Tag Archives: cake

Through thick and thin

6 Sep

WHY do some recipes work and others don’t? Have you ever followed a recipe, word for word, step by step only to fail? Well, that’s my puzzle this week.  I decided to make Spekkoek, or the famous Indonesian layer cake as it is one of my favourite cakes. After browsing through several recipes online, looking through the ingredients and the instructions, I concluded that it wasn’t too difficult to execute. Sure, it called for a lot of time and patience —  it isn’t called “thousand layer cake” for nothing. Though way less than a thousand, the cake has many thin layers (about 40) that have to be grilled one by one. Each layer is about 1mm thick, no more.  But, apart from having to spend a couple of hours literally in front of the oven, the cake seemed simple enough to make. True?

OF COURSE NOT. Making Spekkoek proved to be one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had in the kitchen.

I had to make this cake five times before it turned out decent. Five times! Ordinarily, I would have given up after attempt No. 3 but I was making it  for this month’s Don’t Call Me Chef column (which comes out today) so I had no choice but to complete it.

I must have gone through at least a dozen different recipes for Spekkoek. I studied each one, wondering why my cakes looked nothing like the Spekkoek you buy in the shops. The taste was pretty similar but that was as close as I seemed to be getting.

With the Spekkoek, looks matter you see.

I followed the recipes to a T and yet my cakes were dry, my layers too chunky. I didn’t get the fine brown layer. I couldn’t get moisture in the cake. Nothing seemed to work. ARRRRRRRGH.

Finally, a decent Spekkoek

Finally, after five attempts I baked a cake that looked authentic. My cake was still not moist enough. It wasn’t dry but if you’ve tasted a good Spekkoek, you’ll know that it is really quite moist and very rich.  My Spekkoek was nice and fragrant and tasty too but, darn it, it still  was nothing like the Spekkoek I look forward to eating at my friends’ houses every Raya.

I don’t think I will be making any more Spekkoeks anytime soon but I did learn a few things in the process which will, hopefully, make me a better baker. Still, I was proud of my Spekkoek.

I learnt some valuable lessons making the cake and this is what I want to share. (For the recipe per se, you can read the column here). Some of the lessons I learnt may seem pretty obvious (to me esp, on hindsight) so, bear with me.

LESSON 1: The layers in the Spekkoek may look like interlying layers of two different types of batter (one light, one dark; one spiced one not) but THEY AREN’T! The first recipe I tried, had me alternating between a plain butter batter and a spiced batter (Pic, top left). Maybe this is another version of the cake but the authentic cake calles of layering just ONE BATTER over and over. The brown layer you see in the cake is because the cake is GRILLED, so the top of the cake browns while the rest remains pale.

Its not two different batters, lah!

LESSON 2: Spread the layers really thin. About four tabelspoons per layer in a 6 inch X 6 inch pan may seem too little but believe me, it’s being generous. For my first attempt I decided to double the amount. The result? See the pic above. The batter rises.

LESSON 3: The recipe requires you to separate the egg whites from the yolks. Some recipes use only the yolks, some use both the yolks and the whites (though always more yolks than whites). Some require you to whip the whites to a meringue. My conclusion: use yolks only. If you want to use a couple of egg whites, DO NOT whip them too much or your cake will be too airy, too dry. I don’t know if my conclusion is right though. Would appreciate some feedback. Please?

LESSON 4: Grill NOT bake. This was my mistake. All the recipes call for the cake to be GRILLED. The first time I made it however, I somehow didn’t register that command and so I BAKED the cake. The result? No browning of the top and so, no distinct brown layer (See pic below).  Also, I forgot that to grill in the oven, I’d have to shift my rack right to the top. DUH!

LESSON 5: The recipes uses a lot of butter, presumably to make the cake nice and moist. Butter alone didn’t work for me. I even substituted oil for butter a couple of times. Still, I couldn’t get a moist enough cake. My last recipe used condensed milk + icing instead of granulated sugar and that worked better. Suggestions, anyone?

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Believe it: an avocado + chocolate cake

14 Jun

Avocado? Are you puzzled? I couldn’t quite believe it myself when I saw a recipe for an Avocado Chocolate cake on Joy the Baker recently.  I mean I love avocado but so far, I’ve had it as a dip, a spread and in salads. But in a cake and frosting?

I bookmarked the recipe about a week ago and even bought some avocados: they were going at RM2.70 each: a steal by KL standards. Today, despite having to go into work (on a Sunday, can you beat that?) and despite having to bake 18 buns and a meatloaf for Crazy Juliet’s orders tomorrow I decided to bake the Avocado Chocolate cake. I wasn’t convinced yet but I was mighty curious.

There were a few things I was concerned about: although carrots go amazingly well  in cake, would avocados confuse things? I decided to google — wonderful thing the internet, you can find answers to almost any question you have. I discovered that the avocado+ chocolate combo isn’t exactly alien (as it was to me). There were pages and pages of recipes for avocado+chocolate mousse, avocado+chocloate shakes, avocado+chocolate cup cakes, pudding… you name it. There was even a recipe for a banana+avocado+chocolate cake. Holey moley!

I followed Joy the Baker’s recipe for the cake but I reduced the sugar and altered the recipe for the  frosting just a little. Also, she made hers a double layered cake but I was a little lazy and decided to make mine a single layered one.

My verdict. The best, best part about this cake is the texture. It’s the most moist chocolate cake I have ever tasted. So moist and yummy. Not surprising I suppose, given the rich, creamy texture of avocados. And, it’s also pitch black .. well, daaaaaaaaaark chocolate!   You can’t really taste the avocado, although there is a distinct taste about this chocolate cake that sets it apart.

Even though I reduced the sugar, I found the cake a little too sweet with the  frosting. Next time, I will put next to no sugar in the frosting and perhaps reduce the sugar in the cake some more.

Oh yes, the cake has no butter and is therefore vegan but the frosting has cheese!

Chocolate Avocado Cake (adapted from Joy the Baker)
3 cups all-purpose flour
6 tbsp  cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1.5 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup soft avocado, mashed
2 cups water
2 tbsp white vinegar
2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180C.  Grease an  8 inch round tin and set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking powder and soda. Set aside.

Mix the water, oil, vinegar, mashed avocado and vanilla and mix well. Add the sugar and mix well again. Pour the wet mixture into the bowl of your stand mixer and using a low speed (4-6) add the flour mix gradually and mix till smooth. Remove and pour into baking tin. Bake for 30-40 mins or till a tester comes out clean.

Butter cream frosting

4 oz cream cheese

2 oz butter

3 tbsp mashed avocado

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 cup icing sugar

Using a paddle attachement, mix the cream cheese and butter till light and fluffy. Add the avocado, lemon juice and the sugar (gradually) and mix till well incroporated. Remove and chill till you’re ready to ice the cake. The lemon will prevent the avocado from browning.

Pumpkin + sage + butter = yummy

9 Nov
pumpkin

The delicious pumpkin bread-cake. It's moist and not too sweet. And it smells divine

This marks another first for me. Have always shied away from making breads because it sounded like a lot of work — kneading and kneading and more kneading? Urmmm, no thanks.

Plus, I have an inexplicable fear of cooking with yeast.

Then I came upon this fantastic recipe for pumpkin bread from Martha Stewart (yes, I do love her) in her magazine. It doesn’t require kneading or yeast and just reading through the list of ingredients made me salivate.

And it sounded pretty easy to make.

Usually, Martha’s recipes just need to be followed to a T. With this bread though, instead of dividing the mixture into 8 small loaf pans, I put it all in one big loaf pan and as a result I had to bake it for 20 mins longer than the 30 mins she prescribed. I also had no ground clove ( you need 1/8 tsp) so i omitted that. Otherwise, it was fantastic.

pumpkin loaf

Straight outta the oven.

(Almost) Martha’s Pumpkin, Sage and Brown-Butter Quick Bread

6 ounces (about 170gms) unsalted butter plus a little more to butter the pan

1 cup fresh sage, thinly sliced

1 and 2/3 all purpose flour plus a little for dusting pan

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (I used powder as I did not have fresh nutmeg)

1 tsp salt

1 cup solid packed pumpkin (from can)

1 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

Heat oven at 180. Grease loaf pan with butter and dust it with flour.

Melt butter over med-low fire. Add sage strips and cook till butter turns golden brown — should take about 5-8 mind. Let cool.

Sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg and whisk together with salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk pumpkin, eggs, sugar and the browned butter with sage. Once smooth and well mixed, add flour mix gradually till all incorporated.

Transfer to loaf pan. Smoothen top and bake for about 55 mins or till knife comes out smooth.

Let cool. Garnish with some  fresh sage leaves.