Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Violet Cream Cake

Earlier this year the theme at Clandestine Cake Club was "Life is Sweet" with cakes inspired by a favourite sweet or confectionery. I can have a heated debate on "The Top Ten Chocolate Bars with Nuts in Them" (Topic always wins, despite its disappointing size) but the stand-out confectionery for me is violet creams. 

Floral-scented confectionery can really split a room: I'm in one corner with the old ladies, gleefully pawing a box of scented chocolates, whereas recently I offered a friend some lightly-flavoured rose cupcakes and she turned them down, saying "they'd make my husband retch".  

I couldn't find a recipe for violet cream cake so I made one up. Here it is: 

For the sponge: 
325g unsalted butter at room temperature
325g caster sugar
6 medium eggs
325g self-raising flour
2 teaspoons violet flavouring
1 tablespoon creme de violette (optional)
a few drops of purple food colouring

For the Italian meringue buttercream:
180g caster sugar
3 egg whites
60ml water
300g unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons violet flavouring
1 tablespoon creme de violette (optional)
a few drops of purple food colouring

For the chocolate ganache:
125g double cream
30g liquid glucose
175g dark chocolate broken into pieces

For the decoration (optional):
50g dark chocolate broken into pieces
crystallised violets

To make the sponge:
  • Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C/325 degrees F/Gas Mark 3 and grease & line two 8 inch round cake tins
  • Cream the butter and sugar together until it's light and fluffy and add the violet flavouring, creme de violette if you're using it and the food colouring
I bought the violet flavouring online. Thanks to Suzanne who gave me some of the creme de violette that she bought for making cocktails. 
  • Add the eggs one at a time until well mixed, then gently fold in the flour. 
  • Split the mix between the two tins and bake for about 40 minutes until the sponge springs back from the touch and a skewer comes out clean.
  • Cool the cakes on a wire rack
Meanwhile, make the frosting:
  • Dissolve 150g of the caster sugar in 60ml of water over a high heat until it reaches 114 degrees C. You don't want the sugar to brown so the quicker it reaches this temperature the better.
  • While the sugar syrup is boiling, whisk the egg whites to soft peak stage, then add the remaining 30g sugar and whisk until stiff (the eggs, not you). 
  • Once the sugar syrup has reached 114 degrees C, plunge the pan in cold water to stop it cooking  and with the mixer still on, trickle the syrup down the side of the bowl slowly. You don't want to pour the hot syrup all over the mix or it will scramble the eggs. 
  • Continue mixing until the sides of the bowl no longer feel warm and add the violet flavouring, creme de violette (if using), colouring and butter. Add the butter in pieces - it's important that you don't add the butter while the mix is still warm or it will melt.
  • The frosting can look as if it's gone horribly wrong - keep mixing and it will come together.
  • Note! The eggs in this buttercream have only been very lightly cooked. If you're pregnant or elderly or have a thing about lightly cooked eggs, perhaps just watch someone else eat the cake for you.

 To make the ganache: 
  • Put the cream and liquid glucose into a small pan and heat until bubbles start to form on the surface. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate pieces
  • Allow the chocolate to sit in the cream for a couple of minutes, then stir it in to form a smooth glossy mixture.
  • Let the ganache cool until it is no longer warm but still runny
For the decoration:
  • Melt the chocolate pieces gently and put it in a piping bag. Spread out a piece of baking parchment and pipe flowers onto it. Stick a crystallised violet in the middle and leave them to set. Really I only did this because Paul Hollywood once gave someone a hard stare for leaving the sides of their cake unadorned in the Great British Bake Off.

To assemble the cake:
  • Cut the edges off the two sponges using a 7 inch round as a guide. Split the two sponges in half so you now have four rounds.

  • Spread a thin layer of chocolate ganache on the first layer of sponge, then spread some of the buttercream on top of this and add a layer of sponge. Continue layering ganache/buttercream/sponge until you finish with a layer of sponge

  • Cover the sides of the cakes with the buttercream, then the top
  • Pour the ganache over the buttercream on the top of the cake, allowing some of it to trickle down the sides.
  • Add the decorations if you've made them

There's a chance you have some leftover meringue buttercream and ganache, which is far too nice to waste. I used it up by baking some chocolate cupcakes, adding a layer of ganache on the top and piping the buttercream over it.
There's also a chance that if you like violet creams, you also like rose creams. You can ring the changes on this recipe by substituting rose extract and a splash of vanilla for the violet flavouring. Sprinkle on some dried rose petals so Paul Hollywood doesn't get all grumpy. You can use leftover rose buttercream and ganache by baking some chocolate cupcakes.
There's also a very real chance that you've got some leftover violet flavouring. Why not make some violet cream ice cream by simply adding it with dark chocolate chips to a custard-based ice cream recipe?
Oh! and now you've got leftover egg whites from making ice cream. You can make chocolate macarons and use the leftover ganache and meringue buttercream to sandwich them together.
If you've still not exorcised the floral-loving old lady inside you, it's time to embrace spinsterhood, get a few cats and a lace tablecloth (see above).

By the way, I also have a list of Top Ten Violet Creams. It's a bit vague, like "the ones from that shop in Lincoln that closed down", but top of the pops is Rococo Chocolates, phenomenally expensive but utterly delicious. My 2 year old nephew sent me some for my birthday last year, securing his position as "person most likely to inherit all my worldly goods". If you'd like a chance to disinherit him, it's July 12th and it's these ones.

Thanks! x

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Canada, cousins and cake

In the 1960s my Aunt Kate emigrated to Alberta, Canada. Every other year she would send her daughters back to the UK to teach them what an English summer was like so they would understand why she'd left. This meant that every other year I had a playmate who was just my age - cousin Sarah - and for all that we grew up thousands of miles apart, we've always been close.
Me and Sarah aged 5, 7, 9 and 11 with our sisters Virginia and Lucy, and Grandad
Aged 14. Ew. 
Aged 17. Look! A new cousin. Helen
My long-held dream was that my parents send me on a reciprocal visit to Alberta but they refused, citing lack of funds. Also my dad put me off a bit by telling me that in Canada you had to say everything in English and then in French because it's a bilingual country (I believed him). For all that I've visited the cousins several times in Toronto, I'd still never visited their childhood home in the prairies.

The prairies - bright, cold and flat.
This April the planets aligned: Sarah had been selected for the prestigious Citadel/Banff Centre Professional Theatre Program and was then in Edmonton performing in The Penelopiad. 
Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad. For anyone who didn't think their early 20s was an ideal time to plough through 24 books of Homeric Greek, let's just say it ends badly for the maids and 12 nooses are about to be lowered 
Aunt Kate had a spare room and it was Easter, time for bucketloads of treats. Helen and I packed some much-missed English chocolate and flew out.
IMPORT                         EXPORT
The more milkybar buttons you pack in your case, the more Oh Henrys you can take home
We overlapped for a couple of days with Sarah's boys Charlie and Joey, who were quick to learn we had jelly babies too
Sarah and her husband Tim enjoying a typical Canadian breakfast - coffee in the snow
Canadians are mad keen on their coffee but they've got a surprising number of tea houses, probably because they've got the British Queen on their money which keeps reminding them to drink the stuff. I bought this tea-brewing mug at David's Teahouse for a fella back home, but was too shy to give it him and have kept it for myself. Win/win, eh? A lonely life with a nice brew. 

The best place to get a cup of tea in Canada is Tim Horton's, the ubiquitous doughnut store founded by a former hockey player. They do a steeped tea that is a good strength and means you don't have to faff on brewing your own tea and wondering where to put the soggy teabag. Why does NOBODY else offer this? The time saved allows you to put more effort into choosing from their massive array of doughnuts.

You can also order a box of little doughnuts called Timbits,  or "bits of Tim", which isn't very nice seeing as the poor man died in a car crash.
"Yeah I'll have a steeped tea and one of those things that looks like a glazed turd" 
Aunt Kate drove us out to Jasper in the Canadian Rockies, ostensibly to admire the scenery but really to enjoy some lovely massive cakes.
Look at the size of this scone, it's like a mountain!
Sticky cinnamon buns at the Bear Paw Cafe. This is what Canada excels at.
The Columbia Icefield at Jasper that feeds several glaciers. I didn't really understand how it works but I hope my small contribution helps keep them topped up
Back in Edmonton, we made the trip I always insist on in Canada and went to Dairy Queen for a Blizzard. This is like a McFlurry but much much nicer - the gimmick is to show how thick the ice cream is by turning the tub upside down. I always go for a Skor (Daim) Blizzard but was impressed by Helen's mint Oreo and have one booked in for 2015.

We got photobombed by a man on his way to mow down some former colleagues
The other actors in the Penelopiad had recommended The Duchess Bake Shop as the best bakery in Edmonton. We went twice to check if they were right and we tried nearly all the cakes as well as the cookies, shortbread, macarons and croissants. Turns out the actors were bang on - the cakes were amazing.
I was particularly pleased with my choice of the Paris-Brest cake and even more pleased to find the bakery has shared the recipe here. I swear I will make it one day.
Smile all you like, girls. I'm not sharing.
Helen and I had a great time in Canada. It was lovely to spend time with family, relax and overindulge. Thanks to everyone who treated us and especially to our very kind and generous host Aunt Kate xx

An illustrated guide to our holiday eating by Helen Hancocks