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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.

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…

The Daring Bakers Challenge September 2011: Croissants

The Daring Bakers go retro this month! Thanks to one of our very talented non-blogging members, Sarah, the Daring Bakers were challenged to make Croissants using a recipe from the Queen of French Cooking, none other than Julia Child!

Well! Croissants! I have to say that, while I enjoyed the challenge (during the parts when I wasn’t stressed out of my mind, of course), and I’m really glad to have made them successfully, I will almost certainly never make croissants again. At least, not until I’m independently wealthy and live in a lovely cottage with a farmhouse kitchen and have nothing to do all day every day except bake and do crosswords. Until then, I just don’t have enough time to devote to making something so time consuming.

The recipe we had to follow was beautifully, reassuringly clear and basically held my hand all the way along to make sure I got it right. It was, though, a long haul for me. There were two points where you could let the dough rest in the fridge overnight, and I used the first but not the second. I think this was a bit of a mistake – using both would have made the process seem less lengthy, perhaps. I’ve massively simplified the process here, to give you an idea of how it goes:

  • form dough
  • let rise for three hours
  • roll out and fold dough
  • let rise for an hour and a half, or overnight in the fridge
  • roll out, add butter and fold dough
  • let sit for two hours
  • roll and fold again
  • let sit for two hours (or overnight in the fridge)
  • roll and shape into croissants (a deceptively simple instruction…)
  • let rise for an hour
  • bake

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That’s a lot of rolling, folding and rising or resting, I think you’ll agree. I didn’t have any real trouble with the recipe, though, until it came to shaping the croissants. I’d used a very strong flour, which meant that the dough was very elastic (because of all the gluten). This also meant that getting it to stretch into a triangle shape and *stay* in a triangle shape was extremely tricky and stress inducing. I did finally manage to get them rolled up but, as you can see in the slideshow above, the results were varied. Some looked really good and others were somewhat lumpen and unlovely. I later saw from some other Daring Bakers’ photos that they had rolled the dough into a long rectangle and then cut it into triangles, kind of like a pennant, so that the triangle shapes were really perfect and easier to roll. Great idea, guys!

The other change I made to the recipe as stated was to flatten out the butter into a block, using the wrapper as a template. This meant that I could just turn it over and, in theory, peel off the wrapper again, rather than flattening it out on the work surface and then scraping the butter off again. It worked pretty well on the whole, and I was pleased with myself. I know in the States butter isn’t sold in the same packaging as it is here in the UK, so it’s not a practcal tip for everyone, but maybe greaseproof paper would work?

The total bake time for the croissants was 12 – 15 minutes. I decided to bake them for 6, then rotate the sheets and swap them around, top to bottom, so that they’d bake evenly. When I went into the kitchen after six minutes, instead of the lovely buttery smell I’d been led to expect, I could smell what can only be described as burning. Hm. I opened the oven. The bottom tray of croissants, which had been lined with greaseproof paper, was kindling its way to bursting into flames. In order to avoid this, I tried to remove the top shelf in order to swap them over. In my haste, I tipped the top sheet up, simultaneously dipping the greaseproof paper and, in fact, dropping a whole croissant into the flame at the back of the oven. Nice. Then there were flames, real flames, and smoke, and those tiny bits of black ash that get up in your face like fruit flies and exacerbate the whole affair. And me shouting a bad word. And the G man coming through quite casually to ask if I’d shouted on him, and on seeing my predicament fetching me a rack to put one tray down on and fishing out the croissant from the back of the over with a set of tongs while I did it. So a few of the croissants were write-offs, right there. This did not improve my stress levels, I can tell you.


Once we’d overcome this setback, I left the croissants in for a further six minutes, and when I took them out they had a lovely pale golden colour. Unfortunately they weren’t really baked through and were very doughy and chewy in the centre. Here are a couple of pic to illustrate the results:

I then put the croissants *back* into the oven at a slightly lower temperature for an extra ten minutes. This resulted in some much darker croissants with extremely flaky and dry exteriors but nicely sot and bready insides, as follows:


In summary, I don’t think I turned out completely perfect croissants but they did look reasonable and they tasted pretty reasonable, too. Croissants have never been my favourite thing, I remembered shortly after embarking on day two of the epic baking process, so I would have been surprised if I’d been really blown away by them. They were enjoyable, and made a nice (if small) sandwich with some fancy cheese and ham. I wouldn’t rush to make them again, like I said, but I’m glad to have made them. The fire wasn’t *so* bad, in hindsight… Here’s to the next DB challenge!

UPDATE: Here is a link to a PDF file that will give you all the ingredients, instructions and some excellent step by step photos, should you want to get a bit daring yourelf!

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.

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