When Life Hands You Lemons and Other Baking Tales

Standard

I’ve been little busy of late, operating as per usual above my golden rule of 80% and paying for it accordingly in-between times.  For various reasons, I’ve found myself doing a lot of baking.  Now if you’re looking for glowing, high-key images of glossy cupcakes and other high maintenance goodies, I think you need to look away.  If you think baking is about the eating then please come and drool.

The photographs aren’t brilliant, I’m afraid, when I’m ‘tired’ then I really struggle to hold never mind focus the camera.  Please forgive the terrible-ness.

First up, I wandered into uncharted territories with the infamous Confetti Cake, of American origins need I add?  Now I consulted two recipes, one here and the other here, but I can’t quite remember which I used precisely.  They are very similar however.

Would you believe it but I have never used 100s and 1000s ever before?  Never, ever, ever.  This was like jumping in the deep end of the sprinkles pool.

Confetti Mix

Now, I didn’t ‘translate’ the measurements into my preferred grams and used the American cups indicated (most measuring jugs now have these indicated) except for the butter.  I have to admit that I don’t get this form of measuring at all.  It’s fine for liquids or for flowing things like flour but how on earth do you measure a cup of butter?  I just get a growing mound in the middle.  Fortunately one of my other recipe books has a ‘translation’ guide to American measuring and it also translates the cups of butters into American sticks.  Yeah, that’s my reaction too.  Sticks?!  Well, sticks translate to grams a little easier at least!  So I’m still clueless what a cup or a stick of butter is.

I don’t remember making buttercream icing before either and it’s never exactly been my cup of cake, greasy and gritty.  (It’s always the texture for me).   As I had a jar of marshmallow crème (thanks to the lovely folks who send me food parcels from the US) in the cupboard, I made up marshmallow crème frosting.  Just in case there wasn’t enough sugar in the recipe itself!  I remember seeing the classic blue brand in this country many, many years ago but it’s no longer available and most folks here have never heard of it.  (I’m not entirely sure either how I met the acquaintance of such a confectionary as I was raised sugar-free).  I added vanilla of course!

My Take on Confetti Cake

My opinions?  I was disappointed.  The cake was supposed to be what the Americans call ‘white’ cake.  It was very dark.  And dense too.  Very dense.  I don’t know if it’s because of subtle differences in the ingredients between the two countries or what.  The recipe also makes an awful lot of cake, almost more than I had tins for (the two layers featured here were from my two matching tins, I also filled a bigger tin and made a semi-circle shaped dummy run cake).  It also took a lot longer than anticipated to cook, I think I even whacked the oven up in the end!  English 100s and 1000s are always going to be disappointing too with their insipid pastel colours, sometimes American colourings are worth the visual appeal!  (And only available here in tiny little containers).  And with the cake mix being so dark, I felt that they were lost.  The ‘frosting’, or icing to you and me, called for margarine and I don’t think that helped, it was very sloppy but fortunately firmed up some on standing.

I felt that it was all a total disaster but that might have been the Voice’s opinion actually.  Those who ate it enjoyed it, well we don’t often see sprinkles around here, and there have been requests for a repeat.

Slice of Confetti Cake

Next up is the cake that I made at the same time as the Confetti Cake above.  This was the Pan di Spagna (literally bread of Spain) from the Two Greedy Italian’s book.  Now this was the recipe that I was expecting to be the disappointment, the disaster.  For starters there are actually few pictures of the made-up dishes in the book then there was the advanced nature of the techniques required (the eggs had to be separated and the whites beaten for several hours (but that might be a hyperbole)) then finally, the doom-laden warning that this here cake was a ‘sinker’.  I’m not quite sure why I took it on actually.

The go-to cake in this country, ubiquitous at every tea table and function, is commonly referred to as the Victoria Sponge.  Let’s clarify one thing first.  A sponge has no fat.  No fat means no butter or margarine.  The Victoria recipe always has fat in.  It should in fact be called a Victoria Sandwich.  Personally I think it’s overrated and boring.  Most of the time, it is dark and crusty, sometimes it is burnt.  Not good.  I know people who swear by the healthiness of brown sugar but a Victoria sandwich is not the place for demerara.  Please?!  It is then usually sandwiched with watery strawberry jam.  I don’t think much of strawberry jam either, it’s quite a … well, delicate at best, bland at worst, taste.  Smeared in a discreet almost invisible stain between two wodges of crispy, dark cake is another factor in my decision to turn down a slice.  For some reason, despite a common stinginess with the jam, the top is usually well coated in icing sugar, at least an inch deep.  The cream doesn’t always appear in homemade versions and in bought versions is usually the yellow, pretend stuff.

I didn’t want to make that kind of Victoria Sandwich.

So I made this kind.Before it Sunk

Sponge Cake Closeup

Yes, the cake sunk slightly but it was light and tasty.  It didn’t even taste eggy, I know someone who makes a Swiss-roll mix and even when it’s chocolate, I can’t eat it because it’s way too eggy.  (I’m allergic but I have built my tolerance up).  I used the jam I had, a thick, dark cherry which I think worked particularly well.  Raspberry or even damson would be good too.  Plum can go the way of strawberry sometimes, not too much taste.  And of course lashings of fresh whipped cream (but not too much because it’ll squirt when you squish!)

Yes I whipped both eggs and cream by hand.  I am a glutton for punishment.  And terrified of the electric blender.

I was surprised that it was made up in such a wide tin (25 cm) but it when filled with jam and cream, it didn’t seem too shallow after all.  You do have to have a good knife and eye to slice the thing in half horizontally though, I wussed out and got my husband to volunteer!  I guess it just makes it slightly more delicate to stuff in your mouth un-delicately!

Pan di Spagna (Sponge Cake)

Now this sponge was as white as cake can be, it uses icing sugar.  I think that if I want to make up another Confetti Cake then I would use this recipe and add the sprinkles, obviously using smaller diameter tins.

I also have to confess to a slight ‘booboo’ that I made with the recipe, it’s a Genoese sponge which means that it should be soaked with an alcoholic syrup.  I forget to do that.  But it was still beautifully soft.

I’ve also made another batch of brownies.  They were for a young relative who is very poorly in hospital at the moment and who needs all kinds of tempting treats to build her back up.  So I pushed the boat out and did some fancy decorating.  Well, by my standards anyway!  Aren’t those marshmallows cute?  They were from the US as well and they actually taste.

Heart-Shaped Marshmallows in the Bag

Stack of Brownies with Heart-Shaped Marshmallows from Above

Somewhere else along the way I made a ‘few’ cup/fairycakes and scones for a friend’s wedding, the call went out for bakers and apparently scones are terrifying.  Did you know that scones were terrifying?  I’d miss that bulletin.

Let me share with you some personal scone history.  My mother made scones, grey, large and impossible to fit in your mouth.  Hers were always for special occasions.  My father made scones, pretty good.  His were to use up milk on the turn.  A few years back I found a recipe that promised the world’s best scones so I decided to test it out at my parents’ house.  Miffed I think may cover my mother’s reaction to everyone’s proclamation that my father’s were the best.  The competition was on.  Then I made these.  The recipe is Classic Scones by Nigel Slater.  They use the elusive buttermilk but he provides an alternative (2 tbsp of natural yoghurt to 120 ml milk for each 150 ml buttermilk).  I won.

With that in mind, I volunteered my services.  I also don’t mind working in slightly bigger batches which helps when there’s an entire function of people to be fed.  (I noticed that I can’t say six fairycakes, I say six dozen automatically!).

So that was another day of baking accounted for.  And because I only mix by hand, I nearly ended up with RSI at the end of it.  Wretched scones!  They’re very much like pastry and you have to ‘crumb’ the sugar, butter and flour together.  It kills after so long!  (My father used to call the technique ‘money, money’, if you imagine someone caressing their pot of gold).

Homemade Scones

Husband thinks that scones are something which come from the supermarket, slightly dry and cloying in my opinion, with plenty of rabbit droppings, sorry, raisins.  He was eating them faster than I could bake them which wasn’t good as he wasn’t meant to eat any at all, they were for the wedding!  If you want a truly horrific sight, this is what he did with them:

What Hubby Does to Scones

And finally, the lemons of the title.

Baking Day

(Please excuse the naked lemons)

Someone gave me some nice, big lemons so what to do with them?  Make Lemon Drizzle Cake of course!  I made a big traybake up which I sliced into bite-sized pieces to go a-visiting with and a little loaf too.  With the dregs (such a charming expression!) of the mixture, I got creative and baked me some little stars to decorate the loaf with.  I even remembered to fish them out early rather than leaving them for the good 45 min that the bigger cake needs.  I used standard icing to ‘glue’ them in place.

Little Cake Star

Bite-Sized Lemon Drizzle Cake

I think that’s me done.  It’s taken a while to process the photos and write it out, especially as the computer, kindly, very close to literally blew up somewhere in the middle.  I’d like to make two other American cakes, the Red Velvet and the Rainbow.  Now for the Rainbow, I know that I need those food ‘dyes’ rather than wishy-washy English food colouring so that one will have to wait.  Can anyone recommend a good recipe for the Red Velvet?  Preferably not in cups though!  And what’s your favourite thing to bake or eat?

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10 thoughts on “When Life Hands You Lemons and Other Baking Tales

  1. Oh my goodness, you’ve been baking up a storm! I’m so impressed with your scones (mine come out solid and very un-appetising) so I will be looking up the Nigel Slater recipe. I can make a decent victoria sponge though – so that’s probably one of my favourite cakes though dorset apple cake with a dollop of clotted cream is pretty good too! Thanks for sharing all of your baking adventures x

    • I haven’t done an apple cake before and the difference between Dorset and Irish remains very unclear to me! It’s usually Dorset round here though and the clotted cream sounds like a very good idea. Thanks for sharing. :)

    • Aha, so you are a baker! Now I haven’t checked the link but displacement theory rather sounds like the dude in his bathtub. I will investigate because it’s all very fascinating and culturally enlightening! I guess if you grow up with such things then they lose their novelty at an appropriate age whereas here, however naff or cheesy it may be, the novelty kicks in at a supposedly mature age. Thanks for sharing! :)

  2. Diane Turner

    My mouth began watering around the second paragraph, but by the time I got to the naked lemons, I was fast becoming a slobbery mess. Sorry all your hard work on the confetti thing didn’t yield better results. It looks grand, though. Slurp, slurp…

    • Oops, sorry for that mess all over your keyboard! I reckoned I might as well own up to the not so good bits as well, my baking isn’t just the bed of roses that some would have you believe! Thanks for visiting. :)

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