Erin’s Chocolate, Fig and Walnut cake

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Having moved southern hemisphere to northern hemisphere a few months ago, I understand the blessing of the ‘fall bounty’ more truly. Our local farmers market and grocery shops have been full of bright harvest for the last few months. Now, as both the birds and leaves migrate southwards, the abundance has begun to fade, now revolving, as it does late in the season, around squash and pumpkins. The fig trees around our new home fruited late too, we have been tripping over the fruit as it came thick and fast in the last few weeks. Unfortunately, I feel a little guilty admitting to it, but neither Asher or I love fresh figs terribly. On the other hand, I really do not like fruit going to waste and so I had been gathering it up ‘to cook’ at a later date. Perishable as tender fresh figs are, Asher began to get frustrated finding my bowls of slightly fermented figs which were good only for adding to the compost. Anyhow, with a little (negative!) encouragement from him, I started trying to cook them up. I made chilli fig jam – a very tasty accompaniment to buttered toast. Erin’s birthday seemed like a good excuse to have a go at incorporating the jam into some baking. I played around with a few recipes to come up with the one below – the almond meal makes the batter it more dense than an average butter cake. I might keep playing with the recipe – I will keep you updated with any break-throughs!

Base
½ cup butter, softened (115g)
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup yoghurt
¾ cup milk
1 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1 cup almond meal
½ cup coco powder
1 tsp cardamon
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
⅛ tsp salt

Crumblings
75g butter
2/3 cup wholemeal spelt flour
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup walnuts (roasted)

1 cup fig jam

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 175oC.
2. Cream the butter and sugar together till light and fluffy.
3. Add the vanilla and eggs, beat till combined.
4. Combine the milk and yoghurt, and all the dry ingredients in two separate containers.
5. Begin adding a little of the milk mixture and a little of the flour mixture to the butter and sugar and mixing till combined, continue the cycle of adding the liquid and dry ingredients and the mixing till combined till all the ingredients are added.
6. Set aside.
7. Beat the butter and sugar for the ‘crumblings’, add in the flour till the mixture clumps together when you squeeze it with your hands.
8. Grease a bundt tin (or whatever tin you have decided to use!) and begin adding the batter, the crumblings, jam and walnuts to the tin, jam works better in the batter not at the edge near the tin. Spreading all the different components around equally will mean a more uniform result!
9. Bake it for about 50-55 minutes – just keep an eye on the browning – if it looks like its getting toasty round the edges and you want to let it go a little longer for the sake of a cooked centre – I use foil to protect it from over-browning-that-is-really-burning.
10. Serve with ice-cream or a little whipped cream – perhaps dusted with icing sugar.

Happy Birthday Jonno Round 2: or another cake

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an honest picture of all the trimming and extra ingredients

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Turning twenty one seems like a good enough reason to have two birthday cakes. After celebrating on the day with Mendl’s Courtesan au Chocolate (but the vanilla version), Jonno’s 21st party seemed a good reason to pull out the faithful white chocolate mud cake recipe that we’ve used and adapted from the Women’s Weekly Wicked Desserts Recipe book for several 21st-and-special-occasion-cakes. We made the 8x recipe (yep, you heard right, 8x the original recipe!) and this did for a large rectangular cake and two trays of small cup cakes (plus off-cuts). Enough to feed to a smallish sort of party gathered in celebration. I say ‘we’ because in our family, birthday cake baking has long been considered a team sport. When we were tiny, it was our grandparents who would come and help mum and dad pull off amazing feats of icing and butter cake inspired by the infamous Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday cake books. While it is no longer “Minnie and Brown* and the eleventh hour [the night before the party]”, we still like to make something special to mark milestones and I have more or less stepped into the role of Birthday cake project manager. A project-manager-come-baker who ropes in all the helpful apprentices I can get; mum, Asher, dad, even my talented-baker-friend Kate if she’s around. I love cooking but I am definitely not a solo flyer in the kitchen – perhaps too many cooks do intensify the kitchen experience, but I think that mostly you get more done and stay more sane if you cook in community.

Family history and philosophy of kitchen comradery aside, with this particular cake, you cook it very long and slow with the cake tin wrapped up in newspaper to ensure it cooks as evenly as possible. It is so large that you really don’t want to start cooking this baby too late at night – you may well be waiting up till the wee small hours if you do (don’t worry, its been done!). Attempting a cake this large is less of a risk if you trust your oven. This particular cake was the first one to be cooked in the new oven at home and possibly one of the last – the oven proved itself rather unpredictable and, although we managed fine in the end, the larger cake could have safely been labelled a caramel mud cake while the smaller cup cakes turned out more successfully – tiny white mud cup-cakes as expected. In the end, it is really all about how you sell a thing isn’t it?! Once the cake had (finally) cooked, I then set to work stressing over the decorating. Jonno is a keen muso so we had decided to create an edible version of his Nord synthesiser. With some cutting, puzzle work, ganache spreading, a bit of nifty fondant icing work and some chocolate and lollies – I managed to pull it off with a tonne of support from Mum and Asher (in particular).

Ingredients:
2 kg butter
1.2kg white chocolate melts
3.52kg caster sugar
2 lts milk
2.4kg plain flour
8 tsp baking powder
8 tsp vanilla essence
16 eggs
8 tbsp malted milk extract (or powder)

Decorations:
red fondant icing
chocolates of various sizes and shapes (for keys and buttons)
white icing in a tube for the piano key divisions

Ganache Ratio:
1 cup white chocolate
1/3 cup cream
cocoa to taste (for the brown icing on the cup cakes)

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 160oC.
2. Grease and line the large rectangular cake pan with baking paper. Wrap the outside of the tin in a thick layer of news paper to protect the cake while it cooks. The cup cakes were baked in free standing cardboard cup cake wrappers which were laid out on a baking tray.
3. Heat the butter, white chocolate and sugar milk together in a very large saucepan  (or two medium sized ones) till the butter, sugar and chocolate melt into a shiny, slightly thickened liquid.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and malted milk powder over the cooled butter mixture and mix to combine. Continue to mix till the flour has been distributed evenly throughout the mixture and any lumps have been smoothed out.
5. Beat the eggs and vanilla in a separate bowl to combine, add these to the mixture, ensuring the residual heat from the melting is not high enough to ‘cook’ the eggs on contact with the mixture.
6. Pour mixture into the large cake tin and bake for several hours until done all the way through. The small cup cakes took much less time to cook – more like 20-30 minutes. The time taken for each will vary with the oven used.
7. Make the ganache by slowly melting the chocolate and cream together in a saucepan (if you have an induction stove top, if you have a regular one, try a glass bowl over the saucepan – French name ‘bain marie’ – so the chocolate doesn’t cook). Refrigerate till it reaches spreading consistency.
8. The large rectangular cake was then trimmed (the hard crust is removed) and the pieces cut to construct a longer thinner rectangle. This was then iced with white chocolate ganache and the red fondant icing, rolled out to resemble the red sections of the Nord.
9. The keys (KITKAT chocolate bars cut to size), buttons, dials and knobs were added using a variety of different chocolate pieces and icing as cement. Bought ‘white fudge icing’ in a tube was used to define the keys (a pre-prepared food compromise I was so willing to make at about 10am on the morning of Jonno’s 2pm-start-time-party!)
10. The crotchet cup cakes were iced with the remaining white chocolate ganache turned brown with cocoa. Peppermint sticks were used as the stem.
11. Finally we sang, celebrated and shared this symbol of Jonno, his musicality and his birthday.

*[pet names for my grandparents]

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The birthday season continues …

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… and she’s the birthday girl!

In my family this is the ‘go-to’ cake. Need to cook something for visitors quick? Need to cook for the cake stall? Need to make a birthday special? Gwen Francis’ chocolate cake is the cake for the moment! A friend of my grandparents, she will enjoy immortality in our family for this tasty dessert. It is very simple (it’s a ‘melt and mix’ cake) making it very quick to throw together. You can dress it up (think cream and raspberries) or dress it down (think chocolate icing and smarties!) and it will still work. This one was for Ally for her birthday and was happily enjoyed by the whole family – even grandparents in another town a week later … with the help of freezer technology! Happy Birthday Ally!

80g butter
1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
3 level tbspoons cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 cup milk
3 eggs

Optional decorations:
Strawberries
Strawberry Jam
Whipped Cream (with a little icing sugar and vanilla)
Chocolate glaze

Method:
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
2. Melt the butter in the microwave (covered – for the sake of not cleaning the microwave afterwards).
3. Sift the flour and cocoa powder into a large mixing bowl (preferably attached to an electric mixer), add sugar, milk, eggs and slightly cooled butter to the bowl and beat on high for three minutes (assuming the mixer). If you are doing this by hand, stir briskly till combined.
4. Grease your chosen tin (heart shaped is pretty, circles work – a lamington tin will as well, the time of cooking may vary slightly however) and pour the batter in.
5. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
6. Decorate your cake with which ever ingredients suit your taste and the occasion! We halved the cake with a serrated knife, whipped some cream, sliced some strawberries and then layered the bottom half of the cake with jam, strawberries and cream before covering with the top half. Chocolate glaze was drizzled over the top. Best served with a little more cream or ice cream!