Sunday, 12 May 2013

Chocolate and Vanilla Polka Dot Cake

I love the magic of baking.

Particularly when you cut into a fairly innocuous looking cake, and then get this (or at least something like it):

Vanilla flavour polka dots, enrobed in chocolate sponge, sandwiched together with chocolate fudge icing, covered in vanilla buttercream, with a final topping of dark chocolate, dripping down the sides.

And if all that tastes good, too, then I really shouldn't complain.

But, I have to be honest.

This cake did not go entirely to plan. And this is version two. And, if I make it again, I will definitely do some tweaking.

The idea for the cake stemmed from this amazing cake by Deb at Once Upon a Pedestal. It was doing the rounds on Pinterest in January. Someone at work, who knows about my 'hobby' sent me the link.

That was it - I was hooked. I started planning, as the idea of dots in a cake was screaming 'Red Nose Day' at me.

I even ordered a cake pop pan so that I could execute my grand design. (And I hate to say it, but I just don't see the point in cake pops. I love how they look, but it strikes me that you can put all that effort into them and then in two bites, they're gone. So for me to get a cake pop pan, well.)

Anyhoo, sadly, February intervened. And all my thoughts of baking went out of the window.

By the time I had started to venture back into the kitchen, Red Nose Day was looming and I simply didn't feel like attempting it. I wanted simple bakes; real comfort food. And then anyway, Jude at A Trifle Rushed did this amazing version.

So back on the back burner the project went.

I dug it out again briefly at Easter for version one.

Which was a complete fail.

Well, not completely.

I just messed up on the cake pan sizes and, using eight inch pans, didn't have enough dots to fill them. So I scooped the mix and pops all into one and tried baking a single layer cake. And was then fooled by the skewer test (as it must have hit a cake pop, so I thought the cake was more done that it was). Twenty minutes after taking it out of the oven, the centre had collapsed into molten chocolate goo, surrounding some white 'pimples'. The outer edge - which was the only bit properly cooked - tasted nice though. But a bit put off by the experience, I again put it on the back burner.

But it's been niggling away.

This week, buoyed by the sunshine over the weekend, and with a day to myself, I decided to try again. This was the result.

Here's what I did, and what happened.

Chocolate and Vanilla Polka Dot Cake

(makes one six inch layer with some mix left over for marbled cupcakes! #winning!)

Vanilla Polka Dots
100g softened unsalted butter
150g self raising flour
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
3 tbspns milk
1/2 tspn vanilla extract

Chocolate Sponge
225g softened unsalted butter
200g self raising flour
225g soft light brown sugar
4 medium eggs
1/2 tspn baking powder
4 tbpsns cocoa powder
1 tbspn milk

Chocolate Fudge Icing
Being lazy, I used a tub of Betty Crocker that I had in the cupboard, but you could make your own (and if I had done that, I might not have had one of the issues I had with this cake). The leftovers in the tub went to ice the top of the cupcakes I made, though.

Vanilla Buttercream
150g softened unsalted butter
1 tspn vanilla bean paste
about 250g icing sugar
1 tbspn milk

Chocolate Glaze
100g dark (70%) chocolate, gently melted

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 Fahrenheit / Gas 4. Grease your cake pop pan (I used a 12 pop one from Nordicware which I bought from John Lewis - the cheapest stockist of this one I could find), and grease and baseline 2 six inch (15cm) sponge tins.

To make the cake pops, measure all the ingredients into a bowl, and blitz with a hand mixer until you have a smooth batter and everything is combined. Spoon into the pan, so that the bottom spheres are full - the cake will rise up into the top spheres to give the ball shaped 'dots'.

Bake in the oven for about 12 minutes. (Try not to over bake at this stage, as they are going to be baked again in the sponge.) Remove, allow to cool, and then gently remove from the tin (I found a dessert spoon perfect for helping me to prise them out without breaking).

For the chocolate sponge, again,measure all the ingredients into a bowl and blitz with a hand mixer, until you have a smooth batter. Scoop enough mix to give a thin layer in the base, and then arrange your vanilla dots.

Scoop some more chocolate sponge over and around the dots, but try not to overfill. I found this really hard to judge, as you want to try and cover the cake pops, yet not have it explode over the top of the tins.Here's what mine looked like:

Bake in the centre of the oven. Ordinarily, a normal two layer sponge made with this mix would take me just under 25 minutes. But, with the dots, it seems that the heat doesn't permeate through the mix in the same way. Bearing in mind what happened the first time I tried this, I kept checking the cake every few minutes until a skewer inserted into the chocolate sponge did come out clean. In all, the baking took just under 40 minutes. It then looked like this:

There was a slight 'lip' over the top edge of the cake tin, which you can see looks a little crusty. I really needed a slightly deeper tin (maybe 3 inch deep) to contain all the mix while trying to make sure the balls were covered. But they had risen a little bit, too, and floated nearer to the top of the cake. Anyway, I let the cakes cool completely in their tins, and when I turned them out, I carefully tried to cut away the crusty bits.

Once they were cooled, I sandwiched them together using the Betty Crocker chocolate frosting. In hindsight, this was a little too soft for the job, and it would have been better with a homemade chocolate ganache. I'd used it as I was running out of time, and I had it in the cupboard. Knowing it tasted good, and that it would mean that the layer through the cake would be chocolate brown - the same colour as the sponge - I thought I'd give it a go.

To make the vanilla frosting, cream the butter and vanilla together using stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Add the icing sugar and blend well. If it seems a little dry, you can slacken it again with a little milk.

Unfortunately, even though I chilled the cake for a little, when I applied the vanilla frosting as a crumb coat, the chocolate icing was still too soft, and managed to meld with the vanilla to make a fairly muddy looking cake. At this point I chilled it, so that it would be ready to apply the final vanilla layer. I tried to do this as neatly as possible, but my buttercream was a little thick at this stage, so it splodged rather than glided on. I also could still make out the layer of chocolate icing showing through the vanilla.

By this point, I'd started to give up, so I just chilled the cake in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I melted some chocolate and draped it over the top of the cake, trying to tease it so that it would drip down the sides. Just the chocolate on its own was really a little too thick. 

What I should have done, was to make up a ganache mix (ie added some cream), so that it had a little fluidity and was easier to pour. The chocolate does set up though, and so gives a lovely, crackly layer to the top. (I was a little impatient and cut into it before the choc had fully set - there were some oozy bits of melted choc as a result.)

The finished cake cut really well, and both the chocolate and vanilla sponges were dense, but still soft (even the cake pops which of course had had a longer baking time). The vanilla and chocolate together gave a nice flavour, with the bitterness from the dark chocolate adding a different note. Mike and Josh felt it was very sweet, so a small portion worked best for them.

As I had some left over vanilla and chocolate batters, I made up some marbled cupcakes and used the remainder of the tub of chocolate fudge icing to decorate. Josh really liked these, and they appealed to his teenage appetite.

So what would I do next time?
  • place a very thin layer of mix in the base of the cake tin so it doesn't push the pops up too much;
  • make sure I have enough pops for the size of tin - six for a six inch (15cm tin), more for an eight inch (20cm) tin;
  • line up the pops in each layer as neatly as possible to get a balanced view when you cut into the cake;
  • scoop the batter over the pops so it falls down the sides, rather than try and fill the gaps then smooth it over the pops;
  • not overfill the tin (or use a slightly deeper tin); 
  • make my own ganache filling (and topping) and make sure I don't push it right to the edge of the layers;
  • make the vanilla buttercream slightly thinner so it glides on properly.
Anyway, I know this has been a long post, but I wanted to set out for you my experience. As by far the most important thing I learnt was to go back and actually read again previous postings about making these cakes, to get exactly these kind of hints and tips. I didn't do this until after I'd made mine, and then I found this fantastic post by Beki at Beki Cook's Cake Blog which details her attempts to make one (and without a cake pop pan). Kudos to Beki as she made five versions before she felt she'd achieved the effect she wanted.

This would be an absolutely fantastic cake for a child's birthday though, so with Sam in mind (hell, who am I kidding, it's my birthday in a couple of weeks), I'll definitely be trying it again.

I might just go for coloured polka dots next time.


Thursday, 2 May 2013

Lime and Coconut Madeleines

Sometimes, I find that inspiration can be lurking in the most unexpected places.

And it strikes at the time I least expect it.

I've written recently about my singular lack of baking mojo. So this week, when I got to my day off and had thought that I'd try and get back in the kitchen, I couldn't actually bring myself to bake anything. A weird kind of procrastination  had set in.

I pottered around the house suddenly finding other jobs to do.

One involved sorting through some of my latest cookbook purchases and tidying and reorganising the shelves so I could fit them on. I have a 'system' for storing like books together, and try to keep my baking books easily accessible.

In practice, this meant simply compiling piles of books and moving them around from shelf to shelf until I was reasonably happy with the arrangement. If you have ever read my post for Random Recipes on my cookbook addiction, you'll appreciate that this could take me a while.

But it also meant that I rediscovered a few gems I hadn't seen for a while. Amongst them was Bryn's Kitchen by Bryn Williams.

Thumbing through it reminded me of the Pistachio Cake that a colleague had brought in to work one day, which was so delicious I bought the book on the back of it (and it helped a little that Bryn is Welsh , too, of course).

But I also found a recipe for Madeleines.

"The madeleine (French pronunciation: ​[mad.lɛn], English /ˈmædln/ or /ˌmædlˈn/[1]) or petite madeleine ([pə.tit mad.lɛn]) is a traditional small cake from Commercy and Liverdun, two communes of the Lorraine region in northeastern France.

"Madeleines are very small sponge cakes with a distinctive shell-like shape acquired from being baked in pans with shell-shaped depressions. Aside from the traditional moulded pan, commonly found in stores specialising in kitchen equipment and even hardware stores, no special tools are required to make madeleines.

"A génoise cake batter is used. The flavour is similar to, but somewhat lighter than, sponge cake. Traditional recipes include very finely ground nuts, usually almonds. A variation uses lemon zest, for a pronounced lemony taste." Source:  Wikipedia

I've never baked Madeleines before, and intrigued by the recipe, my mind started whirling with the possibilities. So much so that I got straight into the kitchen.

These gorgeous little light cakes were the result.

I decided to use lime and coconut to flavour them, and to finish off with a dipping of dark chocolate and a dusting of some more coconut. They were easy to whip up, and tasted sensational, going down as a hit with Mike and Sam especially. They are something that I can see myself making again and again.

Here's what I did.

Lime and Coconut Madeleines

Ingredients (makes approx 16)

2 large eggs
100g caster sugar
zest from 2 limes
70g plain flour
1 tspn baking powder
15g ground almonds
15g coconut flour *
70g unsalted butter, melted

60g dark chocolate (70% cocoa)
a little extra coconut flour to sprinkle

* The coconut 'flour' I used came from an Asian supermarket and I bought it to go in curries - its a very fine powder, finer than dessicated coconut. See an example here.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until pale and creamy. Add the lime zest, and then sift the flour and baking powder into the mix. Gently fold in. Add the coconut flour and ground almonds, along with the melted butter and gently fold these in, too. Allow to stand for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 160 Fan / 180 Conventional / 350 Farenheit / Gas 4.

Grease and flour the shells of a Madeleine tray.

Fill each shell about three quarters full. [Mine were, I think, a little overfilled on the first batch (see below), but they still came out great. The second batch, which I didn't fill so much, were better and had the authentic 'mound' in the top - see the link to Wikipedia for a photo of what this looks like.] 

Bake for about 10- 12 minutes in the centre of the oven. The Madeleines should be moist and have a lovely golden colour, without being over baked.

Turn out onto a cooling rack.

To decorate them, I gently melted the dark chocolate in a bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Once it had cooled a little, I dipped the Madeleines into the chocolate and arranged to dry on a baking tray, sprinkling over a little more coconut.

Eat and enjoy.