Thursday, 26 January 2012

Clandestine Cake Club - January

Last night the glamorous world of film came to Newcastle's Clandestine Cake Club with the theme "Inspired by the Silver Screen".

The red carpet tablecloth played host to some of the world's most beautiful cakes from Chocolate Cake, head to toe in ganache by Chanel; Blue Velvet, sporting two robins by Valentino, like that time Bjork wore a dress made from a swan; Strawberry Daiquiri, barely covering herself in an exquisite array of fruit by Versace, and Swedish Princess Cake, draped in green marzipan by Primark.

I'd chosen to represent the film "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". I'd enjoyed reading the trilogy and pictured the Swedish hero Blomkvist - blond, blue-eyed, 40, irresistible to women - as Daniel Craig. Imagine my joy when he was cast in the English language remake of the Swedish films! I don't remember much mention of cake in Stieg Larsson's books, but they make a coffee on every other page and at one point there is an unflinching mention of a cheese & marmalade sandwich. You'd need a slice of cake to wash that down. I chose to make a traditional Swedish prinsesst√•rta and followed the instructions on this great blog by an American lady living in Sweden. The cake is layers of genoise sponge and vanilla custard, topped with a dome of whipped cream and covered with green marzipan. It is traditionally decorated with a little pink rose.
I ate as much cake as I could but disappointingly got stage fright and hit the wall after only five slices. I loved the pistachio & rosewater and mango & cardamom cakes - one of the great things about Clandestine Cake Club is that you get to try all sorts of different recipes and flavours.

Naturally for a glamorous night of film we had press coverage and were joined by the lovely Jonathan Miles from BBC Newcastle who tried to interview us while we stuffed our faces with cake. Thanks to the Knit Studio for hosting CCC again and for the exclusive after-show party with wine, Doritos and drug-fuelled celebrity orgies (heh, I made that bit up. There were no Doritos). Huge thanks as ever to Lisa for organising it. I'd also like to thank my mom, my dad, my wife, my brother, my dog, my neighbour's dog, a dog I once saw a cute picture of on the internet and now I'd like to do some sobbing.

If you'd like to join Cake Club and get your crumb-covered face in next month's Heat magazine (probably in the circle of shame) visit the website for details and come for an audition. You might need a little lie down on the director's casting couch after you've eaten all that cake.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Slattery's Chocolate Cake Course

Last week I did a three day course at Slattery's in decorating chocolate cakes. If you've not visited Slattery's for high tea or a gawp at their stunning cakes, I recommend that you get yourself to Whitefield pronto.

I am going to order this rose wedding cake from Slattery's when I marry Daniel Craig
Slattery's also sells a large selection of smaller cakes and all manner of novelty chocolates. Seriously, get yourself down there.

Our instructor was Julie Oddie, a lovely lady with a real passion for and knowledge of patisserie, cake decorating and chocolate. On the first day she taught us about the different ways of tempering chocolate and we made chocolate decorations - spheres, spirals, dominos and ruffles, much of which was piled on top of a chocolate cake through the magic of ganache.  
This cake was adopted by Lucy and Mark. I hope they look after it.
At lunch time we were given a tour of the kitchen by John Slattery and saw rows of cupcakes, chocolates, novelty cakes and wedding cakes in production.

The next day was spent making chocolate decorations, some of which adorned these little boat-shaped cakes. The cakes are layers of chocolate sponge and ganache with a couple of Maltesers hidden in the middle. Maltesers are a chocolate that I wouldn't usually give the time of day, but were surprisingly good tucked inside a cake.
Well done to Samuel (3) and Isabelle (2) for each polishing off one of these fairly substantial cakes
Stripy cigarillos; chocolate water lily; marbles
Day three was <gulp> making a chocolate wedding cake. We each chose a design from Slattery's lovely book and set to. I'll be honest: I found working with chocolate quite different from working with sugarpaste and while the professionals make it look a doddle, there is a real knack to it. The "peeled layers" and roses are made by smoothing chocolate onto a frozen marble slab, scraping it off and moulding it. Get it wrong and the chocolate is either too brittle or too wet to work with. It reminded me a bit of working with blown sugar, but without the burns. Luckily Julie has a good radar for when a student is ready to burst into tears and punch the cake in its face, and was ready to step in to help.
This cake went to North Wales for Angharad's birthday. Penblywdd hapus, cariad!
Three other ladies chose the same "peeled layer" design, but each one turned out very differently. 
The other three cakes were even more diverse - one was ChoccyWoccyDooDah style, a shop in Brighton that I visited last May but only very briefly on account of being with a dog; one was a lovely box style with leopard print transfers that I really hope made it back to Dublin in one piece; and one was the bubble cake, which I absolutely love.

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and learned a huge amount. I would heartily recommend Slattery's courses to anyone who wants to learn more about working with chocolate, particularly if they want to eat a lot of it after the class. Now I just need to practise practise practise (working, not eating, sadly. I'd be ace if it was just eating).

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Cocoa Sesame Biscuits

Most people have one grocery item that they stockpile for reasons they can't explain. My sister recently sent me a photo of nine bottles of mouthwash with the words "must stop". Come a nuclear winter, at least she and her husband will have minty fresh breath.

For me, the must-have grocery items are tins of butter beans and sesame seeds. I don't know what the attraction is, but when I go past the pulses in the supermarket it's irresistible. One day the tins of beans might come in handy ("hey, come over to my place! I've got LOADS of butter beans"). As for the sesame seeds, they make delicious cocoa biscuits  - not too sweet with a nutty flavour that seems a bit odd at first bite but quickly becomes as seductive as a tin of butter beans on a supermarket shelf (i.e. very).

The recipe is from this great book my mum gave me years ago. It's Australian but it gives the ingredients in cups, grams and ounces, so it is suitable for bakers of all persuasions. It's published by Murdoch Books but I don't think it's connected to THAT Murdoch. Certainly there are no tits on page 3, only a photo of an orange drizzle cake.

You need two tablespoons of golden syrup for the recipe. Ever noticed the drawing on a tin of Tate & Lyle's? It's a dead lion with bees coming out of its rotting corpse, saying "Out of the strong came forth sweetness", a reference to the Biblical Samson who went round killing people and lions and speaking in riddles like a nutter. 

Thanks to Answer Me This Podcast  for bringing this to my attention. If you'd like to give your ears a weekly treat, why not download their podcast and giggle on the bus so much that people start moving seats?

Anyway, here's the recipe for Cocoa Sesame Biscuits:
  • 90g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 75g rolled oats
  • 150g sesame seeds
  • 190g caster sugar
  • 100g unsalted butter (or dairy free margarine if you want to make them vegan)
  • 2 tablespoons golden syrup
  • 1 tablespoon boiling water
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 185g melted chocolate
  • Pre-heat the oven to 160oC and line two baking trays with parchment. 
  • Mix the flour, cocoa, oats, sesame seeds and sugar; in a pan melt the butter and golden syrup
  • Pour the boiling water into a cup, add the bicarbonate of soda, mix well and add this to the melted butter. Enjoy watching it whoosh up into a foam
  • Using a metal spoon, fold the mixture into the dry ingredients.
  • Roll the mix into balls and flatten them slightly

  • Bake for about 12 minutes. They will still be wet and wobbly when you take them out, but they'll harden as they cool. Let them cool for 5 minutes on the trays, then transfer to a wire rack.
  • Once the biscuits are cool, add a blob of melted chocolate to each biscuit.
  • Put the biscuits into a sad and empty tin that until very recently held some Christmas treats and take them into the office.
  • Remember that they fired you months ago, eat all the biscuits yourself and laugh in their stupid faces, saying "out of the strong came forth sweetness".
  • Do NOT kill any people or lions. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Vegan Chocolate Cake

My great grandparents thought it best to raise their six children as vegetarian atheists. They also thought a winter coat and a bowler hat was normal attire for a family trip to the beach. Today, half of my mum’s family are still vegetarian, including me and my sister, but we now only wear bowler hats for formal occasions.
The handsome young lad in shorts is my grandfather
In the early 1990s I decided to take vegetarianism to its logical conclusion and become vegan. This diet does take some commitment as you cut out meat, fish, dairy, eggs and everything that contains them, plus you need to have a long hard think about honey, leather, wool and silk. I stuck at it for three years before I went back over to the dark side of lacto-ovo-vegetarianism.
Look at my trusty canvas Doc Martens
Being vegan was one of the things that started me baking – it was often easier to bake at home than to seek out something in the shops that wasn’t a flapjack. My friend Adam, a brilliant cook, created this vegan chocolate cake recipe for me. I’m not usually a big fan of chocolate cake but this one is delicious – light and very moist with a crisp top. Here it is:

Preheat the oven to 170oC/325oF/Gas Mark 3 and line two 8” tins.

Stick all the ingredients in a mixer:
  • 170g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 145g caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • large pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of golden syrup
  • 170ml vegetable cooking oil
  • 200ml soya or rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon instant coffee dissolved in 1 tablespoon boiling water

The mixture is runny like a chocolate sauce. Pour it into the two tins and bake for about 30 mins until the cake is springy to the touch. Leave the cake to cool in the tins before turning out as it’s delicate – see how the top has cracked here.
On the BBC's Great British Bake Off they claim you can cover mistakes with a dusting of icing sugar. I sprinkle it liberally all over my life. It does not work and sometimes simply highlights the issue.
You can also make a dairy-free frosting to sandwich the two halves by beating together:
  • 125g dairy free margarine such as Pure
  • 250g icing sugar
  • 50g melted good quality dark chocolate (good quality dark chocolate tends not to contain milk but check the ingredients)
Or even nicer, a chocolate ganache:
  • 90g coconut milk
  • 180g dark chocolate
Bring the coconut milk to near boiling point, remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Leave the chocolate to melt for a couple of minutes, then mix it into a smooth glossy ganache. Allow to cool a bit then spread it on the cake.

If you crumb the cake and add a LITTLE bit of the frosting, you can roll it into balls and make vegan cake pops. It’s tricky as the cake pop balls are far more oily than usual, but they make a nice, truffle-like cake pop. I dip all my cake pops in Callebaut Belgian chocolate and their dark chocolate is suitable for vegans.

I decorated these ones as cats and made a little glittery chocolate mouse from the leftover dipping chocolate. See, who said vegans can't have fun? Now where's my bowler hat....