Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Daring Bakers' June 2012 - Battenberg Cake

Mandy of What The Fruitcake?! came to our rescue last minute to present us with the Battenberg Cake challenge! She highlighted Mary Berry’s techniques and recipes to allow us to create this unique little cake with ease. 

I had never heard of or seen a Battenberg cake but our host provided this background information: 

The first Battenberg cake was made to celebrate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, Princess Victoria, to husband Prince Louis of Battenberg. It’s traditionally flavoured with almond and has the signature Battenberg markings, that is, the yellow and pink squares (said to represent the four princes of Battenberg). The strips of sponge are glued together using jam (normally apricot) and the whole cake is covered in marzipan. Sometimes the edges are crimped and the top is patterned with a knife.

I wonder why the four princes were represented by pink and yellow squares? Perhaps to drive future bakers crazy. So I learned a few lessons this month.

1. Even a fancy tricksy cake like this probably won't look spectacular unless you put in a decent effort. I was haphazard with the slicing the cake and hurried the process of gluing the cakes together with jam. So the end result was a very amateur looking cake that I was a little embarrassed to present at my Mothers Group.

2. Chocolate plastique is not my friend. It was mandatory to use a firm edible covering - marzipan, fondant or chocolate plastique. According the instructions, chocolate plastique is a modelling chocolate made by melting chocolate, combining it with corn syrup, cooling it, then kneading it until it is pliable enough to roll out or mold. I was highly sceptical that this would work, but after reading the forum I decided to give it a go. I should have trusted my baker's instinct. Despite kneading for a very long time the chocolate remained grainy, oily and not even close to pliable. I was literally growling with frustration and had to throw a whole block worth of chocolate in the bin. Grrrrrrrrrr. Fortunately I had a good stash of almond meal at home and was able to quickly make some marzipan to enable to me to complete the challenge.

3. Really boring food photos can be improved with software.  

Thank you to Mandy for hosting this month. As always I learned a lot and I am really looking forward to seeing what the much better bakers and photographers of the Daring Kitchen came up with. 

PS - Check out this very cool Rubik's cube Battenburg 

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Daring Cooks June 2012- Cannelloni

The finished product - a terrible photo but it was delicious 
Manu from Manu’s Menu was our Daring Cooks lovely June hostess and has challenged us to make traditional Italian cannelloni from scratch! We were taught how to make the pasta, filling, and sauces shared with us from her own and her family’s treasured recipes. 

Every time I make pasta from scratch I get halfway through and swear I will never do it again, and this time was no exception. I have made ravioli a couple of times and also fettuccine and while it was fun, I always felt that the results didn't justify the effort. However, I had never made cannelloni before before and after eating this I was impressed and amazed. I will be very immodest and say honestly that this was the best cannelloni I have ever eaten. The texture was perfect, soft but not too soft, with a gentle bite to it. The handmade pasta combined with two classic sauces and baked up on a cold autumn night made for a fantastic meal that we shared with my Dad. 

I used the host's Cannelloni Di Carne recipe which you can find here. The only thing that I did differently was to follow the instructions in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (my favourite Italian cookbook) for making pasta dough by hand. She instructs you to knead for a "full 8 minutes" until the dough is "as smooth as baby skin". So I set the timer and kneaded away. It seemed like a long time and if I hadn't been timing I probably would have stopped after about 5 minutes. But I noticed after around 7 minutes there was a significant change in the consistency if the dough - it became  smoother and more supple. 

The most tedious part of making pasta is the rolling, rolling and re-rolling and that is the point at which I curse myself for forgetting that I swore never to do this again. (Coincidentally a few days after making this I saw in Aldi an electric pasta roller and actually thought that is not such a crazy idea.) But it is also awkward and time consuming to boil the pasta before filling it with the meat sauce. Plus you have the make the meat sauce and the cheese sauce and then bake the completed product. Fortunately I lucked out with a patient and happy baby on this particular day and the end result was really spectacular. 

Many thanks to Manu for this challenge (and to Marcella), I can no longer say that its not worth making your own pasta. 

A collage makes this look much easier than it was

My faithful assistant, also used to assess smoothness of the dough