If I were to be honest, I would tell you that this was another Cake Fail situation, really, though it doesn’t look it. And, since I’m nothing if not honest (in fact, I am a lot of things *as well as* honest) I will admit to that very thing. This was cake that I was taking over to a friend’s to celebrate her lovely, happy new house. I thought a very cool thing to do would be to make a house shaped cake in honour of the occasion, and I set about doing some research. By research, I mean having a look at some pictures of gingerbread houses, quickly scanning one website about how to make a gingerbread house and then just deciding that I could figure it out as I went along. In theory this is relatively sound, but what I should have paid more attention to was the kind of cake that I should be making to form sturdy cake walls…
I wanted to make the cake dairy-free to suit the friend in question’s dietary preferences, so I knew I’d be making it with oil instead of margarine or butter. I thought this would be good for keeping the cake moist, too, as I was making it several days ahead in order that I could construct the house another night and then decorate it on a third night, thus keeping each night’s work to a minimum level of hair-tugging stress. Again, a good theory. After having a bit of a think about what kind of cakes keep well, and develop flavour over a few days, plus a bit of thinking about what flavours Miss K likes, I had a root about online and came up with a dark chocolate, coffee and bourbon cake recipe – from the New York Time, no less. The link I used is here, though when I made it I swapped 3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil for the butter, and had to add an extra cup of flour to the batter at the end because it was too liquid. I used the base of my grill pan, lined with wax paper, to bake the cake, and as it was thin it only took 15 minutes in the oven before it was ready to come out.
While the cake was cooling, I cut another piece of wax paper to the same size as the cake’s surface. This let me plan out the shapes that I was going to cut out, so that I had it right before I started cutting the actual cake to bits. This is an excellent tip the I came across when fashioning the dinosaur cake I made last year; the link to the instructions is here and my end result is here. Once I had the walls and roof mapped out, I let the cake cool right down in the tin then placed the paper on top and cut right through the whole lot, to form these shapes:
That was enough work for one night, so I stacked the shapes up, put in a sealed container and left. Two nights later I went to form the house. This is where things went wrong. I decided to make a sticky caramel to use as a glue to hold the pieces together. This was yet another good theory, which I’d read about on the gingerbread house site, but the glue wasn’t really strong enough to hold the pieces up. Either that or I wasn’t holding the pieces together for long enough until the glue set. This is a possibility – impatience for this kind of thing is also the reason that I never paint my nails, I can’t bring myself to sit completely still and do nothing with my hands until the nail polish dries, and end up covered in the stuff. Either that or I end up with nine perfect nails and one that looks like it was plastered with Artex rather than painted, then I ruin the other nine trying to fix that one. Not worth it for me; not even close to worth it. The other thing about the cake was that it was deliciously moist – I made it on Monday and it was still really fresh on Friday, when I took leftovers to work – and while this is what you’re usually after in a cake, it meant that it was quite soft, and didn’t stand up well on its own. A drier sponge would have been more robust and held itself at attention much better. It wouldn’t have been so delicious, though, so that just goes to show that it would be a dull world if all cakes were the same.
I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of the house, even just after I’d put it together. I was initially hopeful that it would at least stay up, even if it did look like it badly needed condemned, and this hope led me to ‘paint’ the outside with a chocolate icing (a mix of 150g plain chocolate and *some* icing sugar and cocoa powder, plus a squeeze or orange juice and enough boiling water to make a thick paste). I tried supporting the house then with tins from the cupboard, which left me with a house that was still collapsing and lots of tins of soup with chocolate all over them. Not a great improvement – some might even say a backwards step. I then tried pinning the walls and roof together with toothpicks, regardless of the health and safety implications – this didn’t work either. One of the gable walls in particular was really soft, and sagging in the middle, so it wasn’t supporting the roof or the walls to either side, and basically the whole things was a ghastly, haunted house covered in chocolate kind of deal. Bad news.
I put the Amazing Collapsing House away again, it was trying my patience and I have cream walls in my flat, which wouldn’t stand up well to a bout of me flinging chocolate cake around in a rage. I went back to the cake the next night with the idea of cutting the walls into little bricks and building them into a house, like Lego. This didn’t work out either as the bits were all different thicknesses, and not even on the top and bottom surfaces, so balancing them on each other was a losing game right from the get go. I resigned myself to just serving the cake as brownies, and cut it up as such, though they were unevenly shaped and sized from all the previous cutting, housing, toothpicking, squeezing together with cans of soup and re-cutting. It added to the charm, I’m sure. They certainly didn’t look any worse for it, and went down an absolute treat.They weren’t housewarming themed, that’s for sure, but then I tried, and it’s the thought that counts, no?
I’d like to try a gingerbread house another time, but I’ll be sure to pay more attention to the advice that the internet has to give me. Until then, misshapen drunken brownies all round.
I also made some gluten-free cherry and almond cakes last week – they were supposed to be marbled, but that didn’t work out for me at all. I didn’t think that these were a great success, I kind of rushed the process and was free styling the recipe so those were bad combinations. Still, they looked quite pretty with their topping of demerara sugar. I made an almond sponge mix half a cup of wheat-free flour plus one teaspoon of xanthan gum and a cup of ground almonds mixed with a cup of caster sugar. I added about three tablespoons of soy milk, then mixed in enough sunflower oil to make the mix the right consistency, so that it would drop off the mixing spoon in dollops. I took half of this out of the bowl and mixed it with the remains of a jar of cherry jam, hoping to form a pink colour. It was more grey, in real life, and I always think that this is not a good colour for cake. I should probably have added food colouring at this point, but of course didn’t and just crashed ahead, hoping for the best. I then intended to just swirl the two mixes together lightly and bake, so they turned out marbled. I guess the consistency of the mix was too thin for this, or too thick maybe? Or maybe the two should be different consistencies. Anyway, whatever the reason, it didn’t work. At all. *Then* I sprinkled them with demerara and put them in the oven, which I had turned up to full heat and forgotten to turn back down, so the tops of the cakes rose and looked beautiful while the insides… Well, the insides looked like raw, grey cake batter. I wasn’t loving this experience, but I’d promised someone gluten-free cake and I was gosh-darned well going to provide it, even if they were going to have to be extremely polite and pretend to be enjoying what was clearly a grey lump of nothing good. I turned the oven right back down to 150C, sinking the middle of all the cakes in the process, and baked for a further fifteen minutes, until the tops of the cakes felt firm but slightly springy. The insides now looked more like cake than storm clouds, and although they were very dense, chewy sponges they did taste OK. My gluten-free associates seemed to enjoy them, but I put this down to them being completely starved of home baking.
These two cakes do not represent my finest hour, but I did get something put on the table at the end of each debacle and of that, I am proud.
Tunes: Well, it doesn’t include the lyric ‘Our house, falling down around our feet’ but it’ll do. Got to love a bit of Madness.
Viewing: It’s a film about struggling against adversity greater even than collapsing cake walls. It’s a film about one man’s battle with increasingly unlikely turns of events and an ever-wandering Southern accent. It’s a film about putting bunnies in boxes. It’s Con Air.