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Category Archives: Dessert

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.

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Pancakes, Strawberries and Maple Syrup

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You didn’t think I’d come back from Canada without maple syrup, did you? This was a very quick, thrown together dessert one night when I fancied something nice and low-maintenance. I won’t even bother sharing the pancakes recipe that I used, as to be honest they were nothing more than a vehicle to get strawberries and syrup from plate to face. I used a recipe I found in a quick online search; let’s just say that  next time I’ll spend a little longer finding one.

Can you believe that I don’t know how to make pancakes by heart? I’ve hardly ever made them. I always think that they promise more than they deliver, unless you pile them high with butter and jam, or lemon and sugar. Personally, I’d rather have a scone. Or something with chocolate in…

Cake in the Key of Tiramisu

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Here is a bit more info one the second cake in the cake extravaganza
that was last weekend; tiramisu cake. I’m thankful to say (and you are
probably thankful to hear) that there is less to this one than the
cranachan cake,
which was a recipe of epic proportions. I bored myself so much writing
that post that I can’t bring myself to go back to read it again, which
is probably something I should keep to myself but I’m an honest kind of
gal. I sincerely hope that my boredom was born of over-familiarity with
the recipe and subject matter, having spent so long working on the cake,
and perhaps also of having a slight hangover and wanting to get a post
written and posted in double quick time before going on to ice *another*
cake. At any rate, here I am again with another ruddy cake…

The tiramisu cake consists of a coffee, rum and chocolate sponge and a mascarpone sponge,
sandwiched together with a mascarpone buttercream and dusted with icing
sugar and cocoa powder. The recipe links are embedded in there – I did
make small changes to
both, though, to suit my own particular needs; most notably, using rum
instead of bourbon in the first recipe. I also slightly reduced the
amount of booze and increased the amount of coffee in that cake – it’s a
great recipe, and easy to adjust to suit your own taste, or excellent
made just as it is. I halved the amounts to give one thin, ten-inch
cake, which then became the bottom layer of my tiramisu cake – that’s it
in the picture to the left. Note the work surface is still damp from a
hasty wipe with a sponge, and the white cardboard which is there as much
to hide the mess of icing sugar and crumbs behind it as it is to
reflect light.The sponge does have an odd wrinkly look going for it,
don’t let that put you off. In fact, try to forget that I mentioned it
at all – I don’t think I’ve ever described a cake as wrinkly before. I
don’t think I’ll be doing it again, either.

The only thing I changed in the mascarpone sponge (which is the top
layer in the photo at the head of this post) was to leave out the
Baileys; I’d love to go back and make it again as written though, that
sounds like a great recipe. Sadly, I didn’t get to try this cake either
so I can’t say if it turned out well, but it looked and smelled great,
which are encouraging signs.

The mascarpone buttercream was a simple thing to put together, not
least since I made it up as I went along. I’d halved the mascarpone cake
amounts, too, so I was left with 100g of mascarpone cheese left in the
pack I’d bought. I mixed this in with 150g of plain buttercream (I made a
batch with 250g butter and 400g icing sugar, then split it between this
icing and the cranachan cake icing) and spread it between the two
sponges. It was thinner than
normal buttercream, but the taste was already the right level of sweet,
and it had a creamy texture that was right for this cake. To avoid any
overflowing scenarios when the cake was sliced, I made sure not to
spread it quite to the edges and to press down very firmly when I placed
the top layer on. The amount of icing wasn’t really enough to send a
cascade flowing out over the edges and all over the kitchen like a weird Flake advert
anyway, but it was worth being careful. Look at that photo; I like it
even though it looks a bit like the cake’s on a cliff edge and in
jeopardy of sliding off and into oblivion. I do think that he icing
looks great; once the cake was sandwiched together, I ran a finger round
the edge to give that polished look. Shame that I was clearly leaning
over at a most unusual angle before I took this snap.

Year of the Cake Part Twenty Two: Hearts and Stars Cake

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Sunday, the day of rest. Or, if you’re me, the day of increasingly frantic tidying, a failed cake and melted scales – and this all before lunch (which, incidentally, you also have to prepare before your guest arrives). Now, once again I am exaggerating for comic effect – I wasn’t frantic, though the melting scales did threaten to tip me over the edge, and it was all more than worth it because I had a lovely, peaceful visit from my friend Mrs P and her adorable new baby. That said, we mostly let the baby do her own thing while we had a good old chat; she was fine, there weren’t any live wires or wild animals about. I stuck with my two recent favourites for lunch and did carbonara and chocolate fondant puddings. I got the recipe right this time by using much shallower ramekins, ramekins that had originally held two Gu chocolate banoffee desserts.Those were nice, though I understand that some of their other products are really to die for, plus you get free ramekins with them… The to-die-for-ness of gu products notwithstanding, the hot chocolate fondant puddings are really something else and honestly so easy to make. I made the batter for them in advance today and just let it stand, covered, on the worktop until I was ready to bake them. I gave the mix a quick whisk with a fork to get some air back in and then poured into the ramekins and baked – perfect result. There it is, a chocolatey island in a sea of double cream. I think the discovery and mastering of this recipe could be my downfall.

The point of this quick post, though, is just to show the wee sponge cake I made for Mrs P to take home with her, to share with Mr P (though she is at liberty not to share, of course). I wanted to do something that said ‘congratulations’ or other such on it, but time was against me. I just kept the whole thing really simple in the  end and made a vanilla sponge with a dusting of icing sugar and some pretty sprinkles on top.

I hope it’s enjoyed by all; here is the recipe for one five-inch cake:

  • 4oz golden caster sugar
  • 4oz margarine
  • 4oz plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 eggs

I used the all in one method, or the ‘I’ve run out of time’ method as it’s sometimes known, and just threw everything in to the bowl and mixed with a wooden spoon. Once it was combined, I spooned into a greased cake tin and baked at 180C for 20 minutes, then turned down to 160C for the final ten minutes. It rose a lot, so I had to slice off a bit then invert the cake to give a nice smooth top surface. Then I dusted with icing sugar and sprinkled with sugar hearts and white chocolate stars. Yay!

Oh, I melted the scales by trying to use the weighing tray bit to melt chocolate and butter in the microwave. I swear I’ve done this before with no ill effects, but today it was having none of it. I concluded my weighing business using an empty 250g margarine container, in case you were wondering. I do need new scales now, though, that’s not really a longterm solution.

To finish on a completely different note, this is what I served for breakfast today:

Best girlfriend ever? Well, yes, when I’m not asking the G man to just get OUT if he’s going, so I can get on with all the things I have to get on with… Well, it’s swings and roundabouts, innit?

Year of the Cake Part Twenty One: Emergency Cake

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I’ll admit it: I need cake. If I have to go too long without a cake fix, I get irritable, tearful, blow hot and cold, start licking pictures in magazines and generally don’t function well in day-to-day life. This week has been bordering on and, in fact, rampaging into the lands of the ridiculous. I’ve made ‘emergency cake’ three times, on an after dinner whim. The trouble is, the more that you do this kind of thing, the more it becomes normal. It’s also catching – the last emergency cake was made by the G man, last night. It was a most delicious banana loaf, which we couldn’t resist even long enough for it to cool, and devoured in softly crumbling, hot slices, slathered with guilty pleasure shop-bought chocolate spread.

Sorry, I went a bit Nigella then… The recipe is here and it seems to be foolproof. Not that the G man is a fool. I’ve added this bit after he stopped reading the start of the post over my shoulder, this’ll show me if he ever goes back and reads the rest… Heh heh heh… It’s really, really good banana loaf – moist, lightly spiced and if, like the G man, you add a sprinkling of muscovado sugar to the top you also get a lovely crunch to it. Good thinking, that man.

Next week will have to be better behaved if I’m to maintain anything like a healthy weight and healthy levels of cake addiction. There will be a ‘congratulations you’ve had a new baby’ cake on Monday, which I have some possibly too-great plans for, and after that I’ll just have to keep it together and go cold turkey on the cake front. It’s funny that, even though I’ve been baking to some degree since I was in the Brownies when I was about seven, there is only one occasion (before this week) that I can remember making something just because I wanted it. On that occasion it was chocolate truffles, and I just had an overwhelming urge for them. The way I have made chocolates so far is exceedingly easy and involves no more than microwaving chocolate, stirring in some booze then rolling into shape and chilling, so it seemed worth the effort. I”m interested in learning new and exciting chocolate skills, and I have plenty of recipes, but the simplicity of booze-infused chocolate spheres is a bit of a winner. Yes, spheres. Thanks, South Park.

The first emergency cakes were chocolate orange muffins, and came after I’d made a big batch of chocolate orange cupcakes with chocolate buttercream icing to celebrate a work birthday. The chocolate-orange balance was so perfect, and the recipe so straightforward, that I found myself deciding to make some more on Tuesday night, after a big feast of chili, nachos and cheddar-jalapeno cornbread. You may be wondering why I chose to alter the colour levels in the picture on the left, as it’s left the guacamole looking a bit grey. Unfortunately, that is the actual colour that the guacamole was. I forgot to put the avocado stone in with the finished result to keep the colour fresh, although I would offer in my defence that the avocado itself was possibly a little over-ripe. I bought it in a two-pack, and the other one was a lost cause altogether. Not sure if I can pass the buck for the colour of the guacamole on to the fruit itself – I’m doing my best though. Stupid avocados… It tasted fine, for the record, although not up to my usual standard since I made it with sour cream and not yogurt, and also made it in a bit of a hurry. Still, not a bad effort. I love nachos; it’s that mix of textures thing. The crunchy, sometimes slightly singed tortilla chips, the melty cheese, the crunchy jalapenos and tomatoes and then the soft, cold sour cream and guacamole on top of it all. Mmmmmmmm… Texture…

To get back to the cake, I would hughly recommend the chocolate orange cakes. That was a typo, but I’m leaving it in because it represents the fact that I wanted to say I’d highly recommend them andI’d give them a huge recommendation. Funny old thing, the brain/keyboard interface. I’d especially hughly recommend the chocolate buttercream, which is the best and possibly simplest chocolate buttercream recipe I’ve found, and one I intend to fashion into the centre of future chocolate truffles. It sets solid when chilled, but leave it at room temperature and it really melts in the mouth. That’s kind of an over-rated term of praise, given that a lot of things will melt in the mouth due to the laws of physics, but it’s an apt phrase nonetheless. I also fashioned a tiny birthday cake for the birthday girl herself, using the same recipe and just adding some white chocolate stars and writing icing for decoration.

I did have a comedy cake moment on Tuesday, when one made a bid for either freedom or just freedom of expression, by extending itself outwith the confines of the paper case and reaching for the edge of the muffin tray. It wasn’t pretty. It had to be destroyed (read: eaten) for its own good. Its career in the field of interpretive dance would never have taken off, it’s only have ended up being a dissatisfied waitress with pineapple earrings.

Rude.

The next emergency cake was a lot more attractive to look at – on Wednesday I made chocolate fondant puddings. I attempted them, at least – I couldn’t quite get them out of the ramekins so they ended up staying in the oven an extra couple of minutes, so that they wouldn’t just crack into a million pieces in the bowl. It’s a Ramsay recipe, and it’s here if you want to try it. Easy to make and really hit the ‘I need emergency cake’ spot. I used amaretto instead of Tia Maria, I think your favourite liqueur will work just fine, unless you count Jagermeister as a liqueur. If you do, let me be the one to tell you that you’re kidding yourself.

Even though the puddings weren’t fondant as they should have been, they were very soft on the inside – very *nearly* fondant, really. There was a suggestion of fondant-ness around the bottom. This has been one heck of a post for unintentionally rude sentences. As ever, they tasted all that much nicer for being eaten with my adorable heart-shaped spoons.

So, the three episodes of emergency baking are behind me. I intend to keep it that way – I can’t go about baking every time I fancy a cake. Well, in reality I *can* if I want to, but it’s really not good for me; I fancy a cake a lot of the time. Still, its been a fun week…

Year of the Cake Part Seventeen: Raspberry Scones and Peach Cobbler

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Fruit + cake = win. It’s official. Especially if you can incorporate in-season fruit. It’s easy to get almost whatever you like at any time of year, now – oh the food miles! – but it tastes better if it’s locally grown. I’m not saying that you should only eat local produce; although in an ideal world that’s what we’d do, I’d be a complete hypocrite to forward that point of view, given that I generally just eat whatever’s on the go. But I pay for it first – what’s the deal with people eating grapes on their way round the shops? That’s stealing! Grape theft is rife! It abounds! Gadzooks!

I should probably point out now that I know peach cobbler isn’t cake, and that calling scones ‘cake’ is debatable. I’m choosing not to be excessively fussy about my definition of cake. I’m an open minded kind of girl, and I’m especially inclusive when it comes to cake.  Extremely inclusive – so inclusive that I won’t rest until I’ve made and eaten all the kinds of cake, then I’ll start at the beginning again to make sure that nothing’s changed since I last ate it.

First, to the scones – here‘s the recipe. These are pretty healthy as cake goes – they substitute coconut oil for butter, agave nectar for sugar and use wholewheat spelt flour for added fibre (and taste). If I’ve done my sums right they come in at about 100 calories each, but they don’t taste low fat. They do taste ‘healthy’ in that you get the wholewheat texture and flavour from the flour, and of course the fresh raspberries add to the ‘this is good for me so I can have ten’ feel. The recipe is here – I would suggest reducing the amount of flour by half a cup, I found that this worked best for me. I also took up the suggestion of this blog – http://cupcakeblog.com – and used an ice-cream scoop to dole out even portions of the scone mixture. I was baking for 25 people, and with the yield being 8 per batch I could have bene there for quite some time, and spent a lot of money on agave nectar. Actually this baking project was sponsored by a Cake Fund at work – I suggested to everyone in the department that, if they liked, they could donate 25p each and then we could all have one of these beauties. I’ve never asked anyone to pay for my cakes before, except for charity, and it felt extremely weird, but everyone was into it and very generous. It’s amazing what people will do for home baking, I’m finding. I wouldn’t have asked if I wasn’t so skint – there’s a family wedding on the horizon, next Wednesday in fact, and so money has gone on those essentials like a haircut, a number of items of costume jewellery and a top hat fascinator. I never thought I’d be the kind of girl to wear a fascinator, as the picture in the pirate beanie probably suggests, but I’ve wanted a top hat since I was fifteen, and it’s extremely cute, in a rocking kind of way. To drag myself back to the point of the blog, though, we essentially had a department whip-round and came up with far more cash than I needed to buy the ingredients for the raspberry scones. I used some of the extra to buy rice flour for future gluten-free projects, and also some ‘special bun flour’ from the Chinese supermarket, which I’m pretty excited about trying. There is further excess cash left though, so I’ll be casting around for recipes with unusual ingredients so I can spend it all.

And now to get fully back to the point… Unlike your traditional scone, the dough for these is very soft, more like a thick cake mix than a scone dough, so the scoop was a great help in portioning it out. I got 10 mini scones from the recipe, using less flour; I played around with it a bit before I got this result, making three separate batches. By the end of the third batch I was pleased with the result, though the scones were all a big hit with my willing testers. I was evidently premature in sealing them in their airtight transport container though, as they were a lot softer the next day than they had been the night before – I can only attribute this to them still being warm when I sealed them in, and the heat creating scone-softening moisture. As I mentioned, though, they went down a treat, and they were a nice variation on a traditional fruit scone, with the raspberries being a lot fresher and tangier than the usual raisins.

Just one last thing I wanted to mention was the coconut oil, which was solid at room temperature here in Scotland. If you live in a warmer climate I understand that it’s liquid, or somewhere in between, but I had to melt it down so I could add it to the scone mix. I was a bit worried about that, but having looked it up online I’m pretty sure this is normal – I can’t really have bought and used the wrong thing, anyway, since it says ’100% pure coconut oil’ on the jar.

Now to the peach cobbler. I find it hard to get really good peaches, it’s all down to their legendary propensity to bruising. Once a fruit is bruised it’s only a matter of time before it’s mouldy, and for some reason peaches seem to have a particularly speedy bashed-to-mould time about them. The other thing is that they can be devilishly tricky to stone – I almost did myself a damage trying to get the blighters out of these beauties, though it was pretty much worth it. It wouldn’t have been worth it if I hadn’t reacted quickly enough and had, in fact, lost the tip of my finger. There may be foods that I would sacrifice part of my hand for, but I’m not sure what. Based on this blog you’d be forgiven for suggesting ramen would be one. You might be right. Anyway, buy the best peaches you can find, this recipe really brings out the best in them. It’s a straightforward combination of peaches, sugar and an almost scone-y topping – the full title of the recipe is Cornmeal Drop-Biscuit Peach Cobbler (link embedded there). Bear in mind that this is an American recipe, and from what I can make out a drop biscuit is kind of like a scone, but American. Anyway this is like a beefed-up crumble – not made with beef, just to be clear, but crumble taken to the next level. Crumble to the max. Uber-crumble. You get the idea. It’s more substantial and cakey than a crisp crumble topping, but isn’t stodgy or too heavy – in fact I think we all could have eaten a second helping, had there been any left. The cornmeal (polenta) in the topping gave a crunchy, rough texture which we all enjoyed, though I can understand why you might not, so just be ready for it. The last thing you want is surprise texture. Oooh the horror.

The sugar, lemon juice and cinnamon thickens slightly to a syrupy sauce, which makes this pudding self-saucing, though we did have it with cream anyway. I mean to say, peaches and cream, it’s like… well… cheese and wineRhubarb and custard? ? It’s a cliche, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. This would be delicious served on its own, but it was possibly even slightly more delicious with cream poured over the top. It’s that hot/cold in the same mouthful thing, it’s so good. Like hot chocolate fudge cake with vanilla ice cream – the brain doesn’t really know what’s going on, but it likes it.

The spellchecker just ignored the word ‘mothful’. Now, I understand what the word means, full of moths, or heavily populated by moths, but why on earth would the spellchecker accept it, when it won’t accept cakey, skint or fascinator? I shall be have to take this up with the appropriate authorities. This reminds me of the day I invented the word treeful. It’s a good word, and I stand by it.

Finish on a high note rather than a sort of incomprehensible mini-rant about made up words: here is a final, close up picture of the peach cobbler.

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