Friday, 21 September 2012

I Caked It Myself: a special story

Friday. Thank god.

I have been up all night baking. Baking, and icing, and scaffolding, and then watching everything break apart. Numerous times. Four times, to be precise. It has lead to my first Damn This Cake To Hell moment. And I'll tell you about it, oh yes I will.

But not today.

Today, it is time for I Caked It Myself. Allow me to shift the spotlight sideways for a moment, and shine it onto regular reader Alison. Alison has sent in a very special story and I'm honoured she had allowed me to share it with you.

Alison writes:

I am rather intimidated by the sheer quality of Jo's Magnificent Portfolio, but hey, what the hell. (Editor: don't worry Alison. We cannot all be Jo. Jo has rad skillz we can only dream of. The rest of us must scrape by as best we can.)

These are the cakes we made for our son's first birthday.  Some background: my son Michael was born quite premature, and also very small due to a placental problem and some other stuff.  He's now spent just over a year in hospital due to lung issues (and is still there!), so his first birthday was quite special.  (Hooray for his first birthday! Congratulations to everybody. What a celebration it must have been for you!)

We had two parties - one for the medical staff, and a smaller family one.  For the first party I made a number 1 cake.  Two reasons for this - there are a lot of medical staff, and it's relatively easy.  As it turns out though, it's not actually as easy to scale up as I thought it would be.  The main reason for this is the geometry, which seriously cake book?  Is difficult.  (I hear you, Alison. The number one was my first cake too and I had ex-ACT-ly the same issue with scaling the geometry so that I could feed 40 of my closest colleagues! I thought it would be easy. But it was not.)

I used meatloaf tins to make larger cakes and cut them according to the diagram in the book... and then spent about 30 minutes rearranging the cut shapes and arguing with my husband until I worked out how to get them to fit in the right shape with minimal additional cutting.  (Then we ate the leftover bits.)  
The unfinished cake looked disturbingly like a penguin at this point, and had I had any black colouring I would have been tempted to turn it into one.  Fortunately I didn't as I'd bought rather a lot of M&Ms to decorate the cake with!  Icing with Vienna Cream was relatively straightforward once I'd woken up enough to remember that doubling 125g of butter does not mean adding 500g butter to the mixing bowl - fortunately my Mum can do maths, even late at night, and was helping me put the cake together - and also when we realised that having a butter-based icing mix means that letting the cakes cool down before starting to cover them with Vienna Cream is essential as otherwise the icing melts.  (Aren't mums awesome? They really know their stuff.)

Fortunately we had already cleared enough space in the fridge to be able to put them in there while we had a cup of tea.  Once cooled the Vienna Cream went on very nicely, the quantity of M&Ms was fortunately sufficient to cover the cake and the finished cake was well received by the ravening hordes of medical staff - and the icing (with some cake crumbs) by the birthday boy. (Hooray for his first cake! What a milestone!)

The family cake I let my husband choose the design for - which is how we ended up with what was going to be just a guitar cake in honour of Michael's love of music therapy turning into a "Michael Schenker Flying V guitar" design.  
The only setback to this turned out to be again not having black icing, so we made do with icing as blue as we could get it.  Then we realised we didn't have anything to do the strings with - another reason why planning these things is probably a good idea, rather than making the cake the night before and decorating it on the morning of the actual event.  (If The Book teaches its readers one thing, that thing is DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE DAY BEFORE. I learnt that lesson just last night, and it wasn't pretty. Right now I am pretty much running on sugar and caffeine and eventually I am going to hit the ground with a bang and start weeping. That'll be fun for my workmates.)

So it's more a representation of a flying V, rather than a close copy.  As it turned out many of the guests apparently thought it was a rocketship - an impression probably helped by the electric candle placement.  (No flames permitted in close proximity to oxygen tanks!)  (Quite. I mean, birthdays are great when they go off with a bang, but not THAT kind of bang.)

The cake was again well received by family (and the leftovers by the medical staff, again.)

I look forward to many more cake making adventures from the book!

Me too Alison, me too. Thank you for sharing this story with us and I know every reader sends their love and best wishes to you, your husband and little Michael.

The birthday boy crashed out after all the excitement of the party

Monday, 3 September 2012

In Honour Of Spring: the Basket Of Flowers

Oh happy day, Spring is here! I have seen the sun, for the first time in months, and lo, it is good!

The birds are chirping, my forest pansies are about to burst into bloom, and the cats are poised for their seasonal moulting, where my entire house becomes a living, breathing furball for about three weeks. Yay. Something to look forward to.

Ah, spring - welcome back. I might say though, you took your damn time arriving - it feels as though it's been winter in Melbourne for EV-AHHHHH.

And so in celebration of spring, I baked the Basket Of Flowers. I thought it was appropriately symbolic - the grassy green colours, the pillowy marshmallow flowers, the coconut flavoured green M&Ms - it was a worthy offering.

(As an aside, does anyone else remember the ahem, particular qualities ascribed to green M&Ms back in the mid-80s? Was it universal? Or was it just a strange idiom of the country town I grew up in? Let me know.)

I made a slightly different base cake for this one. It's the standard butter cake mixture from The Book, but I made the spontaneous addition of two handfuls of frozen raspberries, to really freshen up the recipe. It worked a treat too - we cut into this cake at around 11am in the office, and less than fifteen minutes later the entire thing had been scoffed.

I was not happy with the shape of the cake, however. It's a typical round one (and I made mine much bigger than The Book suggested, because of course I had to feed thirty hungry co-workers rather than nine or ten little nine-or-ten year old girls, as The Book imagined.)

I think the basket doesn't really work in the round, flat shape of a standard cake tin. Wouldn't it have looked a bit better if you made this cake in a pudding steamer, which is the shape of a bowl with a flat bottom?

Then you would get the lovely round shape, the wide lip etc, but it would narrow down to a smaller base. I think that would look more delicate than this somewhat flat-footed clumsy version.

Book Editors, please note - something for the next edition!