Nest to Impress

Oh Em Gee how did we get to Easter so soon? I demand a recount! No way can we be near the end of the full forty days and forty nights already! Not only do I demand a recount, but I also demand a do-over because I kind of missed Pancake (Shrove) Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, St Patricks Day and Who-knows-what-else Day. I’m totally unprepared.

Bah Easter Humbug.

like clockwork

Anyway, like they did in the good old cooking shows on TV *rummages under the counter* here’s one I made earlier! Ta-da! *points eagerly at chocolate concoction while everyone gets bored and wanders off*.

snug as chocolate bugs II

Using balloons to mould chocolate bowls is so old it’s not even a “thing” anymore, probably because it predates Pinterest. I’d always had this idea it would be hideously fiddly until I saw a 12 year old boy using this technique on Junior Masterchef. True, he made a booboo and fed the judges a tiny bit of balloon which he’d neglected to mention was still lurking in the depths of his dessert, but it was beautiful nonetheless – a dessert tucked inside a white chocolate dome through which one had to smash your way like a pinata. I love interactive (violent?) food.

The planning stages were, for me, a wee bit fiddly – I considered things like the weird smell inherent to balloons, the height limitation of the shelves in my fridge, and the wisdom in dipping a balloon into piping hot chocolate (rookie mistake – don’t do this unless you truly do wish to paint your kitchen in the shade Molten Chocolate Explosion). Once I’d worked out these minor points it was all systems go.

pantone

I’m not crazy about just using the chocolate bowl as, um – a bowl. But it’s an awesome shape from which to go a little mental – like, it could be an egg with a chocolate dinosaur emerging or it could be the top bit of a gigantic chocolate wine glass (yes!!) or with a little bit of doodling it can be a cute little nest like the one I made.

scaled up

So, all you need really is balloons and chocolate. Nothing frightening. Don’t bother using fancy-shmancy chocolate with boastful exclamations about cocoa solids and stuff on the front of the wrapper; cheap & nasty cooking chocolate works best because it sets quickly and snappily and isn’t prone to the fancy-chocolate-sulks (you know – where it refuses to set because it’s out of temper, and it’s dull and floppy and dragging it’s chocolate feet).

  1. First up is hygiene. I can’t stand the smell of balloons, so I gave the outside surface a gentle wash with warm water and dishwashing soap followed by thorough rinsing. Inflate the balloon until the round bit is the right size for your purposes, and tie a knot. Resist the urge to let air out in farty noises.The washing process would have changed the texture from slippery to kind of grippy so give it a wipe with a tiny amount of cooking oil.
  2. Meanwhile, lay a sheet of greaseproof paper down on a tray which will fit into your fridge. Check this part. Your fridge may not be as big as you like to think.
  3. Chop up the cooking chocolate, and melt 3/4 in a shallow microwavable bowl in the microwave until the bits just start looking blurry at the edges. Add the last quarter and stir gently until smooth and melted and kind of like you want to stick your face into it. Don’t.
  4. The chocolate won’t be very warm after adding the last bit and stirring it in – lukewarm at most. Dip the rounded bit of your prepared balloon into the chocolate, turning it over and over so that the chocolate extends up the sides and forms a nice thick layer. Use the back of a spoon to help the process. Lift the balloon out of the chocolate and turn it gently to spread the chocolate evenly and get rid of any excess. Spoon a wodge of melted chocolate onto the greaseproof paper to be the “anchor” then wodge the balloon onto it, holding it steady until the chocolate sets at the base.

just chillinphweeeee

Repeat as needed, then pop the lot into the fridge to set completely. I always forget to time this stuff. Let’s call it an hour *looks shiftily in other direction*.

When it’s totally set, use a pin to VERY GENTLY make a tiny hole near the knot. Slowly let the air out, gently pulling the balloon away from the chocolate sides – gently, or the chocolate will collapse inwards with the balloon. Don’t take too long because or the heat from your hands will start to melt all that hard work.

Now isn’t that so pretty? Take a moment to admire your polished chocolate bowl.Next, melt chocolate in a contrasting colour and (I used a teaspoon) kind of fling it around in thin circular motions all over the chocolate bowl to make it look nest-y.

dressing the nest

Last but not least, use a bit more melted chocolate to secure eggs in the middle of the nest, and if it’s looking kinda bland throw some sweeties in there too. Or get a giant chocolate chicken (from the supermarket – life is too short to also mould a whole frikkin’ bird out of chocolate) and park it on the eggs *wails “why didn’t I think of this at the time dang nabbit”*.

snug as chocolate bugs

PS: Will someone who is braver than I am PLEASE create a balloon cake and prank someone? It’s so mean. So mean and so awesome.

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Put A Ring On It

I know I just recently waxed lyrical about being a chocolate cake snob, and only the very best made from the sweat of Taye Diggs (ok not strictly true) will do.

no brainer

But then this recipe made its way through a long chain of people, and arrived on my desk a few weeks back… Charlotte Gomes Microwave Chocolate Cake. When it comes to cake I would normally balk (yes. balk.) at the word Microwave. My encounters with microwaved ring cakes have generally been of the rubbery, chewy variety that bears no comparison with “real” baking. But this particular recipe had this gorgeous photo of a voluptuous chocolate ring cake with frosting oozing down the sides and winking seductively at me…

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a chocolate cake fan but seriously, if you don’t have the time or means or inclination to go through the entire convoluted process of making the shmancy cake I posted earlier then this is the recipe for you. No pre-planning or foraging for exotic ingredients is needed (it’s stuff everyone has in the cupboard and fridge), no arm-numbing creaming of butter and sugar, and no firing up of the oven. Plus it’s yummy!

It’s moist and light and (in my humble opinion) better than any of the regular convection chocolate cakes. It’s not like those microwave cakes of the early 90s that somehow tasted of magnetron – no-one would guess that this one took 20 minutes from start to finish. Remember those recipe books that came with microwaves back then? If you really splurged on a top-of-the-range piece of technology the book would even be in colour! With lots of sad, anaemic-looking sunken cakes and flaccid yellow-skinned chicken. I’m giving away my age now so I will stop.

hold onto your hat

 

One cake made about 16 slender slices. Of course if you are greedier, you could make it 8 slices. Or 4 even. Or just don’t bother slicing.

lovin it

take another little piece my heart

improv

oops

I’ve made a tiny amendment or two to the recipe, as one does…

For one magnificent microwaved cake:

  • 1 cup Cake Flour
  • 1 cup Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • Pinch of Salt
  • 3 tablespoons Cocoa Powder
  • 1 teaspoon Espresso Powder (optional – I think it brings out the best of the chocolate flavour)
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1/2 cup Sunflower Oil
  • 2 Eggs

First prepare your cake pan – don’t use metal, unless you want to enjoy the fireworks as your microwave dies a fiery death. Use a microwave safe ring-shaped cake pan, and if you don’t have one then improvise like I did, using a regular drinking glass and a round glass bowl; give it a blast with nonstick cooking spray. The ring shape is so that you don’t end up with a vulcanised-rubber-like core – it’s just one of those things that come with microwave cooking.

Mix the dry stuff together in a bowl. Mix the wet stuff together in a bowl or jug. Add the wet mix to the dry and stir together (do not beat with an electric beater). The only way you could screw this up, honestly, is if you are lacking opposable thumbs.

Pour into the prepared cake pan – I’d say leave at least 5cm for rising. Bake for 10 minutes on High, right in the centre of the microwave. I used a dish that was only just big enough, and it started to vaguely overflow at 6 minutes – I popped a plate under it to minimize the mess. Once it’s done, turn it out (it just popped right out, as if I’d asked it politely) and allow to cool completely.

For the super-easy frosting:

  • 1 cup Icing Sugar
  • 3 tablespoons Margarine
  • 2 tablespoons Cocoa Powder
  • 1 tablespoon Milk

Prepare the frosting only once the cake has cooled – it takes no time at all, but does not like to be kept waiting.

I can’t believe how much of my life has been wasted making fluffy buttercream when actually I could have been whipping this up in no time. Grrr gnash.

Put all the ingredients into a microwave-safe jug (for easy pouring after) and microwave for 40 seconds on High. Give it a good beating for a minute so that it is smooth and glossy and thick, then pour it over the cooled cake. Liberally apply sprinkles, glitter etc. If you can find a decorative item that will fit in the hole in the centre – yay! The only thing I could find at the time, with the right circumference, was a bottle of cat shampoo. I figured it would detract from the overall appeal and chose (wisely, I think) to omit it. I don’t even own a cat anymore.

Quite Easily Done

Thank you Charlotte Gomes and Sheila 🙂

slice of heaven

That’s it! And now I’d like to borrow a line from Ina Garten (only she uses it when cooking things like truffle butter lobster on gold-plated foie gras) – “How easy is that?”.

snort

 

Things Are Gonna Get Ugly Round Here

Shameful secret time: I’m not a huge fan of chocolate cake. I never, ever order it in coffee shops or help myself to a slice of it at parties, because it’s ALWAYS a disappointment. Either it’s dry and scratchy, or it’s oily, and either way it tastes nothing like chocolate. Plus it’s generally slathered in frilly faux-cream rosettes and sprinkles and those sticky red pseudo-cherries that stain your fingers, which I’m pretty sure is an cosmetic attempt to hide the sadness that is the cake. Usually I’m happy and grateful to eat whatever’s put in front of me but I am not afraid to unleash my inner Cake Snob when it comes to chocolate. Anyhoo, this is the only chocolate cake I ever bake and the only one I’ll eat without a grimace.

word

It all came together several years ago in this bizarre cross-country series of events, summarized thusly:

I met a lovely woman from Singapore in South Africa, who later married a lovely Swiss man and they sent me a beautiful hamper of really spectacular chocolate which arrived on the same day that I found a recipe for a French chocolate cake. It was just absolutely meant to be. I feel it in my waters, even.

(I don’t know what that means but I read it in Sophie Dahl’s debut novel The Man with the Dancing Eyes, and it stuck).

This cake has very few ingredients, mostly chocolate – meaning it truly tastes like chocolate, and is not just a brown cake which tastes exactly like the plain white one next to it, only more “dusty” from the cocoa. It has no leavening agent other than pure air bubbles, and it can easily be converted to gluten-free for the Celiacs (doesn’t it sound like maniacs almost?) in your life.

{heartburn birthday cupcakes}

{heartburn birthday cupcakes}

{raspberry white chocolate picnic cupcakes}

{raspberry white chocolate picnic cupcakes}

 

{spot the sunken cupcakes in the black liners, hiding between the roses}

{spot the sunken cupcakes in the black liners, hiding between the roses}

It is truly the ugliest cake in the world. Looks-wise it’s the runt of the cake litter; no-one ever picks it out of a lineup – which is a good thing (more for me!). This is the Ugly Duckling of Cakes. It behaves kind of like a soufflé, forming a delicate meringue-like top crust which collapses in on itself. I’ve found that the closer down to sea-level I am, the more the cake collapses – cupcakes practically form a little bowl, which is perfect for holding a wodge of whipped cream, but can be slightly more challenging to eat in a lady-like manner. Don’t even consider trying to cover it neatly in icing (it will just crumble and collapse); it responds best to cream or light-as-air buttercream piled up top with artistic abandon.

It’s light as a feather, and melt-in-the mouth fine-textured but outrageously chocolatey at the same time; best of all it is that it gets along so well with other flavours – I’ve added ground dried chilli (a friend told me that it tasted familiar, then eventually identified the flavour as “heartburn”), peppermint essence, espresso powder, all to delicious effect.

taye before

i digg it

the before

after

streaky bakin'

pouffy

cracked up

To make one U.G.L.Y. chocolate cake (you ain’t got no alibi) of the Gods:

  • 100g best possible dark chocolate – 70%. Only the best, mind. Rubbish-in rubbish-out theory applies.
  • 100g unsalted butter, softened. Don’t you dare insult this cake with margarine *fixes stern eye on you*
  • 3 large eggs, room-temperature
  • 100g sugar
  • 50g cake flour or corn flour

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius, and grease a baking tin well with soft butter. Get into all those nooks and crannies! (Doesn’t “cranny” sound like a rude word to you? *tee hee*).

Melt the butter in the microwave, then break the chocolate into it and stir until it’s smooth and glossy and beautiful. When it resembles Taye Diggs, you know you’ve got it right.

taye be, or not taye be

Allow the chocolate/butter/Taye mixture to cool while you whip the eggs and sugar together to form a lighter shade of pale, aerated, volumised foam. I guess since I used a human reference for the chocolate, I should use one here too… aim for a 1980’s hairdo. I’m thinking the entire female cast of Steel Magnolias right now. Frothy, fluffy, and quadruple its usual volume.

closer to god

When you are absolutely sure that the butter/sugar foam is ready, beat it five minutes more anyway. Immediately trickle in the Taye mixture as well as the sifted flour and watch it all sink straight down, then oh-so-gently fold it all together with a spatula. Gently, like it is a fractious colicky baby you are trying to put to sleep (except so much better in that it is edible and won’t be ruthlessly extracting money from you for the next 20 years). It doesn’t have to be perfectly uniformly blended – a bit of streakiness like in the photo is perfectly fine. Gently ease the batter into the prepared tin, then gently slide it onto an oven rack. Do not go banging the baking tin all over the place, because you will knock out all those precious air-bubbles.

Give it 20 minutes in the oven or until a poke with a toothpick comes out clean; you will notice that it rises promisingly – yep, it’s too good to be true.

Remember once the cake is safely stowed away in the oven to lick the spatula as well as the mixing bowl before anyone else gets to it. Best part about being the baker, in my opinion.

{you know you want to...}

{you know you want to…}

When it’s ready, gently remove the cake from the oven – see that strange feathery crust on top? It’s all gonna collapse in a moment. Regardless, leave it to cool in the tin to firm up some before very carefully turning it out.

The cooled cake will look sad and despondent. It will be cracked and fissured and scarred. It will look like the ugly step-sister of those colossal 5-storey-tall over-embellished chocolate cake monstrosities at your local supermarket, but it will kick every other cakes butt in the taste department. Don’t bother trying to prettify it – it can be beautiful in its own right. Usually I just give it a dusting of icing sugar, but it is great with a drizzle of white chocolate and fresh raspberries, or a really light (1980’s hairdo!!) white chocolate buttercream. I guess this cake should serve 8, but don’t plan to share it amongst more than four people so that everyone can have seconds. It’s that kind of cake.

prettyful

Table Scraps

I love scrapbooking!! That doesn’t mean to say that I am any good at it, but I enjoy it so much that this doesn’t really bother me. Once a month us girls meet and share our stories, scrapping goodies and good food, so it’s always something to look forward to.

$R7AO0UN

Last year, just before the festive season erupted, we had planned a bit of gift-swapping for our last Sunday of 2012 and I really wanted to make a cake inspired by the beautiful artwork created by these talented ladies. At the same time I had also made vast quantities of cream liqueur (that recipe will come too…), far too much even after forcing bottles on everyone I know and dosing it into every cup of coffee (I accidentally added it to a morning coffee, on the day I was due to present ALL DAY to a large audience. Fun times).

{drunken giggle-snort}

{drunken giggle-snort}

I was hoping to capture the subtle taste of the liqueur in the cake, but I had a guest over while I was preparing the batter and wasn’t paying much attention to the amount of cocoa that had gone in until I noticed that there was, in fact, a chocolate cake happening in my oven… by then it was way too late to fix, but what resulted can’t really be called an oopsie since it’s the MOISTEST and MOST OUTRAGEOUSLY CHOCOLATEY chocolate cake I’ve ever baked or eaten. If it had been any moister it would have been served in a cup. (There were other liqueur cake recipes on the Net that do not contain cocoa – next time.)

There’s (somewhat unfortunately) no alcohol taste – the heat burns off the booze, so it’s safe for kiddies and old folk. That said, don’t feel obliged to share :-).

I had one last blob of plastic icing mooching around the back of the cupboard, which lends itself well to a theme-y cake. I used the butterscotch icing from a previous post; it’s got a nice distinctive flavour which I needed to help mask the taste of the plastic icing. A gripe – I know that plastic icing is used to make beautiful decorations but it makes me so cross when TV cake-celebs plaster it on and call the embellishments “edible” – any owner of a functioning set of tastebuds knows that this is a blatant and shocking lie. It tastes like what hospital corridors smell like. Have fun with it, colour it and shape it, but keep it in little bitty pieces that won’t ruin the cake.

$RHGXIH6

$RPF1ZMT

$RARG9KN

$RVJ6GYGFor one luscious liqueur cake:

2 cups of cake flour

1 and 3/4 cups of sugar

3/4 cup of cocoa (duh! how did I not notice that??)

1/2 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda – indispensable stuff

1 egg

2/3 cup of sunflower oil

3/4 cup of buttermilk (or soured milk, which is what I use)

1/2 cup cream liqueur, such as Baileys or Amarula, or the unmarked bottle of potent yumminess you made too much of

3/4 cup strong black coffee (I upped the liqueur and downed the coffee… feel free to change the ratio. 100% liqueur:0% coffee could work…)

Righty-o. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease an appropriate cake-baking vessel. Then sift the dry ingredients together. Or not. I never do, and my cake turned out fine anyway.

Beat the egg, oil, liqueur and coffee together. Add to the dry ingredients and beat for about 3 minutes. Seriously, that’s all there is to it! Pop the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 35 minutes or until done. It won’t rise much, which will make decoration easier. Turn the cake out of the pan onto a cooling rack and allow to chill out for a bit.

While that’s happening, have some fun with the plastic icing; for the “paper scraps”, I cut rolled-out icing with pinking shears and dropped and draped them into little piles; for the buttons, I used the back end of a piping nozzle and a toothpick. No special fidgety tools required. For the “scrapbook paper”, I rolled out a rough square in blue icing, then cut out flowers from pink icing, placed them on top of the blue square with small blobs of yellow and green, then gently rolled the whole lot together til smooth. Remember to roll in both directions otherwise the shapes will become elongated. Trim it into a neat square using a sharp knife.

$RT2WO7P

$RZZI0TB

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$R22JURF

$RPTB0VS

When the cake is cool, smother it in the butterscotch icing, then go wild with the edible embellishments (use icing to stick bits on top of each other).

scraps

On the morning that the cake was to be presented, I was running horribly late due to the gift-wrapping having been left to absolutely the last minute. The plan had been to make the icing as smoooooth as possible, then carefully place the plastic icing embellishments on top, and then pipe out neat wording in royal icing. Things did not go according to plan. I threw the icing in the general direction of the cake, swiped a butter knife over it, broke several embellishments, then tried to make glace icing look like royal icing. I figure it’s kind of ironic that the cake came out kind of squiff and not quite right – a lot like my version of scrapbooking which Jenny so kindly refers to as “organic” :-).

$R3LICQC