Cake and friends

February 11, 2013

Bloody typical.

Just as I get all enthused about writing my blog again, I come down with a bout of flu on a par with the bubonic plague (without the dodgy armpit sores, thanks be…) (is it okay to talk about armpit sores on a food blog?).

After six days in bed, and more time off work than is good for my bank balance, I’m downright desperate to be back to fiddle-like fitness.

The worst thing about all this is the complete lack of interest I’ve had in food. I’m sure a lot of it is thanks to my tastebuds dying a death – when food becomes nothing but texture and consistency, well, Michel Roux could be standing over me with the finest coq au vin and it might as well be a Findus frozen lasagne.

So, while I await the return of my taste and energy levels, here’s one I made earlier…

My friend Marian is one of my biggest fans. She’s always going on at me to enter The Great British Bake Off, or make her a cake, or set up my own cafe, or make her another cake.

Now, as much as I (normally) like eating, I think baking a cake for someone else is right up there at the top of my list of pleasurable activities. So when Marian asked me to make a birthday cake for her boyfriend a couple of weeks ago, I… actually, that’s a lie. She didn’t ask at all. I told her I was making it, and that was that.

The boyfriend, I was informed, was a fan of carrot cake and chocolate cake. And, as I am most definitely not a fan of carrot cake (and what’s the point of making cake you can’t enjoy yourself), chocolate it was.

A few years ago, I made a chocolate and orange marble cake for Little Sis’s birthday that had both looked and tasted great. Cutting open the cake to see swirls of chocolatey and orangey sponge gives it quite a professional look – even though it’s actually really simple to make. The recipe is from Leith’s Baking Bible, which is a must-have book for anyone who makes cakes regularly.

Ingredients for chocolate and garlic, er, no… chocolate and orange marble cake

Ingredients for chocolate and garlic, er, no… chocolate and orange marble cake

All you do is make a traditional sponge batter, split the mixture in two, then add orange zest to one half and cocoa powder to the other.

Spooning the orange and chocolate batters into the tin

Spooning the orange and chocolate batters into the cake tin

Then place alternate spoonfuls of the mixtures into your tin until it’s all in. Roughly smooth the top, then get a clean knife and slowly draw a spiral from the centre of the batter outwards. Just the once. This will combine the two batters just enough to create a great marble effect once cooked.

A chocolate and orange marble cake, with a big hole in the top. Well, I had to make sure it was cooked…

A chocolate and orange marble cake, with a big hole in the top. Well, I had to make sure it was cooked…

Cooking this cake, I came to the realisation once and for all that my oven is pretty damn efficient. Maybe a little too efficient. Hence the great crater in the top. Next time, I’ll remember to turn the temperature down a wee bit. But luckily for this cake, it was being iced, so I could disguise the slight amateurishness of its appearance.

The Leith recipe also suggests sprinkling grated chocolate on top, which is okay, but I think random little chippy bits of chocolate doesn’t always look that great. I thought I’d attempt some proper curls for this one, and while researching the best way to do it, came across a fantastic tip. Instead of all that faff with melting the chocolate, pouring it onto a sheet, cooling, scraping etc etc etc – you do it with a vegetable peeler!

As long as the chocolate is properly room temperature (if it’s too cold, the curls just shatter), and you hold it over the cake so you don’t need to try and pick them up, it really does the trick to great effect. As you can see here…

Decorated with chocolate icing and curls, the cake is ready to go

Decorated with chocolate icing and curls, the cake is ready to be delivered to the birthday boy

The cake went down very well, although I’m not sure the boyfriend was too keen on half a Peckham pub singing him happy birthday in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. But hey, you want cake? You have to sing – or at least be sung to – for it.

So long in the making, and so short in the eating…

So long in the making, and so short in the eating…

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A feast for friends

July 25, 2010

It’s reached that point in my plans for leaving London where I’ve had to start saying goodbye to friends. Although I’m having a big party next week, it’s inevitable that, thanks to the summer holidays, some people won’t be able to come.

Last week, I invited my friends Lea and Nicky over for dinner, because they decided that going to Camp Bestival was more important than waving off their dear friend who’s going to a far and distant land and may never return… Okay, I’ll drop the drama queen act. It’s fine that they’re going away for my last weekend in London, really, it is.

Anyway, back to the point of all this – the food. I decided to cook my favourite saffron poached chicken for the meat-eaters, some grilled whiting sprinkled with pul biber for the pescatarians, plus a Moroccan vegetable stew (which included baby turnips, courgettes, carrots, red onions, chickpeas, turmeric, cumin, and lots of garlic) and couscous for all of us to eat.

This is a dish my mum made regularly when I was a child, and I would always eat far far too much of it. What is it about couscous that allows you to stuff your stomach so full of it? Well, this meal was no exception, and I was left groaning by the end of the evening.

For pudding, I made Dan Lepard’s chocolate honey meringues, which was in last week’s Guardian magazine. In his instructions, Dan said not to make one big one as it would collapse. However, I wanted to slather it with mascarpone and fresh figs, in the manner of a Pavlova, so decided to ignore Mr Lepard and make it whole.

The result was a rather soft, incredibly chewy, almost brownie-like meringue, which, in my humble opinion, was delicious. And the creamy, fruity topping made it extra special.

All in all, it was a pretty indulgent evening, and hopefully I have left Lea and Nicky with some happy foodie memories of me until we see each other again.

Last September, for my birthday, a friend gave me a little tin of that delicious French chestnut purée. I’m not usually one for leaving delights like that in the cupboard, but for some reason I hadn’t got round to using it.

So, this weekend, I was determined to come up with something chestnutty. Obviously, the perfect accompaniment to chestnuts is chocolate (well, it’s obvious to me), and, as I also had a bar of 100% pure cacao sitting around, I started searching my recipes for something that combined the two.

When it comes to baking, my first port of call is always Leith’s Baking Bible, and once again, it didn’t let me down. The recipe I actually found was for chocolate peanut butter brownies, but I thought the chestnut purée would be a perfectly workable substitute for the peanut butter.

Brownies always work best when they’re slightly undercooked, so they stay good and moist in the middle. If anything, the purée added to that moistness, and the resulting squares of chocolatey unctuousness really stick to the roof of your mouth – a surefire sign of a good brownie, in my books!