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The smallest small person turned 1 this week. He’s a bruiser – loves his food, loves crawling up stairs and going down slides. He also likes cake and has been very pleased with himself when he has managed to grab some when I wasn’t looking. Here is the one I made just for him. He was too tired to eat it in the end but his brother and sister kindly helped him out. Love you baby O.

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This is what happens when a 4 year old chooses the cake for a 68 year old. It was a Treasure Island cake, complete with a volcano, sandy shores and hidden treasures (M&Ms hidden in little concealed holes in the cake). Happy birthday Rossie, I love you.

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I have been slack on both the baking and blogging fronts, largely due to an increase in work, running and sugar-avoidance. I did make this cake for a colleague tonight though and it’s ridiculous enough to share:

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It’s a caramel mud cake with white chocolate ganache, a pile of green tinted coconut and a packet and a half of tv snack biscuits. I probably should have turned it around to hide the broken bits but hey, that’s how I roll (sideways and over some unexpectedly rocky patches).

And here is a photo of the cake in the wild. The cows’ feet got a little bit stuck in the grass but they were still happy. It got good reviews, which was a relief.

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Happy birthday Nat.

(I couldn’t decide which photo to use so I used them all!. See previous rolling comment)

I’ve been thinking a lot about wheat and dairy recently – more specifically the fact that I am not comfortable with the quantities in which I consume them. At the same time, I have been reading more about paleo/grain free diets and, while I am not about to go hard-core paleo, take photos of my belly and post them on Instagram or give up running in favour of Cross Fit (although I have briefly considered each option), it does make sense to me.

But I miss bread. Good lord how I love toast. Even when I know it doesn’t love me back or make me feel good. So I made a loaf of chia seed, buckwheat and quinoa bread using this recipe from Quirky Cooking (I love that website). And it was delicious. I mean, hideitinthefreezerandtrynotthinkaboutit delicious. I’m not sure I should make it again. But I probably will.

Unbaked bread after 1 hour of proving

Unbaked bread after 1 hour of proving

Baked bread basking in the sun

Baked bread basking in the sun

Bread porn

Bread porn

I also made paleo chocolate beetroot brownies, which look pretty tasty. Unfortunately they were not particularly delicious. I think it was because they relied partly on the sweetness of the beetroot (I must have used a fairly tasteless one) and partly on rice malt syrup, which just isn’t sweet enough for me. And that is saying a lot, given that I prefer my baked goods to be low on the sweetness scale. I think I will give it another chance but will use dates instead of rice malt syrup. Actually, on reflection, I don’t think that rice malt syrup is even an “approved Paleo sweetener”, although it is a favourite of the anti-sugar brigade. I guess I’m just confused as to which current food fad I want to join in on.

Deceptively delicious looking chocolate beetroot muffins - nut, grain, fructose and taste free

Deceptively delicious looking chocolate beetroot muffins – nut, grain, fructose and taste free

I also made my third batch of coconut yoghurt and feel quite confident that it will be my third consecutive coyo fail. Damn you coyo.

I’m not under any illusions about my ability as a baker and cake decorator. I know too many people who are genuinely talented to indulge such fantasies. All I aim for is to make something that is recognisable and which makes the relevant birthday child feel happy and loved. Having said that, this cake came the closest to meeting my artistic vision of all my previous efforts. Yep, it’s lopsided and yep, the fondant icing melted in the humidity yet again (when will I learn? Or move to somewhere less melty). But it was fairly recognisable as a stage and backdrop and the birthday girl was beaming. To this relative success I owe thanks to:

1. A simple concept;
2. A very clever mother in law who brought me a whole stash of paper ballet dancers; and
3. The good fortune to find a lost Lego swan down the gap between the car driver’s seat and the park brake.

Here is the unadorned cake before the icing backdrop and curtains melted.

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Here is the finished cake. Cool swan eh? Or, as my 4 year old Mr R referred to it, “that duck from Swan Lake”.

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Happy birthday to my clever, funny, won’tputherbookdowntogetdressedforschool, beautiful 6 year old Miss B.

Yay! I did another challenge! Beauty surrounded the Daring Bakers this month as our host, Sawsan, of chef in disguise, challenged us to make beautiful, filled breads. Who knew breads could look as great as they taste? Well, me, for a start!

Sawsan provided two “guide” recipes – a cinnamon version and a Nutella one. Much as I love Nutella, the husband can’t and won’t eat it so that was not an option. Luckily the cinnamon bread was delicious, even if it wasn’t quite as pretty as the model.

Ingredients

For the dough

1/4 cup (60 ml) warm water
3/4 cup (180 ml) warm milk
1 large egg
1/4 cup (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter, softened
1/4 cup (60 ml) (50 gm) (1-3/4 oz) white sugar
1/2 teaspoon (3 gm) salt
3-1/4 cups (780 ml) (450 gm) (16 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, approximately
2 teaspoons (10 ml) (8 gm) dry yeast
1/4 teaspoon (1 gm) cardamom, optional

For topping

1/4 cup (60 ml) of milk
1 tablespoon (15 gm) (1/2 oz) sugar

Between the layers

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) (1/4 cup) (60 ml) (60 gm) (2 oz) butter
4 tablespoons (60 ml) (25 gm) (1 oz) cinnamon
1/2 cup (120 ml) (100 gm) (3-1/2 oz) sugar
For drizzling

1 can (400 gm) (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk

Directions:

1. In a bowl whisk the egg with milk, water, sugar, butter and yeast. Set aside
2. In another bowl sift the flour with the salt and the optional cardamom.
3. Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and knead until you get a smooth dough.
Note: This recipe requires between 3-1/4 and 3-1/2 cups of flour depending on the weather, humidity and the flour brand. Start with 3-1/4 cups and if you feel that the dough is too soft, add the extra 1/4 cup
4. Place the dough in a bowl you have brushed with some oil and cover it with a wet cloth and leave it in a warm place to double
(If you are tight on time you can heat your oven to 390°F/200°C then turn it off and place your dough in a glass bowl and place it in the warm oven with the wet cloth covering the bowl)
5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface
6. Divide the dough into 4 parts
7. Roll each part into a circle at least 20 cm (8 inch) in diameter
8. Brush the first layer with butter then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon
9. Place the second layer on the first layer repeat the brushing and sprinkling and then do the same with the third layer.
10. Top with the fourth layer, this time only brush it with butter.
11. Using a knife make cuts that divide the dough circles into 8 triangles
12. Make cuts that go 2/3 of the way in the middle of each triangle. The cuts should not reach the base of the triangle nor the tip
13. Take the tip of each triangle and insert it into the cut you made and pull it from the underside
14. Arrange the triangles on your baking sheet
15. Pinch the two angles at the base of the triangle together

my unbaked creation

my unbaked creation

16. Brush the dough with milk
17. Allow to rest for 15 minutes during which you would heat your oven to very hot 500°F/240°C/gas mark 9 (rack in the middle). (Go for the hottest your oven will do).
18. Bake for 5 minutes on very hot 460°F/240°C/gas mark 9, then lower the temperature to moderately hot 390°F/200°C/gas mark 6 and bake for 15-20 more minutes
19. Take it out of the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes then transfer to a wire rick and drizzle with sweetened condensed milk while it is still warm. I did not do this step as I had no condensed milk.

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I really enjoyed making (and tasting) this bread. I plan to make variations, including adding grated apple. My only comment was that my dough was super soft, which made it harder to twist neatly and generally harder to work with. I probably needed to add more flour.

Thanks Sawsan!

As my devoted readers (a big hello to my mum) may have noticed, I haven’t participated in any of the Daring Bakers Challenges for ages. However, seeing as it is my fourth blogiversary, I figured I should give it a shot. And I had never heard of, let alone made, a baumkuchen so it would be a learning experience. At the very least I would hopefully learn how to pronounce it correctly rather than mentally referring to it as a bum kitchen (I’m childish like that).

The January 2014 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Francijn of “Koken in de Brouwerij“. She challenged us all to bake layered cakes in the tradition of Baumkuchen (tree cake) and Schichttorte (layered cake). According to Wikpedia, baumkuchen is a kind of layered cake. It is a traditional dessert in many countries throughout Europe and is also a popular snack and dessert in Japan. The characteristic rings that appear when sliced resemble tree rings, and give the cake its German name, baumkuchen, which literally translates to “tree cake”. Traditionally, baumkuchen is made on a spit by brushing on even layers of batter and then rotating the spit around a heat source. Each layer is allowed to brown before a new layer of batter is poured. When the cake is removed and sliced, each layer is divided from the next by a golden line, resembling the growth rings on a crosscut tree. A typical baumkuchen is made up of 15 to 20 layers of batter. However, the layering process for making baumkuchen can continue until the cakes are quite large. Skilled pastry chefs have been known to create cakes with 25 layers and weighing over 100 pounds. When cooked on a spit, it is not uncommon for a finished baumkuchen to be 3 to 4 feet tall. (Please note that I just cut and pasted this from Wikpedia)

We were permitted to use any recipe we liked so, being lazy, I chose this Thermomix recipe. I made a few changes – substituting my home made vodka/vanilla bean infusion for the vanilla extract, Limoncello for the rum and tapioca flour (arrowroot) for the cornflour. These substitutions were made from necessity rather than any particular preference.

The recipe warned that the layering process was tedious and I certainly found that to be true. I started off making layers from 1/4 cup of batter before rapidly increasing to 1/2 cup. In between each layer I was essentially running between the backyard to hang out laundry and to check on the baby, who slept almost through the baking process. I got bored, to be honest, and it struck me later that there were things I probably should have been doing in that time.

However, here is the completed cake:

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I had planned to make a ganache but I had one of those nights where everything was going wrong – the baby was hungry, the 5 year old was hungry, the rice was undercooked, the fish was overcooked, the ice cream wouldn’t churn, I put the dishwasher on a 2 hour cycle and didn’t have any clean plates for my guests etc. It wasn’t one of my smoother efforts. So I basically just bunged on a mess of melted chocolate (albeit good quality Lindt) and hoped for the best.

The chocolate was still runny as it was served…

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The interior

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I can see layers!

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By some miracle, the evening all came together and was completed by the cake, which became Mr R’s family birthday cake. The uneven layers of the cake which formed a cohesive whole were a metaphor for the evening, which was lovely – full of love, family and chocolate. So thank you, wonderful extended family and Francijn.

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