I have a new nemesis. It’s vegan margarine. It was responsible for two cake fails last week, which I had to stress over to get right again. Oddly, I made *three* cakes using the vegan marg, and only had two fail, so in the right recipe it’s fine. The unfailed cake was a banana and whisky number, of which more later. The fail I want to share right now is that of the coconut-almond cake I made for Team Mairead. I mentioned this cake in my previous post, here, but in case you’re just tuning in, Team Mairead were running the 10k for cancer research yesterday, in Edinburgh. My lovely colleague Miss R is my link to the team, and I wanted to give her a cake to share out after the run. I always find that cake is such a motivator, in a kind of carrot and stick way. Should you want to contribute any money to cancer research, you can do so here (or in many other places, but that link is *right there*). We’ll start with a picture of the completed cake, which you can’t tell had, at one time, been a thing that required me to eat a packet of chocolate chips through stress. And greed, admittedly.
I decided to go with the same cake as I made for the G man’s birthday, with some alterations. The original recipe is here, and my version was this:
- 1 cup (2 sticks) vegan margarine, plus more for greasing pan
- 1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp almond extract
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup plain flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Heat oven to 170C. Butter a 10-inch cake tin.
- Using a hand held mixer, combine the margarine, the sugar and two extracts, until mixture is very smooth.
- With mixer running, break eggs in to the bowl, one at a time. Stop processor and sprinkle cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt evenly over batter. Process again until mixture is smooth, making sure there are no lumps in batter.
- Pour mixture into prepared baking pan. Bake until surface is golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to cool in pan until slightly warm.
Unfortunately, my method also included these steps:
- Notice that the edges of the cake haven’t risen at all, while the centre has formed a round dome so the overall appearance is much like one of those rubber toys you used to get, the ones that you turned inside out and then waited until they righted themselves with a pop and sprang fifty, sixty, a hundred feet into the air. A good look for a bell curve graph, a bad look for a cake.
- Attempt to remove cake from tin once it was cooled, and find that it has stuck. A lot.
- Curse. Rain down a thousand curses upon vegan margarine.
I haven’t had a cake stick badly to a pan in such a long time, and I must say that I didn’t relish the experience. I did, of course, get the cake out after much hacking and scraping – you can see the results in this picture. This is a photo of the cake once it had been torn from the cake tin, to which it was clinging like Sigourney Weaver with her massively strong forearms in all the Alien films where something gets blown out into space but she survives by hanging on, then turned upside down to give a flatter top. I wish I’d taken a photo of the dome side. It really was far too ridiculous a shape for a cake to be. You can see that not only were the edges ripped, but the cake was torn closer to the centre, too. I had wasted six eggs on this. I wasn’t best pleased. However, once rational thought returned, I figured that the only thing to do would be to make a second cake to the same recipe, but reduce the amounts and use real butter, so as to give a second layer, then sandwich the two together with some delicious icing and hope for the best. I used real butter so that the cake would rise this time and not stick to the pan. I don’t know why vegan margarine would stop a cake from rising – or perhaps it was just being stuck to the pan that stopped the rising, and if I’d used oil or real butter it would have been OK. I only used the vegan stuff because that’s what I had in the fridge, until (Zeus be praised) I discovered the block of butter hiding behind something else. It wasn’t a dietary requirement, so there was no issue with me using real butter for the second half, or in the icing. Wouldn’t want anyone thinking I was secretly feeding butter to vegans. As hobbies go, that’s not one I’ve considered taking up. Until this moment…
The second half came out much better. It certainly couldn’t have been much worse, at any rate. Here is a photo of the two side by side, for comparison. I halved the recipe above, though only had two eggs so had to make do, but used butter in the recipe and to grease the tin. I also floured the cake tin to be extra safe, although it is an almost brand new, good quality tin that should be stick-resistant on its own. You can see from this picture how the second cake was hardly thinner than the first, despite being half the volume when it went into the oven. The second cake was, in fact, perfect. I said to the first cake ‘WHY CAN’T YOU BE MORE LIKE YOUR BROTHER?’. The cake said nothing back. I think it was going through a difficult time and having trouble communicating its feelings of resentment, inadequacy and shyness. Either that or it was just a cake. Really though, look at them. Ruddy vegan margarine.
Even though I now had two halves of a cake, I still had to layer them, and the bottom layer was still going to be extremely raggedy. I put the good half on top of the bad half and took a sharp knife round the edge – some of the cake still tore away, as it seemed to have an odd texture, too. A bit springier than a normal sponge, possibly because of all the eggs. They were roughly evenly-sized though, and that would do; I have decided to disguise the cake’s failings as best I could with two kinds of icing, a butter, cream cheese and coconut filling and a fondant covering. Plus I had the photo to put on top, too, though the top wasn’t really my concern. I made the filling to my own recipe, which is posted here, near the bottom of the post. I covered the good half of cake with the frosting, because I knew it would throw ou less crumbs and was less likely to break or tear as I spread the frosting on it, then I inverted it and squished the halves together. What a mess. I leaned quite heavily on the top layer, to get more of the frosting peeking out the edges, and went round with a spatula to smooth the edges over as best I could. It ended up looking a bit better than this picture, but far from perfect. The cake was also lopsided, as I’d turned the damaged half back over so that the dome was in the middle, to give a flat base. So far, so terrible. The worst thing for me was that I was going to be giving this cake to people I’d never met, and I wanted it to look and taste great after their huge 10K effort. I was also going to be putting someone’s face on it, and who wants their face on a lopsided cake, I ask you? The answer to that is I don’t know. I simply don’t know.
I evened the cake up as best I could, then, with tactical application and removal of the frosting. I then made a very simple and very unstable fondant icing, by adding water to icing sugar until it formed a ball that I could pick up and knead. I rolled this out onto waxed paper which had been greased with coconut oil, then turned over on to the top of the cake. I could stretch it out a little to cover the edges, but too much pressure caused the icing to split. I then remembered a nice piece of white ribbon that I had handy, and I wrapped this round the side of the cake to hide the uneven-ness of the icing. I also had a silver cake board to hand that I could rest the cake on, which also improved its appearance. The final step was adding the photo, which I ordered last week from www.edibleprints.co.uk. I would highly recommend this site for all your edible photo needs; the customer service was friendly and extremely efficient, and the photo was sent out on the evening of ordering it. Really great and, as you can see, a fun and unusual addition to your standard cake. It *does* mean cutting into your own or your friend’s face, though. I once had a photo cake of myself – it was for my 21st birthday party, and the photo was of me as a tiny kid dressed up as a clown. In fact… Here it is! I think this is the only photo of myself I’ve ever really loved. There are some of me as an adult that I think are alright, or good even, but this one is so cute it’s not even funny. This outfit belonged to a doll that my sister had, that’s how small I was. I was barely taller than that radiator, look! Anyway, I’m kind of a fan of the edible photo, though I won’t be ordering one for every cake. You can get little ones for cupcakes, too, and it doesn’t have to be a photo, it can be a cartoon or something else. Lots of potential for fun there, I’m mulling over a few ideas already.
I read over the instructions for applying the photo to the cake before attempting it, because I only had one shot to get it right and it’s quite a fragile item, really. The tips I used were 1) to put the photo in the freezer for two minutes to make it easier to peel off the backing strip and 2) to brush some icing round the edges of the photo so that it would stick to the cake. I made sure that the fondant icing was dry, too, as moisture destroys the photo paper. Using those two hints, it was absolutely plain sailing all the way, and applying the photo was the easiest part of the whole process by a long shot.
That’s it then! A failed cake turned into a win, and apparently everyone who tried some enjoyed it, so I’m glad of that. I just have to remember not to use vegan margarine unless I have to, and then to use oil and on the cake tin to allow the cake to rise and to come away from the tin in the end. Either that or serve the cake still in the tin, and call it a tincake. It’s like a cupcake, only bigger. And more tinny.