Waiting for Agnes

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Second chance September 5, 2010

Persistent in her attempts to curb my baking enthusiasm, the beloved has come up with a new system. Rather than just arbitrarily slapping down an embargo when she gets to sugar overload (usually by midweek), she’s now issuing out baking passes like she’s some kind of kitchen border control. “Carrying unsalted butter? Sorry, you cannot cross the border. Refer to the terms of your multiple-visit visa…see? Section 3, subsection a/ii: Items that pertain directly or indirectly to the pursuit of creating baked goods cannot be carried into The Kitchen. Are you intending to carry out work that may lead to the combination – mechanically or manually – of sugar, butter, eggs and flour? If so, again I refer you to the terms of your current visa… Section 5, subsection c/ix: declaration of intent to bake without a valid pass will result in detention and/or confiscation of equipment. False declarations will lead to deportation from The Kitchen and the revoking of all previously held visa rights.”

A couple of loopholes have yet to be covered by this legislation, allowing baking if the resulting goods are to exit the house – untouched – within twelve hours of completion, or if the resulting goods are of a flavour/form/consistency that would never be willingly consumed – even when desperate – by the beloved. In the true style of all corrupt border control officials, the beloved can also override her own rules and just demand baked goods at any time. Luckily for me, the weekend swung around and I realised that all of this week’s baking has ‘somehow’ fallen within the loopholes, leaving me with one perfectly valid baking pass. To celebrate this and feed a friend (and fellow baking enthusiast) visiting from Canberra, I decided to delve into the pristine pages of Rose’s Heavenly Cakes.

This incredible book winged its way to me some months ago, a gift from the beloved’s sister. I have loved it dearly, all these months, even before I’d baked a single crumb from its pages. Not only is it photographed beautifully (which, let’s face it, accounts for 90% of the grade when you’re marking a potential new cookbook) but it is thorough. Really, really thorough. Ingredients are listed  by name, volume, weight in pounds & ounces, weight in metric and temperature (in celsius and fahrenheit, naturally) at which they should be used. Instructions for a single cake cover several pages. There are planning ahead tips, so as not to find out five minutes before your guests arrive that your icing will need 2 hours to set. There is a little back-story for each cake. And yet, despite the slightly anal thoroughness, Rose doesn’t come across as preachy or terse. She’s not as dip-your-bosoms-in-it indulgent as Nigella, but I still find myself drooling a little over almost every recipe (Two Fat Cats Whoopie Pie anyone? Or perhaps some Baby Chocolate Oblivions?). So what has taken me so long to get going? Well, the sheer length of the recipes did give me pause, but it was mainly the size of the completed cakes. This weekend’s project serves 14-16 people and requires 17 eggs. Obviously they would be 14-16 people who don’t like cake as much as I do, but even so, 17 eggs is a big commitment – either save up for a long long time and be super vigilant against The Crow or (the horror) buy extra eggs. I bought the extra eggs.

Lemon Luxury Layer Cake

Get settled in, this won’t be quick. This recipe has three components: cake, lemon curd and buttercream. Either give yourself two days to complete this, or start really early in the morning. The cake is pretty straightforward, but must be completely cooled before it can be cut into layers. The lemon curd and the buttercream each need about a three-four hour jump on your predicted serving time.

You will need two cake tins of equal size (23cm, springform), a food thermometer (Rose recommends an instant-read sort, but I only have a milk-frothing one and that did the job), and a good amount of baking paper. An offset palette knife would be useful. I don’t have one.

Cake batter:

170 grams of white chocolate (I know, the hated white chocolate. Rose convinced me to hazard this recipe by specifying exactly what to look for in my white chocolate – information that would have been useful a couple of weeks ago – it should be at least 30% cocoa butter, ideally with vanilla, such as Green & Blacks or Whittakers)

112 grams of egg yolk, at room temperature (roughly 6 large)

242 grams of milk (1 cup)

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

300 grams of plain flour

240 grams of caster sugar

4 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder

3/4 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of lemon zest

128 grams of unsalted butter at 19-23 degrees celsius (room temperature, unless you’re a bit stingy with the heating, or if it’s the middle of summer)

Preheat your oven to 175 degrees celsius (160 fan forced)

Butter and line your cake tins

Chop the white chocolate and put it in a small heatproof bowl. Simmer some water in a small saucepan, then turn off the heat. Put the bowl over the saucepan, not letting the bottom of the bowl touch the water. Stir frequently until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool until no longer warm to touch, but still fluid in consistency.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, 1/3 of the milk and the vanilla extract until just combined.

Using a freestanding mixer (ie Kenwood Chef/Mixmaster) on low speed, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining milk. Mix on low speed until just combined, raise the speed to medium and mix for 1 1/2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary.

Gradually add the egg mixture to the batter, in three stages, mixing on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition.

Add the melted chocolate and mix until well combined.

Spoon the batter into your prepared tins. Each tin will be just under half full. To be precise, use your scales and put ~600 grams of mixture into each tin.

Bake for 25-35 minutes. The cakes are done when golden, springy to touch and when an inserted skewer comes out clean.

Let the cakes cool in their tins for 10 minutes, then turn onto greased racks to cool completely.

Lemon Curd:

6 grams of lemon zest, finely chopped/grated

130 grams of egg yolk at room temperature (about 7 large)

225 grams of caster sugar

85 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

141 grams of lemon juice, well strained

pinch of salt

Put the zest into a medium bowl and set it aside with a sieve over the top. Just before you start the curd, rest this bowl in another bowl with ice in it.

In a medium saucepan, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and butter until well combined. Whisk in the lemon juice and salt. The mixture will appear split – this is okay and won’t last. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring constantly with a silicone spatula, scraping down the sides frequently. Keep stirring until the mixture thickly coats the spatula but is still liquid enough to pour (a kind of plopping consistency). The mixture will become opaque and turn a golden yellowy-orange. Do not let it boil or it will curdle. Err on the side of lower temperature. This may take a bit longer, but you won’t stuff it up. When you are satisfied, pour it immediately through the sieve into the bowl with the zest. Allow to cool, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

Divide the curd into two containers: 100 grams in one, to add to the buttercream and the rest in another. Cover tightly and refrigerate until cool (about three hours, or overnight is fine).

White Chocolate Lemon Buttercream, Part 1:

White Chocolate Custard base:

300 grams of white chocolate (as per above specifications), chopped

150 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature, chopped

200 grams of whole eggs (about 4 large), lightly beaten

In a large bowl, over just simmering water (again, don’t let the bottom of the bowl touch the water), melt the white chocolate and butter together, stirring until smooth.

Whisk the eggs into the mixture.

Continue whisking and heating until the mixture reaches 60 degrees celsius and is slightly thickened.

Remove from the heat and refrigerate, stirring every 15 minutes until the temperature has dropped to 21 degrees celsius.

Buttercream Part 2:

142 grams of unsalted butter

The White Chocolate Custard

The 100 gram portion of lemon curd

Using your freestanding mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy. Gradually beat the white chocolate custard into the butter, scraping down the sides as necessary. Continue beating until stiff, creamy peaks form. Cover and set aside for about 1 hour (I had lunch and came back after about 40 minutes and that seemed fine)

Beat on high for 30 seconds, add the lemon curd and beat to just incorporate.

Putting it all together:

Cut your cooled cakes in half (horizontally, duh). This is not that tricky, just make sure you have plenty of bench space. Sliding two strips of baking paper under each piece will also help to maneuver them (you can pull the strips out from between the layers without dislodging much curd/buttercream at all).

Spread just under half the lemon curd on each of the bottom layers (leaving just a little left over). Spread not quite to the edges, the weight of the layers will push it further out.

Spread a little (~ a tablespoon) of buttercream on your serving plate (this stops the cake from lurching around)

Put a lower layer, spread with curd on the serving plate. Set an upper layer on top. Spread with about 1/2 a cup of buttercream, spreading not quite to the edges).

Put the next lower layer on top of this:

Set the final upper layer on the very top. Use the remaining buttercream to cover the top and sides of the cake:

Swirl the leftover lemon curd through the buttercream on the top of the cake:

Slice, serve and eat:

Do I need to say how good this tastes? I may have overdone the amount of buttercream on the top of the cake, but even so, it is truly lovely. Lemony, white-chocolatey and a cake that is dense but not at all dry.

Not only was it worthy of using up my baking pass, it has patched up the cracks in my relationship with the abominable white chocolate.

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3 Responses to “Second chance”

  1. beloved Says:

    The baking passes are in place to protect against diabetes! You’re right though, too much buttercream.

  2. […] polenta So, post-lemon-cake-binge, further baking is technically banned until Sunday. But, as previously mentioned, there are always ways to subvert the regime. These tasty delights, being both a visiting-gift and […]

  3. LMF Says:

    My giant husband loved this cake (granted he scraped off all the butter cream – but then he has a general aversion to icing). After polishing it off and leaning back looking quite satisfied he says “makes a good cake she does, makes good everything really”. I have a lot to live up to


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