Wednesday, 30 May 2012

This Is No Trifling Matter

My grandmother's trifle recipe starts with these words: "Begin by soaking some leftover cake in cream sherry overnight".

I have never - never - understood that instruction. 

Leftover cake? The concept is entirely foreign to me. I do not live in a world in which there is such as thing as "leftover cake". Leftover cake! Chuh!

...... that is, not until now. I have to eat my words. Which is lucky, because my words are "leftover cake". How fortunate!  

One unintended consequence of my cake project is that there is a LOT of leftover cake at my house these days. Cake galore. Cake offcuts of strange shapes and sizes. My freezer is filling up with cake packed into takeaway containers that I really, truly should have labelled so that I can tell my lemon cake from my vanilla cake. 

It's getting so bad that I've reached the point where cake is being thrown away. I'd like you to pause right now and just consider the implications of that. 


It is a travesty which cannot be allowed to continue.

And so, dear readers, this is what we are having for dessert at my house tonight. 

Blackforest trifle, layered with cherry jelly, custard, chocolate cake, pitted sour cherries, whipped vanilla cream and topped with Godiva chocolate flakes.

How do you make blackforest trifle? 

Well, you begin by soaking some leftover cake in cream sherry overnight .....

Edit: I've received many requests for the recipe of this trifle since I posted the original pictures. I had no idea it was going to be so popular! Thank you to everyone who has messaged or emailed me. Here is the recipe, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

 Trifle de la Grandma 

Ingredients (makes 6-8)
  • as much "leftover" chocolate cake as you have
  • 2 packets of jelly - port wine or cherry flavour works best
  • 600g jar of sour pitted cherries
  • 1 litre thick vanilla pouring custard
  • 300 mL thick double cream (for whipping)
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • sherry (or port, I love Pedro Ximinez for that really rich taste)
  • slivered almonds
  • dark chocolate for grating

The day before you're going to serve the trifles:
  • make and set your jelly. You want it firm, so that it can be cut and won't collapse and dissolve. I recommend using half to two-thirds the amount of water recommended on your packet. 
  • If you're making individual trifles, set jelly about two cm at the bottom of each glass - and then set the rest into a separate bowl. You'll use this other jelly to make the layers in your trifle
  • If you're making one big trifle, set a nice thick layer at the bottom of your serving bowl, but set the rest in a separate bowl, as above.
  • break your chocolate cake up into bite-sized chunks, and put it into a shallow pan or bowl. 
  • drizzle sherry (or port, or grappa, or calvados, or whatever you like) all over the cake. Don't drown it, or it'll go all mushy. You want a nice soft cake with good flavour, not an alcoholic slush. Unless you DO want an alcoholic slush! In which case go right ahead! No judgment here.
  • Stick everything into the fridge.
On the day of serving - you can do this any time during the day so it's ready for your event:
  • start layering your trifle(s)
  • on top of the bottom layer of jelly, add a good layer of chocolate cake
  • add two table spoons of cherries to the cake
  • pour custard over this layer
  • add jelly on top
  • then repeat
  • and repeat
  • and repeat
  • Lastly, open up your vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into a perfectly clean bowl with your double cream.
  • Whisk this up until it makes soft peaks - not firm ones
  • Add a last layer of delicious whipped cream to your amazing trifles
  • sprinkle with slivered almonds
  • grate chocolate over the top
  • serve 
  • sit back and bask in the adulation of guests who praise your culinary amazingness. You deserve it.
Simple! Trifle de la Grandma! You're welcome.

Monday, 28 May 2012

A Lesson On Embracing The Imperfections

Unfortunately for poor Mabel, for whom it was made, this cake was my first fail.  

You can see the obvious things that are wrong with it, like the way I have cut the very top of it too short, and the middle segment too long. The curve on the bottom is too acute, and the curve on the top is not broad enough.

Gee, you wouldn't think it'd be that hard to cut a three, would you? Moan, moan, moan.

I also had to make three batches of icing for this one, because each time I did it the colour was too pink. And even on the third try it ended up more salmon pink, rather than sugar pink as it should have been. I was not prepared to make a fourth batch. If anyone has a cake that needs icing, my fridge is full of it in a sickening shade of Disney pink, and you are welcome to it.

It was also hard to find flowers that are the same as the picture - for the life of me I couldn't turn up those tiny delicate blue ones, so I had to settle for using individual lavender flowers instead.

And the lace around the cake, with that pink ribbon threaded through it? Nowhere to be found. I had to compromise by finding a lace that was similar (and of course it turned out to be French lace at $10 a metre, and you need two metres for the cake - but isn't it gorgeously feminine!) and then hand-threading the pink ribbon through it myself. I did feel a sense of achievement once it was completed. I am a stickler for detail, after all.

With all credit to Mabel though, she did not care ONE JOT that this cake didn't look quite like the picture. She was the picture of manners and was terribly pleased by it. Hooray! We had a good conversation about how grandma had made fairybread for her party, and we agreed that fairybread is brilliant and there should be more of it in the world.

I think Mabel gets her splendid approach to life from her mother Catherine, who wrote this lovely email to me after Mabel's party:      "Most importantly, the birthday girl was so, so excited by it, and us not having to make it saved late nights and crankiness, more of which I cannot afford at present!  So there's absolutely no way we see it as a fail, rather a massive success, and perhaps a creative and appropriate re-interpretation - as parents of a proud-3-year-old and a newborn, we are embracing the imperfect as the only form of perfection there is."

Catherine, Mabel, Fergus, and I'm ashamed to say I've forgotten Mr Catherine's name (sorry Mr Catherine)
Catherine also bestowed a magnificent bottle of champagne upon me, thank you Catherine! I shall enjoy drowning my sorrows with it. And I will toast Mabel and her birthday, and hope that she continues to embrace life in all its imperfections for a long, long time to come.

Friday, 25 May 2012

100 Facebook Followers = cake for one lucky reader!

Whoo hoo! One hundred followers on Facebook!

THAT is a milestone to celebrate, dear readers. And what better way to celebrate than with a cake, of course?

Here's the deal: I will make one lucky Melbourne reader the cake of their choice from The Book, as long as it is not the train or the swimming pool. Those cakes are off limits. Everything else though, is up for grabs.

How do you enter? Leave a comment here on this post, or on the same post on my Facebook page, telling me what you enjoy most about Cake It To The Limit. I will read your comments and will then be able to give you More Of What You Want.

See, it's a win-win situation.

The competition close next Thursday 31 May at 5pm.

I do feel I need to apologise to everyone who reads this blog but doesn't live in Melbourne. I did think about including other cities but I don't think Australia Post would really work for a cake.

But hey, if you live somewhere else and you can get yourself to Melbourne to pick it up - then by all means, enter!

Thank you to everyone who reads this blog. You make my heart sing.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Timothy Tiger And His Cub-cakes

What's your sign? I'm told that's a classic pick-up line, used mainly by Americans.

But I have to say: really? Maybe only if you grew up in the sixties. In which case aren't you a little beyond the superficiality of pick up lines?

Personally, no one's ever used it on me. I've had some humdingers in my time mind you, but nothing this ... euuuw-inspiring.

I think the Pick-Up Line Prize goes to my friend Susan, who once had a bloke come up to her in a bar during the late nineties. Without breaking eye contact he took hold of her hand, leant in close to her ear and whispered the intoxicating phrase "......I'm a stockbroker.".

Now wouldn't that just make you want to rip off your pants with excitement.

Anyway, my sign is Aries. It's a fire sign. Apparently we are all impulse and spontaneity and adventurousness; brimming with headstrong excitement, passion and a not insignificant tendency to want to dominate, like, everything and everyone. Everywhere. All the time. Ahem.

In my Chinese horoscope however, I was born in The Year Of The Tiger (and I love that this link comes from the "US bridal guide". Please do consider it your essential guide to bride shopping).

Being a tiger is brilliant. Tigers are my favourite animal and always have been. At the zoo as a child, all I wanted to see was the tigers. I think it's something about the stripes. So I would much rather be a tiger than a monkey, for example. I hate monkeys. Especially when they are in ads and dressed up like people. And most of all when they are on tv and wearing nappies. That is just all kinds of wrong.

But I digress. The Tiger is a born leader. Apparently, the rage of a tiger is terrible to behold but it also gives them the adrenaline needed for the sublimest of bravery.

ANYWAY, I'm getting to the point, I promise. Recently my office colleague had a birthday, so I invited him to choose a cake. He chose the train, and I said no. Then he suggested the swimming pool and I said NO FREAKING WAY. Behold my terrible rage. Sensibly, he chose the tiger.

In making Timothy The Tiger, I had enough cake mixture left over to make some cupcakes. Which makes these tiger cub-cakes. Geddit? Cub-cakes? Which made me laugh and laugh for days at the terrible joke therein. Even my office colleagues groaned a bit at that one.

But no one made too much of a thing of it, because you know what they say, don't you?

Never pull a tiger by the tail.......

Friday, 18 May 2012

I Caked It Myself: The Awesome Nellie

Readers, it's Friday. And thank goodness for that.

This week I did quite a bit of running. I ran 8km with my friend Rachel on Tuesday, and 10km with my friend the treadmill yesterday. I also went to boot camp on the other three days. That's FIVE CONSECUTIVE DAYS of exercise people.

And do you think it helped me one bit? No it did not. I gained 160grams. How is that even possible?

I'm so insulted by myself that I can't even muster the energy to write.  So I bring you the latest edition of our reader series: I Caked It Myself.

Nellie is a sprightly sixteen year old who's been cooking and baking for as long as she can remember. Many of her cakes came from The Book originally, and she's taken her inspiration and run with it.

Here are just a few of the many cakes she has made. All of them have some significance to the person they were made for.

 Isn't she clever? Look how adorable that frog is! He looks like the kind of frog that just might turn into a prince. 

Nellie also notes that the penguin cake did not turn out as well as she was hoping, This is because the icing was frozen.  Not frozen because it was in the freezer - no, just because it was in the freezing cold kitchen.  

I know what Nellie means. When The Book says "begin with your butter at room temperature", I have deduced that they mean room temperature in, say, Fiji - not room temperature in autumn in Melbourne.

Nellie also confesses that she did not make the yellow moon cake in these photos. So it is probably just as well that it got eaten before anyone could take a proper  photo of it. 

I think this icecream echidna cake is wonderful. Nellie, which one of these lovely lasses in the picture is you?
(Ed: The Awesome Nellie has emailed to say she is the one in the red!)
And in a true demonstration of her phenomenal cake-baking achievements, I am proud to present to you: The Train Cake. 

The train cake! I am still too scared to try this myself, but The Awesome Nellie has been there, done that, and dusted the flour off her hands to boot.

Nellie finishes off by saying that she thoroughly looks forward to delaying her studying by reading my blog.

I completely endorse that decision. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

The Friendly Ghost

I think this ghost cake is the epitome of "Australian home baking". It is so quintessentially a Women's Weekly thing to re-use your egg shells to make the ghost eyes! I love any recipe that says "wash out your egg shells and put them aside for use later on". It makes me feel like I am back in the culinary desert of the seventies.

And really, the only frightening thing about this lovely little ghost cake, is just how long it took me to make it.

I baked this cake three times. Which totally goes against my near-enough-is-good-enough philosophy. That's the philosophy I adopt when I am baking on a Friday night and I have ahem, relaxed into the weekend via the odd G&T. Or two.

But I should have realised things weren't going to go to plan when I dropped an entire egg into the mixing bowl. Shell and all. Fatal error number one.

Oddly enough, this did not stop me in my tracks. It should have. But I kept going.  Some part of my mind said Oh don't worry, it'll be fine. Fine! Don't you worry a bit about that shell.

Readers, that was the G&T talking.

Shortly after though, I did actually realise that crunchy cake was not going to win anyone over. And this cake was being made for a child in the household of my cake-diverting villainous colleague. So I turned off the beater and picked out every single bit of shell I could see. And kept going.

Fatal error number two. Why did I not bin the entire mixture and start again? Readers, I blame the G&T. (The second one).

So I baked the cake. After an hour in the over at low heat, I took it out. I let it rest for five minutes. I turned it out onto the wire rack to cool .... and saw a giant piece of shell, right in the middle.

I threw it away.

I tried again. This time, I cracked the egg into a separate bowl, just to be sure no shell could fall in. I baked the cake. I let it rest for five minutes. I turned it out onto the wire rack to cool .... and the entire thing deflated in a saggy puff of steam.

I threw it away. And had a little cry. And some more gin.

The third time, it worked. I have no idea how, because by this time I was most definitely in a gin-sozzled state. But even the marshmallow icing turned out fine, with its palaver of you-must-get-the-sugar-mixture-to -exactly-115-degrees-exACTly-I-said.

Just when I thought I'd made it safely to the finish line, I faltered. As I was adding the coloured coconut (and I still have red hands from that stuff, who thought of that idea?) to the plate, some coconut accidentally fell onto the marshmallow. And stuck fast. And when I tried to get it off, a whole bit as big as a ten-cent piece peeled off in my fingers. Dear god!

I covered it up with plain coconut. It was still patently obvious. Look at this picture. Look at it.

 Luckily for me, as the cake-diverting villainous colleague was putting the cake in his car, he did exactly the same thing and knocked off a bit of the arm. So I felt much better.

And in the end, Atticus loved his cake. Let us never speak of it again.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

My Life As A Blog

Are you a Sunday Age reader? Maybe you saw the cover story in the M Magazine today ....

If you're visiting for the first time, hello! Welcome! I hope you enjoy reading about the trials and tribulations of this project.

You can join up as a follower here on the blog, or you can Like my Facebook page here. Or if you *really* love cake, do both!

Friday, 11 May 2012

The Great Cake Shortage of 2012 (well, really just the last week in April and first week in May)

There have been whispers in the office.

People have been saying things. Making the occasional pointed comment out of the corner of their mouths. But recently the whispers have grown to a discernible rumble, not unlike the buzz emitted from a particularly large machine humming away in our back warehouse. Now the grapevine is most definitely aflame, and I can feel the heat on my cheeks from here.

People are questioning the diversion of cake away from the office

Let me explain. I am lucky enough to work in an office where most people love cake. And they are just as happy for me to exploit their goodwill (and their appetites) by foisting cake on them at regular intervals. It's the only way I can get through this project without ballooning to the size of a house.

But for the past few weeks I have been exceptionally busy baking cakes .....(wait for it) .....for other people.  

And not only that, there is a *villain* at the heart of this story, a man who is wholly and solely responsible for the recent absence of cake in the office. Quite the bright spark, this chap is a parent; and recently two of the children in his household have had birthdays. Within a week of each other. For which I have delivered exceptionally magnificent cakes -  the Space Alien Number Eight was one of them. The other is due for its blog post shortly.

So that means for two weeks, my colleagues have not had any Office Cake. Zip. Zilch. Nada. 

To make matters worse, the Bright Spark works here himself. So he knows how valuable the Office Cake is, and he has knowingly diverted it. Knowingly! And while I've only been baking for around six weeks now, clearly I have established a pattern, a comforting regularity of cake supply. But now I have suddenly turned off the tap.

Outrage! Of the polite office variety, at least.

The office has rebelled. There is a quest to restore Equal Cake Rights. There is talk of a petition, or a demonstration in the little car park out the front. 

But I know exactly how to win them back ....  

Thursday, 10 May 2012

I Caked It Myself: by crikey, what a bright ballerina cake this is!

This ballerina cake is totes awesome. And totes pink. And totes hard work!

My sources tell me that the photo only reveals half the story. The full story includes the ballerinas on stage, and butterfly backdrop framed by gold lame (how does one insert the accent over the e of lame in Blogger??) curtains. 

When this picture appeared on a friend's Facebook feed, I immediately requested permission to blog it here.

The baker - who has clearly put in hours of effort with all that detailed and pernickety icing - also had a great tip for finding the little ballerina dolls:

Go straight to Cake Deco in the Port Philip Arcade in town. Do not pass Go. Do not search every toy store between here and Toys R Us.

I will be keeping this advice in mind when I come to bake the ballerina cake myself ......

Monday, 7 May 2012

How To Get Over Your Unrequited Space Alien Lover

When I was eleven years old, I wrote a very bad science fiction story about sending a rocket to explore the icy moons of Jupiter.

Then last week the European Space Agency announced we're going to send a rocket to probe the very same moons of Jupiter. Coincidence, my friends? I think not.

I think I was imitating Robert Heinlein, my favourite author at the time - undoubtedly because Julian, an older boy who I had a crush on (I remember long legs and muscular thighs), read a lot of Robert Heinlein himself.

I did not show this story to anyone, but there were space aliens in it. And unrequited space alien love. Do you see art imitating life there, readers? That's the creative muse laid bare.

Therefore it is in honour of Julian that this week I am blogging the Space Cake. I doubt he would even remember me now, and I want to cringe horribly and writhe a bit with embarrassment when I think about how much I wanted him to notice me - but unrequited love is unrequited love, even at the tender age of eleven.

When I began the Space Cake, however, I did not love this cake. I did not love it one bit.

I offered to bake it for a colleague's son, George. George was turning eight, and I had three week's notice, so I immediately starting looking for all the little toys that feature on its marshmallowy surface. I did not want to make George cry because the right toys weren't on his cake. And then have to face his father every single day at work from then on.

So I spent days - days! - hunting for tiny astronauts. I canvassed every children's shop within a 10km radius. I turned $2 shops upside down. I even went on safari to Toys R Us at Northlands, which I am sure I deserve some kind of prize for (and by golly, I wish I'd taken an elephant gun with me when I did).

But no luck. Time was starting to run out.

I considered substituting toy soldiers. I even went to the lengths of painting one white with liquid paper to see what it would look like, but at the last minute I decided I would rather make my colleague's son cry than actually, you know, kill him. Even in my warped universe of unreasonable justification, tears are better than death.

In the end my husband saved the day by turning up some little Lego men from an old box of childhood toys. Brilliant! They weren't white, but by this time I was beyond caring. They were going on the cake, whatever damn colour they were.

And I must say, readers, that in the end I TOTALLY ROCKED THIS BABY. Don't you think it looks almost exactly like the picture (whiteness of tiny astronauts aside)?

I even managed to get the perfect colour of coconut, owing to which my hands were green for a week.

And please, notice that bright yellow icing. That is not icing. That is marshmallow meringue, which requires a long and technical process where you beat the egg whites to a stiff peak but not so much that they split, while simultaneously dissolving sugar in water over a high heat and then boiling the hell out of it for ex-ACT-ly six minutes while getting it to ex-ACT-ly 115 degrees Celsius - no more, no less - which is known as the "soft ball" stage (thank heaven for my sugar thermometer) and then let it cool ever so slightly but not too much and then pour it into the still-beating egg whites in a stream of prescribed proportions so that the egg whites thicken up properly to form marshmallow. One false step, readers, and it's over.

Oh yes, it was a process. Which I TOTALLY NAILED.

Totally. Nailed. Which was something, at the tender age of eleven, that I did not even think about doing with Julian. But it does bring me nicely back to the beginning of the story.

Happy Birthday, George. May your life be filled with many space aliens and not too many unrequited loves.

Friday, 4 May 2012

I Caked It Myself

It's Friday, readers, which means I've arrived at the end of the week, limp with exhaustion and completely unable to muster the creativity to come up with your regular dose of acid-infused sugar.

So it's time for I Caked It Myself, where I hand the reins over to you while I have a gin and tonic for breakfast.

Today's edition is courtesy of reader Leanne, who writes:

Mum had the WW birthday cake book which I have inherited. It’s in perfect nick given Mum’s lack of culinary skill and therefore not used very often if at all. She did manage to give one a whirl though circa 1985ish with one of the easier designs – the Paint Box. I managed to locate a photo...

Here is Leanne cutting her cake. I love her "Miss Australia 1979" swimsuit.
 In recent times I made the Mickey Mouse cake with a little modification in the decorating for my nephew,

 and my daughter’s birthday cake from last year – The Dolly Varden!

This Dolly Varden is much nicer and far less slutty than my  version
 Growing up, my neighbours over the back fence had quite a few WW cakes. My all time fave was the swimming pool. I will never forget the avalanche of green jelly spilling out as the cake was cut.

Enjoy! And good luck with the rest of the cakes – I’m really looking forward to seeing the choo choo train – I always wanted that one!

Leanne, you and I are kindred spirits in the swimming pool stakes. It's my favourite too, and here at work a number of people have requested I bake it for them, and I have said no.  NO FREAKING WAY. It is MINE and I will bake it for MY birthday next year, by which time my skills should have improved a little. 

Thank you so much for these wonderful photos, Leanne. I am in awe of your Dolly Varden and the effort you've gone to - that skirt is a masterpiece. Adding cupcakes to the skirt of the cake, for full cake overload? Genius