Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Make of our lives one life

Photo credit for all shots to Katherine Read.

Well, before that (if you're not in a musical) you have a hen party. And at the end of last summer my little sister had hers. She had asked for a vintage afternoon tea in the garden of my Mum's house, and so lots of preparation had gone into getting the house and garden ready for the influx of friends and family wanting to celebrate Mandy's forthcoming marriage.

I can't remember whether I offered to cater the party, or whether Mandy asked me to, but in the end I set aside 2 days to make cakes, scones, sandwiches, tarts and eclairs until the table was truly groaning with treats.

Having no experience with catering for lots of people I made lists, lots of lists, and enlisted the help of a good friend Kat, and my Mum both of whom made things much much easier, and a lot more full of laughter.

Mum and I had planned the menu in detail beforehand (she's also good with the lists) and decided on the following:

Smoked salmon & cream cheese
Egg mayonaisse and cress
Poached salmon and cucumber

Feta and spinach tart

But as everyone knows, an afternoon tea is all about the cake so here's the best bits:

Mini chocolate eclairs
strawberry tarts
Vanilla cupcakes
Victoria sandwich (my trusty recipe)
Chocolate fudge cake
Cloud cake

It was certainly an undertaking, but I donned my pinny and off I went. First steps were to make the 'big' cakes. As regular readers will know I can make the Victoria sandwich in my sleep so I did so, and then I made a start on the chocolate fudge cake. The recipe I use is a Nigella one, and I'm not sure if I've talked about it on the blog before.

After my Dad died I was distraught, beside myself (almost literally at times) and really struggling to cope. Daddy and I were very close and he was my go to person in times of trouble, so to lose him had a huge impact on me. My mum is very pragmatic, a doer, one of lifes problem solvers. Faced with a slightly incoherent, midly hysterical daughter she decided to give me a focus, and asked me to bake. I baked - somewhat appropriately - Nigella's chocolate fudge cake for the broken hearted. I made one for us, and then my Aunty came over and I made another for her, and then a third for someone else. The attention to detail the cake required meant that I didn't have the energy or the space in my head to be a wailing mess, but instead focussed my energy into the cake. Anyway, it's an amazing cake - damp and without that bitter chocolatey-ness that posh chocolate cakes can sometimes have, it's so popular - the sort people look amazed at and then go on to demolish fairly swiftly! Oddly the recipe is from Nigella Bites which is the one of her books I don't have so I have no idea where I got this recipe from. Divine intervention perhaps. Or the internet. Working with my mother did mean that I was faced with the 70's take on cake icing - hence the retro peaks, but actually I really liked it.

Excuse the wonkiness, it occurred during an attempt to move it onto a doily. Lesson learnt. No doillies!

For the cake:
400g plain flour
250g golden caster sugar
100g light muscovado sugar
50g best quality cocoa powder
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
½ tsp salt
3 eggs
142ml/small tub sour cream
1 tbsp vanilla extract
175g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
125ml corn oil
300ml chilled water

For the fudge icing:
175g dark chocolate, minimum 70% cocoa solids
250g unsalted butter, softened
275g icing sugar, sifted
1 tbsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
Butter and line the bottom of two 20cm sandwich tins.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugars, cocoa, baking powder, bicarb and salt.
In another bowl or wide-necked measuring jug whisk together the eggs, sour cream and vanilla until blended.
Using a freestanding or handheld electric mixer, beat together the melted butter and corn oil until just blended (you’ll need another large bowl for this if using the hand whisk; the freestanding mixer comes with its own bowl), then beat in the water. Add the dry ingredients all at once and mix together on a slow speed.
Add the egg mixture, and mix again until everything is blended and then pour into the prepared tins.
Bake the cakes for 50-55 minutes, or until a cake-tester comes out clean. Cool the cakes in their tins on a wire rack for 15 minutes, and then turn the cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.
To make the icing, melt the chocolate in the microwave – 2-3 minutes on medium should do it – or in a bowl sitting over a pan of simmering water, and let cool slightly.
In another bowl, beat the butter until it's soft and creamy and then add the sieved icing sugar and beat again until everything's light and fluffy. Then gently add the vanilla and chocolate and mix together until everything is glossy and smooth. Sandwich the middle of the cake with about a quarter of the icing, and then ice the top and sides, too, spreading and smoothing with a rubber spatula.

The other 'big' cake I made was a new one. Really I openly mock people who try a new recipe on Come Dine with Me, and then I did the same but it was amazing! I think I've mentioned previously that Mum seems to be the only person who gets Sainsbury's Fresh magazine, and it does have brilliant recipes. One of those was this Cloud Cake which appeared in the summer. Theirs was topped with crystallised rose petals but quite frankly I just didn't have the time, so sprinkles it was. The cake is a bit of a faff to make, but when you cut into it the clean whiteness is just overwhelmingly beautiful. The icing again got peaked (I tend to tread the path of least resistance, but also my icing and cake decorating skills are negligible so this seems to hide them really well). I do want to do it again, but as cupcakes and add a spoonful of raspberry jam in the middle of each just as a variation.

8 Egg whites
1tsp cream of tartar
250g icing sugar, sifted
150g plain white flour, sifted
1tsp vanilla extract
sea salt
for the icing
2 egg whites
100g caster sugar
50ml cold water
1 tsp vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 170C, or 150C for fan assisted ovens. Using an electric whisk, whish the egg whites in a bowl with 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt and the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks. Whisk in the icing sugar a little at a time, whisking well after each addition.
2. In three batches, fold the flour into the egg white mixture then add the vanilla extract. Spoon the mixture into an unbuttered 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin, 7cm deep. Bake for 40 minutes until golden and springy to the touch. Invert the tin on to a board and leave the cake to cool upside down in the tin. Don’t do what I did and un-spring the tin whilst it’s still hot, and without edging your knife around the outside, or it will split in two.
3. To make the icing, blend the egg whites, water and cream of tartar together in a bowl over a saucepan of boiling water. You’ll need to be whisking for 4-7 minutes until stiff peaks form. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract. Continue to whisk, until you have a good spreading consistency.
4. Run a knife around the edge of the cake and turn out onto your serving board or plate. Spread the icing thickly over the top and sides of the cake using a palette knife. Leave to stand for a couple of hours before serving.
5. I decorated mine with sugared rose petals. Wash and dry your petals, brush with egg white and cover in caster sugar. Set in the fridge before using.

I think, I'll add the recipe for the eclairs, on another post as this is getting a bit War and Peace esque, and I have yet to add pictures. But the cakes went down a storm, and if asked I'd definitely give up another couple of days to cater an afternoon tea. I really couldn't have done it without my Mum and Kat though, so huge thanks, hugs and tea to both of them.


Helen @ Fuss Free Flavours said...

I ADORE the cloud cake. It is like sinking your teeth into a marshmallow.

For the frosting you do not have the crem of tartar mentioned in the ingredients, and the sugar is not in the method. I used both.

Thanks for blogging this one.

Anne said...

Wouldn't mind being invited to a feast like that! ;)

Pen said...

Thanks for the notes Helen, I'll amend the recipe as soon as I can, and Anne you would have been more than welcome. I definitely over-catered - My cousin Sarah took a HUGE doggy bag home for her boys!


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