Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Just add water, penguin optional*

I couldn't make knitting tonight, but I did go home after the work thing and bake a cake. This is not for me but for my ex-colleagues because I neglected to make them a cake I'd promised them before I left in July.

This is Nigella's Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake, a good, rich and reliable chocolate cake also favoured by Flibbertygibbet and KnitterRooney. I chose this because it will reach my colleagues via someone I'm having drinks with tomorrow night, so a cake that improves over a day or so is perfect for something that won't be eaten until Friday. It also had to be robust enough to survive being carted around a bit in a pass-the-parcel style arrangement until it reaches its final destination. I also don't want to sacrifice one of my cake tins as it's unlikely I'd get it back if I did, so I figured a loaf cake was more likely to survive being tightly wrapped in foil and packed in a small Liberty's bag for transport than a circular cake or cupcakes. It's a good recipe but I can never quite bring myself to add as much water as it says; my batter is always plenty runny enough once I've added 150ml or so. This deviates from my basic principle for a good cake, which is to always follow the recipe slavishly. I believe cakes are a science, not an art, and they do not respond well to most alterations, even such innocuous things as changing the dimensions of the cake tin. I therefore apply the same rigour as I had to in labs for my degree, and it seems to work out well. It is fascinating to think of the chemistry going on in the cake, bonds forming and states changing. For anyone interested in the cooking/science interface, may I recommend at this point How To Dunk A Doughnut by Len Fisher, which discusses lots of this type of thing including how exactly to calculate boiled egg cooking times.

I am always a bit worried when my cake-babies (babycakes?) go off into the world without me, not least because I like to taste the first slice for quality control, always prepared to whip it away from the waiting cake-eaters if it's horrible. This may stem from an unpleasant incident with another recipe from Nigella's How To Be A Domestic Goddess, the Strawberry Shortcakes. I made these for a small dinner party a few years ago, and in my stress of cooking several courses (I recall making a warm duck, orange and red onion salad which was lovely but sadly overshadowed by later events) I didn't apply common sense to the shortcake recipe. Unfortunately I have the first edition of this book, which contains a rather crucial typo in directing one to add a tablespoon of baking powder, rather than a teaspoon. Oops. I did wonder what the hell was going on when the acidic strawberries fizzed violently on contact with the fiercely alkaline shortcake (chemistry you see!). My guests, bless them, bravely ate the damn things without comment until I shamefacedly said that I thought they tasted a bit off. They responded with utter gratitude that they could stop forcing them down! They are true friends indeed.  Since then I've only had compliments on my cakes but I am still worried. They've corrected the typo in later editions of the book, by the way.

I have never taken pictures of my cakes before, though some of mine from my summer Hawaiian party may be found guest-starring at the wonderful Rate My Cake - her cakes and indeed herself are as fab as her blog.

* The penguin is not mine, and I have tried to lose/break it in every house move we've had in the last five years, to no avail. It's indestructible and serves as our coppers jar. The eagle-eyed amongst you may also notice that there's no muscovado sugar in the photo which I only noticed when it was missing from my mise-en-place when I came to need it. So technically, just add water and dark muscovado sugar, penguin optional.

1 comment:

Gail said...

I found that reducing the entire ingredients list (I also like to follow slavishly) by 10% then it does actually fit in the 2lb loaf ting - otherwise you get the bonus muffin thing happening underneath! But I think this is my fave cake ever... x