11 May 2013
But my daughter had other ideas. First, she wanted a Fibonacci birthday cake (thanks, but no thanks, Vi Hart). Apart from the fact that that kind of cake crosses dangerously from geek to nerd territory, 6 is not a Fibonacci number, really. Next, she suggested a Flower Fairies cake (no way was I going to be able to make those figures ...). Followed by a couple of other really impractical ideas. And then I slyly showed her the piggies ...
Me: OOOOHHHH look at those piggies they are SOOOOO cute!!!
Sugababe 2: Nope.
Me: C'mon, you're born in the year of the pig!
Sugababe 2: Nope!!!
Me: And I can, um, change it to like a CHARLOTTE'S WEB cake!! You like Charlotte's Web right??
Sugababe 2: But Wilbur was not in a chocolate bathtub!!!
Me: It's ok, I'll just add a spider! (More pestering on my part ensues ...."
Sugababe 2: (grudgingly) OKAAAY ....
I must admit I was kind of elated at having won her over to MY way. I could do the cake I liked and just plaster a spider web somewhere. Until ...
Husband: Have you read Charlotte's Web? Wilbur wasn't in a mud bathtub!
Me: Noo ... I haven't but but but ... I am SURE he was kind of like in the mud??
Husband: I'm just saying it's strange.
Me: (Whine) Are you saying it's not going to look nice???
Husband: You know, I'm just saying it's a cute cake but it's not a Charlotte's Web cake. And how ARE you going to suspend the spider web? On the side of the wooden bath? Isn't that going to look odd?
He got me of course. Over the next couple of days I conceded that I had to do a proper true-to-the-story Charlotte's Web cake. It really didn't help that, not only did Sugababe 2 want a spider web, she wanted it to say "Some Pig", like in the story.
I had some rough idea of how I was going to construct the farm - green coconut grass, a biscuit barn house, fondant carrots in a cocoa-powder garden patch, pretzel sticks for the wooden fencing, and a fondant Wilbur.
But the spider web really had me stumped. What could I use to make a spider web that could suspend from the barn house? I tried making a fondant spider web which literally fell apart once I held it up. Piped white chocolate would be too thick and might also not hold up well.
It was past midnight before the day of the party, the cake was all done up, all except the dreaded spider web. We went through options like tying a thread spider web, cutting a paper web, etc. Until it hit me that we could just draw in the spider web with a white marker on a transparent sheet to give the illusion of a hanging spider web.
So voila! With that, I completed one of my most challenging cakes to date. The result was a 4 layered dark chocolate cake (made with the perfect birthday cake recipe, which my husband was most pleased to see me return to after my brief affair with another chocolate cake recipe), with alternating chocolate ganache and strawberry cream filling, painstakingly decorated with sufficient details and accuracy such as to leave no room for doubt that this was supposed to be a Charlotte's Web cake and not just a piggy cake. And just in case anyone needed some help in coming to that conclusion, I also constructed a huge banner with the words "Charlotte's Web".
A Herculean baking effort for a little girl's birthday. But then again, she is not just any girl, but SOME GIRL, to be sure.
Happy birthday my very special 6 year old.
28 April 2013
My Sugahbabe 3 turns 2! She specifically requested for a yellow cake (as in a yellow-coloured cake - not a butter cake) with lollipops on top.
Frankly I was not too inspired by the little one's requests. I mean, YELLOW? And Lollies? For one, yellow is not a great colour for
cakes. Or clothes, or furniture. Or basically anything else for that matter. In my books at least. And then, lollipops? How cliched could you get for a kids' cake? Being the good mother that I was, I showed her lots of pictures of OTHER cakes which I though were more interesting, to cunningly steer her into choices that would perhaps be more exciting and challenging for me to execute. But nope, she would have none of it. Yellow it had to be. With swirly lollipops (she pointed to the picture on the iPad browser to make sure I got her point). The only change she made was to specify that it also had to have many other colours, like "green" and "pink", but it had to be a YELLOW cake. Great, now I had to do a gaudy, multi-coloured cake? Then again, what was a Mamma to do but deliver?
Four layers of chocolate cake interspersed with strawberry buttercream (inspired by Sweetapolita - such an awesome blog!) with outer layers frosted and piped with plain vanilla buttercream. My decision to use a RLB recipe for the chocolate cake was a departure from my usual preference for a chocolate buttermilk cake base. I have to say that the chocolate buttermilk cake is a superior cake in every way - in terms of flavour, crumb and moistness. I found RLB's cake too crumbly and not sufficiently moist and springy. On the other hand, what it has going for it is a good fudgey flavour and (what made me try it in the first place) the fact that it really is very easy to make. For those who are inclined to try RLB's recipe, I would just say that ensuring that the cake is thawed completely before serving makes a world of difference. If it is just the slightest bit cold, it tends to be very brittle, dry and crumbly. At room temperature the texture improves dramatically and if you don't mind buttercream that is a bit runny, microwaving it just a little bit improves it even more.
25 February 2013
Recipe for Rum and Date Cake with Caramel Sauce
(Donna Hay issue #62)
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) dates, chopped
1/2 cup (90 grams) prunes, chopped
1/2 cup (75 grams) raisins
3/4 cup (180 ml) boiling water
1/2 cup (125 ml) rum
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, sifted
1 1/2 cups (225 grams) self-rising flour**, sifted
1 1/3 cups (235 grams) brown sugar
225 grams butter, melted
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
100 grams butter
3/4 cup (135 grams) brown sugar
1/2 cup (175 grams) golden syrup***
1 cup (250 ml) single cream
1/4 cup (60 ml) rum
- Place the dates, prunes, raisins, boiling water, rum, and baking soda in the bowl of a food processor and leave for about 10 minutes. Process the mixture until smooth. Set aside.
- Place the flour and sugar in a bowl and mix to combine. To this add the butter, vanilla, eggs, and the date/rum mixture. Mix well to combine.
- Pour the batter into a well greased bundt pan (3.5 liter capacity) and bake in a pre-heated 160C (325F) oven for 55-60 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Allow to cool in the tin for about 10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- While your cake is baking you can make the caramel sauce. Place the butter, sugar, syrup, cream, and rum in a saucepan over medium heat and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook for 10-12 minutes, or until thickened.
- Allow both the cake and sauce to cool completely before pouring the sauce over the cake.
18 May 2012
ONE afternoon (a crazy, busy afternoon I might add) I discovered, to my dismay, that we had mistakenly kept TWO tubs of yogurt, not just any yogurt mind you, but the very best kind, into the freezer. As anyone who has ever committed this regrettable error can tell you, freezing yogurt has the unfortunate effect of transforming its luscious creamy texture into a grainy, watery, separated mess that looks rather like the curdled regurgitations of a baby.
TWO whole tubs of beautiful Puhoi Valley yogurt gone to waste. Most people, happily possessed of saner dispositions than mine (plenty are it would seem) would perhaps calmly dispose of the spoilt yogurt and make a mental note to buy some on their next grocery trip. And then having let the matter go they would devote their time to the more pressing matters of their day (especially if they were having, like me, a very busy afternoon). Unfortunately, I am not one of those people, as you may have guessed by now. And not only that, but I am also precisely the kind of person who would cry over spilt milk, or mouldy cheese, or, in this case, ruined yogurt. And in my great desire to stop myself from further wringing of hands and blubbering over said yogurt, I decided that I had NO CHOICE but to redeem the damned yogurt. By baking not one, nor two, but THREE yogurt cakes, since that was mathematically the only way I could use up all of it. Don't you just love the inescapable logic of Maths.
And the moral of the story? Waste not, want not? Or perhaps this ... when life gives you ruined yogurt, curdled milk, or leftover sour cream that you simply can't see go to waste ... make yogurt cakes? Because, yes, yogurt cakes can be made with all the above. But more importantly, because making yogurt cakes is easy. Ridiculously EASY. Your kids could do it. And you know I am not lying to you because there is no way I could have made 3 in one afternoon if this was not the case. I am a little unstable perhaps but not THAT crazy.
Each recipe requires really only 2 bowls, one for wet ingredients and the other for dry, which you then mix together and bake and voila! Cake! No need to bring out the mixer. No creaming or beating or whisking.
I followed two recipes. The first is a basic yogurt cake recipe by Chocolate & Zucchini, which though plain, is so light and fluffy it's good enough to eat on its own. There are many ways to vary this basic recipe: To make an Orange Yogurt Cake, I added a tablespoon of orange zest. And for the Strawberry Yogurt Cake, I used strawberry yogurt and also pieces of strawberry fruit. The latter baked up a little denser because of the extra liquid from the fruit and strawberry purée in the yogurt, but it was otherwise still very moist and delicious (and was the kids' favourite). I have found that the recipe is rather forgiving of minor errors, so if you are pressed for time and a little slipshod with your measurements, you will still end up with a pretty decent cake. For the Lime & Almond Cake, I adopted a recipe from Dorie Greenspan instead, swopping the lemon out with lime. The addition of almond flour gave it a pleasant nutty aroma, and although this recipe seemed to yield a heavier cake than the other, I loved its richer flavor. If I had the time I would make a rosewater glaze for this cake, I think it would go beautifully.
We ate our way through 3 cakes that week without any complaint from the kiddos. They were good enough that I almost found myself wondering when I'd have the good fortune to have a yogurt accident again. Well, now that you've heard my story, perhaps you will have one. On purpose. Lucky, lucky you.
200g (1 cup) sugar (you can use an empty tub of yogurt and measure the equivalent of 2 yogurt tubs if you used the 125ml or 4oz kind)
80ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil (or a bit less than 1 yogurt tub)
2 cups all-purpose flour (or 4 yogurt tubs)
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a good pinch of salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla paste/extract
1 tablespoon light rum
Adapted from "Baking From My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton-Mifflin, 2006)
Yield 8 servings
Time About 1 hour and 20 minutes
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup ground almonds (or, if you’d prefer, omit the almonds and use another 1/2 cup all-purpose flour)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- Pinch of salt
- 1 cup sugar
- Grated zest of 1 lemon (or 2 limes)
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 3 large eggs
- 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower
- Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter an 8 1/2-x-4 1/2-inch loaf pan, place the pan on a lined baking sheet and set aside. Whisk together the flour, ground almonds, if you’re using them, baking powder and salt and keep near by as well.
- Put the sugar and zest in a medium bowl and, working with your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the yogurt, eggs and vanilla to the bowl and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very well blended. Still whisking, stir in the dry ingredients, then switch to a large rubber spatula and fold in the oil. You’ll have a thick, smooth batter with a slight sheen. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
- Slide the baking sheet into the oven and bake 35 to 40 minutes for the round cake or 50 to 55 minutes, or until the cake begins to come away from the sides of the pan; it will be golden brown and a knife inserted into the center of the cake will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack, cool for 5 minutes, then run a blunt knife between the cake and the sides of the pan. Unmold and cool to room temperature right-side up.
- Serving: In France, this cake is usually served with a little sweetened crème fraiche, but it lends itself to other toppings as well. Fresh soft fruit, like sliced peaches or plums, is a natural with this as is berries with a touch of sugar. And, because the cake is plain and just a little tangy from the yogurt, it pairs happily with lemon cream, curd or mousse and is delicious with chocolate mousse or chocolate sauce.
- Storing: Wrapped well, you can keep the cake at room temperature for at least 4 days and, like many pound cakes, it will be better one day later than it was the day it was made. If you do not glaze the cake, you can wrap it airtight and freeze it for up to 2 months; glazed it’s best not to freeze the cake.
01 February 2012
Thankfully, I DO know the recipe for the best chocolate cookies ever. Seriously. You don't have to look elsewhere. Nothing beats this for an intense hit of chocolate. It's ridiculously good for very little effort. Just use really good dark chocolate, like Valrhona or Callebaut, and enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk. And because I love that salted chocolate thing going on there, I sometimes sprinkle some extra flaked Maldon sea salt on top before popping it into my mouth. Heaven. Bless Richard Scarry and his cute animals.
Recipe for World Peace Cookies
Excerpted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).
When I included these in Paris Sweets, they were called Korova Cookies and they instantly won fans, among them my neighbor Richard Gold, who gave them their new name. Richard is convinced that a daily dose of Pierre's cookies is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness."
175 grams all-purpose flour
30 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
150 grams unsalted butter
180 grams light brown sugar
50 grams sugar
1/2 teaspoon fleur de sel or 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
150 grams bittersweet chocolate
1. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking soda together.
2. Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, the salt and vanilla extract and beat for 2 minutes more.
3. Turn off the mixer. Pour in the dry ingredients, drape a kitchen towel over the stand mixer to protect yourself and your kitchen from flying flour and pulse the mixer at low speed about 5 times, a second or two each time. Take a peek — if there is still a lot of flour on the surface of the dough, pulse a couple of times more; if not, remove the towel. Continuing at low speed, mix for about 30 seconds more, just until the flour disappears into the dough — for the best texture, work the dough as little as possible once the flour is added, and don't be concerned if the dough looks a little crumbly. Toss in the chocolate pieces and mix only to incorporate.
4. Turn the dough out onto a work surface, gather it together and divide it in half. Working with one half at a time, shape the dough into logs that are 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the logs in plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 3 hours. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. If you've frozen the dough, you needn't defrost it before baking — just slice the logs into cookies and bake the cookies 1 minute longer.)
5. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 160C. Line two baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.
6. Using a sharp thin knife, slice the logs into rounds that are 1/2 inch thick. (The rounds are likely to crack as you're cutting them — don't be concerned, just squeeze the bits back onto each cookie.) Arrange the rounds on the baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between them.
7. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 12 minutes — they won't look done, nor will they be firm, but that's just the way they should be. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack and let the cookies rest until they are only just warm, at which point you can serve them or let them reach room temperature.
30 September 2011
"Anything you like, Mummy" she said.
It's a change that has been happening for some time, this realisation that she doesn't always need to insist on her way, but that she can give way to others, and make room for other ideas of what is good, or what is beautiful. That it's okay if she doesn't have the only available pink cup or crayon (is it only in my household that girls would fight over this?). That she doesn't always need to be in a dress, but that jeans and a T-shirt are fine too. That it is okay for her sister to have, wear or enjoy something that is 'nicer' than hers, because she is not any less special for not having the same thing.
Such are the rewards of a parent when you see glimpses of your child maturing into gracious and beautiful inner attitudes and behaviour.
Recipe for Chocolate Tweed Angel Food Cake
12 July 2011
I remember when I first saw Rachel Allen demonstrate this very exotic, Persian-inspired cake with rose and pistachios on Rachel Allen: Bake. I thought it was just one of the prettiest flavour-combinations ever. It put me in mind of beautiful Middle Eastern desserts like baklava and romantic holiday escapades to Arabia ala Sex and the City and Disney's Aladdin.
I am glad that when I finally had a chance to make and taste this cake, it did not disappoint.
Refreshing with zesty lime, and fragrant with the floral scent of rosewater, it also has a very light and tender crumb. Ground almonds give this cake a pleasant nuttiness and a delicate 'fall-apart' texture. A welcome departure from the usual rich, buttery cakes that I am so fond of (this one has no butter at all). It is a subtle cake which is neither overpowering nor assertive. Beautifully ambrosial, with a flavour that improves over time. In a tea spread, it won't jostle for attention among richer cakes of chocolate, cream and butter. But, like a true Middle Eastern veiled beauty, its unique, alluring flavour will grow on you and have your guests returning for more.
Recipe for Lime Yogurt Cake with Rosewater and Pistachios
(slightly adapted from a recipe by Rachel Allen)
For the cake
225 g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 pinch salt
75 g ground almonds
100 g caster sugar
1 generous tbsp or 50g runny honey
250 ml natural yogurt
150 ml sunflower oil
1 lime, finely grated zest only
100 g caster sugar
1 lime, juice only
1-2 tsp rose water (I used Nielssen Massey)
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/gas 4. Line the base and sides of a 22cm spring-form/loose-bottomed cake tin with greaseproof paper.
2. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the ground almonds and caster sugar.
3. Mix together the eggs, honey, yogurt, sunflower oil and lime zest together well in a medium-sized bowl until smooth. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and slowly pour in the wet ingredients, bringing them together with a whisk until they are just combined. You can add some chopped pistachios to the mixture if you wish, or save them for decorating.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin for about 20 minutes.
5. While the cake is cooling, make the syrup. In a small saucepan, boil the water and sugar for about 5 minutes until it is reduced by half. Add the lime juice and boil for a further 2 minutes, then cool. Add rosewater to taste (about 1 teaspoon, see note below).
6. With a fine skewer, make holes on top of the warm cake and spoon the syrup all over the top. Scatter the pistachios over, if you wish, and leave to settle for 1 hour.
7. Decorate with rose petals, if using. Serve with cream, natural yogurt, sliced mangos or berries. It is a very moist cake so keeps extremely well in the fridge for a few days.
1) Rosewater can be overpowering if used excessively, so use sparingly. I used 1 teaspoon for the syrup. The original recipe calls for 1-2tbsp but that is excessive in my opinion.
2) Although this cake can be refrigerated, it is best served at room temperature. Part of its beauty is that it has a very delicate, tender and crumbly texture. However, this will not come through if the cake is cold and not thawed properly. I kept mine at room temperature for 3 days in an airtight container and found that it improved in taste and texture over time.
3) This cake looks best when baked into little rose or flower shaped mini cakes. I used a Nordic Ware bouquet pan. A Nordic Ware rose muffin pan, like the one I used for my Salted Caramel Banana Cakes, is also an excellent choice.