Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cake

So much baking, so little blogging.  I did bake the chocolate butter cupcakes last week.  And the German Chocolate Cake.  But nary a word nor photo hit this blog.  I have some catching up to do.  Like a poor inventory manager, I will adopt the LIFO approach to blogging.  In all honesty, I can barely remember the finer details of making this cake, let alone cupcakes and chocolate cake from over a week ago.

First off - mis en place.   Actually, this was the mis en place photo I took for the Chocolate Butter Cupcakes - strangely, the mis en place is exactly the same for this cake also.

I know, I embarrass my self constantly on this blog.  I am hoping that the sharp intake of breath around the world will give me the impetus to sort out my "pantry".  Yes, that is the extent of my food pantry.  Massive isn't it?  For scale, that is a 5lb bag of flour and the smallest jar ever of skippy peanut butter.  It can barely contain the eight varieties of chocolate, six different grades of sugar and countless experimental purchases of flours of differing proteins and packaging.  I must confess that I have a separate cupboard for oils and spices.

Enough shame, onto cake.  I was a bit dubious about this cake.  Back when I was less of a juggler, I watched three professionals tear apart amateur cooks in a show called Britains Best Dish.   Can I tell you how annoyed I am that the link doesn't explain the concept of the show - just gives you recipes!?!  In a nutshell the show pits amateur chefs against each other, course by course.  To cut an extremely long story short (even I am bored by this paragraph), they rabbited on and on about how the pairing of strawberry and dark chocolate is akin to crimes against human taste buds.   But you know what?  I might just go on that show and teach them a thing or two about strawberries and dark chocolate.  I am here to say that they can work.  And here is how.

First make a white chocolate egg white & butter cake.  Which is actually pretty simple.  The tricky bit is baking them for exactly the right amount of time.  I got one right.  One just the far side of right.  There has to be some law of physics driving the last three minutes of cake baking.  From toothpick pulling out wet to toothpick coming out dry from a rapidly shrinking cake is about three minutes - less than 10% of the entire baking time.  Will have to get the husband onto that calculation.  I followed Vicki's tip and depanned the cakes immediately - I think this helped alot actually.

I am very short in photos this week.  The other HCB'ers have fab photos, so if you want to see the entire process click around.

Like Marie, I was astounded by the mousseline.  Before the HCB group, I hardly ever iced my cakes - primarily because I don't like super sweet, grainy icing, and secondly because I am at my core, a lazy person with a morbid dislike of sifting icing sugar.  But now?  Now I didn't even think twice about making this mousseline.  Whipped egg whites, beaten butter, a candied sugar syrup, strawberry jam (no I didn't sieve it and I lived to tell the tale) all at just the right temperature and mixed in just so?  Not even phased.  I think that cavalier attitude worked in my favour, because this mousseline was amazing.  A doddle in fact.  Assuming you have a thermometer, some scales, two mixers, a perfectly temperate room and said cavalier attitude.  Just look at it - doesn't it look amazing?  Not bubbly or split or anything.  Just creamy pink tinged perfection.

The next step is to split the cakes and fill them.  Rose instructs a cake, mousseline then jam on the top.  That sounded tricky, so I decided on cake, then spread on the jam then the mousseline on top of that.  Much easier to spread jam on a dry surface than a soft creamy fluffy surface.  But then I guess a pike dive is much easier than a triple somersault with double pike - so I guess I lose points for complexity?

I definitely also lose points for misplaced mis en place.  I was retrieving something (vanilla extract I think?) from my oil/spice cupboard and something happened to topple out midst cake composition.

I can tell you that this cake is very robust.  You can drop a bottle of balsamic vinegar from height and it will do no damage.  I like to think that the strawberries were calling to the balsamic, like a siren.  Then you just keep layering until you run out of cake.  You don't have to drop the bottle of balsamic on each layer - but whatever works for you.

The biggest tip I have for this cake is do not, under any circumstances be tempted to smooth that leftover stunning mousseline around the outside of your cake.  If you do, you may end up with less than attractive sides to your cake...  The glaze of dark chocolate (and in my case) golden syrup and vanilla essence is relatively warm when it goes on the cake.  Relatively warm chocolate glaze onto light as air mousseline means that things end up looking a bit smeared.

The next biggest tip I have is to have Rose or Woody come around to your place to put this top dressing on your cake.  What a flipping palaver.  Cavalier attitude be buggered.  I am not sure what you need to do to get the gorgeous swirls a la Rose.  That glaze is sticky (as my grandmother used to say).  Touch it at your peril.  I swear it could trap stray animals.  I could barely extract the cake from beneath its foil cage.  I poured mine on (without protective wax strips in place) and then just had to cut the cake from its chocolate feet.

This cake was a hit.  The cake was light and fluffy and perfect, the mousseline perfect, the chocolate glaze (sticky as it was) rounded out a fantastic trifecta.  This is the perfect way to eat strawberries, cream and chocolate.

My little assistant was particularly keen on this cake.  Even before it was dressed, he was reaching into the cutlery drawer to find forks which were then used in attempt at self service.  I will definitely be making this again.  I can imagine finely sliced strawberries replacing the jam.  Maybe even strawberries sprinkled with balsamic?

I have also signed up to make a three tier wedding cake for a woman at my work.  Am I insane?  So far three different flavors to be finalised amongst the contenders in their Strawberries and Cream themed wedding cake (they are getting married in Wimbledon at the end of July) are this cake, the chocolate wedding cake in HCB, banana cake, carrot cake.  All with the dreamy creamy white chocolate icing.   Then encased in white chocolate cigarillos.  At the end of July.  Yes, clearly I am insane.


Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Chocolate Ingots and a second attempt at Baby Lemon Disasters

This weekend was free choice week.  The hardest thing is deciding what to make.  The math goes something like

Maries Cakes Baked - My Cakes Baked = Cakes I should cook during free choice week

I think the stats are 52 - 30 something = I will be baking cakes long after Marie dusts the icing sugar from her hands and puts away her beater blade.  To try to even the score a little I decided to do two Rose recipes this week.

The first was the "I shall not be beaten by a faffing water bath" Baby Lemon Cheesecakes.  Only, I was beaten by the faffing water bath.  Again.  I have now marked my recipe book with a "bake in the round, do not be tempted by the cuteness of the itty bitty - disaster looms".  

To be totally honest, I managed to have six perfect little cheesecakes, but lost two in the great flood (even with the supportive rack in place).  I lost another two as I pulled the same tray out of the water bath and one of the other cakes sprawled out of its cup over the unflooded remainder.  Not an attractive look.  I was so peeved at the futility of it all that I didn't bother with the lemon curd.  Quite glad that I didn't waste more effort and ingredients.  Because once the six keepers had chilled they were a bit undercooked.  Another batch of Baby Lemon Cheesecakes consigned to the drain.  I retire, defeated from that recipe.

The second free choice was the Chocolate Ingots.  I chose this recipe for a few reasons.

  1. Quick and easy.
  2. It was the recipe that frightened the living baker out of me!  Caramelising cocoa nibs!  I was totally intimidated.  Not only new techniques but weird ingredients.
  3. The only place I had seen cocoa nibs was supporting the petit four chocolates that are served with the bill at our favourite restaurant, La Trompette.  I was prepared to eat my way through a three course dinner and drink amazing wine just so I could tip that little bowl of nibs into my handbag for this recipe.  The sacrifices I make for HCB recipes.  
As it turned out, I found them in the local healthfood shop for 1/80th of the price of a meal for two at La Trompette.   Imagine my disappointment! 

The first step for this recipe is to make some beurre noisette.  I have now browned butter quite a few times.  If you can boil water and tell yellow from brown, you can make beurre noisette.  It is ready when you start to see brown specks foaming their way through.   Just be warned that you should sieve it at this point... don't leave it to sit in the pot whilst you faff about finding the sieve and a bowl large enough to support the sieve.  I think I was lucky this time.  Next time I will take Rose's advice and prepare in advance.  As much as I love extreme baking, I would have been greatly annoyed burning a pound of butter.

From the sieved leftovers, you can see that it was pretty much on the cusp.  Thankfully the right side of the cusp.  I have to say that this is the best beurre noisette I have ever made.  It was really nutty, so it did benefit from my faff factor. 

Sometimes you have to make a few sacrifices to the baking gods to have them smile benevolently on your beurre noisette.

Next is caramelising the chocolate nibs.  Rose instructs that the sugar and nibs (yes, they be the nibs, not bark chips from an orchid - easy to confuse) should be stirred continuously in the pan over heat until the sugar all but disappears.  Apparently this should take less than four minutes.

I really stuffed this up.  The sugar melted after a bit of coaxing, but I never really got to a place where I was happy that just a few white specks remained.  I persevered.  Even when the pan started smoking.  I just patiently moved it off the heat, kept stirring and put it back on.  By the third round of smoke, I called it done, mixed in a teensy bit of butter and then tipped it out on a baking sheet to crisp up.

Being the inclusive wife I am, I offered the nibs to my husband to taste first before I mixed them into the batter.  His comment was "yeah, they definitely need to be cooked because they have a really bitter after taste..."  I have watched enough episodes of Masterchef to know that burnt = bitter after taste.  Those benevolent gods aren't blessed with masses of patience. The photo below is of the burned nibs.   I was happy with the amount of "white specks" just not the taste of burned bark.  That shapely wooden stick is a spurtle and is absolutely essential in matters of caramelising nibs, never limit your spurtle to porridge.  And yes, I have actually attended the Golden Spurtle World Porridge Making Championships (2008).  We live in an amazing world.

I took a different approach in my second attempt.  I melted the sugar almost completely and then added in the nibs and put up with more white specks than I thought Rose would have tolerated.  The result was far and away superior.  Funny that.

The cake mixing is simplicity itself.  Egg whites, almond meal (or toasted and ground if your name isn't Nicola), flour, corn flour, cocoa mixed until, well, mixed.  Then you drizzle in the warm beurre noisette to create a kind of really thick chocolate mayonnaise.  Rose gives you the option to mix in some of the chocolate nibs.  I opted not to, I wasn't sure about the texture of what I thought would be bark in the smooth little bar.    I sprinkled the nibs on the top and left them out of the mix.

You can barely see the nibs in these wee bars.  They have sunk to just under the surface.  Next time I will mix them in as well.  That gentle crunch is actually quite nice and tastes nothing like orchid bark.  Or at least how I would imagine orchid bark would taste - caramelised or no.

They are tricky little things to get into the molds.  Which is probably why Rose suggests chilling the mix for an hour before piping it in.  Obviously from the photo above, you can tell that I didn't do that.  I just spooned it in and roughly smoothed them out.  Very roughly.  I can highly recommend those bar shaped silicon molds.  They make the perfect serving size for big and little hands alike.  And not nearly as annoying as teensy lemon baby cheesecakes.

These little cakes bake about in about 16 minutes.  So assuming you already had some beurre noisette (or you could just use ghee, I guess) and some caramelised nibs, you could go from zero to having these with your cup of tea in about 40 minutes. 

What do they taste like?  I left these on the bench to cool last night, since I didn't finish baking and cleaning up until about 10.30pm.  From the photo evidence, I can count 16.  This afternoon, not even 24 hours later, there were 5.  I have eaten 1.  That means that between my son (aged not quite 2 and can't open tupperware) and my husband, they have consumed 10.  From my one, I can tell you that they are pretty good.  The chocolate nibs complement the moist texture.  And for the first time ever, I can actually taste the nuttiness of the beurre noisette.  Definitely on the bake again list. 

I hope the sun is shining as brilliantly where you are as it was here in London today.