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Four years ago, I launched my blog (oh, the launch party – such fanfare!) with my first Daring Bakers’ Challenge. It was delayed due to the birth of my second child, Mr R. I’m not entirely sure how it has happened, but the years have passed incredibly quickly and my cheeky, funny, affectionate boy is about to turn 4. I thought he would choose a spaceship or a rocket, since he is always telling me he is going to be an astronaut (he has promised to visit me regularly), but he ended up choosing a cake in the shape of the number 4. So I combined the two concepts and made him a crazy space number 4.

Here’s how it unfolded.

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the cake taking shape – I used a Nigella Lawson Devil’s Food Cake recipe

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decorated – note the enthusiastic hand in the background

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Couldn’t love you more, funny boy.

And big thanks to my very clever mother in law for sourcing the fantastic decorations!!

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I’m staying at my parents’ beach house this week as the husband was meant to go to China for business and the thought of not running for a week was completely unacceptable. As it turned out, the husband was not required in China and now has a child-free, wife-free week. Not jealous of that at all, no no no…. Anyway, the beach house has been undergoing extensive renovations for a few months. I thought the presence of hungry builders would be a good opportunity to bake and when I heard that one of the builders was gluten intolerant I decided to explore some new territory. I don’t do that much deliberate gluten free baking, largely because I don’t need to, but I am conscious of trying to limit the amount of wheat we consume.

I made two items – buckwheat chocolate chip biscuits using this recipe – and mince tarts using this recipe from the Healthy Chef.

The biscuits were very well received, even by my dad, who is very sparing with his praise. Here is a photo of the biscuits (my dad is unlikely to agree to publication of his image).

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The tarts were less successful I think. The fruit mince (which I modified by using a combination of orange juice and brandy instead of apple juice) was tasty but the almond pastry was deemed too soggy. I have a jar of mince left over so will make some more using regular short crust pastry over the next few days. I think they looked pretty though. Perhaps pastry is just not meant to be gluten free? Disappointing but I guess educational.

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I haven’t been baking much recently as the smallest boy doesn’t love sleeping as much as I do. So any extra energy has gone to running instead of baking. However, I had a day I which I scored a nap (gold, I tell you) and the baking urge returned.

I understand that it’s Thanksgiving in the US. We don’t celebrate it in Australia and I have always been confused by the whole pumpkin/sweet potato with marshmallows thing, particularly as it seems to be served as a side dish with savoury items. A vegetable with confectionary. I don’t get it. But then I saw this recipe for sweet potato cake with marshmallow frosting and it made a lot more sense. I was intrigued.

Here is my attempt. I decided to make individual cupcakes as I figured they would be easier to give away (I do not like to have baked goods in the house while I am breast feeding as I will eat them even though I don’t want to).

I used one purple potato and one orange one, which resulted in a kind of greyish cake. I don’t think it affected the taste, however.

Here is how it all unfolded.

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And now I’m off for a run. Hopefully I can offload the cakes onto the school mums at drop off time!

I actually did the last Daring Bakers’ Challenge (although not well, from memory) but never got around to blogging about it. And then I went and had another baby, as you do, so that has taken up most of my energy recently, along with my capacity to bend over and move with any semblance of grace. However, beautiful baby number 3 is now here and we are all back home together. In celebration of this fact, and just because I wanted biscuits, I made these ginger flavoured biscuits from Wholefood Simply. They took me about 5 minutes and were delicious! Next time I will follow a suggestion made by Kim of Twitter’s @lifeinsurryhills and add some grated lime zest too.

Here they are before and after baking. I used some biscuit stamps I bought in the UK – they are a bit cheesy but cute enough to get away with it I think!

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The husband and I approach carbo-loading for races quite differently. I really hate it and therefore try to get away with just adding a few more slices of toast and jam. He doesn’t enjoy it either, but will dutifully plough through extra cereal, packets of lollies (Starburst Gummi Fruits being the favourite) and huge tubs of carbohydrate powder. And biscuits. So many biscuits. He always gets through at least one packet of Monte Carlos, sometimes accompanied by a packet of Butternut Snaps. It’s an unusual method, but one which seems to be paying off for him this year, with a number of wins and selection in the Australian Long Distance Mountain Running Team. So for his latest win I promised him some home made Monte Carlos. Injury, crankiness (due to injury), pregnancy and fatigue (due to pregnancy) all meant that the promise was not fulfilled straight away. But here, after 3 weeks, are the Monte Carlos.

I used this recipe from Good Food, largely because it contained coconut. Some of the others didn’t, so I didn’t trust them. I also upped the coconut factor by using coconut sugar in place of brown sugar. No real reason for that, just because it was at the front of our tetris-like pantry.

Biscuits in the pre-baking stage

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Baked, un-assembled biscuits

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Ta-da!

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I’m ready for my close up

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I’m pretty happy with the way they turned out, although I can only comment on their appearance. They met with a thumbs up from the husband though, which is the most important thing.

Rachael from pizzarossa was our lovely June 2013 Daring Bakers’ host and she had us whipping up delicious pies in our kitchens! Cream pies, fruit pies, chocolate pies, even crack pies!

We were given a choice of 4 pies to bake but I knew as soon as I read the challenge that I would start with the crack pie. I’ve long had a fascination with all things David Chang, despite having never made it to one of his restaurants (including the one I could, at a stretch, walk to). His book Momofuku is the most entertaining cookbook I’ve ever read. The only downside is that it doesn’t have the recipe for crack pie or compost cookies. Luckily, the recipe for crack pie is available online.

So how does a pie earn the title of “crack pie”? By being packed full, almost to the point of bursting, with butter, sugar, and cream. The base is a rich, sweet, oat biscuit which is then crumbled and combined with more butter and sugar. The filling is a mixture of cream, egg yolks, butter and sugar. The end result is an intensely rich, gooey heart attack waiting to happen. Not my idea of crack, but we’ve covered the fact that I do not represent the majority of the population in previous posts.

On to some pictures:

The biscuit base
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The filling waiting to be baked
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The filling after baking
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Ta-da! Finished product
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Close up action shot
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I took the pie to a party, where there was some confusion about why I would bring a cracked pie. Having dealt with that, it was eaten with varying degrees of gusto. I saw some people scrape their plates soon while others sat back, visibly defeated. It’s a hard core pie.

Thanks Rachael! And thanks David Chang for your cookbook and for loving brussels sprouts.

Korena of Korena in the Kitchen was our May Daring Bakers’ host and she delighted us with this beautiful Swedish Prinsesstårta! Korena described it as layers of light sponge cake, raspberry jam, and vanilla custard/pastry cream, topped with a mound of fluffy whipped cream, covered in green marzipan, and garnished with a marzipan rose.

Korena advised that:

A little research revealed that the original recipe was created in the 1930s by a Swedish home economics teacher named Jenny Åkerström, who taught the three Swedish princesses of the time. She published a series of four cookbooks called “The Princess Cookbooks” and in one of the editions, there was a recipe for “Grön Tårta” (green cake). One story is that this later became known as “princess cake” (prinsesstårta) because the three princesses are said to have loved it so much. Another story is that Ms. Åkerström actually created three very elaborate “princess cake” recipes – a different one for each princess – and that the current version is a simplified combination of all three. That explains the princess connection, but the reason for the cake being green still seems to be a mystery. Today, prinsesstårta is popular in Finland as well as Sweden – so much so that the third week in September is officially Prinsesstårta Week!

Korena’s cake was a beautiful, perfectly rounded dome, covered in smooth green marzipan. It probably won’t surprise anyone to hear that mine was somewhat different.

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The sponge cake was actually one of the better sponges I have made, which isn’t saying much as I’ve never made one that didn’t end up basically flat. The instructions said not to worry if it cracked, so I didn’t when it did.

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The next step was to layer cake, then jam, then custard, then cake, jam, custard, then mound firmly whipped cream into a dome shape and drape the inner layer of cake (the sponge was cut into three layers) over that dome. The entire creation then gets covered with cream. Apparently it was meant to be symmetrical. Yeah…I think I probably made it harder for myself by constructing it on a cake stand which was indented, so I was already fighting gravity. But there’s a fairly good chance it would have been dodgy in any event, so I won’t blame the stand (isn’t it pretty, by the way? It was my Gaga Alma’s).

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The “smooth, regular dome shape” was then carefully covered with marzipan which had been carefully tinted green. I hate marzipan and am lazy so used some ready-rolled red fondant I had left over from the fire engine cake. I put some decorative shoes on top because the cake was partly to celebrate the speedy (and annoyingly skinny, as he seems to be getting leaner at the same rate I am getting fatter) husband’s equal PB in the Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon that morning. OK, so he didn’t run in pretty ballet flats, but he did run in shoes. A tenuous link, but I’m going with it.

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This is what it looked like on the inside. It got some mixed reviews, although they were generally positive. We had a number of 3 and 5 year olds cast their votes and there was some discrepancy between those who wanted “cake with no skin” and “skin with no cake”. I found the huge mass of cream a bit offputting but then I am not a fan of cream. What would I know? I will definitely use that sponge cake recipe again though. Here is the recipe:

Sponge Cake

Ingredients
Fine dry breadcrumbs for the pan (such as crushed panko)
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (240 ml) (225 gm) (8 oz) granulated white sugar
½ cup (120 ml) (70 gm) (2½ oz) all-purpose (plain) flour
½ cup (120 ml) (65 gm) (2¼ oz) potato starch (or cornstarch)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) (5 gm) baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 with a rack in the lower third of the oven. Thoroughly butter a 9” (23 cm) round springform pan, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, then butter the paper. Dust the buttered pan with enough breadcrumbs to coat the bottom and sides, just like flouring a cake pan. Set aside.

2. Place the eggs and granulated white sugar in a mixing bowl and beat on medium-high speed with an electric mixer or stand mixer with whisk attachment until the eggs are tripled in volume and very light coloured and fluffy, about 5 minutes. The mixture should fall from the beaters in thick ribbons. Don’t overbeat the eggs – once they form thick ribbons and stop growing in volume, stop beating.

3. Sift the all-purpose (plain) flour, potato starch, baking powder, and salt into a bowl, then sift the flour mixture over the whipped eggs. With a balloon whisk, fold the flour into the eggs until blended, keeping as much air in the batter as possible. Use large, gentle yet confident strokes, bringing batter from the bottom of the bowl to the top. Once mixed, the batter should be quite thick and smooth.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spread it out evenly, and bake in the lower third of the preheated moderate 350°F/180°C/gas mark 4 oven for about 40 minutes or until golden brown on top, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it.

Let the cake cool in the pan for a few minutes then run a knife around the edge and remove the sides of the springform pan. Don’t worry if it sinks a bit in the middle. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack and peel off the parchment paper. If the cake is lopsided, press gently to make it level, then allow it to cool completely before continuing. The cake can be made a day ahead and stored, well-wrapped in plastic, at a cool room temperature.

Thanks Korena for dragging me out of my comfort zone!