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October 03, 2011

A Cake for Sarah: White Chocolate, Cardamon and Rosewater Cake

a cake for sarah

"cheers" my friend Sarah on a recent holiday to Baynuls-sur-Mer

The other night I made a surprise cake for my friend Sarah who is going to Mozambique for 6 weeks to volunteer with Iris Ministries, set up by Rolland and Heidi Baker. She's going to two of their ministry bases, one in Pemba and the other in Muputu, to serve as a willing pair of hands. Giddy with excitement at the prospect of getting involved with the work out there, she's not quite sure what's in store. She leaves on Tuesday and I'm excited for her and the stories of her experiences that she'll bring back with her.

Well, naturally I felt it was appropriate to mark the occasion with food, and I really wanted to make her a cake that was, a) personal to her b) I could decorate and c) a delicious new recipe. But suddenly (de repente!), I was overcome with all these mini moments of doubt when I forgot what flavours she liked and didn't like. (I felt like such an awful friend!) After several hours of poring over Fiona Cairns and Nigella recipes, it got to the point that all I knew for sure was that - she likes chocolate. Especially white chocolate. So, I picked this White Chocolate, Cardamon and Rosewater sponge from Fiona Cairns, Bake and Decorate.

The story doesn't stop there. I confess that I had many anxious thoughts ready to trip me up and stop me from baking this cake:

  1. The biggest, most glaring, thought that rang alarm bells in me, was - does Sarah like cardamon and rosewater..? Both are pretty strong, unusual flavours. And will the rest of the small group like it? Because if you don't like either of those flavours, then I'm done for!
  2. Secondly there was a step involving a food processor and adding hot water to white chocolate to melt it... this is a new technique and I wasn't sure whether my old food processor and I were up to the task.
  3. My lack of a real pestle and mortar to 'grind the [cardamon seeds] into a powder' (I do love Fiona's writing).
  4. I have never ever made ganache before.

So there you go. This cake almost did not happen. However:

  1. Firstly, I had this vaguely reassuring feeling that Sarah has pretty much liked every flavour of cake that I've baked her. And my small group are happy to venture out and try new flavours.
  2. Then, I thought that I could only give it a go and see what happens with the white chocolate, food processor and hot water.
  3. And I improvised a pestle and mortar with the end of a rolling pin and my trusty small stainless steel pampered chef bowl. Then, it was Alex who did the hard work of bashing the cardamon seeds into a powder and sifting out the husks later.
  4. I love video tutorials!

Result:

white chocolate cardamon and rosewater cake

I didn't tell you that I decorated the cake to look sort of like Mozambique. I don't do decorating cakes. However, as I had to do something(!), I got this idea of using sweets to creating Mozambique from Jen, a friend of mine in my small group, because it is fun and colourful. Kind of what I hoped Sarah's trip would be for her. (Whenever one of Jen's funny, creative 'face birthday cakes' turn up in our small group, there is a lot of laughter. I wish I had some photos to illustrate how funny they are to you! "John, your face is delicious.")

Later on, I put candles on it to mark Pemba and Muputu when we presented the cake to her at our church small group. By way of imagery, the candles also represented that she'd be a light where she was going. Corny isn't it, I know!

When the cake came in with its lit candles, Sarah said, "but whose birthday is it?" and she made us all sing a song.

And what about the flavours and the cake? Well, I'd forgotten that she'd previously made a lime and cardamon cake so she was already a cardamon fan. So, she really liked the cake, as did everybody else. It truly is a delicious cake. Although 20 cardamon pods sound like a lot, I don't think that their flavour was so overpowering that you couldn't taste the white chocolate or the rosewater. I'm wondering when I can make this recipe again.

Now that the cake has been eaten and loved... I can let those stomach knots untie themselves as I wonder whether some of the anxiety around the cake was really to do with wondering, "How will I manage without Sarah for 6 weeks?"

In the meantime, here's Fiona Cairn's white chocolate and cardamon sponge

Ingredients

  • 130g unsalted butter, cubed and softened
  • 20 green cardamon pods, deseeded* (see method 2.)
  • 170g self-raising flour, sifted to add lightness to the sponge
  • 100g white chocolate, chopped
  • 130g caster sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1tsp vanilla extract

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line with baking paper, a 20cm cake tin. I used a 23cm cake tin and it was probably a bit too wide. I'll use a 20cm next time, so that the ganache can be a bit thicker.

2. Deseed the cardamon pods using the point of a sharp knife. Empty out the seeds and grind them to a powder in a pestle and mortar. (Or as I improvised, a stainless steel bowl and the end of a rolling pin). Sift the cardamon powder in order to remove the husks that inevitably remain.

3. Well, my old food processor happily stood up to the challenge of this next bit. Place the chopped white chocolate and half of the caster sugar into the food processor and pulse for a few minutes, until it is as fine as possible. Then take 2 tbsp of hot water (important that its hot, not boiling, otherwise the white chocolate will seize up and go firm). Keep the processor going and add the hot water slowly (Fiona describes it as, 'dribble it') to the chocolate, until most of the chocolate has melted.

4. Add in the remaining sugar and butter to the food processor and process it so that it is well mixed. Finally, add in the eggs, ground cardamon, flour and vanilla extract and mix it well. The end result won't be entirely smooth as there may be some white chocolate that hasn't melted and manifests itself as little lumps. Don't worry about it. The baking will sort it out.

5. Transfer the batter into the baking tin and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. Rest the cake in the tin for a few minutes, then turn it out to cool completely, onto a wire rack.

Then we move onto making a white chocolate ganache. Can I just say,

"This is the first time ever that I have made ganache!"

I was a bit anxious about it and even a year ago, I think that I would have been too scared to attempt a ganache. However, whilst I've been watching the Great British Bake Off, I've been inspired to try out new techniques. I still searched online to learn a bit more before I tried it and build my confidence. I'd like to say that this was fairly simple to do. But I'm not sure that my ganache looked entirely right. I think that I might have whisked it for too long.

Top Tip: Still feeling nervous about making ganache? I'd recommend watching this, to help ease your nerves. It is a really good video tutorialon making white chocolate ganache.

So, the ingredients for a white chocolate and rosewater ganache

  • 100g good quality white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 100ml double cream
  • 2tsp rosewater

Method:

1. Place the finely chopped white chocolate in a heat proof bowl.

2. Heat the double cream and the rosewater in a saucepan until it boils. You want it to be 'scalding'. Then pour it into the heat proof bowl with the white chocolate.

3. Leave it for a about 30 seconds to begin the melting process, and then begin stirring the mixture gently so that the melting white chocolate and the hot cream are completely mixed together. Once done, leave it to cool completely, then pop it into the fridge to chill slightly.

4. Then take it out and whisk until it thickens.*

*This is where I think that I may have gone wrong. However, since then, I have wondered whether using a more expensive white chocolate would produce a better ganache, rather than Sainsbury Basic.

To finish off...

Fiona suggests that you split the cake into two layers, spread the ganache in the middle and sandwich the two layers together. I modified this to compensate for my poor decorating skills and needing to decorate this cake into something that resembled Mozambique.

On the day, I raced back home during my lunch break to decorate the cake. I spread the ganache on the top of the cake, as a frosting. Then I used haribo men and jelly tots to create a shape that resembled Mozambique, chilled it in the fridge for a few hours, while I went back to work and voila!

Sarah and Cake



June 30, 2011

Fiona Cairn's Shortbread

FionaCairnsShortbread

Have I told you before that I grew up in Scotland? Now that you know, then you'll understand why baking the most delicious shortbread is on my list of baking to-dos. That taste and sensation of buttery biscuit crumbling in your mouth is, when you get it right, eye-poppingly delicious! Yet, it only made its appearance on my list very recently. As the name suggests, there's a lot fat that goes into it (shortening, in its most generic sense, is any fat that is solid at room temperature) and that kinda put me off. However, I think that began to change when, firstly I tasted THE best shortbread ever two years ago and didn't want to eat any other lesser tasting brand. Then I finally happened across a pretty convincing shortbread recipe in Fiona Cairn's book.

The best shortbread, the one that changed things, is Duncan's shortbread. (Incidentally they're made in Deeside, Aberdeenshire, which is near the area where I grew up.) They are pretty much the perfect shortbread for me: crumbly and indulgent. However, they are pretty hard to track down in the supermarkets south of the border. So, when you're next in Scotland, I'd recommend visiting any Morrisson's supermarket and buying a packet so that you can delight in them too.

While I'm rating shop-bought shortbread, I'd recommend Dean's shortbread too. They're more widely available and were my favourite before I had a taste of Duncan's. And how about Walkers shortbread? Everyone has tasted Walkers shortbread right? They're everywhere with their tartan branding. I grew up eating them and asked my mum to bring to the US so that I could nibble on them whenever I wanted a taste of home. A classic but I find that they are too dense and aren't crumbly enough.

I do try different brands but Duncan's is the benchmark. If they don't come close, then I don't thing that they're worth eating: shortbread is pretty calorific. So, I admit. I've become a bit of a shortbread snob. Now that I check out the ingredients list on the back of the packet to hunt down the perfect recipe, perhaps, we should modify that to 'shortbread-snob-on-the-hunt-for-the-perfect-homemade-shortbread-recipe'. I've already tried searching for the Duncan's recipe but it is a closely guarded family secret. It says so on their website. What I do find really interesting about Duncan's is that they don't use butter!! No, siree, on the backs of their packets, they list blended pure vegetable fat as their fat ingredient. Well, maybe they're onto something since shortening is associated more with vegetable or animal fat, rather than butter.

But this blog post is about when I baked Fiona Cairn's shortbread recipe and I have to say,

It trumps all the shop bought varieties.

My sister paid me the biggest compliment when she said that my shortbread was better than Duncan's. (I asked her and her husband to do a taste test.)

This is such a fantastic recipe. I haven't modified anything because it is, well, perfect just as it is. The only thing that I did was to halve the recipe because it looked like it was going to make an awfully big batch of shortbread, and I didn't have enough freezer space...

Top Tip: use your favourite-tasting, best-est quality butter because the taste varies on the quality of the butter. Oh, and bake on baking paper, so that the baked shortbreads are easier to take off the baking tray.

Fiona Cairn's Shortbread, from Fiona's cookbook, Bake and Decorate, as baked by moi.

Ingredients

  • 250g salted butter, softened and cubed.
  • 100g golden caster sugar, plus some more for sprinkling post-baking
  • 250g of plain flour
  • 125g of cornflour or rice flour*

*Fiona included this gem of a detail that you could use either rice flour or cornflour, which gave it a crumbly texture, and her scottish grandmotherused rice flour. But do you know, cornflour is used in Duncan's secret recipe, so no guesses for which one I opted for.

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/340°F/ gas mark 3. Line a metal baking sheet with baking paper. I'm a BIG fan of pampered chef stoneware and normally use stoneware in baking. However, my friend, who has had some experience with baking shortbread, assures me that they taste better when baked on metal, rather than stone.

2. Cream together the butter and the sugar together first. You'll get there fastest is if you use an electric whisk or mixer.

3. Then sift in the flour and cornflour and mix into the butter and sugar. I'd add the flours in three batches to stop the flour flying out of the bowl. Combine well until you get a sticky mixture.

4. Flour your hands so that the mixture doesn't stick to your hands for this next step. In the mixing bowl, gently knead the dough for about 5 minutes, until it is smooth. (Fiona says 'do not over-work' - that doesn't mean much for a non-experienced dough kneader such as I? So this was my guess).

shortbread_dough

5. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and pop it into the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will make the dough easier to roll out.

6. I floured a glass cutting board, but you can use any floured board, to roll out the dough evenly with a rolling pin. You want to aim for about 5-7mm thickness.

rolling out shortbreadcutting shortbreadcutting shortbread

I quite like my method of rolling this kind of dough out with a piece of baking paper or clingfilm between the rolling pin and the dough. I find it's cleaner this way and somehow, the dough mixture rolls out smoother and doesn't stick to the rolling pin.

7. Cut out, roll out, repeat until you've used up all the mixture. I deliberately bought some really cute small-mini cutters to make this shortbread. Funnily, I just felt that I couldn't make them until I had bought these cutters!

8. So, perhaps there are too many to bake in one go? No problemo - freeze them. Fiona recommends that you freeze them unbaked, so that you have a ready batch of these to bake whenever you want or need them. They just need to be defrosted for an hour before baking. Then, she includes this tip:

lay the biscuits between sheets of baking parchment in a freezer container.

which is absolute genius! So, you arrange the shortbread on a piece of baking paper and place it gently to fit the container, then you add the next layer of baking paper with the shortbread etc. This means that when you come to take them out to defrost, they are 1. easy to get out and 2. ready for you to put them on the baking tray for you to bake. Just remember to let them defrost for an hour...

storing raw shortbreadshortbread hearts

9. Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with sugar, then let them cool for 10 minutes.

Tada! Careful you don't demolish them all in one sitting.

You already know what my sister thinks of this recipe. I've also baked these as a birthday present for my friend Helen and for the Welcome Team at church, as a treat for visitors. They loved them. Blimey, if the rest of Fiona's recipes are as good as this one, then we are in for a treat.


fiona cairns shortbread

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