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.


Everyone’s a little bit whiny September 1, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Cakes to covet — titchandboofer @ 11:47 am
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I have a cold. The beloved has a cold. Small has a cold. Fun times. Day spent mainly curled up in an armchair, drowsily feeding a drowsy small. Then I remembered we had rhubarb in the house. Glorious, sweet, tangy rhubarb. Perfect for cold wintry days. Turn it into crumble or sponge pudding, pie or fool, something very American called grunt, or just stew it and heap it over vanilla ice-cream, or tuck it under custard. Or make cake.

Wintery Whinypants Cake

~300 grams of fresh rhubarb (roughly half a bunch, exact amount not essential Рjust go with your preference, although a massive amount will destabilise the cake a little)

310 grams of self-raising flour, sifted

250 grams of brown sugar

1 vanilla pod

2 eggs

125 grams of plain yoghurt

125 grams of unsalted butter, melted

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (170 fan forced)

Butter and line a 20cm springform tin

Crack your eggs into a small bowl. Put your yoghurt in another small bowl.

Split the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds. Stir the seeds into the yoghurt. Immerse the split pod in the cracked eggs. Set aside (If you like, you could do this a few hours ahead of time, putting the bowls in the fridge. If you were super keen, you could put your uncracked eggs in an airtight container with the vanilla pod for 24 hours beforehand to really infuse the flavour in. Conversely, if you can’t be bothered with any of this faffing about, just use a teaspoon of vanilla extract.)

Trim the leaves and ends from the stalks of rhubarb. Slice finely (<1/2 cm thick if you can).

Put the flour, sugar and rhubarb in a large bowl and combine well.

Remove the vanilla pod from the eggs and beat them lightly.

Add the eggs, yoghurt and melted butter to the bowl with the flour, sugar and rhubarb. Mix thoroughly to combine.

Spoon into your prepared cake tin, smoothing out the top. The mixture is very thick but don’t worry, this is just how it should be.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, depending on the force of your oven. It is done when an inserted skewer comes out clean and the top is a little springy.

Leave in the tin to cool for ~15 minutes, then turn onto a wire rack.

Eat while it’s still warm if you can, drizzled with a little cream, or served with a scoop of ice-cream.

Just right for a cold evening. Warm, rich cake, studded liberally with tangy little jewels of rhubarb. Perfect remedy for a whiny family.


White nemesis August 28, 2010

One of my lovely-midwife-friends is engaged! Well, to be absolutely accurate, two of the LMFs are engaged and I give a third one about six months before she too sprouts a sparkly rock on her ring finger. But back to the point – the LMF of this story had her engagement party last night. She and her fiance (both as cute as buttons can be) celebrated their engagement with their friends and family in a hall bedecked with twinkling fairy lights, with ivy winding about candles, with photos of the two of them looking button-cute and with tables groaning beneath plates of all sorts of food (there was middle-eastern lamb that I would have sold a relative for, not small obviously, but any of the extended family). A week ago this LMF was at small’s birthday party. We were chatting about her upcoming celebration and how all the guests were bringing food. I half-jokingly offered to make the cake, thinking ‘oh it would be lovely to be able to do it for her’ but also thinking ‘surely she would have that all wrapped up by now’. Not, as it seemed. Huzzah! Gift baking! Not just fun and indulgent but completely sanctioned by the beloved at any time.

Having spent much of the past two weeks poring over epicure: chocolate, I had ideas. Too many ideas. The LMFs engagement story is utterly romantic. It all began in the dead of the night, there was mystery, there were aeroplanes, there was even a sea-plane, there was swimming, there were fish, and of course the popping-of-the-question, all by the love of her life. A heart shaped cake seemed the right choice. But one heart seemed small and lonely. Almost as importantly, it only enabled the use of one recipe.

Two Hearts

Part One:

“Coco the burlesque wonder cake” (I could not pass up an opportunity to make a cake with such an impressive name – thank you to Ben Johnson of thelovebite.com, very very much)

175 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

1/3 of a cup of cocoa

2/3 of a cup of caster sugar

1 1/2 cups of self-raising flour

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1/2 a cup of golden syrup

3/4 of a cup of sour cream

2 eggs

For the cake –

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius (180 fan forced)

Butter and line a tine (~22cm diameter)

Put all the ingredients in a food processor. Whizz until well combined. Pour into your prepared tin.

Bake for ten minutes, then reduce the heat by 20 degrees and bake for another half an hour. It’s done when you poke the top gently and it springs back.

Cool in the tin for about ten minutes then turn onto a rack and cool completely.


50 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 a cup of sour cream

3 tablespoons of golden syrup

80 grams of dark eating chocolate, melted

3 cups of icing sugar, sifted

1/4 of a cup of cocoa

25 grams of dark eating chocolate, chopped into little bits

Put all the ingredients except the chopped chocolate into the food processor. Whizz until well combined. Add the chopped chocolate and pulse to splinter it a little. Spread over the cooled cake. This cake is luscious – the golden syrup gives the cake and the icing a hint of caramel; there is a generous amount of icing; the chocolate splintered through the icing adds bite and a bittersweet edge. It doesn’t surprise me that this cake is rumoured to receive fan mail. I’m tempted to send a little note myself.

Part Two:

“Lisa’s white chocolate cake”. Not such an exciting title, but this LMF does like her chocolate and I was aiming for contrast.

125 mls of water

200 grams of caster sugar

80 grams of unsalted butter, chopped

100 grams of white chocolate broken into pieces

2 eggs, lightly beaten

100 grams of self-raising flour, sifted

30 grams of cocoa powder (yes, you read correctly, cocoa – the cake is not white to look at, until it’s slathered with icing)

1 cup of frozen raspberries (my tweak)

Preheat your oven to 190 degrees celsius (170 fan forced).

Butter and line your tin.

Bring the water to the boil in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar, stirring until dissolved. Take off the heat.

Add the butter and white chocolate. Stir until melted. Cool slightly.

Whisk in the eggs. Sift in the flour and cocoa. Mix until well combined.

Pour into your prepared tin (it will be pourable) and tap the tin to settle any bubbles. Drop in your raspberries at the last minute (they will sink, but will still be tasty).

Bake for about half an hour. When done an inserted skewer will come out clean.

Cool in the tin.

For the icing:

Up until this point everything was very smooth sailing. Perfect. Tasty cakes. Excellent first batch of icing for cake number one. Layout ideas coming along nicely. Found a tray that meant I wouldn’t have to venture out to buy a cake board. Then I started on the white chocolate ganache. I haven’t baked with white chocolate for a long time and now I remember why. It is an abomination. It does not behave like chocolate. It doesn’t cooperate.

1 cup of thickened cream

200 grams of white chocolate, chopped

1 teaspoon of unsalted butter

~1 1/2 cups of icing sugar, sifted (yes I know, not traditionally a ganache component, all will be explained)

Heat the cream in a saucepan over low heat. Add the chocolate, mixing until it is melted. Add the butter and mix to combine. Remove from heat. Allow to cool and thicken, stirring occasionally.

Right. Well the first time I tried to be clever – I tried to treat the ganache like the version from the Nutella cake, whisking to cool and thicken it into a mousse-like consistency. So it split. Tasty, but kind of nasty to look at.

Nevermind, thinks I, I have enough things for a second batch. Gently I repeat the melting and stirring process, then leave it alone. It cools. It does not thicken. I put it in the fridge. It does not thicken. I put it in the freezer. It does not thicken. Time is running out. We should have left for lovely party an hour ago.

In desperation, I put a bit on the cake, hoping it will set in the manner of ice-magic touching ice-cream. No.

In further desperation, I start whisking icing sugar into it. Ah ha!! Success! Lovely texture, not quite tooth-achingly sweet, very white.

I put this on the cake. The previous, runny stuff slooshes off from beneath the new icing and onto the tray. I mop it up with half a roll of paper towel while the beloved, small and another LMF watch with a kind of amused horror. Frantic smoodging of icing continues. Cake ends up well covered, if not as perfectly pretty as I would have liked. In the meantime I have melted some extra dark chocolate and piped a message out onto some baking paper. Miraculously it has set and can even be extricated from the paper and transferred to the cake without stuffing it up irreparably. With zero time to spare, cake is complete.

Sadly I cannot show you a photo of the finished cakes in all their glory. For one thing, the hurried photo I took before we sprinted out the door was pretty appalling. More importantly, the anonymity of my LMF and her own beloved would be compromised. Best just to look at the second last photo and use your imagination. My last pieces of advice: if you want white chocolate just buy a block of Cadbury Dream. Then eat it. If you want glorious cake and mouthwatering ganache, use 70%+ dark eating chocolate, the tastiest you can afford.


Faking it…some more August 24, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Cakes to covet,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 12:36 am
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Putting the last post together, the photos took seventy-hundred years to upload, I got distracted by a book on the desk and completely forgot to say what the cake was actually like. In short, it’s a mud cake – dense, muddy, moist and very very chocolatey. Traditionally I believe the icing would be buttercream but, given that adults were outnumbering kids at small’s first birthday by a considerable margin, I opted for a dark and bittersweet ganache. Overall effect – beautiful. In fact we cut the cake just as small, in the time-honoured tradition of birthday-children, was conking out and getting teary. I exited stage left to wrangle his over-stimulated little self into bed. By the time I reappeared about fifteen minutes later, the cake board was bare and a trail of crumbs led me outside where the happy cake-eaters were belting the pinata with a stick. Happy Birthday Small!


Repeat offender August 15, 2010

Filed under: Beautiful baking,Cakes to covet — titchandboofer @ 8:13 am
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A while back I was tired. Unsurprising, you say, I have a small baby and it’s one of the things to tick off the list each day: feed family? check. entertain the baby? check. answer phone without snapping at caller? check. keep baby alive? check. being tired? check. But this time I was really tired, hours of baby-screamathon, fuzzy, blurry, prop-your-eyelids-open-with-matchsticks, forget your own name kind of tired. And I ate a lot of Nutella. By god it’s evilly good stuff – chocolatey and gooey, a melty lake of sweetness on hot and crunchy toast, or just straight from the jar. Very therapeutic. Some might say that if you’re tired you should fuel your body with healthful, granola-esque meals, litres of filtered water, vegetables, flowery teas or zinc supplements and whatnot. That’s all fine and good if you’ve got the energy and concentration to chew granola, or find the replacement jug filter for the one that expired two weeks ago, or peel a vegetable, or remember that it is zinc you need from the pharmacy and not bubble bath and a 1kg bag of jelly beans. I was doing well to wedge the baby between me and the cupboard I was propped up on, unscrew the jar lid and remember how to use a spoon. And then a friend, who lives in Canberra and therefore is no doubt deeply intimate with the therapeutic value of Nutella, gave me the recipe to Nigella Lawson’s Nutella Cake. Alright, it’s officially named Torta alla Gianduia, but that doesn’t give it nearly as much pull – really it should be called Nigella’s-Entire-Jar-Of-Nutella Cake to alert the potentially fatigued to the importance of it.

I’m a sucker for ‘whole jar’ recipes. I have several recipes for cakes which include a whole glass bottle of real maple syrup, for a cake that has a whole can of Coca Cola in it and for biscuits with a whole tub of peanut butter thrown into the mix. Partly the appeal lies in the ease – no measuring, no waste, no feeling the need to be creative with the leftover bits, no needing to work out if you already have enough in the pantry, just buy a whole new jar. But mostly it’s the decadence, the thrill of emptying the entire contents of a jar of heavenly spread or syrup at once, of knowing that the pleasure of one spoonful’s worth will come back to you exponentially increased in the form of dessert. I made this back in that dark time of very-tiredness (yes, it’s that easy, even the madly fatigued can’t screw it up) and best-lawyer-friend (a great appreciator of any baked goods to grow in our kitchen) was away on a very non-lawyery jaunt in the Mediterranean. Forced to do horrible things, like leaping from a boat to swim in the sparkly blue sea and drift about in a hot air balloon at sunrise, the BLF was clearly home-sick and sent a brave and hardy carrier-pigeon with a request to make this cake for her homecoming (oh fine, not really, she facebooked me).

Nigella’s Entire Jar of Nutella Cake

only slightly altered to suit my definite preference for Amaretto over Frangelico

6 large eggs, separated

pinch of salt

125 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

400 gram jar of Nutella

1 generous tablespoon of Amaretto

100 grams of ground almonds

100 grams of dark chocolate

For the ganache:

160 grams of dark chocolate, broken into pieces

160 grams of cream

1 tablespoon of Amaretto

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees celsius (160 deg fan forced).

Butter and line a 23cm springform baking tin.

In a small bowl melt the dark chocolate (you can do it over a small pan of just simmering water, or in the microwave on reduced power – I knock the power down to 60% and heat it for 1 min 30 secs) and then leave to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and Nutella together until well combined. Reduce the mixer speed and add the Amaretto, egg yolks and almond meal.

Fold in the melted chocolate.

In a separate medium/large bowl whisk the egg whites and salt until stiff peaks form.

Add a good sized dollop of egg white to the chocolate mixture and stir through to lighten it up. Then fold in the remaining egg white gently, a third at a time.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 35-40 minutes. It is ready when it has risen, a bit springy to touch and starting to come away from the sides of the tin.

For the ganache:

Put the chocolate, cream and Amaretto into a medium sized saucepan over a low heat until the chocolate is melting, then remove from the heat. Whisk until cooled and thick enough to ice the cake with. The first time I made this I whisked by hand continuously and damn near broke my arm in the process. This time I took a short cut and used the handheld electric beaters on high. Beating until cooled like this gets it to a really light, moussey texture, which is lovely and soft on the dense, damp cake.

Slather the cake with the ganache, slice into great big pieces and eat. Good with tea, equally good with another shot of Amaretto. Slightly more taxing than just eating Nutella from the jar, but well worth the effort. Thoroughly enjoyed by the BLF and all other takers. Happily, we have a teensy bit left in the kitchen that has mine written all over it.