Thursday, 11 February 2010

Cake off

In my life I have employed a few odd things to break the fast; fish fingers, beans on toast, cold pizza, curry, left-over Shepherd’s Pie, Egg Mornay…the list goes on. But never cake. No, cake is definitely an after-mid-morning thing for me. Not today. First thing, a loaf-sized box came to the door in the arms of our smiling postman – I am not sure he knew what he was delivering but it certainly seemed that way. I have to admit that I’d had my misgivings when the lovely Michelle at Vanilla Patisserie told me she would ‘post some samples’. I had, until this point, been unaware of the travelling capacity of cake - the only comparable experience being in those plastic party bags we were given when we were small and these were usually sat on in the car on the way home. (If they ever did make it home they were often forgotten in favour of the pot of bubbles and left to languish in their paper napkin, sweating in the bag for a couple of weeks before being thrown out). I was delighted therefore to discover that all 11 samples had survived transit and still resembled cake, moreover, were convincing enough slices to go under the tester’s scalpel to become sample slivers.

The BSG ruled that there would be no talking whilst the testing was in progress. Each piece was marked out of five for moisture and flavour and of course, there would be no conferring. Each teaspoon of cake was punctuated with a slurp of tea (to cleanse the palate you understand), which worked much better than water at erasing the taste memory.

Cake samples

I surprised myself; eleven mouthfuls of cake all but defeated us and the BSG, who is not great mates with sugar under normal circumstances, had the shakes for the remainder of the day. Amidst the more classic flavours were accents of hazelnut (think Nutella) and Cointreau, and a nod to all things retro came in the form of dark chocolate cake with a blackcurrant filling – all we needed was a trolley and some doilies. The lemon sponge was clean and fragrant and danced on the tongue, and the carrot was infused with a lovely ginger-snap taste. The name of the game though was to find the three flavours we liked best – and find them we did.

Although we proved that you can have too much cake and eat it – the nadir of the sugar low hitting me mid-afternoon – it made us very happy and took us straight back to birthday tables of our youth. We won’t be doing much for Valentine’s Day, feeling it is the day of the year to go out for a romantic-supper-that’s-not-romantic-because-everybody’s-doing-it, but we will definitely be cooking, and I might just bake the BSG a cake - low sugar, of course.

Red Velvet Cake

For the cake:
• 120g unsalted butter
• 300g golden caster sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 300g plain flour
• 230g buttermilk or ordinary milk if this cannot be found
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 20g cocoa powder, sifted
• ½ tsp red food colouring, or sufficient to give the cake a rich red brown colour
• 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
• 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

For the icing:
• 180g unsalted butter
• 150g sifted icing sugar
• 450g full fat cream cheese
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• Chocolate curls for decoration

Pre-heat the oven to 190 Degrees C/170 degrees for fan assisted ovens. Line and grease a 20cm diameter cake tin.

Cream the butter and caster sugar together until light and fluffy. This is easily done with an electric whisk and should take around 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and beat thoroughly. Add the flour in three separate stages alternating with the buttermilk/milk. Then add the salt, vanilla and cocoa powder and enough red food colouring to turn the cake a rich red/brown. Mix the vinegar with the bicarbonate of soda in a bowl and add this to the mixture.
Spoon the prepared mixture into the cake tin and bake for between 45 minutes and one hour - a cake skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean when ready.

For the icing:
Cream together the icing sugar and butter until soft, mix in the cream cheese and vanilla essence. Spread over the cake once it has cooled.

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