Thursday, 11 December 2008

Birthday Cake

Last night we went out for dinner for my birthday. We went to Howies for dinner, which I like as it is reasonably priced and pretty reliable (plus in the summer they do gin and tonic jelly for pudding!) They also change their menu every month which I really like, I find it odd that you should want to go to restaurant and have the same thing every time. I know some places have a signature dish that can't be beaten, but generally I think a changing menu is an indicator that the chef and restaurant care about food seasons and being creative.

For dinner, I had sweet potato and ginger soup followed by lamb with cabbage. The soup was delicious, as the starch in the sweet potato made it almost velvety, and there was plenty of kick off the ginger. It was a great winter soup and I'll definately try to recreate it at home at some point. The lamb was less memorable, although I ate all the cabbage which I don't normally do. The lamb was also quite rare and tender, whereas at home I tend to go for a bit of slow roasted shoulder, so it was a bit of treat to have a decent cut that could just be seared round the edges rather than a cheaper cut that needs lots of work done before it is edible.

The end of the meal was a cake I had baked myself. I'd been working on it since about 10am, when I went to the shops to get all the ingredients. I planned to spend about an hour doing this, including travelling time. Instead, I spent over an hour in supermarket! Normally I shop locally, in places that I can walk to. I only really go to the supermarket when I need lots of different things, or rarer ingredients that local stores won't have. I got distracted by the smoked fish section. Although there are a couple of great fishmongers near my flat, the smoked fish selection can sometimes be a bit limited. (Also, being poor, it makes more sense to buy smoked salmon when it is 2 for 1 in the supermarket.)

I started baking at 12, and made a double size mix of Delia's Austrian Coffee and Walnut cake. I had already noted how much the bowl weighed before the ingredients, so I was able to work out the weight of the mixture, which was just under 1.5kg. Annoyingly, my sandwich pans are only 7 inches, so not really big enough to feed the 14 people who were coming to dinner. Instead I used a springform tin, that was 9 inches. I only had one tin, so I put in 500g of mixture and baked it for 25 mins, as Delia's timings were for 2 pans of 375g, spread over 8 inches. Although my tin had more mixture, it would be in the oven on its own so the heat wouldn't drop as much as two tins at once. I checked at 20 minutes and it was nearly there so I gave it 5 more minutes to be sure.

After I turned out the cake, I washed up and relined the tin and put in the next 500g of mix. Eventually, after another quick wash and line, I had three 9 inch coffee and walnut sponges. I put the coffee syrup over them, although in hindsight I should have flattened them first. Later on when I was trying to cut off the domed part it was a bit tricky as they were quite moist. I left them to cool and went out to the baking shop by uni to get a cake board and a cake box, as I didn't have any tupperware big enough!

When I got back I made up the filling. I couldn't find 8% fat fromage frais, so got a 0% one instead. I think I should have gone for cream cheese instead as the fromage frais was quite runny and made the filling too loose. I thickened it up with some icing sugar. Luckily the coffee I was using was quite bitter so the filling wasn't overly sweet. Although I love buttercream, I quite like the sour tang you get from mascarpone and other soft cheeses.

Even though I had made double the quantity of cake mix, I only made one unit of filling. I used the filling to sandwich the three cakes together, and then smoothed a bit around the sides (I also bought a pallette knife since the caramel cake incident) to ensure that when I glazed it the sides would be smooth instead of having overhangs and dents where the filling didn't go to the edge of the cake.

I refrigerated the cake to let the filling harden up a bit while I made the ganache glaze. This was just melted dark chocolate with double cream. I heated the chocolate in a double boiler and then added the cream. Although I had to heat it for some time to get a smooth, glossy texture, I was careful not to let the chocolate get too hot and spoil. I put a small amount of the glaze in to the freezer, and used the thickened ganache to fill in a couple of spots where the filling didn't quite reach the edge of the cake, and also the top of the cake, which had cracked slightly. By this point the cake looked pretty bad, a mottled sponge with white and brown smears all over it! Once the cake had hardened up in the fridge, I heated the rest of the glaze to be super runny, the consistency of cream. I put the cake on a wire rack over a tray, and poured the glaze over it, making sure it ran evenly down the sides by directing the drips over any bare patches. The tray caught the excess glaze, although luckily I didn't have to scrape it up and reuse it as the cake had been coated by the first pass.

I then returned the cake to the fridge to chill. Earlier in the day, I'd melted some white chocolate and created swirls, dots and "happy birthday" on a sheet of greaseproof paper. This had now solidified, so once the glaze had set, I peeled the set white chocolate shapes off the paper and used them to decorate the cake. As I was expecting 14, I arranged the lettering so each letter represented a slice, so that when the cake was brought out I could slice it easily without worrying whether the slices were equal or not.

The finished product!

I think everyone liked the cake, although some people were put off by the walnuts. I used slightly less than Delia suggested, although if I were to make the triple-decker-beast again I would probably only use 50-75g. 2 people didn't show up for dinner, so we only used 12 of the 14 slices. My friend D, who has asked me to make her wedding cake, had 2 slices, plus took one home with her, so it all got eaten in the end! Unfortunately before she got her hands on it we decorated it with plastic toys that had come out the Christmas crackers we had over dinner.

Monsieur gateau.

I haven't baked a European style cake in a while, as a lot of blogs I've been reading lately are American. I grew up making this type of sponge though, so it was good to get back to a bit of Delia!