(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.