to share his passion. Whilst Hugh isn’t going to be a life long vegetarian he wants us to eat more veg and realise that veg-centric meals needn’t be dull.

The book is broken down into sections on salads and soups, raw things and bready things and mezze and tapas to name a few.

First off for me was the veggie biryani made for 12 – want to feed a crowd? Who could ask for more than succulent spicy veg with curried rice garnished with crunchy almonds? A breeze to prepare and cook, and if you can lift the casserole dish containing enough for 12 people and carry it to the table to reveal and serve, all the better (I needed help just getting it out of the oven – damn you Le Cruset with your sturdy based pans, wrist splints should be sold alongside them IMO).

For dips and salads, please make the roasted carrot hummous – this has replaced Peamole (it is what it sounds like) as the dip-tastic choice of the season and the raw beetroot and walnut and cumin salad add a fab crunchy side – try it with a smoked fish platter.

Above is a warming Sunday night dinner for friends, a puy lentil and spinach soup (made with the veg stock recipe from the same book) filling and warming, perfect  after a long walk in the crisp autumnal sunshine. Should you want a little meat in there, I added some pancetta as there were some in the fridge that needed using. I don’t think Hugh would mind.

What I enjoy about veggie cooking, and all the things I’ve made from this book so far, is the ease with which each dish is adaptable in terms of using up what’s in the fridge or buying what’s currently in season. I feel more able to play around without the meat – perhaps because the total cost of the dish is cheaper so the risk is less. Perhaps also just because I’m more comfortable with cooking veg and less fearful of over or under cooking and more confident of how the dish will fare as leftovers. I’ve made more than I’ve covered here, and yet more are flagged. This book is one that I will return to over and over again.

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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.



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The Cake That Nearly Beat Me

August 20, 2009

I couple of months ago I bought the Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and one of the first cakes I made (due to a fruit bowl full of lemons and a shiny new loaf tin – thank you Lakeland) was the Lemon Loaf. The recipe calls for whole milk which I didn’t have so I substituted with buttermilk – that’s allowed isn’t it?

The cake was an unmitigated disaster.

I can’t remember how long it actually took to bake but I know I had to reset the timer in five, then ten minute intervals several times before the skewer had any hope of testing clean. The cake was so heavy that a section of the top sheared off straight from the oven revealing a centre so stodgy that I just stood staring in disbelief.

After cooling it was obvious this was not fit to be dished up, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw it away. I donated it to a colleague under the guise of a potential trifle ingredient, but accept that it probably ended up in her bin rather than mine.

I really didn’t think that making such a minor substitution would’ve had such a disastrous effect, but in the end it was my novice baking status, rather than instinct, that let me down. There’s an error in the original recipe; 560g of flour should actually read 350g. I imagine this error would be a glaring one to someone with more experience but it passed me by, it was only a chance visit to their website and a click on the innocuous sounding link for ‘further tips and revisions’ (ahem!) lead me to a PDF document with a page of tips and revisions to three of their recipes. A proof reader is in trouble somewhere I fear.

So, a Sunday waking of 4am meant several hours of baking time and the Lemon Drizzle was in my sights.

I was tempted to try again with the buttermilk substitution just to see exactly where the blame for the original failing lay, but decided that the frustration of another cake fail would be too much to bare, especially at that ungodly hour.

The baking time is 1hour 15 minutes, which is a little on the long side for a loaf tin and should’ve made me think ahead a bit, but I’m not that good at seeing the bigger picture and so placed the tin into the oven, set the timer, and popped off to clean the bathroom, as you do. I came back downstairs about 40 minutes into baking to a concerning hint of ‘burnt’ in the air. The cake had risen way above the top of the tin and was touching the element at the top of the oven. A few minutes of panic later and I’d extracted the cake with only minor damage to it and myself (and it’s never a proper baking session without an injury of some sort). After picking the smoking debris off the element and repositioning the shelf the cake was returned to finish cooking. I couldn’t believe this bloody recipe had nearly beaten me again.

The end result was a little on the ugly side because of the damage to the top, luckily it was destined to be sliced and distributed at work rather than presented whole – good job too.

An additional tip – should you want to bake this for yourself – is that I remembered from disaster no 1 that pouring the syrup over the cake resulted in a lot of the syrup being lost of pooling around the sides, so I made good use of a skewer and spent a long time drizzling slowly in intervals to ensure as much of the syrup as possible got into the cake.

Was the whole thing worth it? Well, I can’t see beyond the second near miss, and I feel that the authors couldn’t been more detailed in their instructions (error aside) but the resulting cake was moist and tart and seemed to go down well. It keeps, wrapped, for a coupled of days and would no doubt make an excellent base for a trifle!

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Wholemeal Honey Cake

August 3, 2009




Not that I believe you need an excuse to eat or bake a cake, but I’m always on the lookout for special occasions for which to get the cake tins out. My good friend C has grandchildren coming to visit this week, had recently given me a recipe for Hugh Fearnely-Wittingsall’s Wholemeal Honey Cake and challenged me to produce one that didn’t sink in the middle as her previous attempts had done. My plan was to spend Sunday morning baking, so when the morning started with 4.30 on my bedside clock at least I knew the kitchen would smell divine by the time the shipping forecast came on.


As the majority of the products from my kitchen get distributed amongst work colleagues I try to keep them nut free (I nearly killed a colleague once – a long story for another time) I dismiss so many recipes on the basis that they full of wonderful crunchy nuts or are based on fluffy ground almonds. A shame as I love nuts and sometimes you can’t just leave them out or find an adequate substitute. But this cake was not for work, it was filled with ground almonds and covered with a liberal sprinkling of slivered ones – wonderful for catching the honey that’s drizzled over when fresh from the oven.


Unfortunately, sink it did. The recipe called for self-raising wholemeal flour which I couldn’t find, so I added an extra teaspoon of baking powder (a possible cause for the slump?) it also seemed to contain an enormous amount of butter – so much so that whilst baking it ran out of the bottom of the tin. It also took an additional 20 minutes of baking until the centre was set, my oven is trusty and I don’t usually have to make such big adjustments – the butter? Were I to make it again I would reduce the amount and I’m tempted to have another go soon as I don’t like to be beaten and would like to see what difference less butter would make (perhaps a whole 100g less?) but I will wait for C to enjoy this one and indicate she’s ready to receive another.




Wholemeal Honey Cake


350g unsalted butter, softened
265g unrefined caster sugar
4 organic eggs
150g ground almonds
150g wholemeal self-raising flour (I used plain wholemeal with an extra 1tsp of baking powder)

1 tsp baking powder
50g flaked almonds
3-4 tbsp runny honey


Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/ gas mark 3. Grease a 24cm diameter, springform cake tin with a little of the butter and line the base with baking parchment.

Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl, and cream them together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds, then sift in the flour and baking powder and gently fold these in, too.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin, scatter the flaked almonds over the top, and bake for 45 minutes (or 65 in my case), or until a knife pushed into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and, while it’s still hot, evenly drizzle all over with honey. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or cold.