Saturday, October 22, 2011

An ecosystem in cake form

This weeks baking was a belated birthday cake, decorated as per request with mackerel and phytoplankton. With the addition of the ocean, sky and sunshine I had created a sugary and somewhat fattening ecosystem, which I have a picture of to share with you but sadly I did not take pictures of the cake that lay beneath the frosting. You will just have to take my word for it that it looked good and tasted amazing. The flavour was also requested and it was named by the many appreciative tasters, so following is my recipe for toffee-apple cake. It seems very long and complicated but it really is not at all difficult to make a yummy cake, I just like to talk a lot. If you can sift through my rambling you will see that the instructions are actually really simple.

Toffee Apple Cake

1/4 cup/60 grams butter or oil
3/4 cup apple puree
2 cups caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup milk
6 egg whites

Turn the oven on to 180 degrees celsius and prepare a 22 cm round tin (or a square tin, or two sandwhich tins). My 22 cm tin is springform and has no bottom so I have to place it on a cookie tray and fully line it with paper. On the up-side, it does save on washing up!

This is a simple enough cake, and doesn't using the usual creaming method because I have replaced most of the fat with apple puree. I was making a lactose-free cake so I figured this way I could get the apple flavour in and cut the butter out all in one step. On this occassion I used margerine and lactose free milk, and luckily it didn't have to be vegan as well because eggs are important for cake! The eggs were from happy free-range hens, just to keep the ecologist-birthday-girl quiet, but I go for free range anyway because I'm also an environmental-nut when I can be bothered. On this occassion the eggs were from hens that live in my mate's backyard so I'm sure they are happy enough. I've wandered from the point though, so to get back to it: the first step of this particular cake is to beat together the butter/oil, apple puree, sugar and vanilla. If you need to make apple puree it's really simple, you just peel and core an apple or two, dice it up and place it in a small saucepan with a little water (or a bowl and cook it in the microwave). Put a lid on the saucepan and bring the water to a boil, then turn down to simmer. When the apple is mushy drain excess water away and blend. If you are using good cooking apple you barely need any water and with a little heat they pretty much puree themselves.

So, next step. You have in a bowl a creamy butter-apple-sugar mixture and now you need to add your egg yolks. I'm assuming that everybody here knows how to separate eggs and as usual I was too preoccupied with the cooking to remember to take photo's as I went along. So for those that don't know, separating eggs is really easy, and this is how I do it but there are other methods. You take a small bowl and carefully crack the egg on the side. Then you carefully break the shell in two over top of the bowl, so that the yolk stays in one half of the shell and the white falls into the bowl below. If there is a lot of white around the yolk still, tip the yolk into the other half of the shell so that the remaining white can slip out into the bowl. Then put your yolk in another bowl (or your cake mixture) and that's all there is to it! When you have two yolks in the mixture continue beating briefly.

Your mixture should be very liquid now and it is time to add the flour. Sift in one cup of the flour along with the baking powder and then mix well with either the egg beater or a large spoon. When it is combined, tip in half of the milk and give the batter another good stir. Repeat this; sift in the second cup of flour and mix, then mix in the milk. Now you're nearly finished, there is just one more thing to do, and it requires separating more eggs.

There is a trick to separating eggs for people who are new to baking and tend to break the yolks when they crack the egg. You see, you don't want any yolk at all in the whites or they will not get thick when you beat them because of the fat in the yolk. So you need three bowls: the first is for tipping the white into as you separate the egg, the second for the yolks and the third is for holding all the whites. After you separate each egg, tip the white from the first bowl to the second so that if, as you separate each egg, you drop the yolk in, you won't waste all of your egg white. Just the one. This is what I was taught when I was small and wanted to make a pavlova, but Mum was too busy watching Shortland Street to be keeping an eye on us. We went through at least a dozen eggs trying to make a pav because we kept getting yolk in the egg white, I remember her getting really mad, but it wasn't really a waste because we had a big pile of scrambed eggs with all broken eggs. What was more of a waste was the time that I dropped an entire carton of a dozen eggs onto the kitchen floor and they all broke, spilling yolk everywhere. Luckily Mum wasn't there to see so I called the dog in to come destroy the evidence and no-one was the wiser.

I'm rambling again and completely missed the point of that paragraph, which was to take your 6 egg white and beat them with the electric beater until they are thick and stiff. Then tip them into the cake batter and fold them in, by taking a large wooden spoon or rubber scraper and gently folding the batter up over the whites, until they are all combined. Don't stir the mixture or beat it because that will take all of the air out of the whites, which is important to keep the cake light.

Finally it is time to tip the mixture into your prepared tin and I hope that by this stage the oven is nice and hot. For my large round cake I had to leave it in for an hour and the same would apply to a large square cake, but if you were to bake this in two smaller round pans it would only take a half hour. You can check by inserting a skewer or knife into the centre and it should come out clean. However, the mixture may be a little much for sandwhich pans, you would perhaps need three. One day I will get around to that sort of cake again and then maybe I will amend this. This time though, because I wanted to make such a large cake, I went ahead with my large round tin and when the cake was cool sliced it into two layers. First the cake had to cool though, so when you remove it from the oven leave it to cool first in the tin, for about 5 minutes or so, then turn it up onto a wire rack (or a plate if you don't have one, like me, but a rack is better because then there is air all around, and the cake won't sweat and get soggy). Carefully remove the tin, which if you have lined with non-stick baking paper or greased really well should not be a problem. Then let it finish cooling until it is cold.

Toffee/Caramel Filling

1 1/3 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup butter, margerine or shortening
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
Pinch of salt

Caramel is simple enough and this particular recipe will sort of depend on your sugar. I had dark brown sugar and got a really dark toffee, but if you were to use light brown or even white sugar you would get a much more mild caramel. I would always go for soft brown sugar for this but white sugar should work fine, it just may need to cook slightly longer. Alternatively you could buy caramel but if you make your own you can make it thicker and darker, more like toffee.

For this you need a medium sized saucepan - you really don't want a small one because when sugar begins to boil it rises up really fast and the mess that it would make on your stove is absolutely awful (trust me, I know, it happens to me all the time). You simply place all of the ingredients in your saucepan and turn the heat to a medium setting. You want everything to melt and the sugar to dissolve, but if it is too hot the sugar will burn to the bottom.

When everything is melted and combined let the mixture boil for a minute, but keep a close eye on it! You needn't turn the heat up, it will boil on a low heat, and you may want to keep stirring it to prevent the mixture from bubbling too much and spilling everywhere. After a minute or so remove it from the heat and as the mixture cools beat it with an electric beater (because you will get really tired if you try to do it by hand).

If you have a cake mixture you can keep on beating the mixture until it is cold but I do not and my arm gets tired so I just beat it a little, leave it for awhile, beat some more, and keep on in that way until the mixture is cold. I did this while the cake was baking but it depends on when the cake is to be served. Caramel will keep so it can be made in advance (and used for lots of other stuff too).

The last step was putting the cake together, which has to wait until the cake is cold. If you are in a hurry you can put the cake in the fridge or freezer but it is better if you have plenty of time. If it is one large cake you need to carefully cut it into two but if you used sandwhich tins you won't have this problem! Place the bottom layer on a plate or whatever you will serve it on and then spread a thick layer of your toffee over it. Place the top on and if you like spread another layer of toffee over the top and the sides. It depends on how you will serve the cake. If you are not going to frost it you should not do this because it will be sticky and a gross brown colour. You could just serve it unfrosted, with warmed toffee/caramel to pour over each serving. However, if you are going to frost the outside, first coat the cake in toffee and place in the fridge for about an hour so that it hardens a little and is not so sticky. In the meantime make frosting.

White Chocolate Frosting

30 grams butter (or shortening, but not oil)
60 grams white chocolate
300 grams icing sugar
4 tablespoons milk (about 60 mL)

Set up a double boiler to melt the white chocolate and butter by half-filling a small saucepan with water and placing a small bowl on top. The bowl shouldn't be touching the water. Get the water simmering and then place the chocolate and butter in the bowl.

When the chocolate and butter have both melted remove them from the heat and mix them well. Pour the mixture into a larger bowl and begin to sift in the icing sugar. Begin with just a little and mix it well, and then add the rest, along with the milk. To get proper frosting texture you need to beat it well so use an electric beater, begining on the lowest setting so that the icing sugar does not go everywhere. The above measurements should give a good frosting but if it is too dry and stiff add more milk, and if it is too liquid add more icing sugar.

To frost the cake carefully spread the frosting over the caramel. You may need a hot knife to do this, so boil the kettle and pour a mug of water to dip your knife (or alternate spreading utensil) into. The mixture made just enough frosting to cover the cake and decorate it a little but I was working to a tight time schedule. It would have been better if I had spread a thin layer, let it set and then spread another layer, because the toffee has a tendency to show through. That was OK for what I was doing but if you want a picture perfect cake feel free to decorate as you will.

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