It has been a busy couple of months and sadly I haven’t had time to blog since July, but finally things are quietening down and I should be able to get back on track. One of my distractions was caused by me agreeing to make 8 cakes and desserts for my Mum’s friend’s big birthday bash. In my ignorance (never having attempted so many items in one sitting) I thought it would be a breeze with a little careful planning. Well there was a great deal of careful planning, including multiple lists (I do love a list), spreadsheets (I am rather partial to these too), schedules and detailed task breakdowns. I don’t believe any military campaign could have planned better than I did for my uber-bake-fest!
I cook and bake because I enjoy it, and I have absolutely no desire to attempt to make a living out of it, but knowing these cakes would be on display to and eaten by over 80 people, coupled with my pride screaming at me that they needed to be perfect, almost reduced me to a drooling gibbering wreck. I did succeed in the end, but my goodness it was hard work.
I did however pick up some very useful information during this process and therefore my next couple of blogs will be slightly different. Instead of going through the recipes I am going to share with you the ups and downs of the bake-fest, and point you to the articles, sites and videos that helped me out in my days of need 🙂
I had agreed to make the following items: Chocolate cake; Victoria sandwich; Carrot cake; Pavlova; Bakewell tart; Lemon tart; Sugar free lemon meringue pie and a Cheesecake. I did not have major problems with all of them, so will cover the first four this week and the final four the next time round.
This week the major challenge was baking the perfect cheesecake, but we will come back to that in a while. Let’s start with the Carrot cake.
I had not eaten carrot cake until 2 years ago, firmly sticking to my view that a vegetable has no right to appear in sweet item. However when my daughter baked a carrot cake for bake club one month, I felt it would be a very poor mother who refused to try her daughters bake, so I gritted my teeth and took a bite. I was amazed that I totally loved it and now regret the number of years (you do not need to know how many) that I stubbornly refused to sample this scrummy dish. She used this healthier recipe from the BBC Good Food website and I have now made it myself a number of times, it is truly delicious and I would highly recommend it Ultimate Makeover Carrot Cake
For the party I did not want to make a tray bake, I decided a 3 tier carrot cake would look super on the table so my first challenge was working out how to take this recipe which uses a deep 20cm square cake tin baked for 1 hr, and convert it to a 3 tier 20cm round. I spent hours trawling around the internet looking at the huge amount of advice on how to scale a recipe and adjust pan and cooking times, there was a fair amount of scary maths involved so in the end I opted for a slightly easier approach. I had stumbled on Delia Smiths recipe for Ultimate Carrot Cake which happened to use the same size tin I was planning on using. Looking at the quantities for the 2 recipes I decided if I multiplied my BBC recipe quantities by 1.5 I should be about right for batter for 3 tiers, and used Delia’s oven temp and time. This is what I did and I have to say the cakes were perfect.
My next challenge was the cream cheese frosting. The one in the BBC recipe I have attempted twice now and both times it has been quite runny. I am not blaming the recipe, I think I have overbeaten the cream cheese, but I wanted a thick frosting that I could pipe so I selected this one from The Pink Whisk – Perfect Cream Cheese Frosting and I have to say it was perfect. I did add grated orange rind to give it an orangey tang and left it in the fridge for a few hours before piping it, but it worked a treat and will now be my go to recipe for cream cheese frosting in the future.
Finally I wanted to use homemade candied orange peel to finish off the cake so fell back on the trusty BBC Good Food site recipe for Candied Citrus Peel. Word of warning on this one, do NOT leave the peel to cool in the syrup for too long, mine started to crystallise in the saucepan and did not have the finish I would have liked. They didn’t look dreadful, and tasted nice so I decided to use them but will definitely take more care next time I give them a go.
To assemble I spread frosting in the middle of the bottom and middle tiers taking it to about an inch from the edge of the cake. Then using a large round nozzle I piped blobs around the outside ensuring I stayed a few cm from the edge to allow for the weight of the higher tiers pushing the frosting to the edge. I covered the top tier with frosting then repeated the blobs around the edge and stacked the cake, finishing it with my candied peel.
Bakewell tart is one of my very favourite things and I make it regularly, so I did not do anything fancy with this, I just stuck to my usual recipe good old Mary Berry’s 🙂 It never lets me down – Bakewell Tart . I did have a little jam leakage, but nothing major and I was happy with the finish.
Oh my, this was a pain and a saga. I have made baked lemon tarts in the past and never been totally happy with the finish. That beautiful smooth shiny surface has always eluded me, so I thought I would be clever and chose a recipe I haven’t made before that didn’t require baking. I was then planning on putting a thin layer of lemon jelly on the top so it would look perfect! HAH! My first pastry case collapsed in the oven, so that went into the bin.
Lemon tart 1, Mama Raptor 0
My second pastry case worked a treat, and the lemon curd filling was splendid, all was going well until I tried to move the tart off the cooling rack and dropped it!
Lemon tart 2, Mama Raptor 0 – but I do now have portions of broken lemon tart in the freezer for Sunday teas 🙂
I decided at this point to try a different recipe, I have no idea why! Pastry case worked great, I cooked the filling to the exact right temperature and off it went into the fridge…… where it never came close to setting! That was frozen whole to feed to the family at Christmas as I know none of them will mind eating a less than perfect tart :s
Lemon tart 3, Mama Raptor 0
At this point I gave up for the day and took Maisie in the garden for some serious de-stressing ball throwing!
Finally on the morning the cakes were due to be delivered in the evening, I saw sense and I returned to a lemon tart recipe I had made before and I knew would set and taste great even if the finish wasn’t as perfect as I would have liked. Yes back to the BBC Good Food site again (I do like their recipes) and Gregg’s Tangy Lemon Tart. I have to say, the finish was better than I had ever managed before largely due to the lessons I learnt on the cheesecake I think. (see below)
I have made this recipe a number of times as it’s about the only dessert I can remember the hubby ever coming back for seconds for. James Martin’s Blueberry Cheesecake. I didn’t add the blueberries to the cheesecake mixture for this bake, instead I just did the compote on the top. This is a great recipe and although hubby’s approval on a dessert is a really big deal in this house, I know that every one I have ever made has been slightly overcooked. I have not yet cracked the perfect smooth silky texture that I know I am aiming for. Part of my problem is knowing what they mean by ‘just set’ or ‘slight wobble’. As a cooking instruction I find it as helpful as ‘cook to just below boiling’ or ‘until it coats the back of the spoon’. These are too ambiguous for me, I want ‘cook to 75 degrees’, ‘boil for 5 mins’, ‘until it’s this exact shade of brown’, something that leaves no room for interpretation and mistakes. I wasn’t going to be able to check the texture of the cheesecake before I dropped it off as I didn’t think Mum’s friend would appreciate a spoonful missing out of the middle, so I became obsessed with finding out how to know when it was ready.
My problem with cheesecake, oh who am I kidding, with anything I cook, is I have a horrible tendency to overcook it. I am so worried about undercooking and poisoning people that I err on the side of burnt. I don’t know why I fret so much as I have never caused a problem for anyone with my cooking, ever, but I still can’t help the ‘oh just a couple more minutes’ syndrome which makes all the difference between being done and over done! I have started to improve as I have more time to focus on my cooking skills and this was my opportunity to make a cheesecake which had that dreamy texture, even if I wasn’t going to get a chance to sample it myself. I read article after article and finally stumbled upon a few you tube videos which demystified the process for me. The reports from the party was that the texture was perfect so thank you to all the videos below and especially to Caroline Artiss whose video leaves no room for ambiguity and has me convinced I will never overcook a cheesecake again!
These 3 are also worth watching
Here is one from Better Homes and Gardens which gives a short clear explanation
Here is one from Australian Chef Curtis Stone, he also shows you one which is overcooked so you know what to not do!
Here is one from Ashlee Marie, its a bit longer but she shows you the jiggle at around 8 mins.
So there you go the ups and downs of the first 4 bakes. However despite the stress I managed to make a better lemon tart and cheesecake than I have ever done before. Next time I will cover the remaining 4 items where the merengue became my new nemesis!