The Perfect Pavlova

Right, time to finish the uber-bake fest tale. If you recall I had agreed to make 8 cakes for a party, my first and last sojourn into bulk baking territory. The planning, work and stress involved almost finished me off, but after it was all over and I had time to reflect I did realise that I had learnt a number of very useful lessons. Both this and my previous blog ‘The Perfect Cheesecake’ are attempting to share those lessons with you.

The remaining four dishes I had to tackle were a chocolate cake, a Victoria sandwich cake, a sugar free lemon meringue pie and a pavlova. I have to admit, none of these filled me with even a shred of dread, little was I to know that the little minx meringue was going to cause me no end of headaches!

Chocolate Cake

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Let’s start with the chocolate cake. This was a total no-brainer for me. Since my daughters were babies I have made the same recipe cake for their birthdays every single year. With over 20 years of practise, I was 100% confident that nothing would go wrong.

The recipe I use is from the book ‘Character Cakes’ by Sandy Garfield. This book is no longer in print although you can get your hands on second hand copies if you try. However with kind permission of Sandy, I have included her recipe here.

Chocolate Cake & Butter Icing From the Book ‘Character Cakes’ by Sandy Garfield

Ingredients

Quantities For
12inx10in tin 9in square tin 8in round tin 2pt pudding basin 2 4in round tins
Plain Flour 450g 340g 285g 170g 85g
Bicarb of soda 1 ½ tsp 1 tsp 1 tsp ½ tsp Pinch
Baking powder 3 tsp 2 tsp 1 ½ tsp 1 tsp pinch
Cocoa powder 4 tbsp 3 tbsp 2 tbsp 1 ½ tbsp 1 tbsp
Soft brown sugar 285g 200g 170g 115g 60g
Butter 200g 140g 115g 60g 30g
Milk 355ml 285ml 215ml 140ml 70ml
Golden syrup 60ml 45ml 30ml 22.5ml 15ml
Eggs 4 3 2 1 1
Approx cooking time 50-60mins 50-60mins 50-60mins 50-60mins 25-30mins

Method

  1. Grease the tin, and line with greaseproof paper
  2. Sift the flour, soda, baking powder and cocoa into a mixing bowl and stir in the sugar
  3. Put the butter and milk into a small saucepan and place over a very gentle heat until the butter has melted
  4. Add the syrup, eggs, melted butter and milk to the bowl of dry ingredients and with a wooden spoon beat the mixture to a smooth batter
  5. Pour the mixture into the tin and place in a pre heated oven at 160c
  6. Bake for the approximate time shown above, until the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted into its centre comes out clean.

Butter Icing (makes 225g) From the Book ‘Character Cakes’ by Sandy Garfield

Ingredients

  • 115g Butter
  • 225g Icing Sugar
  • 15ml Golden syrup (optional)
  • 1-2 tbsp. cocoa powder dissolved in a little hot water
  • 1-2 tbsp. Milk

Method

  1. Cream the butter until pale and soft. Continue beating, adding the sifted icing sugar a little at a time. Add in the golden syrup if using.
  2. Add the chocolate to the mixture and as much milk as necessary to give a smooth spreading consistency.

I had decided to make the cake in a 9 inch square tin, so I selected the relevant quantities for the ingredients, mixed it up and popped the cake in the oven with barely a second thought. However when I turned it out of the cake tin I decided it was not as deep as I would like. If was totally fine, nothing had gone wrong, I just wanted it a bit deeper than normal. If you follow this blog you will know that leftover and spare cake never goes to waste in this house, and I now have a pile of chocolate cake slices in the freezer for Sunday teas. Although this was a slight set back and had used up some of my precious baking time and ingredients, I didn’t really see this as too big a problem 🙂  I simply started again, used the quantities for the 12×10” pan instead (in my 9 inch tin), and baked for a while longer until the skewer came out clean. I can’t remember exactly how much longer it needed, but it was at least an extra 20 minutes!

I had decided to decorate with buttercream and some pretty chocolate triangles I had spied in the supermarket, arranged artfully on the top!!!! Here is where Murphy’s Law kicked in, and when I went to buy the rather pretty triangles they were not in stock. In a fit of pique I decided I would make my own, instead of just selecting something else and not adding to my already ridiculous workload. I melted some milk and white chocolate and drizzled them in a random pattern over a piece of greaseproof paper. When they had cooled and set, I melted some dark chocolate and spread all over the top. Once that was set, the hubby was tasked with cutting into nice triangles for me, and although that did not quite go to plan, I was happy with what I ended up with and decided to go for a chocolate mosaic effect on top of the cake.

Once the cake was cool, I whipped up Sandy’s chocolate buttercream and coated the top and sides of the cake, then arranged my chocolate shards on the top. Not a totally trouble free bake, but I was satisfied with the end result.

Victoria Sandwich

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The lady I was baking all these cakes for had a dish she wanted to use to display the Victoria sponge cake. It was a rectangular glass dish, but presented me with a challenge of making a cake of an appropriate size. Luckily in my cupboard I have a Silverwood multi size cake pan, a splendid invention and if you bake a lot I would strongly recommend getting yourself one. It really does work a treat and saves a heap of space in the cupboards 🙂 .

I selected Mary Berry’s Victoria sponge recipe (who else) but due to the size of the cake I opted to make 2 batches of the batter and bake each batch as a single layer in the multi-size pan, set to 10×8 inch rectangle. Yes, the layers would be deeper than normal, but I was feeding 80 hungry souls after all! Next I had to work out how long to bake it for, luckily there are actually a lot of sites out there that offer advice, you just have to find them. The ones I found the most helpful were these.  Wiltons cake baking and serving guides. – This gives you a lot of useful information including number of servings, how much batter is required and temp and time to bake. It is an American site so expect to need to make cups and Fahrenheit conversions.  This one from CraftyBaking does duplicate some of the information but has some extra tin sizes

In my reading regarding tin sizes I came across a few comments about baking a level cake (i.e. not getting that dome in the middle), and references to large cakes browning on the outside before the centre was cooked. At this point I realised that I was likely to run into both issues with the size of cake I was making and the advice seemed to be to use cake strips. This is not something I have ever in my *cough cough* years of baking heard of! Where have I been?

Cake strips seems to be the magic solution to domes, cracks and burnt edges! However true to Murphy’s Law I found this gem of information after the point in time where I could have purchased something in time. PANIC! Luckily I stumbled on this blog ‘A Cozy Kitchen’ and have to say that Adrianna saved me time, money and an ulcer!  Of course smooth sailing not being on the menu, I could not follow her instructions exactly as I was using my multi-size Silverwood pan, so couldn’t wrap strips around the tin as she does. Instead I dampened some old tea towels and crammed them into each of the sections around the cake, and it worked a treat.

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To assemble, I spread raspberry jam on the bottom layer of the cake, then filled the centre with fresh whipped cream. To make it look pretty I piped some rosettes around the edge of the layer ensuring I left a slight gap to allow room to spread when I placed the top tier. I decorated the top of the cake with fresh cream, icing sugar and fresh raspberries.

Sugar Free Lemon Meringue Pie

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If you have visited my about page you will see that I have a family member who cannot eat refined sugar. As she is very partial to lemon meringue pie I found this recipe quite a while ago and have made it a number of times. .  Sugar Free Lemon Meringue Pie by Webicurean

I was not expecting any issues with this bake, and true to form the pastry and filling went swimmingly well.  I whipped up the merengue, baked and done. Simples. Not a care in the world. This is approximately 5 hours before the cakes are due to be delivered.

HELLO MURPHY!  As I went to move the cooled pie off the cooling rack, I noticed the meringue topping was moving. There was a layer of liquid on top of the lemon filling, and the meringue was sat bobbing happily on the top!!! I had no idea what had gone wrong, it had never happened before! I scrapped off the floating meringue and poured off the layer of liquid, luckily the pastry and the filling were none the worse for wear! Before I launched into redoing it, I thought I had better find out what had happened. I wasn’t going to have enough time to do it 3 times after all!

The two most helpful sites I found were these, offering explanations and tips to avoid another disaster.  www.marthastewart.com and www.sunset.com .  It turns out I had 2 issues. Shrinking – the fact the meringue had come away from the edges of the pie, and Weeping – the layer of liquid under the meringue.

The shrinking was easy to rectify by ensuring the meringue topping was spread to seal in the edge of the pastry.  This was also a potential fix for the weeping as well, the other being to spread the meringue onto a hot filling, something I did not have time to redo.  I just had to keep my fingers crossed that the weeping would be resolved by properly sealing in the pastry edges. To my huge relief it did. Phew!

The Pavlova

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As I did not think I had quite enough to do, I figured a proper pavlova showpiece was the way to go on this dish so I selected the impressive 3 tier crown layered pavlova from the BBC food site (no surprise there).

Although not terrified of this dish I will admit I had not made a pavlova like this before. What could go wrong I thought! Just whip up a few meringue layers (which I have made before) and layer with cream and fresh fruit. But I did want it to look perfect, so I did a bit of research on how to make a perfect pavlova, what colour it should be etc.

One of the tips I found in more than one place was not to bake the pavlova in a fan oven. No reason was given that I could find, but these were real proper chef’s and people that know far better than I do, so I followed their advice.

I am fortunate that I own a range with 4 ovens but even largest oven wouldn’t take all 3 tiers at once, so I decided to use two. The larger 2 tiers went into one oven and the crown went into the other. In hind sight I should have swapped them between shelves/ ovens during the cooking process to ensure they baked evenly, but being used to using a fan oven it didn’t occur to me. Once the baking was complete I took them out and was horrified to see I had invented an ombre effect pavlova. The largest tier was very lightly coloured (what I was aiming for), the middle tier more of a golden tan and the crown was darker again almost a coffee brown! The hubby offered his thoughts “it will be fine”, but I knew that the crown was far too far gone to be used. In a moment of wisdom I decided to lower my sights, go for 2 layers rather than 3, and popped the largest layer back in until it was about the same colour as the middle tier. Sorted!

Nope!

Fortunately I had made the meringue with a couple of days to spare, on the remote unlikely off chance things didn’t go to plan. For when I checked my meringues the following morning, the 2 tiers I had kept had collapsed in the middle. Totally. The middles had just sunken in until I basically had 2 hollows!  The 2 remaining tiers joined the crown in the freezer to be used for Eton mess next time I need a quick and easy dessert.

Back to the drawing board and the internet. Why had they collapsed. Well it turns out I should not have taken them out of the oven when they were finished baking! Yes, I know, the recipe does say to leave it in, but I had a lot on my plate and missed it!

This site has some good hints and tips along with explanations http://www.foodlovers.co.nz/features/how-to-make-perfect-pavlova-and-meringues.html

Ok, so now I knew how to avoid collapse, but I still had the colouring issue to tackle. If I had to make this again I wanted to have my 3 tiers back. In the end I decided to ignore all the advice over not using a fan oven and did exactly that. The results were all the same colour. I left them overnight, no collapse. Sorted!

All that was left was to fill with cream and fruit and transport the monster to the venue intact.

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Kudos to the hubby’s driving, we made the 5 mile trip, with 8 cakes and desserts and not a single mishap. I have to admit the level of my stress in the car was through the roof, but the relief when everything was on the table was amazing. I don’t regret tackling this challenge at all, and as I said I learnt an awful lot in the process, not least of all to never ever agree to do 8 dishes at once again!

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