Monday, 18 November 2013

I meant it to look like that...

Hello webby pals!

Fancy some cake? Of course you do. All the better if it's home made. And people like me are always telling you how easy it is to knock up a batch of cookies, or a birthday cake, or some scones.  Just throw it together, it'll be fine.
Sometimes we lie.

Blackberry crumble cake
Well, not lie exactly. Once you've got a reliable set of weights and measures, a couple of standard sized tins, an oven that stays at the temperature the dial claims it is and a straightforward recipe, baking is a doddle. And of course you need the correct ingredients, and not to be interrupted at a crucial moment so you can remember whether you'd added the baking powder or not, and you hear the timer go off so you can actually remove it when it's done.

Sometimes life isn't quite like that. The baby needs a change, or you answer the phone and forget the timer or the toddler twiddles the oven dial, or you're stressed or you read the recipe wrong. Or it just all goes a bit wrong and you're not sure why.

It's OK. It's recoverable. Don't panic.

I was chatting to another school parent last week about this when she said she daren't bake because she'll only mess it up.There is generally something you can salvage from a cake gone wrong.  I thought you might like to hear a few of them, on the off chance you make a mess of things someone you know makes a mess of a cake and you can help them fix it. Because I have faith in you.

It Looks Messy - Relish it. That's home made, babe. You know the labels on fancy-pants artisan scarves or jewellery - 'Some variation in texture or colour is a natural part of this hand crafted item' - don't you? That's your get-out-of-jail-free card. We've all heard tales of school bake sale items that have been bought at the supermarket and bashed about at the edges a bit to make it look home made. Home baking is supposed to look a little irregular. You don't want it to look like that mass produced Mr Kipling rubbish, do you?

Burnt top - Easy to fix. Use a bread knife to gently cut off the burnt top. Turn the cake upside down and ice as originally planned. (A cut surface can pick up a lot of crumbs, and it can mess up the appearance of your icing.)

Burnt And A Bit Dried Out - Still not a disaster. Cut the burnt bit off as above. Then make a light sugar syrup - 100g sugar, 200ml water and simmer until the sugar has dissolved and the liquid has reduced by half. Take off the heat, flavour if necessary (with a splash of vanilla or some lemon zest, just to match the flavour of your cake). Using a pastry brush, lightly coat both the top and bottom of the cake. Leave 10 mins to soak in and then turn it cut side down and ice.
This has the added advantage of keeping a cake moist for longer, so is a neat trick if you have to bake your cake in advance of an occasion (like a birthday party)

Uneven - if your baking and icing techniques have abandoned you, I suggest taking the 'More is More' aesthetic and covering it with sweets. Pile enough sweets on and no one will spot the saggy bit or the unevenly trimmed side. I made a friend a cake utterly coated with Maltesers once because I didn't have time to do the fancy icing I'd planned. It looked so over the top and indulgent it was actually better than my original design. (you don't have to wrap it in a chocolate collar like the one in the picture)

Overcooked - if you left it in too long and it's rather stale-feeling, serve it warm with ice cream or custard. A 30 second blast in the microwave, loosely covered, will make it warm and moist feeling for a short while. Warm cake and ice cream is a winner. (This also works with stale cake. I use this with leftovers all the time)

Collapsed In The Middle - There are a couple of options. You could cut the middle out, pour a glaze over it and declare it a ring cake.  Then scoff the messy gooey middle bit yourself and deny all knowledge. Or you could use a cutter - a circular one used for making scones is a good one - and cut out little individual cakes. They actually look very chic when iced. A quick glaze of cocoa, icing sugar, hot water and a knob of butter melted in gives a good mirror finish in situations like that.

The Whole Thing Looks Terrible - have you any fruit purée? Apple sauce? A jar of posh jam? Layer the cake, jam and some custard or cream. Someone dropping a pavlova called it Eton Mess once upon a time and we all fell for it. You can call yours Yorkshire Jumble, or English Pud, or whatever. The trick is to say it with confidence. (Chocolate sponge with raspberry or cherry jam is lovely, by the way. As is vanilla with lemon curd or apple sauce)

Oh God It's A Disaster - anything even vaguely edible, no matter how dry or wonky or cut into uneven chunks it is, will perform the role of trifle sponge perfectly. Even if you don't have it now, stick your chunks of cake in a bag and freeze them until you do.

I Think It's Dead - dropped it, smushed it, generally destroyed it? My gift to you, my dear maladroit chum, is one word: truffles. Cake crumbs, a bit of melted chocolate, maybe a dash of brandy or rum, or perhaps a drop of cream. Mix them well, form into balls, pop on a tray and freeze for a few minutes (or even a month) to firm up, then drop them in  more melted chocolate and remove them with a fork. Look! You made lovely homemade chocolates! You are so good to your guests.

In summary, with a little flexible thinking you can make something tasty out of pretty much any cake that isn't actually charcoal. Assuming you want to.
On the other hand, if you went to the trouble of baking something for someone and they aren't delighted with your thoughtfulness and efforts, they know where they can go. Yep, straight to M&S to buy something.  And you can open a  bottle of wine box of chocs and say to hell with it all.

Jay x

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