Day 20: Friday takes the cake(s)

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The chocolate one

It was a cake fuelled end to the week.

Thursday’s main ingredient was chicken, roasted, with a range of accompaniments and learning how to carve a bird so that everyone gets an even serving of brown and white meat. Elegant or what?

How to elegantly carve and serve roast chicken chicken and stuffing

Thursday afternoon’s demo was led by Pam, one of the lovely Ballymaloe teachers who has a real passion for all things baking related. Starting with the basic (if there is such a thing) Victoria Sponge recipe, Pam showed us tips for the ensuring we get the lightest of sponges and then different ways of decorating an orange, a coffee, a lemon and a chocolate version.

“It doesn’t matter what it looks like and how you dress it up, if the cake isn’t any good we’ll know” – Pam


All the above whipped up in the afternoon’s demo. See – this woman is a cake genius!

I’ve made a fair few cakes in my time. But normally I would use one key ingredient that we were not allowed anywhere near; an electric beater. Have you ever tried to cream butter and sugar (noting we’re in the middle of winter please people) for the cake batter and then cream more butter for 2 kinds of buttercream? Talk about elbow grease! Full appreciation to grandparents and earlier generations who did everything by hand. Never again will I take my lovely Kenwood for granted. Basically, it was hard work.

I was making the chocolate cake with chocolate wafers. (Oh and French Onion Soup, one of my favourite favourites. Which shouldn’t get eclipsed by the cake fest but lets see how we go)

The key to a classic Victoria sponge is equal parts butter, sugar, flour and eggs. Given that (especially organic eggs) come in varying sizes, some people even weigh their eggs first and then measure their other ingredients based on their exact weight. It’s a precise science. (Or is it art?)

When doing it by hand the trick is to make sure the butter is soft enough before you even begin beating. All morning there were little plates of cut up butter tucked away into all the warm corners of the kitchen. Then it’s wooden spoon, elbow grease and ideally another person (with bigger shoulders than you) on hand to take over when you tire. (Which for me wasn’t long!)

It’s amazing to see the ingredients transform. The butter goes an almost bright white colour; light and fluffy before you beat in the castor sugar. Eggs are then added one at a time before the dry ingredients are gently folded in and it’s popped into the oven. The sponges cook so quickly too. 21 minutes in at 180C and they were on the racks cooling. Barely enough time to get on with anything else.

Butter cream is more butter, whipped, then icing sugar and other flavouring (for me chocolate) added. Armed with my palette knife this was then sandwiched in between the layers and then around the cake as a buttercrumb layer – e.g. the undercoat.

Once cooled on top of that goes a glace icing, a thinner icing made with less butter, more icing sugar and lots of cocoa. And then finally decorations! Chocolate wafers are chocolate, melted and sprinkled with fancy bits. I used 62% dark chocolate and then (using the nifty little paper piping bag I learnt how to make) I piped in white chocolate and used chopped pistachio nuts for their lovely green colours. And then it was done!

My chocolately efforts

I was pleased with the sponge but there’s definitely room for improvement in the icing layers. Needless to say it didn’t quite come out looking like my little sketch! But, I was pretty chuffed overall. (And on a major sugar high for most of Friday)

Fun! And there were some amazing cakes. I should have taken more photos. People went all out! There were caramels, shards, lattices, sugar flowers, pralines – there are some amazingly creative and talented people here in this course.

Oh two other great moments from Friday.

1. My french onion soup.

This is one of my all time favourite deliciousness. And from a simple pile of onions, cooked long, low and slow… the end result surprises me every time. It’s definitely one of those soups that tastes better if you’ve made it yourself and put all the work in to take it from one very inedible state to one very edible one.

2. My first sourdough loaf!

From the sourdough starters we put on earlier this week, Friday night culminated in Kate and I baking our first loaves of sourdough. Fresh bread hot out of the oven with butter and a glass of red. Could anything be more simple and delicous? (Clearly not as we polished off a loaf and a half!)

It’s such a lovely process. Once you have your starter established (and again we’re lucky as we’ve been donated a healthy amount of starter from the very well established Ballymaloe one) you basically need to decide 2 days ahead of when you actually want the loaf. Then 48 hours beforehand you take a portion of your starter and then add more flour to feed it up. The following day you add more flours and salt. Then 24 hours ahead you fold it into a loaf and let it rest. And then it’s ready to cook. Ideally in a solid pan in a hot hot oven so it develops its amazing crust.

Those wild yeasts are really something.

An (albeit slightly bread bloated end) to another amazing week at this place.

Happy weekends!




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