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Year of the Cake Part Fourteen – Rhubarb and Custard Cakes

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That’s right, rhubarb and custard cakes. The double.

This is an idea that’s been in my head for some time, rhubarb is something I’d never even tried until about eighteen months ago, and that’s practically illegal in Scotland, where everyone and their neighbour (so, just everyone) seems to grow the stuff. I had it in the form of a lovely crumble, and it was a hit. Shortly after that, I saw a recipe on a Jamie Oliver programme for pork in a rhubarb, ginger, chili sort of sauce, with noodles. In fact, here it is. I’ve never made it yet, though it still remains the only recipe I’ve ever written down off the telly – it’s around here somewhere, I intend to get round to it one of these days.

Quick note – I keep typing the word ‘rhubard’ by accident. It keeps making me laugh.

So, when my mum gave me some fresh rhubarb (from a neighbour’s garden, natch), you would imagine that I would either make rhubarb and custard cakes or that pork and noodles thing, right. Wrong. It sat in the fridge for a few days while I forgot to do anything with it, until finally I decided one night to put it out of its misery before it went to waste. using other ingredients that I had knocking about the flat, I put together a rhubarb and strawberry compote, flavoured with tarragon and star anise. Posh, eh? I don’t know if compote is really the right word; it’s too thin to be a jam, that’s all I know. I made it by simmering the roughly chopped rhubarb and strawberries with a little water until they had reduced to a nice mushy consistency. I wrapped up a bunch of tarragon in a coffee filter and put this in the pot, too, for the flavour to seep out as the fruit cooked. Towards the end I added two whole star anise to bring out the sweetness of the tarragon, but I didn’t leave them in for much longer than five or ten minutes as I wanted the predominant flavour to be that of the fruit. I then let it cool and put in the freezer so I could use it for future projects.

I haven’t included a picture – it’s not much to look at, to be honest. Red mush. Tastes good though.

A few weeks later, the G man acquired some rhubarb of his own, which he made another lovely crumble with. We had it with custard, of course, and there was some custard left over. I put this in the freezer, too, on the principal that wasting food is bad but eating custard three nights in a row is bad too. I know – how much custard could we possibly have had, for there to be enough for three nights in a row? A lot, is the answer to that. Too much, some custard haters might say. I would not agree with them out loud, but I fear that my actions may have betrayed my true feelings. A person who freezes custard is a person who thinks hat they have had too much, at least for the time being. A person who freezes custard is probably also in the minority; in fact, you’re probably not meant to freeze it at all. Let me tell you, I did, and it was fine, there were no poisonings on this occasion and several people ate the resulting cakes. Look at them, how could cakes that sit so neatly in a lovelu circle ever do anyone any harm?

So, once I had both the fruit compote and the custard in the freezer (the more I think about it, the more it was a peculiar thing to do), I had the makings of my rhubarb and custard cakes, just waiting for the opportunity. It came this week, as I really fancied doing a bit of baking and had been mulling over how best to put these particular cakes together. The end result was pretty nice, thanks mainly to some icing and the gorgeous glittery star decorations I got as part of my birthday. The middle stage didn’t look good, and I really wish now that I’d taken a photo for comedy purposes. However, I’m getting ahead of myself…

I started out with just the custard in the mixing bowl, and added to it. This was so that I didn’t make too much cake mix that would then dilute the custard flavour. Also, I figured that I might not need to add some ingredients, like eggs or butter, as there would be quite a high percentage of those ingredients in there already. So, there was just over half a cup of the yellow stuff, to which I added half a cup of flour, and a cup of granulated sugar. I had a taste, and mainly just got uncooked flour and a lack of sweetness. I was quite surprised at this, as I’d expected that sugar would be one of the main ingredients in the ready-made custard. It probably was, but I felt like I had to add more to really balance out the sour flavour of the fruit that I was going to put in the cakes, so I added a further cup, this time of icing sugar, for extra sweetness and smooth consistency. I tasted the mix after half a cup, and then decided to go the whole hog with it. It now tasted what I thought would be the right amount of sugary, but was still a bit lacking. After a bit of a think, I decided that what it was lacking in was butter, so I put in 50g of the stuff, melted, and mixed through. That was definitely better; richer, and less floury. I was concerned that it would be a very heavy sponge, though, as I’d been doing so much mixing that I’d knocked out any air that was in there to begin with. To help with this, I decided to do two things. One, I would get my hand-held mixer out and give the cake mix a whizz round with it, to get some air in and also to knock out any little lumps of icing sugar that were left. Two, I would then whisk up an egg white, and fold it in to the mixture just before spooning into cases and baking. I added the yolk from the egg into the cake mix, too, for extra richness and colour. Unfortunately, folding in the egg white was my downfall, as then I had made the mix more fragile and more liable to collapsing on coming out of the oven, which they inevitably did. Once again, though, I’m jumping on ahead…

Once I’d given the cake mix a whizz and folded in the egg white, I spooned out enough to half fill twelve cupcake cases. I then placed about half a teaspoon of the fruit compote into the centre of each. This part was tricky to get right, and if I make these again I’ll put in less cake before I add the fruit, as the compote ended up right at the top of the cakes and not in the centre, as I’d hoped. The consistency of the cake mix was such that I couldn’t make a well in it or anything, which would really have been the ideal. I then spooned the remains of the cake mix over the compote, trying to seal it in to each cake as a lovely, sour yet pleasing surprise. Then I put them in the oven at 200C for ten minutes, and checked them. They needed turned at this time, as my oven is hotter at the back, so I did that and left them in for another five, then another three. I should have gone the whole hog and given them the round twenty minutes, this might have helped avoid the sinking tragedy. It was like the Titanic, I tell you. The cakes came out of the oven looking like proud muffins, with lovely juicy fruit peeping out of the cracks in the top here and there. After five minutes they looked like Yorkshire puddings with jam in. Ouch. This is where I decided that I’d better ice the little mites, lest they get bullied in the cake playground.

Here is the inside of one of the cakes. You can see that things didn’t go that well, yet when you see them from the outside they look so blameless and angelic. It looks like it’s been mauled – I should have waited for it to cool and used a knife, instead of tearing it open with my bare hands in some kind of rhubarb frenzy.

What kind of icing would go with these cakes? More to the point, what ingredients did I have to make said icing? The answer to both of those questions (and to oh so many others) was cream cheese and butter. I did think about adding ginger, too, but I didn’t want to add too many flavours. I’m glad that I decided this as the icing turned out really well and complemented the cakes, both with its yoghurty-sharp but smooth taste and its creamy, soft texture. All I did to make the icing was whizz up 50g of room temperature butter, 50g of cold cream cheese and 100g of icing sugar – I added the sugar in batches and whisked until completely combined. I remembered from using this kind of icing before that it is very soft and hard to shape well, so I just smoothed it over the top of each cake, hiding the sad state of affairs beneath lovely, forgiving, cream cheese goodness.

The little stars are so tiny and delicate that it was difficult to get a clear picture of them. Everyone commented on them, they looked absolutely great. Everyone also loved the cakes, which had a really rich, creamy and custardy sponge and a lovely hit of sour fruit, topped with the somewhere-in-between icing. I’m really proud of them, mostly because I freestyled the recipe and came out with results that people enjoyed eating. Another time, perhaps a full-sized sponge, with the fruit compote thickened into jam and spread in the middle? That could very well be a winner…

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About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983.

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