Waiting for Agnes

Just another WordPress.com site

Hold on February 7, 2011

January has passed, in a sticky blur of mango and sand. Summer is always like this for me – Christmas whizzes by in a frenzy, then I wallow through the first month of the calendar year, letting the garden, my hair and the lists of postponed stuff and phone calls grow to unmanageable proportions. At heart I’m still on school holidays in January and this feeling doesn’t dissipate, no matter how far from actually being in school. Aside from regular games of slow-motion chasey, the small one and I have mainly lain around, on the beach, in the pool, in the wild grass of our yard, and on the floor of the living room, listening to the pock-grunt of tennis and reading Moo, Ba, La La La forty hundred times or so. The few days I’ve worked have been slow and quiet, long hours of sitting with women while they breastfeed, interrupted only to help plough through the Christmas chocolates.

But now it’s February, the true start of the year. Crammed weeks of delayed appointments, maniacal list-crossing-off activity, actual work, shonky parenting* and a happy happy return to baking. Our poor, neglected oven isn’t going to know what’s hit it. Christmas brought a heavy windfall of recipe books…Jose Marechal’s Secrets of Macarons, Tim Halket’s Five Fat Hens, a book of afternoon slices to drool over (ginger cheesecake, earl grey tea custard, oh my), The Original Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book (!!! clever, clever SF) and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Cake Bible. The latter alone could keep me occupied for months, and to begin – something simple and ferociously indulgent:



Chocolate Oblivion

455 grams of your favourite dark eating chocolate, I used Old Gold which is only about 50% cocoa

225 grams of unsalted butter

300 grams of eggs (weighed without shells – 5 or 6 large)



Preheat your oven to 220 degrees celsius (200 fan forced)

Grease and line a 20cm springform tin and set aside with a roasting pan

Break up the chocolate and chop the butter roughly. Put them both into a large metal bowl over a pan of just simmering water. Stir occasionally until melted and smooth. Take off the heat and set aside.



Break your eggs into a large glass bowl. Get your handheld electric mixer ready. Place the bowl over a pan of just simmering water and beat the eggs on high speed until they are warm-hot and foamy. Take off the heat and continue to beat on high speed until the eggs are cool.



Fold the eggs gently into the chocolate mixture in two-three installments, folding until no streaks remain.



Pour the mixture into the prepared springform tin. Place the tin in your roasting pan and fill the roasting pan with very hot water (up to about 3 cm up the side of the cake tin).

Bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. In the meantime, butter one side of a piece of foil.

Place the foil over the cake and bake for a further ten minutes. The cake will still look fudgy in the middle – this is good.



Take the cake out of the oven and out of the water bath. Cool on a rack, in the tin, for 45-60 minutes, then refrigerate for a few hours.

When it is nicely firm, very carefully remove the springform side of the tin. You may need to gently run a palette knife between cake and tin first. Cover a plate in cling film. Invert the cake onto the covered plate, remove the base of the tin gently. Lastly, invert the cake onto a serving plate. Slice generously.


Eat. At room temperature it is silken and ever-so-slightly melty. On a hot day, straight from the fridge, it is cold and densely fudgy. We went through two cakes in a week, with a little help from the LMFs. No sugar, no flour. Really, it’s damn near a health food.


*More on this shortly.


Buy more spoons September 13, 2010


Making this cake will entail the use of every bowl, spoon, saucepan, measuring cup and spatula in your kitchen.

The cake and its icing contain an obscene amount of butter.

Making the cake part will lull you into a false sense of security about the rest of it.

Making the icing will push your patience to the limit.

Despite owning a dishwasher, you will still wash up over and over again before you are done.

It is best if no-one else tries to do anything in the kitchen for the duration.

There are many things one can achieve whilst playing with a one-year old and watching one’s partner blow up the blender. Making italian meringue is not one of them.

Reading the recipe eighty-five times will not always prevent you from stuffing it up somehow.

Rose Levy Beranbaum is an evil genius.

The end result is well worth the effort.

People will ask you to make it again.

Heart Attack Cake

The batter:

180 grams of egg whites, or about 6 large, at room temperature

1 1/3 cups of whole coconut milk (not light, or lite, or any other pretendy stuff)

1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

1 1/2 teaspoons of coconut extract

400 grams of plain flour

400 grams of caster sugar

5 teaspoons of baking powder

1 teaspoon of salt

230 grams of unsalted butter, at room temperature

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

Butter and line two 23 cm springform cake tins. Measure your tins. Make sure they are the same size (yes you, you know who you are).

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites with 1/3 of a cup of the coconut milk, the vanilla extract and the coconut extract.

In your freestanding mixer,with the flat beater, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt on low speed for 30 seconds, to just combine.

Add the butter and the remaining 1 cup of coconut milk. Mix on low speed until combined, then raise the speed to medium and beat for 1-2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as needed.

Gradually add the egg white mixture in three batches, beating on medium speed for ~30 seconds in between each addition.

Spread the mixture evenly between the two tins. Weighing the tins will help in creating even layers in your cake. There should be approximately 760 grams of mixture in each tin.

Spread the mixture out evenly. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, until just golden and springy, when an inserted skewer comes out clean. Allow to cool in the tins for ten minutes, then turn out carefully onto lightly greased wire racks. To prevent splitting, reinvert the cakes, so the tops are up. Allow to cool completely.

Silk Meringue Buttercream – an icing in three acts

Coconut creme anglaise*

*you could do this bit up to 3 days in advance

100 grams of sugar

100 grams of egg yolks (about 5 large) at room temperature

1/2 a cup of coconut milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon of coconut extract

First, put some iced water in a large bowl. Rest a medium bowl in the iced water. Put a sieve over the medium bowl. Set aside.

In a medium sized saucepan combine the sugar and egg yolks.

In a small saucepan bring the coconut milk to the boil. Add two tablespoons of hot coconut milk to the yolk mixture, stirring constantly.

Set the yolk mixture over low heat. Stirring constantly, add the remaining coconut milk.

Continue to stir over heat, keeping going until just below boiling point. The mixture will thicken and steam slightly. An instant read thermometer will read 76 degrees celsius. This will take a little while. Don’t rush it, or you’ll scramble the eggs and have to start all over again.

Pour through the sieve into the medium bowl. Stir in the vanilla and coconut extracts . Allow to cool to room temperature. If doing more than a few hours in advance, cover with clingfilm (directly on the surface) and refrigerate.

Italian meringue*

*a bastard of a thing to make

60 grams of egg white (about 2 large) at room temperature

1/3 of a cup of caster sugar, plus 2 tablespoons

30 grams of water

1/4 of a teaspoon of cream of tartar (Whatever your own beloved might tell you huffily, this is not sauce to have with battered fish, nor will it spontaneously become such.)

Rose says: have ready a 1-cup glass jug.

I say: don’t bother, it leads to far too much drama.

Put your egg whites in a medium size glass or ceramic bowl. Have a handheld beater ready.

In a small saucepan, stir together the 1/3 cup of caster sugar and the water. Heat on medium-high, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is bubbling. Turn the heat to low and leave it to go while you do the next bit. If you have an electric stove, take it off the heat.

Beat the egg whites on medium speed until foamy. Turn off the mixer and add the cream of tartar. Beat again on medium-high until soft peaks form. Continue beating and add the extra 2 tablespoons of caster sugar. Beat until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Go back to the stove. Increase the heat under the syrup to medium-high and boil for a few minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reads 120 degrees celsius. It shouldn’t be colouring. Transfer to the glass jug if you’re following Rose’s instruction.

Take your syrup to the egg whites. Start beating the egg whites agian, adding the syrup in a thin stream that doesn’t touch the beaters (it will fly off everywhere and set on the side of the bowl). If you’re using a glass jug, the syrup will almost instantly cool down and harden, becoming unusable. You can then try and microwave it. This won’t work. Then you hack the lumps of hardened syrup back into the saucepan with a splash of water and try and turn it back into syrup. There will be swearing. Once you’ve remade syrup, you can complete the meringue. Once all the syrup is in, continue beating on medium speed for 2 minutes. It will be lovely and dense and velvety. Set aside.

Act 3: completing the  buttercream*

*very satisfying

460 grams of unsalted butter at room temperature

Coconut creme anglaise

Italian meringue

~150 grams of shredded coconut (I used the moist shredded coconut that comes in a snaplock bag, but you could use dessicated or large flakes)

In your freestanding mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the butter on medium speed until creamy and paler.

Gradually beat in the coconut creme anglaise, beating until smooth.

Add the italian meringue and beat until just incorporated. If the mixture looks curdled it’s too cold – you can fix this by resting the bowl inside another bowl of warm water – but this shouldn’t happen if you haven’t refrigerated anything.

And finally, many long hours after you began, you are ready to ice.

Spread a little smidge of buttercream on your serving plate, to stop the cake skidding around. Put your bottom layer on this. Spread the bottom layer with ~just over a cup of the buttercream, spreading it almost to the edge – the weight of the upper layer will push it out further. Put the top layer on. Then cover the top and sides with the remaining buttercream. You may have a cup or so leftover. This is no bad thing really, given the enormous amount of butter.

Now, for the last bit. This will be messy. Balancing the plate on one hand, tilt the cake so that you can coat the sides with shredded coconut. Coat the top last. Then scoop up all the coconut you’ve dropped on the bench and the floor and feed it to your chickens.

Beautiful! Congratulate yourself heartily. I did. Then I reread part of the recipe and realised I had been meant to mix 2 cups of shredded coconut into the buttercream. Damn. I was a bit peeved about this until we ate some, but the consensus was that the buttercream would have been made all gluggy and grainy with more coconut. As it is, it is beautifully silky and still very coconutty in flavour. It’s up to you…

Everyone has loved it.

The beloved said it’s good enough to eat off the cat.

And I will make it again. One day.


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.