Yes, as the title of the post suggests, this is not an unmitigated success story. In fact, it’s more of a failure story with reasonable methods of save applied at the end. I wouldn’t go as far as to say elements of win, only save. I am happy with the fact that I didn’t have to waste any cake, and that is the key thing. I also found out that I can make buttercream icing, even if presentation isn’t my strong point. So far, my cakes are all very obviously home-made, although the fancy icing on the Raspberry Joy bars and the fondant flowers on my mum’s birthday cake are things I consider to be good achievements, especially so early on in YotC. I’m hoping that by the end of the year my presentation skills will be much improved – I have also been inspired by some Epicute pictures and hope to try out my own versions of some of the amazing feats of culinary acrobatics that you can see there.
The latest cake requirement was my lady wife’s birthday. I had originally considered making wife cakes, but had no idea where I would get crystallised bitter melon and, even if I could find it, I’m not totally confident in my pastry skills, so scrapped that for now. I then decided on another cake which I’m hoping to make for her girls night birthday celebrations, but I don’t spoil it by saying any more, except that I ended up not making it as the supermarket let me down, ingredient-wise. Just when I needed it most… Why does Morrison’s hate me so much? And other melodramatic phrases, pick your own. So, my final plan was madeira cake with NO LEMON. It was very important that ther was no lemon as she had lately told me how she liked madeira cake just plain and couldn’t get it anywhere. Now, madeira cake without lemon is essentially just a vanilla sponge, but it tasted pretty good so I won’t split hairs over it. That would be unhygienic. I got the recipe from my favourite baking book, Complete Baking by Martha Day. It was nice to use a recipe from a book rather than the internet – I have a number of recipe books, and scraps from magazines with recipes on them, and barely make use of them these days. I do still love having them, and getting new ones so that I can look through them as other people might do with whatever gossip magazine is current now – I’d much rather be looking at pictures of food than of pictures of celebrities who are either too thin or too fat, depending on how the media is feeling on any given week…
My plan for the madeira cake was to make a big rectangle of it, then cut out little shapes and decorate them with differently flavoured glazes. I was thinking of honey, vanilla, ginger and maybe lime with poppy seeds. It was either that or just dusted with icing sugar to keep them really simple and, in my brain, elegant. However, the universe had different plans for me. I made the cake with wheat-free flour, as while Miss M will eat some wheat these days, it does play havoc with her if she has too much, so I thought it’d be good to make something that was less about havoc and more about enjoyment. I have tried wheat-free flour before, and had the same result this time as then: the cake fell apart as soon as I so much as looked at it. There was absolutely no way on earth to shape it, even with the sharpest knife in my kitchen arsenal. It crumbled. It collapsed. It gave up the ghost. If I hadn’t nailed it to the perch it would be pushing up the daisies. It was, my friends, an ex-cake. I was gutted, not to mention frustrated. Luckily, I had made arrangements for just such an event, as I remembered my previous wheat-free experiments, and had made one individual cupcake. A big cupcake, right enough, but not big enough to be an actual cake. Maybe mugcake would be a better term for it. Or ramecake, since I made it in a ramekin. Here it is:
To decorate this ramecake, I made some plain buttercream icing. I got out my mum’s old hand blender, which operates just as well now as it ever did although it looks a bit more battered (that’s kind of a pun, and I didn’t mean it) these days. I use it quite regularly in my baking, and on this occasion I used it to beat about 50g of margarine – full fat, on this occasion – till soft. Such a small amount or margarine did make it harder to work with as it’s just about the amount that can safely be contained within the heads of the beaters, thus requiring frequent stops to take a spoon to them and clear them out. However, this got a bit better once I started adding icing sugar. I have no clear idea of how much I added, I’m sorry – I added a shake at a time from the box to the bowl, until the consistency of the butter icing was stiff and dry, and it tasted like butter icing and not like margarine. I also added several drops of blue food colouring, as Miss M’s favourite colour is blue. Once the icing was ready, I put it in my icing syringe. This syringe is from the pound shop, and I rather feel that this fact contributes to the lack of finesse in the finished product. I may invest in a better icing kit, as I feel like I could have done a better job here. That said, a bad workman blames his tools, so maybe not. At any rate, I piped it on in a swirl to start with, but it was pretty uneven, so then I tried making little butter icing stars all round it. It ended up looking very much like a mutant sea anemone, which wasn’t the look I was going for on this occasion. With various smoothing, adding, removing and decorating with silver sugar balls, I came to this result:
It looks better form the top than from the side, and it tastes better than it looks, or at least the bits I tried did. I transported it to work, where I was gong to see Miss M, sheathed in the top of a 2 litre soft drink bottle, wrapped in tinfoil. It was a pretty futuristic presentation, but the bottle was exactly the width I needed to cover the cake without it rattling off the sides or tipping over. I could have ribboned it up a bit but it had got to that time again where I just had to go to bed or something bad was going to happen (eg I was going to get less than eight hours of sleep).
‘So,’ I hear you ask, ‘what happened to the crumbly crumbly cake from the start of this story?’. Well, I’ll tell you. Once I had got over the rage of having made a cake that was seemingly fit for nothing other than soaking up spills, like sawdust, or feeding to pigeons (tuppence a bag), I decided to check out the internet for suggestions as to what to do with cake crumbs. Turns out, there are plenty of things you can do with them. I was quite heartened by this news, and decided to take the internet’s advice and use the crumbs to make something to take with me to a party I was going to on Saturday night. It was to be a cocktail party, so I wanted them to be a bit boozy to match the theme. I had some raisins which I soaked in mulled wine overnight to take on the flavour, and I decided to add rum to the cake crumbs as well as two eggs, a couple of spoons of margarine and enough flour to make a thick, shapeable dough. No longer wheat free, but wheat free hadn’t been kind to me. I shaped the dough into little balls and flattened, then pressed with a fork to give a sort of fancier look. Then I baked the crumb cookies for about fifteen minutes at 230C – until they were evenly browned, basically. They were pretty good, very cakey in the middle as you might expect so not really biscuity in texture. They lost what crunch they did have very quickly and the next day were sort of like fig rolls in terms of texture – which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, depends if you like soft biscuits or not I suppose. They look quite cute – see?
For aforementioned cocktail party I also made more pretzel bites, only this time I added two cups of grated gouda to the dry ingredients. This made them much more subtle than a cheddar would have, which I liked, and they were still awesome to make into tiny rolls and put meats and things in. Would also probably be excellent with some tomato soup – they are very bready.
Thus ends my tale of cake woe, and while I hope it will be my last I have a feeling it almost certainly won’t be. I think I’ll stop trying to make things with glutinous rice flour – the last thing I tried to make with it was like a slug, terribly wrong – and start trying to make things with wheat free flour. Much less waste, and one day I’ll probably get ir right. More egg, I think, and more liquid possibly. Or stick to individual cakes that don’t need sliced, and let other people find out how crumbly they are when they try to bite into them. Collapsing cakes – I might even market them…