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The Daring Bakers Challenge October 2011: Povitica

The Daring Baker’s October 2011 challenge was Povitica, hosted by Jenni of The Gingered Whisk. Povitica is a traditional Eastern European Dessert Bread that is as lovely to look at as it is to eat!

I don’t even know where to begin with this post – I made this recipe three times (though I was only successful twice) and I have SO MANY photos, it’s unreal. I loved making povitica (which you pronounce poh-vee-teet-tsa) so much – the dough was really fun to work with, as you stretch it out until it’s transparent before rolling it up, filled with a walnut and cinnamon paste, or whatever else you fancy if you’re a Daring Baker… Here’s the link to the official Daring Bakers post, which includes the surprisingly easy to make recipe and a slideshow of all the povitica that we made, as a group. Some of them absolutely put mine to shame, with beautiful spiral patterns and amazing ideas for fillings. Go and check it out, once you’re finished here, though consider this fair warning that you’ll end up starving hungry. Also go and check out Jenni The Gingered Whisk, who created this recipe from her own brain when she couldn’t find a good one online. Amazing.

To describe the recipe in short, you make a yeast bread dough, which you then stretch out until it’s mega thin. You cover your worktop with a clean sheet, lightly dusted with flour, to help stop the dough from sticking. Then you add a layer of filling and roll it all up into a sausage – using a sheet also helps with this. When you fold the dough sausage into a loaf tin you get great spiral shapes in each slice of the finished loaf – how you fold it and put it in the tin affects how the end result looks, as you’ll see from the great variation in the DB slideshow.

My first attempt failed because the oven I was using (the G man’s) is a bit off when it comes to low temperatures. This was such a shame, because I was so elated by making the dough and stretching it out for miles and miles… It went fine right up until I took it out of the oven, and both loaves had sunk like stones. They were raw and inedible in the middle – all yeasty, sticky dough and no class at all. Here is a gallery of photos from attempt number one, they are many and varied. They are also in no real order, because I can’t really figure out galleries in WordPress, despite having been using it for almost two years…

You’ll see I had a really, really fancy poviticia planned with strawberry jam and tarragon flavoured cream cheese in a checked pattern, which I thought would give cool swirls inside the bread. It might have, too, if the loaf had baked up at all, but we’ll never know. I used the same flavours in my second, successful attempt, but I didn’t have the heart to spend so much time on the design in case it didn’t work. I’ll go back to it the next time, now that I feel more confident. I also included a picture here of how sticky and elastic the dough was when I turned it out of the bowl to start kneading it. The ever-helpful Audax had suggested to us that we should have the dough more on the sticky side than the dry side, to help with keeping it elastic. I did add enough flour to the dough to stop it totally sticking to my hands and the worktop, but I left it stickier than I’d otherwise have done, and this paid off – in one of the photos you can see how far the dough stretched – in fact I had to double the amount of filling and *still* trimmed off some of it. It was so exciting to work with, like nothing I’ve ever made before.

With my second attempt, the dough was a lot less elastic and exciting to work with, but still stretched out admirably and looked a bit less wrinkly and weird in the loaf tin. On this attempt I made the same fillings as the first – the traditional walnut filling laid out in the recipe, and homemade strawberry jam and sweetened cream cheese, flavoured with pureed tarragon. My preference was for the second loaf, though I think opinion was pretty divided. This time the loaves rose out of the pans and the bread was cooked right through, which of course was a great improvement! They still weren’t perfect, with quite a lot of air pockets that made it hard to cut slices of the povitica, but they were so much better, and this made me glad. Here is the gallery for take two – these are less many and varied, but equally in disarray:

Now that I had completed the challenge, you might think I’d let it be and move on to other recipes. I didn’t feel like that at all – I enjoyed this recipe so much that I really wanted another go, and kept thinking of new fillings to use. Looking at the great photos on the DB forum eventually tipped me over the edge and I set out to make some more, this time using my four mini loaf tins. I had some spiced apple pie filling left over in the fridge (I’ll tell you about the pies another time), so I pureed this to use for two of the little loaves. For the other two, I pureed a banana that was right on the cusp of being ready to go in the bin, the dregs of a packet of pecans and a sachet of instant hot chocolate, to make a thick banana, pecan and chocolate sauce. I split the dough into four before leaving it to rise, thinking it might make it easier for me to make even loaves if I had a guideline of what a quarter portion looked like. This was true, though you can definitely tell which ones were left to rise while I made the other two… These last poviticas were the best, I think, both in flavour, texture, appearance and in the amount they rose up in the oven and surprised me when I opened the door. Here’s the gallery.

As you can tell, I had such fun making this bread, and I’d definitely recommend that anyone reading should give it a go. If you have a big space for a full sized loaf, that’s great, but if not you can make mini ones using a pillowcase instead. I’d definitely recommend using a sheet or pillowcase, even if you don’t think the dough will stick to your counter, because rolling the dough up by tipping the edge of the sheet is a very cool thing to do, even if I don’t have it quite as down as these guys.

I’m looking forward to practising more with this recipe, to get really pretty swirls and to get more control over the shape of the bread – getting it into the loaf tins was always an exercise in bravery, as I was scared that the whole thing would come apart in my hands any second. I rolled in right off the table and into the tin a couple of times, so that I didn’t even have to touch it.

My favourites were the fruit-based ones but I saw some great savoury variations going on in the DB forum, and would love to try a poppy seed version, too. There’s also always Nutella, which would provide a ready made filling if the bread dough was enough of an adventure for you. If you’re going to use Nutella, I think decanting it into a bowl and heating it a little would be a good way to go, to make it much easier to spread without ripping the thin dough – it’s like a pair of tights, once there’s a snag in the dough it’s only going to get worse. You can’t even apply nailpolish to stop it. Well, you *could*… but I most certainly don’t condone it.

This is probably my last Rock Cakes post – I’m planning on bringing my cooking and baking blogs back together, to the original Rock Salt blog. I’m hoping to be able to migrate the cakes posts over to Rock Salt… wish me luck!

Chocolate, Wasabi, Ginger and Black Sesame Cake (or, Black Pearl Layer Cake)

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The recipe for this cake is here at Epicurious. In short, it’s three layers of chocolate and ginger sponge, doused in ginger and vanilla syrup, sandwiched with chocolate and wasabi ganache, coated in whipped cream frosting and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. If you think it sounds weird… well, I can understand that, but allow me to assure you that it’s not. I also have pictures, in an attempt to convey the wonder of the cake. Many, many pictures. Here are some of them now:

Fresh from the oven

Easily tall enough for three layers

This last photo is to demonstrate how flat I managed to get the top of the cake, even though I sliced it by hand. Well, alright, by knife, but without the aid of a cutting wire is what I mean.

This was quite a cake; a bit adventurous, a bit unusual, a lot delicious. I have to say that despite the exotic title, the predominant flavours were chocolate and whipped cream – two excellent flavours, I think you’ll agree. I would definitely make it again, but I’d bump up the amount of wasabi, and I’d follow the recipe directions better when it comes to the ginger. The instructions call for you to make a ginger and vanilla syrup with sliced root ginger, then drain the syrup and use the ginger pieces to flavour the cake mix. Unfortunately I’d decided to make both syrup and sponge on the same night, so I had to swap in some ground ginger instead of the fresh ginger. The flavour would have been far more intense, and I’d like to try it.

Ginger and vanilla syrup

One layer soaked in the syrup - see how it shines? Oh, how it shines.

I doubled the amount of wasabi powder the recipe stated for the ganache, and even then there was only a hint of heat. Mostly the heat came from biting into the tiny undissolved bits of wasabi from adding the powder to the ganache and not whisking it thoroughly enough… I quite liked the wasabi bombs, they kept everyone on their toes. I also added half a teaspoon of wasabi to the whipped cream topping – again this gave a very subtle flavour, next time I’d go for a little more. It’s hard to judge, though, especially as wasabi powder takes a little time to give its full flavour, just like mustard powder, but then loses it again when exposed to the air. A couple of the commenters on the Epicurious post also suggested that wasabi paste is a better choice for a stronger flavour, so I may go down that road next time. I didn’t hit the mark spot on this time, as far as I’m concerned, but the cake was still enormously well received. And just enormous.

Wasabi and black sesame ganache applied...

...and spread.

I’ve never made a three-layer cake before (though I have done a seven layer rainbow cake) so that was quite exciting. The recipe suggests using three eight inch tins and baking the layers separately, which is always a very safe (if time consuming) way to go, but I decided to go ahead and bake the whole lot at once in a nine inch tin. This took about an hour and twenty minutes to bake, though I think an hour and ten may have been enough as the cake was pretty crumbly on taking it out of the tin. Luckily, you baste the sponge layers in loads of syrup before sandwiching them together with ganache, then topping with a sweet whipped cream frosting, so the end result was far from dry. The low temperature also meant that, even after such a long time in the oven, only the very top of the cake was a bit singed, and since I was slicing that off anyway there was no problem. There was also some spare ganache and spare whipped cream. The G man really reaped the benefits of this happy accident, which almost makes up for him not getting a slice of the finished product.

Three layers syruped, ganached and stacked.

Oh, I left out the corn syrup and butter from the ganache. This doesn’t really fit in with any of the other paragraphs, but it’s worth mentioning… I just made a normal ganache – equal volumes of melted chocolate and cream – and then added the spices.

Another thing to note about this cake is that it’s very heavy – as in, if you have to carry it very far, be prepared to swap arms a lot. It’s a far distant cousin of the feather-light Victoria sponge, which should practically dissolve on your tongue like wafer. No, this is a bruiser of a cake. It’s also heavy in the sense of flavour, being very dense and rich inside, as we realised when I’d cut monster-sized pieces for everyone and we all started to go into a cake trance half way through eating them… The frosting does balance this richness out nicely, though, with a cleaner, lighter taste and soft texture. Speaking of texture, I loved the black sesame seeds in the ganache and round the edges of the cake. The tiny crunch from each of them added another element to an already interesting mouthful, without changing the sweet flavour at all. I also loved applying them to the cake, which I did by throwing little pinches of them at the freshly-iced sides. They stuck on so readily, it was obviously meant to be. It was a bit like pebble-dashing, but for baked goods. To minimise the inevitable mess, I placed two overlapping sheets of greaseproof paper on top of the cake board; when I was finished decorating, I gently (but firmly) slid the sheets out from under the cake. This left a mostly clean board and had the advantage of feeling like I was performing a magic trick.

Whipped cream frosting (and stray cake crumbs, bah).

Sesame seeds and chocolate stars applied

Now with inadvisable but irresistible glitter.

For the final touches, I went with chocolate stars around the top and, since I never know when to leave well enough alone, added a big L of glitter, because this was my beautiful sister in law’s birthday cake (and her name starts with L). I wish I hadn’t, but it looked so bare without any writing on it… At least I knew better than to try using writing icing; with the moist frosting it would have been indecipherable by morning.

Blueberry Swirl Cupcakes with Lavender Icing

I made these to celebrate the birth of my colleague Mr B’s first baby, a baby boy. I kind of regret going with the blue theme in a way, it’s so old fashioned, but once I thought of the combination of blueberry and lavender I couldn’t help myself, they had to be made. I did cupcakes for us to share at work and then a tiny cake for Mr B to take home and share with Mrs B. Probably the baby didn’t get any of it, he’s only a few weeks old. I’ll wait a month or so before trying to hook him on sugar. Here are photos of the tiny cake at various stages of assembly.

These were easy cupcakes to make, though I did give myself some extra work with some little royal icing hats to put on them. They were supposed to be flowers but they came out distinctly hatty. I used fruit sugar to make the cakes, as I’ve never used it before and was interested to experiment with it. I also used soy milk, which I am coming to love more and more for baking as it adds a lovely sweet and slightly nutty taste. The cupcakes were wheat free, and could easily be made dairy free by using vegan margarine. To make them vegan, though, you’d have to use an egg substitute, and this is something I have absolutely no experience in – perhaps someone can give me hints or tips on where to begin?

Blueberry Swirl Cupcakes – makes 24:

  • 110g blueberries, washed and picked over
  • 1 tbsp fruit sugar
  • 225g rice flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 160g fruit sugar
  • 225g margarine
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup soy milk

The first thing I did was to make the blueberry purée, which almost became instant blueberry jam. In fact, some of the purée really was thick enough to use as jam in the tiny cake. To make the purée I simply put all the blueberries in the blender with the tablespoon of fruit sugar and processed until smooth. The colour was amazing – I’ve tried to catch it as it changed from a bright pinkish-purple to a rich indigo but it was hard to get the lighting right. It darkened right in front of my eyes, it really was remarkable. These amounts made about twice as much purée as I really needed, so another time I might use half the blueberries in the purée and keep the other half for decoration.


Once the purée was made, I made the cupcakes, employing that old favourite, the all in one method. I put all the ingredients, with the exception of the fruit purée, in a bowl and mixed until just combined. Then I added 1/4 cup of the blueberry purée and stirred two or three times, enough to swirl the batter but definitely not enough to mix it. The thing to remember is that you will continue to mix it a little as you scoop it out and into the paper cases, so you definitely want to under-mix at first.

I scooped out an even amount into 24 paper cases – mostly blue ones, but with a few yellow after I ran out – and smoothed off the surfaces with the back of a teaspoon. Even with three eggs and half a cup of milk, the wheat free batter was thick and didn’t settle into the cases like normal cake mix would. I baked the cupcakes at 180C for seven minutes, before rotating the sheets and baking for a further five. I think it’s even more important not to over cook wheat free baking, as it already has a leaning towards being dry, so I kept a close eye on them. The cakes were just golden brown on top and very springy to touch. I let them cool completely before icing them.

While the cakes were cooling, I made (attempted to make) royal icing flowers… These amounts make a whole sheet full of the things, only 33 of which got used. It was better to have too many though as it let me experiment with forming them and then choose the most perfect ones from the bunch, rather than having to get every one right first time. I tried putting little blue dragees in the middle of some to make them more flowery but I preferred the smurf hats in the end.

  • 1 egg white
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp glycerine
  • 175g icing sugar
  • one capful blue food dye

Firstly, before I made the icing, I greased a sheet of baking paper with coconut oil. Any oil or butter would do but coconut oil is my favourite, because it’s so mild and easy to work with. I sat the baking paper on an upside down baking sheet, to give a flat surface with no edges. Then, I combined the first three ingredients with a hand held mixer, and gradually added the sugar until it formed a stiff paste. I added the colouring and mixed well, then it was ready to pipe. I poured it (very awkwardly, I should add) into a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle, then went to it. I tried different methods of piping and found that the best thing was to keep the tip of the nozzle quite far away from the paper, to preserve the swirl shape, and use a gentle turning motion to get the right look. If I put the nozzle too close if would flatten the shape out totally, and if I turned too quickly the shape was stretched.

I would encourage anyone trying to make royal icing shapes to be sure that the royal icing is very stiff and almost dry, this will make the process a lot easier. In my case the icing was a little too soft and took ages to set. The humid weather played a part this, too – in the end I had to scrape the icing shapes of the paper with a thin knife and try to place them on the cakes without breaking them, which was another reason I was glad to have so many to choose from.

When the cakes were cool, I made the lavender icing. It was basically a simple white icing, made by mixing icing sugar with boiling water a tiny bit at a time, until the icing was thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. The only difference was that I swapped some of the icing sugar for lavender infused icing sugar, processed so that the lavender flowers were broken into tiny specks. I used 40g of lavender icing sugar, 160g of normal icing sugar and one tablespoon of boiling water.

I think you’ll agree that the cakes are pretty once all the elements are put together. As ever, I don’t consider them perfect, but I was pleased with them, and pleased with the moistness of the cakes and the balance between the blueberry and lavender – neither was too strong, which is always a worry where lavender is concerned. Here are a final few pictures for your contemplation. Once again I’m sorry for the varying quality – baking in the evening does have its drawbacks, mainly the lack of light for good photos!

Jaunty Flower Cupcakes

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I would like to make it clear that these were not birthday cupcakes. Absolutely not. Miss Jennifer didn’t want to celebrate her birthday, and far be it from me to try to change her mind. No, no, I just really like baking and knocked these up. In fact I’d completely forgotten that it had been her birthday at all. It was just a coincidence. It was also a coincidence that I’d bought her a present, and that the other girls had bought her presents too…

I think you probably see what I’m doing here. I couldn’t let it lie – there had to be cake. In our defence, we sang ‘happy cakeday’ instead of ‘happy birthday’, which was really our only concession to her not wanting to celebrate. The bottom line is that friends don’t let friends not eat celebrate on (or at least around) their birthday. In the end I don’t think Miss Jennifer minded that much.


These cakes draw on inspiration from three places. They started out as being filled cupcakes, as inspired by Anne’s Cupcakes Violet Beauregarde over at I Heart Cupcakes. I knew that mine wouldn’t look as bright and pretty as Anne’s, as I was using my new favourite chocolate cake recipe – Devil’s Food Cake from Cake in the Country, my second inspiration – and I wasn’t using butter icing that I could swirl up on top into that quintessential cupcake style, but the idea of filling a delicious cake with something else delicious? You bet I wanted a piece of that action. I neglected to take a photo of the inside of the cakes, which is a shame, so you’ll have to use your imagination there.

That was the extent of the initial idea – devils food cupcakes, filled and iced with dark chocolate and raspberry ganache. Once I’d made the cake batter, though, I found that I had some left over once the 12 cupcake cases were filled. I thought I’d make some tiny cakes, which I sometimes like to do with leftover cake mix because 1) tiny cakes are adorable and 2) lots of tiny cakes go further than a few normal sized cupcakes. As I filled the tiny cases with the devils food cake mix, I remembered a photo I’d seen on Must Have Cute of a cupcake with, wait for it… ANOTHER CUPCAKE ON TOP OF IT! As it turns out, the tiny cupcake on top wasn’t really a cake, but the overall effect is still the same. You can check it out here at That’s Noice! So I decided I’d do a take on this, but less awesome because I’d be using just flat icing. Less awesome, that is, until my new piping bag came in to play. That’s right, I finally got to use the flower piping nozzle, and it was good.

Sorry about the difference in picture quality there – it was night time, and my kitchen is oddly-lit, so it’s hard to get the lighting right.

 

Once the cupcakes (big and small) were baked, I added yet another level by realising that I had some marshmallow-cream cheese icing left in the freezer from making Red Nose whoopie pies. I decided to fill half of the cakes with this, and half with the wonderfully easy to make ganache. This is what it’s like in my head, you know; lots of options, branching out endlessly, making it hard to choose just one thing to bake. It’s no wonder I bake so often, with the ideas and permutations of ideas chasing each other around in there. If I didn’t try at least some of them I fear my head would explode, or at the very least there’d be an ideas leak and the whole area would have to be quarantined.

OK, let’s go through the cupcakes step by step now, so we can have some nice pictures.

Once the cupcakes are baked, use a small knife to cut a circle in the top, then lift out that piece of cake. Use your fingers to hollow out a little cake cave. Reserve the top circle to put back on again, but the bits and pieces you took out by hand can be safely consumed at this stage.

Use a spoon or a piping bag to fill the cupcakes with your frosting of choice. Leave enough room at the top to put the removed cake back in, like a lid.

Once the ‘lids’ are back on the cakes, use a spoon (or piping bag to) top the cake with the icing or ganache you’re using. There’s no reason that you couldn’t have a different filling and icing, though I didn’t want to complicate matters any further than they were already going to be.

Place a tiny cupcake on top of each normal sized cupcake. These were already iced, I didn’t fancy trying to ice them as they sat at a precarious angle. As you can see, I put the marshmallow-iced tiny cupcakes on the ganache full-sized ones, and vice versa, so that everyone got to try both kinds. The contrast in colour was good, too.

The only recipe I really need to add is the raspberry ganache (links to the devils food cake and marshmallow cream cheese frosting are up there somewhere), which is made with raspberry liqueur. You can substitute in any kind of booze you like to make different kinds of ganache. It’s so easy to do but it tastes really Proper. What’s not Proper is this recipe, it’s more of a guideline. All you have to do is mix equal amounts melted chocolate and cream (single or double) together, then add liqueur to taste. For example, mix 2 tbsp melted dark chocolate and 2 tbsp double cream, then add raspberry liqueur a capful at a time until you have the right flavour. It depends how boozy you want it to be. What you can also do is slightly reduce the amount of cream to give a thicker ganache that will set hard overnight – say 2 tbsp chocolate to 1 3/4 tbsp cream, plus liqueur. The best plan is always to have more of all the ingredients on standby, that way you can always add more chocolate or cream if the consistency isn’t right.Remember that it will thicken as it cools – if you’re not sure, you can put it in the fridge for a few minutes to see how it looks.

These cupcakes went down an absolute storm. Both flavours were good, but I have to express a preference for the raspberry ganache ones – they were so indulgent and rich, what’s not to love?

 

 

Peach Knobblers

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These were not my finest looking cakes, I’ll be the first to admit. Hence the name – they really suit it. Let’s get a picture in straight up, and you can see what I mean.

Now, the theory behind these was nice, and in fact the *taste* of them was nice, too, it’s just unfortunate that they looked so dreadful. I was trying to recreate the joy of a peach cobbler in the form of a cupcake, for my dad’s birthday picnic. I thought I’d do a spiced brown sugar sponge, top it with peach slices then add some of the cornmeal drop biscuit topping and bake the whole lot. I considered baking the sponge first, then adding the peaches and topping once it was partly cooked, but I didn’t want to dry out the sponge with excessive baking time. I really should have taken that risk, because what came out of the oven looked like a monster; like a troll cake who’d eaten an innocent peach cake for walking over its bridge, but you could still see the peach cake crying out for help. The other thing I should have done was omitted a raising agent from the sponge mix, and that might have stopped the cake from rising up (and around and out and over) so much. Still, if you don’t try, you don’t learn, right?

The recipe for the spiced brown sugar sponge, which was really good, despite its appearances, is as follows:

Makes 8

  • 4oz brown sugar, sieved or at least crumbled to get rid of most of the lumps
  • 4oz margarine
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 4oz flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice
  • 1 tsp grated lemon rind
  • pinch salt

Using a hand or stand mixer, combine the sugar and margarine. Next, add the egg and then the milk. Mix all the remaining ingredients together, then add to the bowl and fold with a spatula until just mixed. Distribute the mix between eight cupcake cases. Bake at 180C for about fifteen minutes.

That’s kind of the fairytale version of the recipe. I thought ‘bake until troll-like’ didn’t have the same ring to it.

If you want to make peach knobblers…

  • 400g tin peach slices in syrup, drained
  • 1/4 cup plain flour
  • 2 tbsp and 2 tsp fine ground cornmeal
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tbsp cold butter
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 1 tsp lemon juice

Make the drop-biscuit topping first, by combining the dry ingredients and butter with your fingertips, to form a mixture that looks like breadcrumbs. Stir in the milk, followed by the lemon juice. If the mixture is too dry, add a little more milk, 1 tsp at a time. If it is too wet, add more cornmeal, 1 tsp at a time, and make sure it is fully mixed through before adding more.

 

Follow the recipe for spiced brown sugar cakes as above (you could omit the raising agent to try and improve the appearance), but instead of using the cupcake cases, use muffin cases, and half fill each with the sponge mixture. Top with two or three peach slices, then a teaspoon of the drop biscuit cobbler mixture. Bake at 200C for 10 – 15 minutes, until troll-like.

Caramel Birthday Cake

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This year I made the G man a non-dinosaur-themed cake, which I kind of regret. The project didn’t go very well all in all, though the end result was good and I that is the most important thing. Still, I was sad not to have made a better job of it.

I followed this recipe for Caramel Cake and I hate to say that I didn’t do that well. First I decided to follow the amounts. Then, part of the way through, I decided that it wouldn’t be enough and I should double it. Even then, the amount wasn’t really big enough for my food mixer so I had to work it by hand, which is fine but did make it all more time consuming. In fact, I’ve started the story half way through – *first* I made the caramel syrup, which took a long while over the much maligned electric hob because it’s hard to find and keep the right temperature with the old leccy, and then I browned the butter for the frosting, and promptly melted my long suffering sieve, which frankly should have melted a long time ago as I tend to be quite punishing of my kitchen equipment…

Poor little fella

On the plus side, I took some action shots of my mixer mixing (before I took the bowl out and finished the cake manually). I quite like the look of them, check it out:

I also took several photos of the caramel syrup as it thickened and darkened. I’d never made a syrup in this way before; the recipe calls for you to heat the sugar and water until it’s almost smoking, then quickly add cold water to stop it from burning, then to continue heating and stirring until it’s thickened again. I was a bit worried about splashing myself with the caramel but took some sensible precautions, including a mid-forearm length oven glove that would more appropriately be called an oven gauntlet, and a towel draped over the other arm. I also used the pot lid to mostly cover the top of the pot, leaving a gap at the back to pour in the cold water. It worked fine, and no caramel splashed out of the pot, let alone on to me to eat its way through my skin and bone like alien blood. I’m sure we can all agree that was a Good Thing.

Deciding to double the recipe was probably my main error, which then caused all the ensuing trouble. I put all the mix in to an eight inch springform tin to bake. What happened was that the edges burned while the middle was still raw. Frustration, thy name is too much cake in not enough cake tin. It’s quite a long name, that. This meant that I had to remove the burnt edges before icing the cake; it’s all very well having a nicely shaped cake, but if it’s burnt when you bite into it that spoils things somewhat. Once I’d taken the edges away, I sliced the cake horizontally to give the two layers. The cake wasn’t cool yet, but it was getting late and it had already taken me so long to get this far that I was in a bit of a rush. When I turned the top layer over, so that the dome of the cake would be in the middle, and the top would be perfectly flat, the warm, soft, fragile top layer cracked in half down the middle. I was less than amused, as I’m sure you can imagine. This is why you should always, always, always let your cake cool before you slice it. Always.

This is literally the worst thing that has ever happened

Look at the beautiful rich colour of that sponge though; that’s what adding a big load of caramel syrup will do for you!

By now I was pretty stressed. I just wanted to make a COMPLETELY PERFECT cake, was that too much to expect? Well, OK, perfection is probably a bit of an excessive expectation, I am only human, after all. Now I had a broken cake, and I had to fix it. Luckily I’ve had practise of fixing broken cakes – see here and here for the details. Oh and here. And here, too. Yes, I am well versed in the art of cake mending. Perhaps I should rename my blog The Cake Hospital?

So, what to do? Well, there was a quantity of browned butter icing to be made and applied to the cake. There are few things that can’t be hidden or at least improved by a large quantity of frosting, that’s something I’ve learned. Also it turns out that browned butter icing is extraordinarily delicious, and I’ll most certainly be making it again. Browning the butter adds such a depth of flavour to the icing. It doesn’t look like much on its own, right enough. In fact, judging by this picture, it looks a bit like the kind of puddle you wouldn’t splash in even if you were wearing your wellies. Once you add icing sugar, though, you start to get something wonderful. I didn’t add as much icing sugar as the recipe calls for, just enough to form a stiff icing. Then I added my own tiny stroke of genius, which was a pinch of smoked sea salt. Salt and caramel are like Romeo and Juliet but without all the suicide. By which I mean, they’re great together.

So, now we had one wonky caramel cake, held together and generally smothered in browned butter frosting. An improvement, no doubt about it. What next? Well, next I toasted up some coconut and some crushed almond slivers, and applied them liberally to the surface of the cake. It was now thoroughly in disguise. I added a big 40, in case the G man forgot what age he was, and his name, in case there was any dubiety over whose cake it was. As so often happens, in the heat of the cake repairing, I put the camera down in order to focus so we now jump from the semi-wreck above to this beauty of a cake!

This was good enough to present, though I still regret not making it dinosaur shaped. I was worried that it wouldn’t slice well but it really did, holding its shape beautifully, showing the lovely sweet frosting through the middle and that great golden colour of the caramel sponge.

Thus ends my tale of cake stress, and in the end there was a lovely cake to be scoffed after a few celebratory drinks and lots of raucous karaoke singing. I did my best Shirley Bassey impression. It went over well.

Coconut Cake with Marshmallow Frosting

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I suppose the first thing to say is that the recipes isn’t supposed to give marshmallow frosting, it just worked out that way in my kitchen.

No, wait! The first thing to say is welcome to the first blog post written specifically for Rock Cakes! I know it seems like a weird move, splitting my blog in half, especially when my updates are barely frequent enough to sustain one blog let alone two, but hear me out. The ultimate plan, beginning late this year or early next, is to begin a home baking business. Before I can do that I have to find a space to install a tabletop dishwasher, *buy* a tabletop dishwasher (and install it, naturally), give my entire kitchen a good spring clean, replace any old utensils and chopping boards with shiny new ones and, finally, get the man or woman from the council round to make sure my flat is up to scratch. There’s a fair amount of work and  money involved, both of which will have to wait until at least September to get started. Once all that’s done I can start making cakes, alongside my day job initially, and see how I get on! I’m not kidding myself that it’ll be easy or immediately lucrative… Well, maybe I am a little bit… I wanted to register Rock Cakes because that makes much more sense as a cake company. I picture myself dropping off cakes to customers on one of those little ice cream trikes – you know, the bike with the big storage compartment strapped on? – with some kind of cool logo emblazoned on the side: ‘Another successful delivery from Rock Cakes!’. Rock Salt just wouldn’t make sense in the context of selling cake, but it does make sense for a cooking blog, and I’ve grown quite attached to it by now.

I’ve said a lot of words about that now, so I won’t say any more. I also plan on registering a relevant domain name for Rock Cakes, and possibly for Rock Salt too while I’m about it. It will all have to wait until there are fewer demands on my skull and crossbones-emblazoned wallet. What I will say is that if anyone has any feedback on the blogs, any suggestions for improving things, I’m always interested to hear them. Oh and thank you for reading! Here is a picture to reward you:

Right, the marshmallow icing. It’s supposed to be Martha Stewart’s Seven Minute Frosting, and you can follow the link to check it out. It should have set hard, like royal icing, but mine stayed soft, sticky and messy – and delicious. It was kind of like the inside of a Tunnocks teacake. If you have never had a Tunnocks teacake you must have one as soon as possible. Visit Scotland just to get one of these. Well, no, not just to get one of these, but we have lots of other good things like scenery and wildlife, so come to visit and then *get* a teacake while you’re here. And a caramel wafer. And a caramel log, which is subtly different. That is enough about Tunnocks products now.

I would be interested in making the recipe again to see if I can correct where I went wrong. I suppose it could be that I didn’t have a stand mixer at that time so I had to use a hand mixer? Or, if I remember rightly, I was making one and a half times the recipe and anything where you have to use 4 1/2 egg whites is going to be subject to a certain amount of error. Plus I used golden syrup for corn syrup, though usually that works out OK for me. Anyway, it’d be nice to do it properly but the sticky marshmallow version went down a treat, particularly when sprinkled liberally with toasted coconut.

The recipe for the coconut cake is given as a recipe for one whole cake; it started out as one for cupcakes, and was converted to one layered sponge by Steph at Momofuku for 2. The introduction to the recipe on Leite’s Culinaria lauds this approach, as it produces a gorgeous, tall, proud cake all covered in coconut shavings, and they’re right to praise it – it is a Thing of Beauty. However, I broke it back down, since I was making it to take into work and cupcakes are just so much easier than trying to slice one cake into about 25 slices, not to mention the issue of carrying a knife to work. Hello, security? I also used the aforementioned toasted coconut instead of coconut shavings as that’s what I had in the cupboard, and I liked the extra colour they brough against the pale sponge and white frosting.

What I really love about this recipe is the use of coconut milk; all too often I’ve found coconut cake recipes to have just a hint of coconut, or to be quite dry, or (brace yourselves) both. The coconut milk in this recipe means that the cakes have a good, strong flavour and are beautifully soft and moist, too. It’s a stroke of genius from Martha, that’s what I say.

Thus concludes my first Rock Cakes post. Hooray!

Wait, are you hooraying because it’s over or because you’re glad I wrote it?

Really?

OK then.

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