Commitment to a project for the long haul wasn’t a skill dished out while I was in the queue. My past seems to be peppered with half finished cross stitch patterns, incomplete piano exams and general abandonment midway; my parents despaired. I could almost chart my life, autobiographically, on the projects that have fallen into oblivion, once the heady dose of rampant enthusiasm started waning. I’d bolt, ostensibly onto the next shiny, sparkly idea never to see completion.So you can imagine the wonder I feel at having completed 365 days of blogging. It’s snuck up on me, which I quite like. It proves it’s been it’s been more rewarding, than effort demanding, I haven’t been watching the time pass. It’s filtered into other aspects of my real world. I have an addiction to crockery; my cupboards are starting to groan at the explosion in population. Not the best outcome perhaps, but entirely a guilty pleasure! I have tea towels that have never seen the kitchen counter, much less touch it. Strictly for blog use. I have become that fastidiously dedicated. I’ve always enjoyed cooking from a varied repertoire, but the need to share it on here, has given me more impetus to push further and take a risk. It’s invited the palates of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Middle East to become exciting yet comfortable company at my dining table. How can that possibly be anything other than pleasurable?
Celebrations call for a cake. I had some fancy, multi-tiered, fondant fiddly confection, occupy space in my mind for a while. But true to form, the interest waned. It got me thinking of what it is I want to represent. I truly believe that, so much of what we have experienced with food – growing up, the flavour and smells, the ideas, the people round the tables, the scenery, the travels – all contribute to shaping our self expression on the plates adorned with lovingly prepared food. You do open yourself to interpretation with what lies on that table, and the thing of it is, that it’s voluntarily done, in honest, good faith. It’s more than just an invitation to fill the belly.
Much as I enjoy baking ‘fancy’ cakes, when it comes to me, I don’t like a fuss. Something straightforward always appeals, simplicity that shades over depth is alluring. I don’t mind a bit of fiddliness to get there, as long as the outcome has proved the effort worthy. Perhaps that’s as much a part of me, as it is part of baking a cake. So, I laid aside unnecessarily grand plans, and went for a toffee cake, that has nothing but sheer rich, butteriness of flavour to recommend it. A cake simply robed with a coating of luxurious, beige, butterscotch buttercream and adorned with a crackly, nutty praline.
Made with a combination of light muscavado sugar and golden caster sugar, this Fiona Cairn’s recipe cake itself is subtle in flavour, gloriously earthy in colour with a firm feel in the mouth. And good job it is to, because a regular buttercream, made with butter and icing sugar, has effectively, a toffee sauce beaten into it, turning the ivory frosting, into an expensive leather handbag like, restrained tone of beige. The cake needs to stand up to the utter debauchery of that buttercream. And it does. It’s a perfect marriage of texture and flavour. The hazelnut praline, just a smattering of it, gave it a welcome, sweet, crunchy nutty note. Entirely desirable.
As much as this cake celebrates a year of this blog’s progress, to me it represents more than just posts, photos and paragraphs. The close inner circle of friends, who see through to the better shades of my character, have their hand in shaping this nook in the byte-world. You know who you are.
There is you too, reader. To those of you who have followed, subscribed, liked and spread the word, and to those particularly, who have commented, started the dialogue, contributed to the multi-faceted voice of this blog, to those who laughed, heckled and educated – I thank you for your company.
(by Fiona Cairns,from The Birthday Cake book)
280 g unsalted butter, really soft, diced, plus more for the tins
280 g self raising flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
5 eggs, lightly beaten
160 gm golden caster sugar (you can use white sugar)
120 light muscovado sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180 deg. Butter three 20cm sandwich tins and line the base. Sift in the flour and baking powder, into the bowl of your food mixer, or a large bowl. Add the eggs, butter, sugars and vanilla. Beat until well blended and smooth, Watch the mix, as soon as it’s lump free and smooth, stop beating.
Spoon and level an equal amount of batter in each tin. Place in the oven for 15-20 minutes. The cake is ready when it’s well risen, golden and a skewer placed in the middle comes out clean. Turn out of the tin after a few minutes, then leave on a cooling rack to cool completely.
240g unsalted butter, softened
60g light muscovado sugar
2 tbsp golden syrup
1tbsp double cream
1 tsp vanilla extract
200g icing sugar, sifted.
Put 80gm of the butter in a saucepan along with the muscovado sugar and syrup and place on a low heat.Cook until it is a deep, amber colour.Remove from the heat and add the cream and extract while continually stirring. Leave aside to cool until it’s room temperature.
In a mixer, beat the remaining butter till it’s lovely and smooth. Whisk in the icing sugar, until it’s ivory white and fluffy, At least five minutes. Add the cooled toffee and beat until it’s perfectly amalgamated.
This buttercream was very soft after I put in the toffee. So I placed it in the fridge for 10-15 minutes, enough for it to firm up a bit. I gave it a gentle mix and proceeded to layer the cake.
I also, placed the cake in the fridge for 15 minutes after layering so that it wouldn’t slide around when I coated the sides.
This icing is quite sweet, and I found this quantity just on the right side of
decadent. Any more and it would be cloyingly sweet. I think I had about half a cup to spare after the cake was iced.
(from Rose Berenbaum’s Cake Bible)
1 cup roasted hazelnuts (or any other roasted nut)
2/3 cups cane sugar
1/4 cup water
Lightly oil one baking sheet, and set aside. Conversely, you can use a non-stick baking sheet, un-greased. In a medium heavy saucepan on medium heat, add the sugar and water, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved.
Put aside the spoon, increase the heat to medium-high and allow to boil, undisturbed (but not unattended), until the sugar begins to caramelize. You can swill your pan around to even out the browing, but never stir as it will crystallise.
If you have a candy thermometer, you’re aiming for 370°. A slight smell of sugar burning is a good indicator. Once 370° is reached, immediately turn off the heat, add the roasted hazelnuts to the saucepan, stirring quickly to combine and pour the entire mixture onto the greased baking sheet.
Once hardened (about 20 minutes), break into smaller pieces and grind in your food processor to a powder consistency. Store in sealed jars in the freezer. This makes a fair amount of praline. Consider sprinkling it over ice creams, fruits and cream based desserts such as parfaits, for an indulgent crackly sweet hit.