Friday, December 31, 2010

If I Knew You Were Comin' I'd've...Oh Hang On - I Totally Did!

This delightfully nutty mess is the offering I created for my sister in law's 40th birthday. I am very lucky to have brilliant SILs, and this one lives right beside me, which means that she is also a really excellent neighbour. Since my brother was getting himself impressively stressed out organising a surprise birthday party, I thought that I'd make some culinary contributions and port of call numero uno was a birthday cake.

Rather than go down the tried-and-tested (very, very much and rather repeatedly tested) chocolate fudge route, I thought I'd go for something a little classier and a tad more grown up. As this was a very last minute idea, I didn't have the luxury of time to dig out every single cake recipe I own and spend hours weighing up my options, so I went straight to Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess. This one, which she calls an autumnal birthday cake, looked sufficiently fancy, and she also says in the recipe that she baked it for her own SIL's birthday. If it's good enough, etc etc. Making an actual decision is generally about 80% of the battle in most things that I do, and so I was pretty pleased with myself to have conquered that aspect of the project.

First, the sponges. There was no golden caster sugar in the shop, so I whizzed up some regular golden sugar in the food processor. Since my lil machine o blitziness appears to have lost an essential part, I had to haul out my trusty old Moulinex that had been consigned to the back of a cupboard when its, clearly more lightweight, modern counterpart arrived on the scene. I bought it on sale in Brown Thomas eight or nine years ago, with the intention of making smoothies, which was a bit of a fad back then in the early noughties. The smoothie phase didn't last too long, but the Moulinex gave me years of kitchen sidekick-age, lending a hand with everything from soups to breadcrumbs. I am so sorry for eschewing you in favour of a flimsy alternative, oh dear Moulinex. But in fairness, you did freak me out that time I was making a flourless chocolate cake and you started making funny grinding-y noises and emitting scary-smelling smoke. Come to think of it, that might have been my fault. Anyhow - I want you back, my reliable pal!

The whole butter-at-room-temperature situation was actually more respectable than usual, and so the creaming of the sugar (100g) and butter (175g) was a thoroughly successful enterprise.

Three large eggs, one at a time.

350ml of teeth-rottingly glorious maple syrup.

Then in went 500g of self-raising flour and 175ml hot water, added alternately one spoon at a time.

In her recipe Nigella says to put both sponges in the oven at the same time. But that requires two tins, Nigella, TWO! No recession in the 'gellster's house, eh?! Those books of hers must be selling well. I am possessed of a mere one 21cm springform tin, and so I went down my own little impoverished route of using the same tin twice, 180 degrees for 40 minutes each.

I got a little bit excited about the icing. Sponges are all well and good, but the best part of any cake is the icing. And this icing has maple syrup in it! Yep, more maple syrup. 125ml of the stuff, along with two large egg whites, 125g golden caster sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar, 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Pot of water on the boil, and whisk it all together until it gets all meringueish-ly peaky. There was the usual will-it-won't-it moment, as it took a fair while to reach that consistency, so I was pretty relieved when the ingredients cooperated. Then, off the heat, one teaspoon of vanilla extract.

I LOVE icing cakes, it's extremely satisfying, and also I tend to make cakes that don't require a particularly even or beautiful finish, so no pressure to be dainty or delicate. This icing was an absolute joy, with its sticky liquid marshmallow-esque texture.

And the final flourish was some chopped up pecans.

And there you have it, the delightfully nutty mess; which, incidentally, is also a fair approximation of my own state by the end of the night, given the amount of celebratory bubbles consumed.

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