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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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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.

A Cake Made of Cheese and a Cake Made of Salt

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(This post is out of synch with the rest of the Year of the Cake posts – it was number eight)

Slight exaggeration in the title there, sorry about that. Today’s YotC post covers three lots of cakes, two recipes from around the internet and one heap of freestyling on my part. No partridges, nor pear trees. Although, could you smoke partridge breast over pear wood? Would that be delicious? Maybe I will find out when I am grown up and live in the beautiful country house that is somehow still near enough the city to nip out for a bag of light brown sugar at 10pm that my imagination dreams up for me. The kitchen is huge, with an oven big enough to put two pizzas side by side (that’s the standard oven measuring unit, you know) and maybe an aga, too. Yes, both. Six hobs on the oven. And a freestanding island in the middle with a double sink for prep. There will also be a  smoker for doing my partridge and various other meats, fish and seasonings in – this might be out in the spacious garden, which will have a giant lawn for lounging on in the summer (the house seems to be in a country that gets more than a week of summer) and a paved area for holding barbeques and elegant cocktail parties.

I could go on, but I will not, lest I bring us all to tears with the beauty of the vision.

The cake made of cheese is actually torta con ricotta, and the recipe is here. This was the cake for my lady wife’s birthday celebrations last week. She is half Italian and pointed me in the direction of this site a few weeks ago, saying that it had loads of authentic recipes, and even some regional ones that her dad makes and remembers from when he was young and living in the old country. I don’t think her dad calls it ‘the old country’ but that just seemed like the best way to finish that sentence. I duly had a look, and got very excited about the double prospect of making some authentic Italian dishes and improving my Italian while I was about it. I did have to use an online translator for some words and phrases, but resisted the option of translating the whole page – that felt like cheating, and was less fun. I feel quite proud of myself for muddling through it, and the cake turned out well. We ate massive slices of it while it was still warm from the oven – it has a texture somewhere between cake and scone. I covered it in a lot of icing sugar, which led to much hilarity when someone made me laugh just as I was taking a bite – it was like there had been a sudden and extremely localised snowstorm over my lap. It was a pretty messy business, but I certainly thought it was worth it. I don’t know how well the cake keeps, but it was lovely and soft when it was fresh, and also quite a straightforward recipe. I had the raisins soaking in rum for about 36 hours, they plumped up a treat. So would I after 36 hours in rum, I dare say.

I like the idea of using cheese instead of butter, although it had never occurred to me to make a sweet sponge cake this way. I’ll be experimenting with this one to see if I can make it wheat free – as the texture of the cake is heavier than a normal sponge with wheat flour, I’m thinking it might come out just normal with wheat-free, instead of too light and crumbly. Worth a shot, anyway. I’ll also be experimenting with ricotta in place of butter in other recipes – you could probably make nice ricotta scones, either sweet or savoury. I like a nice cheese scone, and the logical next step is to make them double cheese scones, or triple cheese scones… I like recipes that have the word triple in them. I make a good line in triple chocolate brownies – they were somewhat of a signature dish at one time, but I haven’t made them in a long while. They have dark chocolate in the brownie mix, then milk and white chocolate chunks (not chips, chunks) and finally a coating of melted milk chocolate on top, in lieu of any icing. The melted chocolate top was a great discovery for me; as I believe I’ve mentioned before, icing has never really been my strong point. To cover the brownies, all you do is set squares of chocolate on top of the unsliced cake  just after it comes out of the oven, leave for a minute or so and then slide them around as they melt, to coat the whole surface. Easy, although it can be a bit hot on the fingertips.

This is a really rustic looking cake, which suits me down to the ground as I develop my presentation skills. This one is *supposed* to look lumpy and cracked on top, it’s fine. Of course, covering it in icing sugar helps to disguise some of this. The recipe calls for vanilla sugar, which I saw in a posh supermarket the other day and didn’t buy, and am now regretting not buying. As I seem not to be bankrupt this month, despite pay-day being only three days away, I think I’ll go on an internet baking-supplies-buying spree, and see what I can find to add to my cupboard of doom. The other cakes I want to share today are fancier, and I’m pleased with them even though they are not perfect – the photos are of the most perfect ones, predictably enough. The recipe for the two of them is the same to begin with, but one is sprinkled with salt flakes and iced, while the other simply has little chocolate stars placed (regrettably unevenly) on top while warm, to melt on. I’m trying to get a bit more creative with my photos, although whether or not I’ll ever have a talent for it remains to be seen.

Here are the bigger cupcakes, after baking but before icing. They are a dark chocolate cupcake, and are supposed to be sprinkled with fleur de sel. I didn’t have fleur de sel – one of the items for my shopping spree – and also didn’t have light brown sugar, but I wanted to bake something so I thought I’d give these a trial run and use sea salt flakes and ground demerara to replace the missing ingredients. Always good to experiment, I say. The sugar looked pretty weird when I’d ground it up, but seemed to work out ok – I think the proper thing would give a stickier and maybe sweeter result, and I could probably even just have used it unground, as I’m pretty sure it would have melted in while baking anyway. I also really liked the salt flakes on top of the dark chocolate cake, and from what research I’ve done on fleur de sel think that the real thing will be even better, with sweet undertones to the initial salty flavour. I made the cupcakes last night, thinking that I’d see some of the girls tonight, but as it happens we decided against it, so now I have ten cupcakes in my kitchen, plus a tin of other little cakes that I plan to take to work. It’s looking like another fattening weekend.

Here they are in their finished glory, with a white chocolate buttercream icing and pretty sprinkles. They are the nicest looking cakes I’ve ever made, I think, and they taste pretty good with it. For the buttercream, I set out with good intentions of measuring my ingredients but, alas, got caught up in various dramas of the kitchen and the good intentions were left by the wayside. At a guess I’d say I used 70g of butter and 200g of icing sugar, along with two squares of white chocolate. One of the kitchen dramas was that the white chocolate burned in the microwave as I was melting it – I’ve managed to burn white chocolate in the microwave a couple of times now. How can you burn something in a microwave? I really don’t know. I think white chocolate is a bit temperamental, especially less expensive stuff which is what I tend to use, if truth be told. What was salvageable of it was about two squares, which gave a very subtle flavour to the icing. I found that the mix was too sweet as I was making it, so I used some salt flakes in here, too, crushing a pinch of them in my fingers before blending it in with the butter, sugar and chocolate – I think it really brought out the chocolate flavour while deadening the sugary hit. The icing is still extremely sweet but didn’t make my brain fizzy, or make me feel like I’d come over all diabetic if I even looked at another one in the next 24 hours. Once I’d whisked the ingredients together until the flavour was right, I ladled the mix (literally, I used a ladle) into my new and exciting icing bag. I bought a new one for myself, and my thoughtful sister also bought me one so now I have a couple with different shapes and sizes of nozzles to try out. I used the one I’d bought myself tonight, and it feels like it’s designed for bigger projects than ten cupcakes. It’s a big icing bag, and the nozzle attachment eats up a lot of the icing, so that there is enough to ice at least one cupcake sort of stuck in there at the end. I also had an issue with there being a lump of unmelted chocolate in there that blocked the nozzle half way through, and left me with mangled icing which I scooped off and tried again; this inevitably left more mess than I would have liked on the cases and on the cakes themselves. However, all in all, it was pretty successful. I sprinkled the sugar shapes on top after I’d iced them all and I like the way that they nestled themselves into the folds of icing, and some even slid all the way down the icing like it was a giant chute for sprinkles. This was fun to watch, although it added nothing to the appearance of the cakes. It did leave my kitchen with a lot of sprinkles on it, which was fine as it was already half covered in buttercream anyway.

The second lot of cakes that I made using the same base recipe have a huge cuteness potential, if I had just baked them a little differently. All will be revealed. After making one batch of cupcakes last night, I had some of the mix left over. I didn’t want to waste it, but I also didn’t want to bake any more so I popped it in the fridge to keep fresh. I had no qualms about this even though it contains raw eggs, as I was reading up on macarons yesterday and read that for perfect ones you should use egg whites that have been out at room temperature for up to 48 hours, and they seem not to be poisonous. The cake mix had been really liquid yesterday, but after chilling it was much firmer. If I had left the mix out longer to come up to room temperature, or maybe heated it up in the microwave briefly, it would have been more liquid again and would have settled flatter in the cases. Also, I used a g grill pan to bake the mini cakes, so that they weren’t sitting evenly. I don’t have a flat baking tray, will add that to my lit of things to spend my money on, and subsequently have to find room for in my kitchen. Anyway, they came out a bit uneven, but here are the best looking ones:

These only took ten minutes to bake because they are so small, and as I said earlier I put the stars on them as soon as they came out, to melt on. If you’re going to do this, my advice is simple: don’t touch them once they’re on. If they don’t land in the right place, just get over it. Move on with your life. Eat the imperfect cake if you can’t bring yourself to serve it to someone else. If you try to move or, even worse, lift the star back off again you will cover yourself and the surface of the cake with melted white chocolate that *used* to be a star shape. Once they’re on the hot surface of the cake, these little guys are just barely hanging on to their surface shape. Put them on and leave them alone to cool. I put mine into a tin and am leaving them overnight, but even moving them to a tin wasn’t without its mishaps. I caught a couple of the stars with a fingertip and had to leave a couple of cakes with three stars instead of four. That’s almost as bad as food touching on the plate, having unevenly decorated cakes.

I am really pleased with the new idea of using salt flakes in baking. I like the idea of flavoured salt, too. My friend Miss P, who is an excellent baker, recently made white chocolate and lavender salt cookies which were outrageously good. I’m wondering about fashioning my own flavoured salt in a similar way to making my own flavoured oils and vinegars, which I’ve done with good results. It’s another one to mull over at the back of my head for now. These cakes were a couple of experiments in mixing a little bit of savoury in with sweet recipes, and I count them both as success stories. But nothing will change my mind on putting raisins in savoury food. That is plain wrong. If the devil is real, and he eats sandwiches, they’re coronation chicken.

UFO Cake – Complete With Aliens!

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Again, a post that contains many pictures and few words. The cake is made with (among other things) ground pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil, which is a new discovery for me and quite exciting. I tried to get a photo of the intense colour of the oil, and of the cake mix, but I just couldn’t get the lighting right. Take it from me, it’s a unique oil, with a dark brown-green colour and a strong, earthy taste, along the lines of tahini which I guess makes sense, in a way. I didn’t get to try this cake, but the tiny but I did get while levelling off the middle level was lovely and sweet, with complex flavours and a cool green colour.

The icing is a dairy free white chocolate glaze, finished with edible silver lustre spray. I made sure that the icing didn’t coat my entire house by putting the cake inside a large carrier bag, placed on its side on the worktop, before using short, controlled bursts to coat the surface evenly. Clever, eh?

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Hello Kitty Cakes

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It was Miss P’s birthday recently, and on Thursday we finally had our girls night celebrations, which meant it was time to bake! Miss P loves Hello Kitty, but has enough Hello Kitty items without me buying her any more, so the extremely clever Miss J suggested a Hello Kitty cake. An excellent plan, and one I plotted over for a long time until I had it settled in my brain – I would do a round of cupcakes and a central, small cake for Miss Pig to keep all to herself. In my initial imaginings, the central cake had a 3D model of Hello Kitty, perhaps holding a flower or a present. Alas, my modelling skills are in their infancy and this turned out to be beyond me – Kitty looked like a) she needed to go on a diet and/or b) her head had been crushed almost flat in a dreadful accident. Unsurprisingly, I decided to go with a larger version of the cupcake toppers rather than struggle on any further and produce more misshapen cats in dresses.

The first thing to do, of course, was choose the flavour of cake. I had initially thought chocolate and cherry but on checking with the birthday girl, this turned out not to be in her top favourite cakes, so I was back to the drawing board. Then I stumbled across this post from Cake in the Country for devils food cake. A devils food cake cupcake, I thought, with white chocolate buttercream. White chocolate buttercream is very sweet, but then again the devils food cake is rich and moist, so I thought it would work out alright and not send anybody into a hypoglycemic coma. I also wanted a white or, at a push, pink icing to go with the Hello Kitty theme, rather than the delicious looking cocoa nib icing that Sarah (@cakeinthecountry) uses in her post. I was ready to begin.

I was really surprised to find that I had never posted a proper recipe for white chocolate buttercream, so here it is, finally put into proper measurements and such. This makes enough to do 10 cupcakes:

  • 150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 300g icing sugar
  • 85g white chocolate, melted

Use a hand mixer to soften the butter, then add the sugar in three batches. Once it’s come together, add the melted chocolate and mix again until smooth and combined, and then for a further few minutes to make the icing more manageable. Check the icing for texture and taste; you can add more sugar if it’s not thick enough, a little (really a little though, like 1/4 tsp at a time) of milk if it’s too thick or a pinch of salt if it’s too sweet. If it’s not sweet enough that’s probably a sign that you’ve lost at least half of your sense of taste and you should see a tongue doctor.

The first thing to do, then, was bake the cake and cupcakes, which you can see above and which passed without a hitch; the cake was made in a six inch tin and the cupcakes in the extremely cute red polka-dot cases that Mr and Mrs C bought me. The cases came out of the box looking decidedly square but as soon as I had them in a muffin tray and spooned the cake batter in, they rounded out nicely. I certainly did not waste any by trying to cram them into silicone cupcake cases to make them rounder and only manage to make them crusheder, definitely not… I then made the icing and finished off the cupcakes, as you can see in the second picture above. I used a wide nozzle to give that big swirl of icing, when you use the right size of piping bag and nozzle it really is very quick to ice cupcakes like this, and the more practise you have the easier it is, too. The shallow nature of the cases meant that the icing to cake ratio was really rather high; this did not elicit any complaints from anyone, except me and I was immediately shushed. Here is a cross section of one (cross section sounds so much better than ‘one I bit into’, don’t you think?).

The cupcakes rose in the oven into funny little pointed domes, and when they came out of the oven these sank down into even funnier shapes that I’m at a loss to describe. They each had a very narrow dome in the centre, and were flat all round the edges; this photo shows it off well. I have a few ideas about why this might have happened, to do with oven temperature and length of time in the oven, but really it didn’t matter once they were iced anyway. You can see what I mean about the icing to cake ratio, though.

With the cupcakes iced and almost ready, I made another batch of icing (half as much as the recipe above) to use on the big cake. I used about half of it to apply a ‘sealing’ coat to catch all the crumbs, and put the cake in the fridge while I got on with making the decoration. You got a wee peek there at the extremely successful cupcake toppers in the shape of Hello Kitty’s face – now follows a series of step by step photos of the creation process. I made the toppers from shop-bought ready to roll white icing (some dyed red for the bows), a spot of yellow writing icing for the nose and the black icing pen I bought myself not so long ago for just this kind of thing. Here are the snaps with a bit of extra detail where I thought it was needed.

First, I rolled out the icing on a board rubbed with coconut oil, to stop sticking. I also had a sprinkler of icing sugar to hand to further help avoid sticking and to sprinkle over the top of the finished face shapes to give a better surface for putting in the details. I had a reference picture on the screen of my laptop and I used my scribing tool to draw a kitty shape on the icing, then cut it out with the knife side of the tool. It did need some fine detail work, using the flat edge of the knife to smooth the surface and edges, the scribing tool to add little tucks around the ears and my hands to flatten the shape where it needed to be wider and pinch it where it needed to be fatter. It took a while to get the shape right. Once I had one finished, I used it as a rough template to cut out nine other shapes, knowing that the original would probably be too squashed and maimed from repeated lifting and laying to actually use. I smoothed off the edges of the nine new faces and rubbed in a fine coat of icing sugar. It’s worth mentioning here that the faces dried out as I was working with them, which meant that they were difficult to fine tune, as they were more likely to crack than to mould into the shape I wanted. I really should have had them wrapped in a damp tea towel while I worked on them, but I solved the problem by rubbing a little coconut oil into them with my fingers until they were soft again.

I thought a good place to start would be with the noses, then I’d have a central point to work around. Hello Kitty’s nose is very low on her face. I never expected to be so au fait with the dimensions of Hello Kitty’s face but there we are. It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry.

I put in the eyes and whiskers next, using the thick end of my black icing pen. It was tricky, and the surface of the fondant wasn’t smooth enough to stop the pen catching a little, and sinking in at some points. You can see that some of the whiskers are a bit raggedy because of this. I’m not sure what I would have done about this – maybe rubbing more icing sugar over the top would have helped, or maybe keeping them under that hypothetical damp towel I was talking about earlier would have been a better plan.

It’s amazing how much the little bows change the whole look of these, turning them from your bog-standard surprised cats into recognisable Hello Kitties. I wish I’d taken a couple of progress photos of the bows, but really they came together very quickly. I dyed a lump of icing red by rubbing some colour into the icing with a toothpick, then kneading it through until all the marbling had disappeared and the icing was a block red. Then I made a little ball of icing, which  first made into a small sausage shape then flattened with my thumb. I used the scribing tool to push in on the middle of either side, making a sort of 8 shape. Then I used the side of the knife to flatten the top and bottom, and went back to the scribing tool to make little hollows on either side of what would be the centre of the bow. Again, there was some trial and error, but once I was happy with the shape I lifted them from the board, placed them on the toppers and pressed down gently to secure, then added a final, small ball of icing for the middle. Once they were positioned I could make the final touches of pushing in the middle of each side to give a bow shape, and redefining the hollows in the bow.

Once I’d made all these, the main cake topper was a breeze – just repeat all the above steps, but bigger and less fiddly. I had got the hang of it by this time. That’s not to say that I didn’t have a break in between where I tried and failed to make the 3D Kitty, of course.

With these complete, I took the big cake back out of the fridge, and used the remaining buttercream to give it a final coat of icing, using my turntable and an icing scraper to get it fairly even and flat. Then I went ahead and gave both the cake and cupcakes a dusting of white hologram disco dust glitter, and applied the toppers to them. There was absolutely zero drama here; nothing broke, I didn’t drop any of them face down on the floor, the little noses didn’t turn out to be still wet and run right off the faces. They went straight on the top of the cakes and even let me press them down gently to make sure they stuck. Perfect.

I added a row of heart sprinkles round the edge of the main cake, as a finishing touch. I did not make these. Why, even after all the other work, does that feel a tiny bit like cheating?

That is the tale of the Hello Kitty cakes; it hasn’t taken me as long to write it as it did to make them, but somehow it feels like longer; as always, the time flew by while I was making and decorating. I hope you like, or will at least forgive, all the photos – this was a new experience for me, and I wanted to document it extensively, which I think you’ll agree I’ve succeeded in. I was so pleased with the end result – those little Kitties were almost too cute to eat…

Green Tea Cake with Dark Chocolate Icing

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This is another one that drew unsure noises from people – they started out going ‘ooooh!’ because they expected me to say something normal and delicious sounding, and it ended up more of an ‘oh?’. It’s comedy gold; I could just make normal sounding cakes all the time, but there’s a lot of fun to be had in making people double take. I think sometimes the enjoyment of a cake is increased by a little initial doubt, too. Of course, sometimes I like to play the guessing game, which I did with the recipient of this cake (sorry Miss S). I get bored of it quite quickly though if people don’t guess, and feel mean for not just telling them, so it doesn’t usually last long. I also say things like ‘oh, good guess!’ to make myself and the other person feel better. If it was a good guess it’d be right, surely?

I’ve seen lots of recipes for sweet things that use green tea, and mostly they use green tea powder – usually sold as matcha, though I think this only applies to a certain type of ground green tea leaf, much like champagne only applies to wines made in that region. What I do know for sure is that it’s expensive, and that by the time I’d decided what flavour of cake to make I didn’t have time to source any, so I went with green tea bags, which are much easier to pick up. I got the idea of emptying out tea bags into cake from making this recipe for mini chai loaves, and I’ve used it since to make a caramel tea cake, which lacked any kind of documentation so I can’t share it with you. I understand that it was lovely, though, if you’d care to take my friend’s word for it? It seems an odd thing to do, at first I imagined that the tea leaves would be dry and would get all up in your teeth and things, like dried herbs would if you tried to eat them straight out of the jar (blargh) but the opposite is true; they have no texture but still give the cake a textured appearance, as you can see from the photo, and the flavour from them permeates the sponge completely.

Let us take a moment to digest the fact that I just used the word permeate. I thank you.

So, to the green tea cake. Here is the recipe for one eight-inch cake:

  • 10oz golden caster sugar (because that’s what was in the cupboard)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup olive oil plus 3tbsp
  • 8oz wheat-free flour
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 4 green tea bags, emptied out of their paper prison
  • 1/4 cup oat milk

For the icing:

  • 170g dairy free dark chocolate
  • 80ml soy cream

I know that taking pictures of all your ingredients before you start out is pretty retro, and probably the blogging world’s equivalent of brown corduroy flares, but there’s something I like about it. I think it’s the progression from ‘bags of stuff’ to ‘lovely cake’ that I like. It also gets me started on taking photos, which means I’m more likely to take them as I go along, which definitely helps to make this blog a lot more interesting.

The green tea cake had to be both wheat and dairy free to accommodate the birthday girl’s dietary requirements, but I like to think that the missing wheat and dairy weren’t noticeable. The chocolate in particular was a nice surprise – it conforms to loads of different dietary restrictions but it tasted just like normal dark chocolate. This is probably because it was just normal dark chocolate but packaged and priced as special chocolate; I thought it was worth trying anyway, so that I know there’s a brand of chocolate that’s definitely safe for the many friends I have with wide-ranging and varied dietary challenges. The soy cream, too, was great and made a ganache just as well as normal single cream. Highly successful experiments all round!

The first thing I did was the beat the eggs with my trusty hand mixer, then gradually add the sugar and beat for what felt like approximately the duration of an ice age until it was thick and creamy – thick enough to leave trails behind the beaters. Then I mixed together the flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and tea, and added a quarter of this mix to the  eggs and sugar. I folded it in, then folded in a third of the oil. I continued to alternate quarters and thirds until there was none of anything left, and then I added the oat milk because it looked for too stodgy to produce a good sponge. Oat milk is another recent experiment I’ve made; I’ve been using dairy free alternatives in my own kitchen for a while, initially because I thought it would help my sinuses (it didn’t) and then out of habit, and because it keeps for longer than normal milk. Oat milk is very thin and very sweet, so it’s not suitable for everything (I wouldn’t dream of trying to make macaroni cheese with it, for example) but it works well for baking, cereal and hot drinks, unlike soy milk which curdles at the very mention of coffee, in my experience.

I scraped the cake mix into a greased (with olive oil) and floured (with wheat-free flour) tin, then baked at 170C for about an hour. The result was a dense but moist cake with a lovely crisp, sweet crust. This suggests to me that there is a little too much sugar in the recipe, but at the same time the bitterness of the green tea needs some sweetness to lift it, so I wouldn’t go changing it. Besides, I liked the crust, and got to eat a fair portion of it as I sliced off the slight dome that formed on the cake so that it would sandwich together better. Also, altogether now, I HAD TO TEST IT. Once out of the oven, I let the cake cool in the tin overnight, protected by a food umbrella to keep out marauding dust, mosquitoes and tigers.

I returned to the cake the next evening, when I made the chocolate icing. I made a ganache, which is so simple to do and produces such amazing results. What’s not to love about a mix of chocolate and cream? It also sets to a fairly robust finish – it’s soft, but not melty the way just chocolate would be if you left it at room temperature. I sliced the cake, then sliced it again since I got it wrong the first time, and this double slice left me, somehow, with the very thinnest slice of cake that you can imagine. You could almost read through it, though why you’d want to do that is anyone’s guess. This is why you shouldn’t hurry cake slicing, and why you also shouldn’t tilt the cake slicing wire, cos you end up with uneven slices and a case of the Rage. I hurriedly applied a thin layer of ganache to the top surface of what was now the bottom slice, then laid the World’s Thinnest Slice on top, patting it in to shape again where it had torn. I applied more ganache here and finished it off with the top layer, which I turned upside down to give an evenly flat edge (I hadn’t managed to mess that up, at least). I was sad about this slicing fail, thinking that all three layers would look completely different thicknesses, but to my delight, the cake looked like this when sliced:

How cool? You can see at the very edge where the slices are wonky, especially the bottom one, but your eye is totally drawn by the tram lines of chocolate in the middle. Yay!

I finished the cake off with some bronze glitter, which looked excellent with the dark chocolate, and some white glitter writing icing. As you can see from picture one, it was for Sally. And you can see from picture two, it’s unwise to use the writing icing in advance, because your cake ends up being for Mr Blobby instead.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was a little concerned that the overall effect of the green tea and dark chocolate might be too bitter. Certainly it’s not a very sweet cake, but it seemed like everyone enjoyed it and nobody made a face like they were eating a lemon, unless they did it behind their napkin. A lemon icing was my plan B for this cake, if either the chocolate or cream were no good, and I think it would have worked well, as would a vanilla icing. I was going through all the different kinds of green tea I’ve tried in my head – lemon and vanilla are two, as are pear, lotus flower, grapefruit and mint. Mint chocolate might have been nice, in fact, I’ve only just thought of that. Maybe for the best, you don’t want to  overwhelm the green tea, as it’s not a very strong flavour in this recipe. Chocolate all the way, that’s what I say. Who’s with me??

The Strawcumber Saga Part Two

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The concluding part of this tragicomic tale is here at last. Sadly, I haven’t invented a time machine that enabled me to go back and take more photos of the cake in its various stages of construction, and nor has there been occasion to make it again in order to get those same photos but without all the impossible space-time business. We will have to rely on words alone, and my vague concept of what the recipe might have been for the constituent parts…

We left the tale as I was gloomily munching on cake offcuts and staring at a cake that looked as though it had been crushed by an ACME ton weight and then sliced in half. I decided to just go ahead and slice the cake horizontally and fill it with jam and buttercream, even though it was so thin. I should have just done this in the first place, as it now had the added difficulty of being in two halves already. I used my trusty cake wire to make the cut, which was happily successful and drama-free, then applied the cucumber jam to the cut surface of the cake. This much-doubted jam was made as follows:

  • Grate one 9oz cucumber into a small pot and heat until bubbling
  • Reduce for ten minutes or so, or until the flesh has broken down into liquid
  • Add the sugar and boil until softly set, about 20 minutes? This is a guess. You’ll know it’s ready because it will be sticky and syrupy looking and will drip from the spoon rather than pour. I’m not a jam expert in anyone’s book, but this how I judged it and it worked out alright.
  • Set aside to cool, then decant into a jar and store in the fridge.

The jam is a little like lime marmalade in appearance, with the cucumber rind remaining intact in the face of being boiled. It gives a pleasant crunch to the jam which contrasted well with the soft sponge and creamy frosting. The flavour is sweet and delicate, with only a hint of cucumber, really. There was enough to fill a ten inch cake.

I topped the layer of jam with a layer of strawberry buttercream. I made the buttercream as follows:

  • Puree some strawberries in a blender – three or four is enough
  • Take 100g of butter at room temperature and mix in the strawberry puree with a hand mixer, until the two are softened and combined
  • Add icing sugar gradually; you’ll need about 250 – 300g? Again, a bit of guesswork here, I got fed up measuring as I had to add more and more icing sugar to make up for the liquid in the strawberries. I also ended up with far too much buttercream, if there is such a thing…

Once the sponge was filled, I replaced the top halves and squished down a little. The good thing about buttercream is that it will hide a lot of mistakes. Unfortunately, one of the mistakes it won’t hide is the fact that you’ve lopped off two slices from the edges of a round cake… I did my best though, and then finished it off with some strawberry halves and glitter, because there are few cakes that glitter can’t improve.

The photos of the strawcumber cake are from after girls night portions were handed out and devoured. When I announced that the cake was a sponge (ooooh…) with strawberry buttercream (mmmmm…) and cucumber jam (oo…ooooh?) there was a general feeling of uncertainty, to say the least. This was soon resolved as everyone took a bite and thoroughly enjoyed the flavour combination. It’s a bit like Pimms, but a cake, and better.

Since the sponge ended up being very plain, I won’t go through the recipe and method; you can get a nice, clear recipe for a plain sponge in a hundred places, but cucumber jam is a different story, and one I’ll tell properly before too much longer. For now, thanks for bearing with me while I muddled through this cake stress. It’s a learning curve sometimes, this baking malarkey.

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