Thursday, 22 November 2012

The Great Rainbow Cake Experiment

In order to prepare for a birthday in the family, coming up in a month's time, I needed to conduct a SECRET EXPERIMENT with rainbow cake.

Secret, because the really special thing about a rainbow cake is that it is the most secretive cake ever.

It looks like a totally normal cake....

 until you cut into it...

... to reveal the full glory of its inner rainbow!

 (And also because it's better to have a surprise birthday cake than a known one.)

And experiment, because I have never attempted a rainbow cake before, and it seemed like an awfully difficult thing to do. And, in fact, it was. I can tell you honestly that this was the most difficult cake I've ever made.

That's not because of the actual cake recipe - I used a pound cake recipe, which is possibly the easiest type of cake to make: a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of flour, and a few eggs. It's the type of cake my grandmother used to make, and it tastes just like her cake used to taste. It's what my dad calls 'a plain cake - my favorite', and what Nigella ('The Goddess') describes as 'one of those cakes you can never see the point of, until you've bitten into it'.

It makes for a good dense crumb, which you can see in this pic, and I thought it would take the colour layering better than a sloppier mixture.

So, to start at the beginning, you cream the butter and sugar...

...Then add the flour. The recipe I used - which I'll post at some stage- also has about two teaspoons of baking powder and a pinch of salt, and calls for enough lemon juice to be squeezed in at the end to make a stiff dough.

This picture shows the flour being stirred in and, as you can see, it's a very, very stiff dough, and very hard to stir.

This was the end of the easy bit.

 Well, I guess this was easy too, but a lot of people (in the past this included me) neglect this VITAL step: grease your cake tin, then line it fully with baking paper, then grease the baking paper and flour it.

Yes it seems like such an effort, but after you've destroyed several perfectly good cakes by accidentally sticking them permanently to the tin, you'll see the light, and spend as much time on your greasing and lining and flouring process as you do on your actual cake mixture.

So the first step for a rainbow cake is to divide your cake mixture evenly into seven quantities and put them in separate bowls.

Evenly dividing cake mixture into seven parts is more difficult than it sounds. I did it by weighing the entire mixture, dividing the weight by seven and then weighing out that quantity into separate bowls - somehow I managed to mess this up and ended up with one bit that was less than all the others. I then had to mess around plopping teaspoons of mixture from bowl to bowl until I got it approximately right.

Next you need to mix up the colours - I used gel colours (see here for details), and stuck with the ol' Roy G. Biv mnemonic - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

I already had all the gel colours I needed because I have been buying and using them for cake decorating for ages, but if you were going from scratch, it would cost you about $AUD25 to purchase enough colours - you need red, yellow, green, blue and violet and you can make up the rest by combining those.

I ended up with seven bowls of colourful mixture. I had been careful to use only white bowls so that I could see the colour properly when mixing it up.

Of these, the failure was the indigo - I tried for a paler version of violet just by adding less violet colouring to the mixture than I had to the violet mix. But it was sort of grey, and in retrospect I could have got away with just six colours and left the indigo out completely - I doubt anyone would have noticed.

 No, this blog is not sponsored, but if you are a GLAD senior exec, you should sling me a few bucks because I'm going to give your product a giant promo.

These Glad sandwich bags are the best invention since sliced bread ... haw haw.

The reason I say this is because you can use them as disposable piping bags by the simple expedient of cutting a tiny bit off one corner. I was planning to do this with the cake - to pipe each layer out - but actually in the end I dolloped it out with a spatula and smoothed it down. In retrospect I should have gone for the piping method with my trusty Glad bags, because dolloping was stressful.

This shows the orange layer being spread over the red. I wanted the red to be on the top of the cake, so I put it on the bottom of the tin so that I could reverse the cake after cooking to get a flat top surface.

The mixture was so thick that it was a real effort to pull it around with the spatula to create an even layer. Also, even though there was a lot of mixture in total, it had to be spread in very thin layers - about half a centimetre. This was tricky because it was easy to get 'holes' in the layer.

It was especially tricky around the edges because the greased, floured baking paper was SO nonstick that the mixture just wouldn't hold to it at all, and kept coming back up with the spatula!

This is the green layer being spread over the yellow. I had to keep saying to myself 'Roy G. Biv, Roy G. Biv' to remember what order the colours should go in. Mad.

This was the indigo dolloped on top of the blue layer before being spread out.

As the layers built up I developed a bit of a dolloping technique, but I was beset with worry the whole time that my pressure downwards with the spatula whilst spreading the colour layer would distort all the colour layers underneath. This turned out not to be the case - the mixture was firm enough to stay put in its layers pretty well.

As this was a large cake it took ages to cook - over an hour and a half on medium heat. When I took it out (sorry no pics) the outside edges had browned as per normal - see here under the icing?

And remember - I had no idea what it looked like inside yet. It just looked like a pound cake, with strange indistinct colours underneath the brown outer.

At this point I was getting a little frustrated. Not only had the mixture taken AGES to spread into the little layers (about an hour I reckon), the cake had then taken FOREVER to bake. And the amount of washing up was MASSIVE.

I determined to get my own back on the damn thing.

"Listen here, difficult cake," I snapped (out loud - I really did), "You are not getting ANY MORE of my valuable time. I WAS going to give you fondant icing. Or at least all-over swirled butter icing. But I'm DONE with you. You're getting glace icing or NOTHING."

It took me one minute to mix up some plain glace icing (icing sugar and lemon juice) and pour it over the cake. I made enough that it flowed down all the edges and completely covered the surface. Then I sat down to wait until I could cut it without the icing going everywhere.

Although you couldn't call it the smoothest rainbow ever seen, I was absolutely delighted with the result. The layers had held together well, and each was distinct from the others.

During baking as the cake rose, so too did the layers. When I upturned the domed top of the cooked cake to get the bottom as my flat surface, Gravity 'pushed' the centre of the cake upwards from the bottom, giving the 'rainbow curve' effect from the centre.

If I had wanted to have a series of flat layers I could have sliced the domed top of the cake off entirely. At the time, I thought this might take all the violet layer off with it, but the violet, as it was the top layer during the baking process, had risen more than all the others, and was the thickest - so I could have sliced off the dome without losing that colour.

By far the best way to display it was to cut it into very thin slices - pound cake can take a very thin slice because it's so dense - and spread it out on a white plate.

By chance, the glace icing was perfect for it. In taste terms, it was a good topping, because the cake is buttery and moist, and the icing is watery and tangy - each sets off the other. In colour terms it highlighted the red layer beautifully.

Thus ends Dr Cupcake's rainbow cake experiment.
Happy eating of rainbows to everyone, with love from Dr Cupcake!


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Light-Up Bomb Cupcakes for Guy Fawkes Day

Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot....

Well, that's the rhyme I grew up with, and it's about poor old Guy Fawkes who, it seems, was actually innocent, and didn't in fact plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament. Being a rebellious left-winger who no doubt would have got on famously with Mr Fawkes, I decided to help him along a bit by creating light-up bomb cupcakes for the fifth of November this year:
 They were carrot and walnut cakes topped with cream cheese icing, then decorated with an irregular red 'boom' kind of fiery explosive pattern and topped by a big block bomb....

 ....Which had a sparkler for a fuse, and lit up spectacularly!

I'll get to the cake and icing recipes later, but let's start with the (very simple) process for decorating!
I mixed up some red fondant using gel colour. This is the gel colouring being put on and shows the quantity I used relative to the pize of the fondant piece. I kneaded this until it was a solid red, then broke off a little bit and added yellow colour to get a more orangey shade. Then I kneaded them together lightly to try to get a reddish-orange marbled effect.

As you can see, the marbling didn't really work - the colours weren't different enough. However, I rolled it out and began cutting roughly star-shaped pieces out of it. This was meant to sit underneath the bomb, to give an impression of a fire starting underneath (it also gave the cupcake a touch of colour which it really needed).

This picture shows you the dreadful mess that in the end involved the entire bench, floor and the front of my clothes. However, I did manage to get twelve red stars out of it.

These went onto the tops of the cupcakes and I stuck them down with a bit of water. I also 'painted' the tops of them with water, which is a bit of a no-no usually, because the colour is liable to run and the surface becomes sticky, but I had got so much cornflour on the surfaces during the process of rolling and cutting that they looked really dusty and this cleaned them up.

Then it came to making the bombs. I bought a ready-coloured black fondant for this, because I HATE mixing black fondant - it takes ages and leaves black smudges all over everything.

I hand-rolled balls of black fondant about the size of a big marble...

....Until I had twelve of them, one for each cupcake.

Then I rolled a long sausage of the black fondant and cut it into small cylindrical lengths. I stuck one on each bomb - this is the little bit of the bomb where the fuse attaches.

(I know nothing about bombs, so I have no idea if that is actually right, but this is what I imagine when I picture an old-fashioned bomb.)

The next stage was the sparkler 'fuse'. Obviously, sparklers are a bit long for a fuse of this size so I needed to trim them down. REAL TOOLS (i.e., a pair of pliers) were required for this step....

....And for the next step, which was to trim the top end of the sparkler (the bit that sparkles). I did this very carefully, away from any food, and made sure there were no 'sparkler' crumbs that fell onto the cupcakes - I know they're often stuck onto cakes, but I'm pretty sure they're not supposed to be eaten.

(Safety note: when trimming/using/disposing of the remainders of the sparklers, remember they are flammable and don't place near open flames.)

 The cut-down sparklers can then be pushed gently into the bombs' 'fuse receptors'...

...Until you end up with something like this.

I liked my little bombs all lined up and ready to explode.

The finished result.....

...And again, on a cupcake stand...

....And when the fuse is lit.... voila!

Recipe for carrot and walnut cupcakes with cream cheese icing


225g plain flour
3/4 tsp baking powder/bicarb soda
2 large eggs
100g light brown sugar
pinch of salt
175ml vegetable oil (I used sunflower oil)
150g carrots (approx 2 medium size carrots), grated finely
200g walnuts
zest of one lemon
zest of 1/2 orange or mandarin

125g cream cheese
250g icing sugar
Squeeze of lime or lemon juice, to taste

Set the oven to 180C and line a cupcake tray with cupcake papers.

Beat the sugar and the vegetable oil together with an electric mixer, then add the eggs, one by one, and beat again.

This is the mixture with the eggs added and beaten in.

Stir in the flour, baking powder and salt...

...Then grate the carrots finely - I use a microplane grater because they are fast and get a great, very fine grate.

Chop the walnuts roughly and gently stir in the grated carrot and walnuts.

Then zest the lemon and orange.

I was finding the orange extremely difficult to zest, with very little zest actually making it through to the other side of the zester. This bewildered me....

... Until I realised that I had been 'zesting' a small oval sticker that had been on the skin of the orange.
Way to go, food producers that put stickers on fruit.

Stir in the zests and spoon the mixture evenly into the cupcake cases. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and a skewer stuck into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean.

For the icing, combine the icing sugar and cream cheese with a fork or beaters, then add some lemon or lime juice to get the consistency and flavour you want.

That's it for the cupcakes for today!
Happy Guy Fawkes Day from Dr Cupcake!!



Thursday, 1 November 2012

Halloween Cupcakes 2: Gingerbread Gravestones

My Halloween efforts this year stretched to two designs (for the other, please see previous post).
I loved the look of the gingerbread gravestone cupcakes in Ms Lili Vanilli's book A Zombie Ate My Cupcake, so I wanted to try them.

Now, this is the point where I go all Martha Stewart on you, and tell you how I painstakingly made my gingerbread gravestones from scratch, lovingly combining the fresh raw ingredients into a dough and carefully rolling it out.... cutting out my shapes and laying them flat on the baking tray all ready to be popped into a hot oven....
Actually no. What I used were these hideous supermarket freaks. So there.

(Okay, okay... if you REALLY want to be a perfectionist, you'll find a good gingerbread recipe and instructions for rolling and cutting it in my previous post on making gingerbread houses, here.)

 And so began the Great Gingerbread Man Massacre of Halloween 2012. Both of the horrible 'Gingerbread Kids' with their garish packets and their uneven gingerbready skintone and their cheap, nasty cracked-Smartie buttons were unceremoniously hacked to pieces - very specific pieces, as you see at the top of this pic.

The curved arms were perfect for domed gravestones (I cut them with a point at the bottom so I would have something to anchor them in the icing with) while the cross-shaped gravestones required a little more freehand work.

Two smallish gingerbread figures yielded me five crosses, four domes and heaps of leftover, hacked-up gingerbread pieces. I was too snobby to eat the leftovers. I only eat HOME MADE gingerbread, of course :)

There was a delicious (haw haw) irony in having to dismember poor little innocent gingerbread men in order to make macabre death-themed cupcakes.

The next stage was to decorate the gingerbread gravestones.

This was easily achieved with a very thick mixture of royal icing and a piping bag with the very end of it snipped to create a tiny piping hole.

There wasn't a lot of decoration I could do for the crosses because they were too thin. In the end I settled for a simple cross of white icing to emphasise their shape and provide a bit of contrast.

For my experiments with this batch of cupcakes and their icing, see my previous post here.

I used the piped, cream-coloured ones and smoothed out the piping texture a bit with a spatula, seeing it wasn't quite even anyway, to get a slightly less bumpy surface.

I sieved cocoa over the top to look like earth...

Stuck little florist wires into the bases of my gravestones to provide them with an anchor into the cupcake....

And pushed the gravestones into their final resting place... the soft, cocoa-covered earth.

They made a suitably macabre top for my Halloween centrepiece!

A short note: I decorated these the night before I used them, and sealed them into a cupcake carrier with a load of fresh baked savour muffins and the 'severed ear' cupcakes. All were cool and dry, but by the morning the container had fogged up, and my suspicions proved correct when I tested the gingerbread and found it had gone very soft in that environment. It would have been better to leave them to air dry overnight. However, within half an hour of being taken out of the container, they had hardened up again.

The finished Halloween centrepiece.....

Happy Halloween (again) from Dr Cupcake!