Miscellaneous Cakes 2014/15

imageBrooklin Blackout

image Ben’s First Birthday

imageCoffee Layer Cake studded with Caramel Hazelnuts

(Original Mojito Cake)

image Red Velvet Cake, with raspberry sugar shards

image Mint Choc Chip Triple

wpid-imag0394_1.jpg

Mojito Cake 3.0

wpid-imag0545_1.jpgTriple-decker carrot cake ūüôā

 

Mojito Cake

This year I decided to bake myself a Mojito Cake as¬†my birthday cake. The recipe was simple: 2 lime sponges, then a lime and mint butter-cream to fill and top¬†it (could’ve done with more of that for the sides). The only issue was that as I was going into work with the cake, I didn’t feel I could put any rum in it.

I thought I’d need to invent the¬†recipe, but a quick Google turned up this perfect one, and an easy one to follow at that, courtesy of Domestic Sluttery¬†–¬†I doubled the ingredients to make a 2-tier cake.

Lime and Mint, but unfortunately no rum in this one

Lime and Mint, but unfortunately no rum in this one

(UPDATE – this post contains version 2.0)

BBC Good Food Show

…Summer, 2013¬†@ Birmingham NEC
For my birthday, I was bought tickets (by my in-laws) for Mrs^ and I to go to the show, but this was not designed to be not a present for the 2 of us to enjoy equally (when it comes to food she know’s what she likes). She was more than happy to come along, walk around & see the shows, despite being less interested in the actual food aspects.

To make the most of the day (and to beat as much of the later-in-the-day busy-ness as possible) we had a relatively early start and we were on the train(s)¬†over to Birmingham Int’l by 8:30.¬†After navigating the long (long) hallways of the NEC, much aided by the escalators and¬†travelators, we rocked up in-front of the entrance to the hall(s) that the show was taking place in. With our tickets came a voucher for a free show-bag (a huge bag-for-life style big bag), and boy did it come in useful – we had brought our own, but this extra one made our lives easier.

Map of the hall

Map

After studying the map in the Show Guide we¬†formulated a plan; we’d go across the hall down one ‘aisle’ then back down the next one over, thereby covering the whole area with as little retracing-of-our-steps as possible (a HT to the Travelling Salesman Problem). The only restriction being that we had to be in front of the Supertheatre at our showtime(s).

After only a short walk down our first aisle, the first stall we struck upon was one touting Celtic Spirits (flavoured brandies & whiskies). I wasn’t sure whether my body was ready for alcohol at something short of 10am, but I was wrong. I think it was just what I needed to take the edge of the caffeine rush that I had going. After I had tried all 3 of their liqueurs we walked away with a large bottle of my favourite, and if we were to continue at that rate it was going to be a long and expensive day. (We did come back right at the end of the day to pick up a 3-pack of samples as a present, as nothing else had jumped out at us quite like these whiskies).

Hog Roast

The hog – irresistible looking isn’t it?

Next came breakfast (my second of the day, the first was left-over birthday cake). At the end of our first pass across the hall we came across one of the many seating areas that are surrounded by food court stalls. I’m never one to turn down a hog roast, so that was my choice made. I didn’t manage to get a photo of what I was about to tuck into as it was just too delicious looking and I was hungry, but I did go back to get a picture of where it came from. ūüôā

Chocolate Wine

Chocolate Wine

The next part of the show has turned into a bit of a blur (there are a lot of the same type of stall, placed everywhere; flavoured alcohols, various meats with interesting curing/spicing, sweet treats, and kitchen gadgets). I’m pretty sure it was at this point that we picked up a 2 sets of rather efficient looking (sharp) peelers – the 3 of them peel, julienne & ribbon. This was followed soon after by a very sharp set of knives, which I didn’t know I needed (clearly the guy did a good job on selling them). ūüėČ We also had picked up some flavours of fudge, Fudge Kitchen, pretty early on (I think), as well as me tasting a few wines and a variety of spirits. The last stop before ‘lunch’ was to buy some cocktail¬†premixes, funkin, (sans alcohol this time, we’ll add that later) – I’d actually been looking for these in the supermarkets for a while, but they had become scarce as soon as I was interested.

The Supertheatre

The Supertheatre

The Great British Bake Off

The One With the Strudel Mix

The One With the Strudel Mix

Our main events of the day were our 2 back-to-back trips to the Supertheatre. Sprinkled with gratuitous name drops for Tesco and the other sponsors, the shows are almost the biggest draw to these things, with the celebrity names that are contained within.¬†First up, at 12 o’clock, we saw Great British Bake Off’s Mary Berry & John Whaite give us demonstrations of Mary’s all-in-one orange cake, and John’s goat’s cheese & caramelised onion flat-bread (video). The chat between the 2 of them was good fun, they spent most of their time recalling moments from the season of the show just gone, and making references to how tough judge Paul Hollywood can be on the show. Unfortunately for Paul-fans out there he wasn’t at the show today, he was off doing, as Mary put it, “something to do with motor-cars, he loves his cars”, so a decent excuse.¬†One very specific anecdotes they told was about John, the strudel mix and the food processor. For all those who saw the show, they will know how events unravelled (no spoilers for anyone still wanting to catch up at any point). Their food looked delicious and I could’ve quite easily polished a few servings from both plates right then.

The GBBO Results

MasterChef

John & Greg

As soon as the GBBO show had finished we were back into the Supertheatre for round II, the MasterChef Judges, John Torode & Greg Wallace, who were ‘cooking us lunch’. Greg made an asparagus moose followed by poached figs with yoghurt & honey, all while John was making 2 SE-Asian dishes: lobster thai green curry and something along sweet and sour with deep-fired tofu, pineapple & lots of chillies. It was clear that these guys had known eachother for years and had been working together in front of the camera for most of that time, as they had the rapport and the back-and-fore¬†patter down. They kept dropping in awful (and I mean seriously awful) vaguely cooking related puns, that got no reaction whatsoever from the crowd, but Greg did get a whoop¬†when he used the classic, “here’s one I prepared earlier”. In my opinion, his best joke of the show came when he was explaining how to combine beaten egg whites into a mixture without loosing all the volume that had been built up, the technique was apparently first developed by the German, Baron Stirrenfold.

John's Offerings

Greg's Offerings

All the recipes looked so simple¬†at the hands of the experts, and should be really easy for me to replicate – that’s right isn’t it?

Gin & it's 'matched' tonic

Although I can't remember what the stall was selling ;)

After lunch came a veritable binge on alcohol tastings. I must’ve tried >4 different gins from various stalls, as well as an Amaretto, some vodkas (we bought some of the chocolate-y stuff), a gin-based take on Pimms (which was delicious) and a few more wines (those are just the ones I can specifically remember – there were a lot). Each was extremely tasty in it’s own way, and a lot smoother than you’d find in a supermarket brand, but at the prices they were selling them for, the taste was all I was going to be walking away with on that day.¬†It was at this point in the day that I stumbled across some other things I’d been wanting for a long time, but had never gotten round to laying my hands on. I picked up 2 different sizes of mousse-rings and a pair of large(r than table) spoons (for serving or folding mixtures).

By this point we had passed by every stall (with as little repetition as possible ūüôā ) and taken a glance at most of the stages that were spread around. If I needed a new recipe book I could’ve bought one and had it signed at the Signing Stand, or perhaps watched different chefs at the Interview Stage, or on extra demo-stages. If we hadn’t been eating all day we could’ve eaten at one of the versions of the MasterChef restaurants/tapas bars or at the Good Food kitchen. There was soo much more that we could’ve crammed in, but we were happy with the choices that we’d made (we didn’t even touch the BBC Gardeners’ World Show that was attached in the adjacent show-halls).

Our final port of call before heading for home was the pub, to gather our stuff, rearrange our bags into an easily carry-able state, but mainly to take the weight off our feet for just a few minutes.

To the victors came the spoils

To the victors came the spoils (and you can’t even see the bag on my back)

All in all, a great day – that place was a foodie’s dream. Utterly shattering, rather expensive and definitely something to do again ūüėÄ Maybe next time we’ll go to see more shows, interviews and cooking demonstrations, and perhaps only buy a few items early on in the day. Getting new books and having them signed is certainly one thing to do if I find a niche that needs filling ūüėČ – I didn’t need another book for my shelf(ves), I already have too many that I use all too rarely.

The show does a good job with it’s social media interaction, lots of tweets (via their¬†Twitter¬†account or on #BBCGFS) during the day to keep you on top of what is happening where around the show halls. Together with the app that allows you to program your choice of shows + desired visits in order to help you day run as smoothly as possible, and so you don’t forget to see you favourite chefs.

Top Tips for a top time:

  • Comfortable shoes & light clothing (it gets rather warm)
  • Bring large bags
  • Bring lots of cash (although the queues at the ATMs were non-existent, they did charge.)
  • Arrive early, you’ll get more done without the denser crowds of later on.
  • Watch out for the folding trolleys that are dragged by a large number of visitors.
  • Book Supertheatre tickets for over lunch-time/late afternoon – miss being on the floor during the busiest periods.
  • Taste everything, even if you’re only 50% interested, the stall-holders are always good to chat to and you might find that you stumble across a gem.
  • Download the show app, and together with the website plan your day in advance, that way you’ll find yourself in the right places when your favourite chefs/stars are due to be appearing.
  • Take a fully charged phone (& get the NEC WiFi to actually work – the mobile web dies when it gets busy, late morning-ish).

Raspberries & Cream Polka-Dot Cake

After stumbling across inspiration somewhere online, I decided that I wanted to bake a cake with a polka-dot effect running through it, and when Mrs^ suggested that I might want to bake mine own birthday cake, I knew this was a perfect chance. Rather than this pattern through the cake being created by swirling different coloured mixes together (à la marble cakes), this one is created by inserting already baked cake into a second mix. I chose to cut these shapes into something more resembling a sphere, then placed them into the second cake before being baked again, and thus the pattern can be observed.

After deciding that I wanted to make the polka-dots raspberry flavoured (and surround them with a vanilla sponge) the next problem was how to make them all raspberry-y… Unfortunately there was no raspberry essence¬†in Tesco when I went looking, but that would’ve been too easy wouldn’t it. So I was in a position similar to that of the Dr Pepper Cake

The only problem with the method I used for the Dr Pepper cake was that the mix ended up too sloppy due to the extra liquid that was added (the Dr P syrup). So I decided that this time I would do similar, by starting with raspberry jam, but this time continuing to reduce it down until it forms a dense syrup (a dense toffee consistency). Next I spread it out thinly on a surface until it was cold and set, and I was then able to break it up into small shards. Refrigerating these to ensure they were brittle then allowed me to pulverise them with my hand-blender into raspberry sugar. (I found it useful to put some cling-film over the top of the jug while blitzing it in order to stop bits going everywhere.)

Incorporating this sugar in a standard sponge recipe (adding a touch of red gel-colouring for good measure) led to a tasty (if not surreal looking) set of cup-cakes to work with later.

Using a melon-baller to cut spheres (or as near as dammit) from the cupcakes left me with a nice pile of ‘polka-dots’ and a tasty-looking bowl of scraps to nibble on; they rapidly disappeared.

(On reflection baking a thin sponge might have been a more efficient way to save on wastage, but I wasn’t short this time, and there’s always next. Having said that, more polka dots would’ve only improved the spectacle.) Another way to do this would be if I bought a silicone cake-pop tray – perfect spheres every time.

The rest of the method is fairly self explanatory: Mix + polkas into the tin, cover them with more mix, and bake until the mix isn’t goo-y in the middle any longer. Ice with butter-cream and cover with raspberry sugar-shards for the full effect.

Cross Section

Now, the raspberry shards are there to add to the raspberry flavours on the cake, and were made in a similar way to the sugar (from earlier). This time I set the syrup (from more jam) into a thin layer on a baking sheet, which I then put in the fridge to make brittle. Breaking this up into random shapes and poking it onto the icing left the crazy, almost flame-esque, pattern. (Next time I will place the shards radially, which will make cutting slices a whole lot easier!)

This has just eclipsed other cakes as my favourite one that I’ve made. ūüôā
Ohh, and it makes a great breakfast ūüėÄ

Maid of Honours

The finished articlesThese are one of¬†Mrs^‘s favourite baked treats; made from a recipe she used as a child with her Granny.
They are essentially a Bakewell-like cake: a gooey-sticky almond-y filling with raspberry jam liquid-y centre. Very moreish and they disappear far too quickly.

Oops – we seem to have been too eager to try them before I got a photo.

Ingredients (Makes 12)

~2/3 pk preroll shortcrust pastry
2 eggs
100g caster sugar
100g+ ground almonds
2 (generous) tsp almond extract
raspberry jam
butter (for greasing)
icing sugar (for dusting)

Method

Step 1:¬†Grease a muffin/cupcake. Cut out pastry circles so that they’re larger than the holes such that they extend above the tray when placed in. Add a good sized blob of raspberry jam to the centre of each.

Pastry with dollops of raspberry jam

Step 2: Beat the eggs until they become fluffy. Add the almond extract. Slowly add the sugar beating as you go until the mixture is smooth and stiffer.
Step 3: Whisk in 100g of the almonds bit by bit until they are combined. Depending on the wetness of the mix (due to the size of the eggs) you may need to add up to 50g more until it resembles dropping consistency.
Step 4: Carefully spoon the mix into the pastry cases ensuring that the jam stays in the middle. Each case should be filled so that it has a casual bulged top.
Step 5:¬†Place the tray in the middle of the oven, preheated to 180¬įC.

Covered with mix, & in the oven

Step 6: Bake for 15 minutes, then check with a skewer Рthe finished filling should leave no stickiness. If required continue baking for 5 minutes each time until the centre is cooked and the tops are a golden brown.

Warm and fresh

Step 7: Dust with icing sugar and enjoy one (or 2) while warm.

UPDATE:¬†I doubled the recipe and found that it worked particularly well. Aside from the usual twice-quantities, 3 large eggs and 260g ground almonds gave the mix a very good consistency. A larger dollop of jam in the case has also given the Honours a better centre to bite into. Making sure that you shape the top of the mix into as flat a surface as you can will improve the look of each tart. This mix required 25 minutes at 180¬įC, with a turn in the middle.
Ohh, and use a fluted cutter – makes them look so more appealing ūüôā

Wine Tasting – An Introduction to Wine

Now I’m not a huge wine drinker; it wouldn’t be the thing I’d choose to drink socially, although with food it always a choice (and if there is an open bottle in the house I wouldn’t say no). I’ve an idea of what I like in a bottle / my glass, and a vague idea of what I should be doing when tasting, but in reality it comes down to whether it is drinkable/not-drinkable and whether I’d buy it again.

So, when we were for Christmas given a wine tasting evening (with the Birmingham Wine School) I was eager to learn what I should’ve been doing for all these years – not just how I should’ve been tasting, but which wines I should’ve been drinking.¬†Unfortunately¬†Mrs^¬†was unable to come with me so I’ve not been able to broaden her¬†palette¬†(yet), so she’s ‘stuck’ on whites.

2013-02-09 18.58.51First off we were told how to look at the wine: by tilting it away in order to look through just a small amount of the liquid, to gauge it’s colour and also to look at the legs – the trails that are left down the inside of the glass indicating strength or sweetness – the more / thicker then the stronger / sweeter the wine is. The came the swirl, what every good wine taster does with so much style and with a flourish; this releases more of the smell of the wine and allows you to sample more of the¬†bouquet. Then after you’ve done all that you can finally taste the thing – who knew that there was so much to wine tasting that doesn’t involve tasting? A good, impolite slurp with the glass draws in air (releasing again more flavour), and a¬†subtle¬†‘swill’ moves the wine around the mouth allowing every part of the tongue to sample it. Some wines will improve when accompanying food, so we also had a selection of cheeses to tuck into.

Now onto the main event; Whites

1. Sauvignon Blanc –¬†Wairau Cove – NZ – 12.5%
Wine #1 - Sauvingnon BlancLooks: Light / Clear, with only a couple of legs – not looking ‘too’ strong
Smells: Zesty / Sharp apples (or similar)
Tastes: Crisp / Fresh / Citrus-y / Reasonably dry
Notes: Probable aperitif / Social drink / With light bites
Price: I’d suggest ~¬£8
Rating: x

A note about my rating system: When faced with just one wine, it is hard to place it on a scale, not knowing whether it will be best / worst /¬†etc,¬†so the only ‘sensible’ thing to do is use a little maths. Start with the first score as x, then comparing the others against this benchmark. I can then if required¬†fit a proper scoring system after the event, but I don’t know whether I’d need to, I’ll have my comparison. Also the prices are what I think they’re sold for, not what I’d pay for them.

2. Viognier – Domaine du Bosc – France – 13%
Wine #2 - ViognierLooks: Golden-yellow, more viscous = more alcohol (they kept getting stronger as the wine flowed)
Smells: Apricot-y / Peach-y (although not quite so much on the nose as the others)
Tastes: Denser / Fleshy fruit / A more full-bodied white
Notes: Suits being an accompaniment
Price: ~£12
Rating: x-2

3. Chardonnay – Bonterra – California – 13.5%
Wine #3 - ChardonnayLooks: Straw-yellow, thicker
Smells: Dense / Smooth / Rich & buttery
Tastes:¬†A ‘rich’ whit
Notes: ‘Middle-of-the-road’ (whatever that means)
Price: ~£15
Rating: x-1

Reds

4. Tempranillo (Rioja) – Lagunilla Reserva – Spain – 13.5%
Wine #4 - RiojaLooks: Ruby / Burgundy, being red it looks thinker that then whites, despite the same strength
Smells: Coarse on the nose
Tastes: Deep / Heavy / Oak-y / Dark berries
Notes: Reliable red
Price: ~£7
Rating: x+1

5. Cabernet Sauvignon – Casillero del Diablo – Chile – 13.5%
Wine #5 - Cabernet Sauvignon
Looks: A reddy-shade of plum, as thick
Smells: Fruity & rich
Tastes: Full Bodied (despite that phrase being so cliché)
Notes:¬†This wine describes¬†a “classic Cabernet Sauvignon”¬†– a perfect red to serve for those who don’t know what reds others like.
Price: ~£14
Rating: x+3

6. Blend – Picinni Memoro – Italy – 14%
Wine #6 - BlendLooks:¬†Dark-dark red, thicker¬†still…
Smells: Dark cherries / figs / coffee Р(all apparently, as by this point I was not doing well at finding new ways to describe what I was getting)
Tastes:¬†Deep complex taste (that’s what a mix will do) / Almost slightly sweet
Notes:¬†Not for drinking on it’s own – another suited well for an accompaniment.
Price: ~£9
Rating: x+2

Actual Prices & Top-3?
The ~30 people there voted as to whether each wine was in their top-3.
1.
£7.99 Р3rd Favourite
2. £6.75
3. £11.99
4. £8.99
5. £7.99 Р2nd
6. £9.99 Р1st

Verdict
All 6 winesSo in order of preference I would drink 5, 6, 4, 1, 3, 2. However that would depend on the scenario – I like to match my wines (although only really by their colour) to the food I’m eating. Additionally Mrs^¬†will not appreciate that I liked the 3 reds the best, although saying that the whites I prefer tend to be on the driest end of the spectrum (even drier that 1)… Give me a good Pinot Grigio / Frascati (or similar) any day. Considering that I ranked 5¬†highest and priced it at almost twice what it should then I shall be seeking it out (although finding it on offer would still be desirable).

So was it worth it? Definitely, although I’m now going to be looked to to check every wine we get in a restaurant from now-on. No pressure then. I’m now at a point of wanting to try more wines, but I dunno whether I’ll stretch to making notes of them all.

One for the roadHaving said all that about how the wines tasted, the best drink of the evening was the one for the road:

Dr Pepper Cake

My second cake in the Great British Grand Prix Bake-Off (#F1BakeOff), is the Pastor Maldonado Cake – what’s the worst that can happen?

I’ve had the idea of doing this for a while, but never the¬†opportunity¬†to do something quite so off-piste. Mainly because I made the recipe up / adapted one for a more-regular cake – so this was really one large experiment.¬†Again this is another cake built for travelling, so no experimenting with shapes/sizes this time.

  • Step 1:¬†Make yourself Dr Pepper syrup.¬†On hearing how I went about creating the Dr Pepper flavour for this, some people thought that putting fizzy drinks in a pan and boiling it was madness. (Well, unless you’re Heston, it probably is.) But that was my way to turn a glass of the stuff into something that could possibly go into a cake-mix while still allowing it to bake, and hopefully not making the hole thing too moist. After about 20 minutes of reducing you’re left with a sticky syrup.

Dr Pepper Syrup in the making

  • Step 2:¬†Make yourself a standard cake mix. I based mine on a coffee cake recipe, replacing the coffee with the syrup. It took on a beautiful pink hue, which I hope will become the true Dr-P deep¬†burgundy¬†that you get in the glass.

In. The. Mix.

  • Step 3:¬†Try to bake as you would for the usual recipe, and then keep baking until the thing cooks!! It gets there in the end, and develops a rich, dense texture. It took me ~2 hours rather than 30 mintues.
  • Step 4:¬†Make yourself some more syrup, and use it to make some Dr-P butter-cream. I decided that I’d spice¬†things up by adding a shot of Amaretto and 1/2 a shot of Cherry Brandy – those (taste like they) are common to 2 of the key flavours that make up that complex flavour. Fill and top the cake.
  • Step 5:¬†Enjoy ūüôā with a good glass of Dr Pepper for comparison. ūüėõ

Taste-Testing

  • Verdict:¬†Interesting texture – something closer to a brownie (the firm kind, not a sloppy ones). The flavour is pretty spot on – not as strong as a glass, but perfect for a cake. The colour and the frosted topping reminds me of a glass itself, so that works again. ūüôāDr Pepper Cake

Despite the cake trying to go wrong, causing all sort of carnage, and threatening to waste my time effort and ingredients, this time I didn’t have to #BlamePastor.