Monday, 21 March 2011

Kitchen Conquests: When baking goes....quite well actually

I've been cake baking! This doesn't sound like a statement worthy of an exclamation mark, I know, but cake baking is my absolute cooking Achilles heel. I've spoken before about the fact that precision cooking scares the bejesus out of me, and cake baking falls into that frightening category. Deviate too much and you'll have a soggy bottom or a floppy side. Not nice. They say it's all about getting to know your oven, but I feel I know my oven pretty well already. We've been together a year now. We're past the nervous, hearts & flowers, dating stage and we're on to the stage where you're happy to pig out on crisps and hummus in front of Eastenders in your pyjamas. There has to be more to it than just seducing my oven.

After a particularly trying day I decided to knock up a tray of milk chocolate and pistachio squares. The recipe can be found in the April issue of BBC Good Food magazine. Despite using a baking tray much wider then suggested and therefore being unable to slice the cake in half to fill it with sour-cream icing, they turned out extremely well. My only regret was using Cadbury's chocolate. Its flavour is so distinctive that anything you add it to immediately tastes like one of their own packaged products. They were still yummy though.

I also recommend buying the pistachios ready-shelled if possible. It took a lot of work to get to this:

Buoyed by the minor miracle that was these little squares of loveliness actually working out, I decided to go a step further last week and bake my mum a birthday cake. This is fraught with pressure. If a birthday cake goes wrong you still have to present it to the person as their only birthday cake. I decided to keep things simple with a Mary Berry Victoria Sandwich recipe. The recipe read like something a child would be able to follow. Don't fail me now, Mary!

Everything was going swimmingly. So well, in fact, that my suspicious mind assumed I had made a grave error. I cooked the two cakes. I was patient. Very patient. Despite touching the door on several occasions I resisted every urge to open it before I was 99% sure the cakes were cooked. Who is this person I have become? At this stage I was pretty much glowing with Mary Berry goodness. I turned the perfectly cooked cakes out onto a wire rack. They didn't fall apart. They didn't sag in the middle. Shock. I spent the next 30 minutes pacing back and forth in front of them like an expectant father waiting for his first child to pop out, allowing myself only to touch them to see if they were cool enough to sandwich together in intervals of two minutes.

Once I felt I was probably ten minutes away from filling my two golden slabs of sponge, I whisked together some butter and icing sugar. In an attempt to make the icing slightly less rich I added just a little dash of sour cream. It tasted delicious but I soon found that when I dolloped it on top of the jam in the middle of the cakes it became significantly more liquid. There was a little......spillage. But that was nothing half a roll of kitchen towel couldn't fix. The end result both looked and tasted amazing. The family all raised their eyebrows when they tasted it, as if they were surprised I'd actually made it. I'd complain, but judging by my past baking failures, I don't blame them.

Just in case the cake was a total flop, I also prepared a family tea. My mum's only request was that there was chicken. Knowing she'll usually choose salad over all over meals I roasted a whole chicken (marinated with lemon and smoked paprika) and shredded it. I also threw together a huge salad and cooked my new favourite thing - chicken fat potatoes. Seriously, you'll thank me for this. After roasting the chicken I removed most of the fat from the tray and added some par-boiled salad potatoes. I used small Charlottes. You could also just cook them quickly in the microwave covered in cling film. You only need to soften the potato before it hits the fat - much like roast potatoes but with the skins left on. The smoked paprika and the juices from the lemon and chicken should have melded together in the tray. From there it's just a case of tossing the potatoes in the juices and crisping them in the same tray in a very hot oven.

Crikey, I'm hungry now. Who wants to bring me a massive plate of chicken flavoured potatoes? Go on. You know you want to.

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