Time for more cake
Last week the BBC’s Great British Bakeoff returned to our screens and, as a result, Auntie Beeb has been plastering the word CAKE in enormous letters across their channels for weeks now.
What this means in our house is that there’s yet another cooking show to rival the already airing Celebrity Masterchef and Masterchef: Australia for Professor Plum’s attention. I’ve never really been a convert to the idea of cooking on the telly, although it seems more and more popular, largely because its a completely audio visual medium and, thus, doesn’t really seem to engage with the senses in the way that good food typically does. That’s not to say that shows like Great British Bakeoff don’t provide good inspiration for recipes and methods in our own kitchen. After the last series Professor Plum was such a fan that she went out and bought the accompanying book. While I didn’t always watch the show itself while it was on, I definitely took good advantage of the ideas in the book! Anyway, as Professor Plum is likely to be watching the show every week for the foreseeable future, it’s probably about time that I started getting into it. In order to achieve that, Plum suggested we had a little bakeoff of our own, based on the theme for the first episode, which, in case the advert above didn’t make it clear, was cake.
The Great British Bakeoff has been running for years now, it’s just entering its fourth series, and has become something of a TV phenomenon. The cake episode last week secured over a quarter of the viewing audience for its time slot (around 6 million people), something that is extremely rare in today’s multi-channel televisual environment. As well as being over double what BBC2 would expect from something in that slot, it’s also around 2 million more than tuned in for the opener of the last series. Despite having been going for a while, then, it was only during the last series that British Bakeoff really became the show that everyone was talking about. Naturally, this success has led (as with the endless stream of Simon Cowell products) to a US remake, The American Baking Competition. Unsurprisingly the stateside version ditched mumsy Mary Berry in favour of a “sexy señorita”, Mexican-American Marcela Valladolid, something that did no good for the marriage of co-judge Paul Hollywood.
Such racy behind the scenes scandals are a far cry from the ultra cosy pastel coloured world of the British Bakeoff. Part of the appeal of the show is that it isn’t full of pointless gimmicks or large swathes of time devoted to things apart from cooking (except for a weekly slice of baking history that seems a little out of place with the rest of the content), but rather sticks to the same format every week. Each week it’s a different theme and each week contestants make one of their own recipes on the theme, one of the judge’s recipes and then another of their own (this third part is only really different from the first in that they have to do fancier presentation). With cake, the initial challenge for contestants was to make a sandwich cake, so that’s what we did.
Obviously it’s only a few weeks since I was last making cake on here and I probably had my fill of working with chocolate for a while after all that, so I decided to do something fruity, giving Professor Plum the chance to do chocolate instead. One of my absolute favourite flavours is passion fruit, so I decided to begin with that and consider flavours that would compliment it. I wanted to add something acidic and something aromatic and spicy to go with the sweet passion fruit and to use some equivalently tropical ingredients. So I decided to make a passion fruit, lime and cardamom cake.
Obviously the contestants on the show have only a set time limit to make their cakes in, whereas we could happily spend as long as we wanted on it. On the other hand, they presumably have some practice in the week beforehand, where I was just throwing together flavours I thought would work. I didn’t have to be judged by professional bakers, though, so there’s always that. Thus far it appears space scientist Rob and psychologist Kimberley are the ones to watch, managing to combine that ability to spend the rest of the week creating recipes and presentation that works with an ability to make sure their processes on the day lead to consistent results – “an even bake” is apparently one of the show’s catchphrases (along with an obssession with “soggy bottoms”).
Anyway, while Professor Plum mixed her chocolate cake ingredients in our exciting new food professor (or “robot de cuisine” as it liked to dub itself on the packaging, leading to expectations perhaps beyond a mere kitchen appliance’s ability to fulfill), I’ve always preferred to mix my cake ingredients by hand. So, having creamed the butter and sugar, I added lime zest and the juice and pulp from my passion fruit. I decided to leave the seeds in, hoping they would give a strong hit of passion fruit flavour when the cake was eaten. I’ve used cardamom enough before to know how strong it can be (and how expensive – only saffron and vanilla are pricier spices), so I only needed to open a few pods and grind the seeds up before adding them.
I wanted to make a taller cake than the dinosaur one, so I decided to use a six inch cake tin. Unfortunately we only have one of these in the house, which meant I had to bake each of the layers in my cake (I decided to do three to make it taller) one after the other. Not really a problem given our lack of time constraints, but it did mean that the layers weren’t exactly even. I probably should have weighed out the exact amount to go in each layer, but instead I just tried to guess and ended up putting far more than a third in the first one. It had to bake for quite a while longer than the others to be done, but, by putting it as the middle layer when assembling the cake, the whole thing managed to look alright.
The theme was to make sandwich cakes, so, while Professor Plum spread marmalade between the layers of hers, I began to think about how to carry the lime and passion fruit flavours of my cake through to its filling and icing. While my layers of cake cooled, I made a syrup from the juice of the limes, some sugar and a little limoncello and then allowed that to soak into the cake. For filling and icing, I thought that a buttercream would go with this sweet, fruity cake, so I made a basic combination of equal parts butter and icing sugar and creamed these together with the juice from the remaining passion fruit (the seeds I sieved out of here as I wanted a neat, smooth icing. Professor Plum, on the other hand, covered her chocolate cake with a thick, dark chocolate ganache.
Finally, then, the time came to decorate. After enjoying the childish fun of the chocolate fossils on my dinosaur cake, I wanted to go the opposite way with this one and make something that looked more simple and grown up, using the strong colours of the fruits inside. So, I topped my cake with a slice of passion fruit and a couple of lime wedges, but it felt like it needed something more. Although I wasn’t really making a chocolate cake, I thought a couple of chocolate stars and some bright red candied chilli would make the decoration come to life a bit. The chocolate proved surprisingly difficult to get to set right, otherwise I might have done more with that element of the decoration, but on the whole I ended up with a cake that looked nicely presentable.
And here it is, along with Professor Plum’s chocolate one. Which do you guys think looks better?
Of course, it’s not just about the cake looks. How it tastes is really what’s important. Professor Plum’s was a tasty chocolate cake with an excellent strong, dark ganache. This bit of bitterness was welcome given the distinct sweetness of my cake. I didn’t really like the way the whole passion fruit seeds in it worked, but otherwise it was a really nice texture and consistency and a good mix of flavours. And which was better? Which of us gets to be the household’s star baker? I’ll leave that decision up to the Diner herself. One thing is for sure, though, we won’t be short of cake for a while!
What I will say is that Mustard’s cake was moist and fruity and really well made and beautifully iced. Mine was flat and dry and my icing skills… well, the less said the better. But Mustard had two days off work to make his. I fit mine around work (and working late, too). If I’d had more time it’d have been… well, probably still a bit flat, but I’ve had done a sugar syrup. No comment on the ganache.