Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Chocolate Cigarello Fudge Cake - Happy Birthday Dad x

At the start of this year I made a resolution that instead of buying birthday presents for my friends and family I would make them cakes instead - it would give me a chance to practice different cakes for my portfolio and also I would be able to give people something handmade with a personal touch, something I always appreciate in a present.

It was my dad's birthday yesterdat and Melissa and I were hosting his birthday party for 10 of our family at our new house.  It went without saying that I was going to bake Dad a cake for the party and I wanted to bake something that looked and tasted really impressive so that everyone could see that I had the skills to make our new bakery business a success. 

I had already asked my dad his favourite cake flavour but didn't realise his request would be so specific - he wanted a plain victoria sponge cake, with buttercream filling and fudge icing.  I've done a plain sponge with buttercream loads of times before so wasn't worried about that, but my big worry was how I was going to make this cake look elegant and special - fudge icing isn't known for being forgiving when it comes to looking good. 

I had my thinking cap on about this one for about 2 weeks until I walked past the window of Patisserie Valerie in Soho and was inspired by one of their amazing gateaux which was decorated using chocolate cigarellos round the outside of the cake.  This was just the thing I needed to elevate the design of Dad's birthday cake.  To fit with the fudge icing I decided to add some chocolate ganache piped writing and chocolate covered strawberries to the top to complete the cake.

After some searching I found a fudge icing recipe on the Waitrose website (I doubled the quantity in this recipe) and Melissa discovered a great cake supplies wholesaler Cavalier of Brighton just up the road in Rottingdean for the chocolate cigarellos.

As sponge cake doesn't keep very well I had to make everything on the morning of the party and as usual we were up against it getting everything done before everyone arrived.  It's never a good idea to try and rush icing a cake and I was cursing my dad trying to get the fudge icing smooth with 5 minutes before everyone was due to arrive.  Then the chocolate cigarellos didn't want to stick to the icing so thinking on my feet I added some ribbon to hold them together and it actually finishes the cake off really nicely.  Luckily everyone was running late so I had a few minutes to quickly grab a picture of the the cake before anyone arrived:

I know my piping technique needs a bit more practice but overall I was really pleased with how it looked.  If I'm completely honest it was a bit sweet for my taste, but it was exactly what my dad had asked for and he loved it.

And there's no rest for the wicked as it's Melissa's dad's birthday tomorrow so I'd better get the apron back on to bake him a cake too!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Mixing Desk Cake: The Making Of...

I've had such great feedback about the Mixing Desk Cake I made for my friend Dan that I thought I would share with you how I made it. For those that don't want to spoil the magic, look away now!

PS this is a longer post than normal so I recommend reading with a piece of cake and a cuppa :o)

Making The Cake

Dan's party was on Saturday night, so I began making the cake on the Thursday. I didn't have a cake tin big enough, so Melissa and I hopped in the car down to Chatawak, the lovely cake supplies shop in Peacehaven, where you can rent a 12" cake tin for a mere £1.50 per day. I've never made such a large cake before so I wanted to double check with the very helpful owner there as I'd also not tried the recipe before. I was starting to feeling a bit nervous at my inexperience before I'd even started, but I was still up for the challenge). My Home Guide To Cake Decorating has a madeira cake recipe for all cake sizes but for some reason the larger the cake, the smaller the proportion of eggs in the recipe. Also the proportions of self-raising flour and plain flour seemed to be the wrong way round so I asked Sue's advice. She checked against her recipes and said the amount of eggs seemed right but agreed there seemed to be a mistake with the flour and suggested I tried a small test cake swapping the quantities over.

So with added trepidation about the task ahead I went home and cooked a test cake with the tweaked flour quantities. This seemed to work well, but the cake was a little airier that I needed so I upped the proportion of plain flour against the self-raising flour when making the final mixture. I also added the zest of 5 lemons and substituted the milk for lemon juice for extra flavour (in hindsight when I tasted the cake the zest of 8 lemons would have been even zingier). And just to highlight how unprepared I was I didn't even have a mixing bowl big enough, so I mixed the cake in my large Le Crueset casserole pot instead!

When baking the cake I didn't want to take any chances, so I took extra care and double lined the tin with baking parchment and also wrapped the outside of the tin with a few layers of newspaper. To help the cake rise evenly I created a well in the middle of the mix - a tip I learned at pastry school.
As I put the cake in the oven I crossed my fingers, said a prayer to the cake god and hoped for the best. Just over 2 hours later, I was rewarded with a beautiful looking cake:

Cake just out of the oven
Scary moment number 1 - overcome!

I left the cake to cool in the tin on a wire rack, but while it was still warm I spiked it all over with a skewer and drizzled over a simple lemon syrup. I reserved a bit of the syrup to add between the layers. The cake was then left to settle overnight (wrapped and left in a cool dry place), which makes it easier to level and cut the layers the next day.

Cutting and Icing The Cake

Scary moment #2 was getting the cake out of the tin without it breaking. For this I decided to place the wire rack covered with baking paper on the top and flip it over. I then had to turn it the right way up again onto a large baking tray covered with foil. This procedure came with the added sound effects of Melissa screeching "Oh my god let me help you!" and similar panicked sounds but they seemed to help as it turned out without any problems.

Luckily the cake had risen pretty evenly so there wasn't much of a dome to level off (I think the well in the middle out really helped). I tried my cake leveller but with such a large cake it was about as much use as a chocolate teapot so I got out my big serrated knife instead which was much better:

Levelling the cake
I then needed to turn it upside down again so that the smoothest edge was on the top. I decided to put it straight onto the final board at this stage, secured with a good smearing of buttercream in the middle. I added strips of baking parchment around the sides of the cake to protect the board from being marked.

Time for scary moment #3 - cutting the layers. I really wanted to cut the cake into 3 layers but this was quite risky with this size of cake. Having gotten so far without anything going wrong I wimped out and just went for 2 layers. I scored around the edges to make sure it was even, then cut through with my serrated knife, working towards the middle.  
Cutting the layers
I got Melissa to cross her fingers for scary moment #4 - lifting the top layer off onto baking parchment. The trick is to be confident, and with the luck of the Irish I managed to get the layer off fine.
I brushed the exposed layer with the reserved lemon syrup for extra flavour and moistness, then smoothed on lemon curd buttercream:
Adding buttercream
Scary moment #5 - lifting the top layer back on and into position. I was on a roll with pushing through the nerve barriers on my last 4 scary moments, but if the top layer went on wonky it would have been difficult to fix so I really wanted to get this right. Luckily it magically (or should I say skilfully) sat down exactly square on top of the bottom layer.
Adding the top layer of cake
At this stage I was thankful I'd only done 2 layers insted of 3!

I then covered the outside of the cake with a thin layer of lemon curd buttercream and tried to make it as smooth as possible. 
Adding buttercream to top & sides of cake
Once the cake was fully iced with the buttercream I left it to the side and coloured the sugarpaste. I used White Renshaw Regalice sugarpaste and added Sugarflair liquorice colouring.
Coloured sugarpaste
I then rolled out the sugarpaste ready for covering the cake using plenty of icing sugar to stop it sticking. I also used the smoother over the paste while it was still on the board. What I hadn't taken into consideration though, was that the paste would end up being longer than my rolling pin (and my pin is pretty long) so this made my final scary moment #6 ever more nervewracking. I called Melissa for some moral support and we both held our breath as I folded the paste over the rolling pin and lifted it onto the cake. Luckily it went on and didn't leave any marks on the side from the pin:
Cake covered with sugarpaste
I then used smoothers over the top and sides of the cake and trimmed away the excess. I worked a little more at the edges to create a sharper line.
Smoothing the sugarpaste
To make the cake look more realistic as a mixing desk I brushed on some metallic lustre dust (I used Metallic Light Silver from The Edible Silk Range by Rainbow Dust).
Brushing on silver lustre
I then left the cake overnight for the sugarpaste to dry out before adding the buttons the next day.

Making The Decorations

Time for the fun bit!

Using the excess grey sugarpaste leftover from icing the cake, I worked in a little gum tragacanth to add strength. I created one knob to use as a template, and when I was happy with the size I rolled out sausages of paste and cut them evenly, using the template as a guide.
Cutting the mixing desk knobs
I then used the back of a paring knife to create the ridges down the side:
Creating the ridges
Then repeated the process over and over until I had enough. I needed 38 but made a few extra just in case there were any casulaties :o)  
I also created the sliders using black sugarpaste, again rolling a sausage and cutting even pieces, then shaping using the little knife again. I made 7 in black and 4 in grey, plus one black knob using the same method as before.
Shaping sliders
I rolled out more black sugarpaste for the small black buttons and the black plugs for the top plus a rectangle for the LED display. For the black buttons I simply cut 4 thin horizontal strips and cut again vertically to make 32. For the 6 black plugs I cut the paste using a large piping nozzle and marked the inner circle with a smaller nozzle and added 3 dots to each. I made the red and white component cables by securing liquorice inside red and white tapered sausage shapes and marking small lines with a paring knife at the top.

Finally I made 12 small grey jack plugs and 4 slightly larger grey plugs (to fit the red and white component cables) which I painted using the silver lustre mixed with a little gin (mmm - any excuse). Unfortunately I don't have a picture but here they all are on the finished cake:
Elements for top of cake
I then poured myself a well earned glass of wine as all the sugarpaste decorations needed to be left overnight to firm up.

Decorating The Cake

This was the morning of the party and said another prayer to the cake god as there was no time left to bake another one now.

I made up a batch of royal icing and several piping cornets out of silicone paper. I always forget how long it takes to do royal icing, especially when you need several different colours (I used white, red, blue, black, grey and green).

I piped the colours on to the top of the knobs (8 white, 12 red, 12 blue and 6 black) and left to dry before adding a thin line of grey on top to make the dial. The sliders all had a white line piped down the middle. Two of the four component plugs needed royal icing in the centre (1 red 1 white). I also piped the LED display with a grey bar and a red number 40 (as it's Dan's 40th birthday).

Then for the most exciting bit of the whole cake - adding all the decorations and making it come to life!

I used grey royal icing to secure all the elements (that way if any did show underneath it wouldn't be too noticeable). I started at the top with the plugs and then used a pen with edible ink to draw on the model number box. I had based this on Dan's actual mixing desk so I kept the same brand name, but made up the model number to be personalised for him.
Edible ink pen - my new toy
I then worked across from the left, spacing things as I went before securing with royal icing so that I didn't go wonky. I scored lines with a knife and added the text before sticking down the sliders.
Assembling the final elements
Adding the knobs
Once all the elements were stuck down with royal icing, all that was left was to pipe the red, green and one black dots to the right of the cake and I was done. 

Time to stand back and admire my handiwork:
Final Mixing Desk Cake

Mixing desk - profile
I nearly forgot scary moment #7 - transporting the cake over 70 miles by taxi, train, bus and foot to the party in Soho without it getting damaged.   Next time I would really only ever deliver by car - taking it on a London bus can be treacherous but walking about a mile with a cake that is much heavier than you would think in a 16" box is no mean feat.
And scary moment #8 - was Dan going to like it?

Well this was really the best moment of all - he loved it.  It went down really well and everyone in the room was watching as I carried it in. Plus it tasted good - what more could I have asked for?  All in all I was really pleased it had all gone so well.

Bring on the next one!

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Dan's Mixing Desk Cake - my first commission

A couple of months ago my good friend Chris asked if she could commission a cake for her husband Dan's 40th birthday.  I was thrilled to be asked and naturally jumped at the challenge.  Initially Chris suggested a guitar cake, but when I thought it over I wasn't sure if would be able to make a guitar that would look realistic and not like a children's cake.  So I put my brain to work to see if I could come up with an idea that would both be impressive as a novelty cake plus something that I could realistically pull off and make to a high standard.  Continuing along the musical theme and knowing that Dan loves to mix his own music in his attic studio at home I thought a mixing desk cake would be perfect. 

Luckily Chris agreed and was able to secretly send me some photos of his mixing desk for me to base my design on.  Full details of how I made the cake will follow in another blog, but I was so pleased with how it turned out I thought I would give you a sneak preview of the final cake:

Mixing Desk Cake

And I am thrilled to report that Dan was really pleased with the cake and everyone at the party enjoyed it.  I even had 3 people come up to me and say that it was the best cake they have ever seen, so that was a really lovely compliment and a much needed confidence boost.  Can't wait to bake the next one now :o)

Watch this space for Mixing Desk: The making of...

A whole new world - Brighton's Sugarcraft Exhibition

Last Saturday it just so happened that round the corner from our house, Brighton Racecourse was hosting a sugarcraft exhibition.  I had seen the event advertised in Peacehaven's lovely cake supplies shop Chatawak a couple of weeks ago and decided that it was an opportunity I shouldn't pass up. 
We had some friends coming round for lunch (Melissa reassured me that she wasn't missing out on coming along with me) so I made sure I was there when it opened up at 10am.  I had forgotten how unforgiving Brighton hills are on the walk up, and hoped that this was going to be worth the £5 ticket fee and my now perspiring brow.   Well if the queue at the gate was anything to go by then this was a bigger deal than I had originally thought:

I listened to other people in the queue lining up the demontrations they were going to - "Oh I've done Ruby Buffong's sweet peas before" was my favourite one - they were all so clued up on all the techniques and who the speakers were I felt like a real novice, and ever so slightly scared.  It was like I was about to enter the bizarre underground world of the cult of cake decoraters...

I'm not sure what I expected from the exhibition - maybe a few cakes on display, local shops and cake decorators with stalls showing their creations, maybe some samples to try, some things to buy.  Well cute little old ladies serving lemon drizzle with a cup of tea this was not.  There were industrial amounts of sugarpaste icing on for sale in flavours ranging from vanilla to marshmallow to chocolate and in every colour of the rainbow.  There were pots of coloured powders that stretched across tables several metres long and a metre deep in every kind of sparkle and lustre and hue that you could ever want or need.  There were cutters and tools, wires and flower stamens, icing pattenmakers, ribbons, cakeboards, decorating books, modelling designs - it was really overwhelming. 

And that's not even mentioning the displays.  Well I don't even think they were cakes, let alone was any of it designed to be eaten.  There were 20 or so displays measuring about 2 metres wide by 1 metre deep and 1 metre tall all with the theme of childrens books.  Here are a couple of them:

My favourite one was of two scenes from Brambley Hedge but unfortunately my photo of that one didn't come out.  I spoke to one of the ladies that made it - they made 120 mice figures of which they used 92 - a team of 22 had been working since January to make the display.  Madness.

Earlier this week I had felt pretty chuffed with myself for a wedding cake I had decorated that had some frangipani flowers that I had made from sugarpaste (photos to follow soon).  I felt like I may as well have made them out of playdough when I saw things like this:

I did pick up a couple of tips while I was there - using cocktail sticks and pipe cleaners to stabilise sugarpaste figures; how to shape a lily and colour it so that it looks natural using powder colours and a paintbrush; and realising that loads of people cheat and use moulds to create decorations for their cakes.  I might well invest in some - people will think my skills are so impressive :o) 

I'm really pleased I went, and maybe next time I will pay the extra to go to one of the demonstrations because sometimes it's not that easy trying to learn from a book.  I also picked up one of the powders which I will try for the first time this week to colour icing (I've only ever used coulouring pastes before), some pretty polkadot ribbon and a fine paintbrush which will be good for detailed work, plus I've got heaps of postcards with good websites to try for decorating supplies.

On my way back home I called Melissa to tell her how it went.  She asked if maybe I would like to enter the competition or have a stall when it comes back next time.  I had to laugh :o)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Spotted collar cappucino cake - a birthday suprise

While everybody else was enjoying the Mayday bank holiday, on Monday 2nd May in the Grogan family we were celebrating twice as much as it was the birthday of my Sweet Mother-In-Law (as I have been asked to call her).  I made a pledge when we moved down to Brighton that instead of birthday presents I would make everyone a special cake - as a token of how much they mean to me and also to help fill up my cake portfolio for the business.

So for my Sweet Mother-In-Law it couldn't just be any regular cake as her birthday gift.  I needed something a bit special.  If I was in a reality TV competition I would be saying this cake needed the "wow factor".  I consulted my Home Guide to Cake Decorating book and the Spotted Collar Cake immediately jumped off the page.  It's a regular cake iced with white chocolate buttercream dusted with cocoa, but the twist is that it has a collar of dark chocolate with white chocolate polka dots.  It looked really impressive and (so I thought) not that difficult to make.  All I need to get is some acetate (clear plastic) for the chocolate collar and I'd already planned my own twist on it to make a cappucino cake instead of the boring vanilla one in the book.  My SMIL's favourite cake flavour is coffee so I thought I was on to a winner.

Oh my goodness.  Cue Melissa and me traipsing around Brighton on a wild goose chase to try and find some acetate for the chocolate collar.  We went from cake shops to homeware shops to decorating shops to stationers until several shops later we found Clarkes Stationers in the Lanes and the only piece of acetate big enough to wrap round the cake cost nearly £10.  I was gobsmacked.  That's probably twice the cost of the ingredients!  Still, knowing that I could use it again and rather than rethink the whole cake I bit the bullet and bought it.

Baking the coffee cake was straightforward (thanks Delia - the all in one method never fails) and the buttercream was fine too, the addition of coffee was a good one and will go really well with the cake.

As for the chocolate collar, you cut a strip of acetate long enough to fit round the cake, pipe on dots of melted white chocolate, leave to set and then cover with melted dark chocolate before wrapping round the cake.  Seemed easy enough to me.  Well, piping the dots was fine, but when I smoothed over the dark chocolate it melted the dots and a lot of them smeared.  I was gutted.  With no chocolate left to make another one I put the collar round the cake and it prayed that it would set.  Luckily this part went pretty well and it didn't crack when I pulled the plastic off so I was quite pleased about that. 

And so here it is (with the worst smears facing away from the camera!):

Although the chocolate collar caused me a bit of trouble, overall the cake still turned out well and my Sweet Mother-In-Law was thrilled with it.  Next time I think it would be a good idea to freeze the dots before covering with the dark chocolate so they don't melt so easily.  Smeary spots or not, it still tasted really good and that's what really counts.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Apple crumble in a muffin

Not for the first time in our kitchen, and you can bet your bottom dollar it won't be the last, I have persuaded Melissa that I have to do some baking, under the thinly veiled excuse that something or other needs using up.  In fact, even as we speak that caster sugar in the cupboard is looking like it's on it's last legs... ;o) 

As it happens, we did have some lovely British Bramley apples that were crying out to be used in a delicious teatime treat.  I really love a good old apple crumble and wanted to experiment to see if I could translate my traditional favourite pud into a muffin which can be eaten without needing the Sunday roast beforehand.  Actually, as I write this I recall that it has been known that my dad is fond of eating crumble for breakfast, but maybe that's just him...

And if I do say so myself, these made up muffins are really rather good.

Apple Crumble Muffins Recipe (makes 12 big ol' muffins)

150g plain white flour
150g plain wholemeal flour
1 tbsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
190g golden caster sugar
210ml milk
1 large egg, beaten
100g butter, melted
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
about 400g bramley apples

For the crumble topping:
15g cold butter, diced
25g plain flour
15 demerara sugar

1. Preheat the oven to 200C and line a muffin tin with cases.
2. Make the crumble topping by rubbing together the cold butter and flour until it looks like couscous, then stir in the demerara sugar.  Squish it together a little to form nuggety lumps and set aside.
3. Peel and core the apples then chop into pieces the size of small blackberries.
4. In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients, and in a separate bowl whisk together the milk, egg and melted butter.  Add the wet mixture into the dry and stir until nearly combined, then add the chopped apples.  Try not to overmix as this will make the muffins rubbery.
5. Spoon the mixture evenly into the lined muffin tin and top each with a generous sprinkling of the crumble mix.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until risen and golden. 

The muffins will keep for a couple of days in an airtight tin or you could freeze half the batch to keep them longer.  Enjoy x

PS if you wanted to try apple and blackberry muffins use 150g blackberries and 250g Bramley apples and substitute the cinnamon with the zest of 1 lemon.  You could also add 25g chopped pecans or walnuts to the crumble topping for extra texture.

Could this be the weirdest bread recipe ever?

I like to keep a recipe scrapbook of cuttings taken from magazines and Sunday supplements and recipes I've made up myself - it's a great frugal tip for a free recipe book. I rediscovered the first recipe scrapbook I made when searching for something completely different in one of the boxes we are still yet to unpack despite having moved in more than five months ago. 

You may have noticed that I tend to lean towards the quirky and leftfield when it comes to the things I pick to bake.  Like a magpie that's spotted something shiny, if there's a recipe that uses unusual ingredients or that sounds so bonkers you wouldn't think it would work - that's the one I'll choose.  Roll on the bread recipe that calls for treacle, instant coffee, cocoa powder, carrot and caraway seeds among its 13 ingredients.  This recipe for Black Bread looks like it was cut out of the Guardian Weekend and I thouroughly recommend it for entertainment value alone.  Let me walk you through the bizarre instructions for this loopy loaf.

Black Bread Recipe
150g spelt, rye or wholemeal flour
7g easy-blend yeast
1 tsp muscovado sugar
2 tbsp cocoa
2 tbsp instant coffee
75g treacle
3 tsp fennel, caraway or cumin seeds
50g unsalted butter
150g coarsely grated carrot, parsnip or celeriac
325g strong white flour
2 tsp fine sea salt
Sesame seeds

1. Whisk 225ml cold water and 50g of the spelt/rye/wholemeal flour in a saucepan, bring to a boil, tip into a bowl and leave until lukewarm.
2. Stir in the yeast and sugar, then leave, covered for 45 minutes.
3. Heat 100ml water with the cocoa, coffee, treacle, butter and fennel/caraway/cumin seeds until the butter has melted.
4. Leave until lukewarm then add to the yeast mix along with the grated veg.
5. Add the remaining flour and salt and stir into a soft sticky mess.
6. Rub a tablespoon of oil on both the worksurface and your hands, and give the dough a ten second knead.
7. Return to the bowl and repeat the ten second knead twice more at ten minute intervals.
8. Shape into a ball, put on an oiled baking tray, sprinkle with sesame seeds and put the whole tray inside a clean plastic bag or bin liner.  Leave in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour.
9. Preheat the oven to 220C.  Cut a deep cross in the top of the dough and bake for 20 minutes, then drop the temperature to 180C and bake for 15-20 minutes more.  Voila!

The verdict - a really lovely, unusual loaf of bread.  I used caraway seeds which gave the bread quite a strong flavour, so I might try fennel or cumin seeds next time.  The texture of the bread was really lovely with a soft and springy crumb, perfect for sandwiches as it doesn't crumble easily.  It keeps very well - much longer than a regular loaf - although it doesn't really toast properly.  Not an everyday bread, but definitely worth the effort and it is now top of my list for the most bizarre bread I've ever made.

PS. In case you've not made bread before, to highlight how wacky this recipe is I will tell you that the basic bread recipe only uses flour, yeast and water, which you simply mix, knead, leave to rise and bake.  Boring!