Entry 42: What Are Glutens Anyway?

Hello Koala fans!

A few weeks ago, two wonderful friends of mine asked if I’d like to stay with them for a couple of days (Hi Zel! Hi Nash!). We’ve known each other for about two years or so, playing World of WarCraft together. As always, I decided to put together something vaguely cakelike for them. I picked out all the ingredients, settled on a recipe well ahead of time and even managed to take photos for the blog. About two days before I was due to head up on the train, we talk online just to straighten out a few details like train times, bits I need to bring with me…

“Oh, you made cake for us? Really looking forward to it! 😀 ……it’s gluten-free, right?”

Uh oh.

Like most people, I’m vaguely aware of gluten-free stuff but no idea what’s actually involved with it or what I need to avoid. There was a slight, yet adorable, delay in looking up gluten-free recipes on the internet.

My niece receiving her first experience of youth-corrupting video games

My niece receiving her first experience of youth-corrupting video games.

My search proved rather more useful than I planned. I found a good website on gluten-free diets and it even had recipes for gluten-free cakes too. One of them looked like it might work:

https://www.coeliac.org.uk/gluten-free-diet-and-lifestyle/cooking-and-baking/gluten-free-cake-making/

I chose to go with the chocolate cake recipe. I also tried to enlighten the Koalas about coeliac disease and gluten fibres but I think I just ended up making them confused.

"Is this a gluten?"

“Is this a gluten?”

No, that’s the zergling I ordered off eBay. Glutens are a type of protein found in cereals such as wheat and rye. They cause an allergic reaction in people with coeliac disease, leading to stomach pains and other intestinal unpleasantness. Zerglings are creatures in StarCraft that rip through solid steel and eat people.

"Fascinating. I'm going to run away now."

“Fascinating. I’m going to run away now.”

While the Koala was setting a new world record for the 100 metre sprint, I assembled the ingredients to work on Zel and Nash’s cake.

"...*pant* *wheeze* ...I think I lost him..."

“…*pant* *wheeze* …I think I lost him…”

Eagle eyed readers may notice an extra ingredient in that photo – ground almonds. As I was reading up on gluten-free cakes, I often found comments that they were very dry compared to standard sponges. Mixing in a small amount of ground almonds can help to restore some of the missing moisture that comes from using gluten-free flour. Another hazard is that gluten helps to give a sponge cake form – as a cake rises, the gluten fibres start to form in the cake, trapping air and helping to make the cake firm. It can be helpful to use a little extra baking powder, even with self raising gluten-free flour, just for the extra security.

Sugar and butter. Gluten-free doesn't necessarily mean "slimming".

Sugar and butter. Gluten-free doesn’t necessarily mean “slimming”.

The gluten-free flours is interesting stuff. Despite being made from things like maize, tapioca and potatoes (!), it’s identical to work with as normal flour. I imagine that’s one of the things that scares people off about specialist baking like gluten-free or nut allergies; that they will find themselves in completely unfamiliar territory. Reassuring though it was to work with, whether it would actually *taste* like a normal sponge cake was still a cause for concern.

"Hang on, let me see if I can unjam the whisk from here!"

“Hang on, let me see if I can unjam the whisk from here!”

So far, it was coming together reasonably well, although the recipe did call for the drier ingredients to be mixed together first and the eggs last:

"Nope, no glutens in here. Or zerglings."

“Nope, no glutens in here. Or zerglings.”

The cake also took roughly the same length of time to bake as a standard one. After tipping out onto the rack to cool, I set about whipping together the icing to go on the top-

"Now, I know this looks bad, but it totally wasn't us..."

“Now, I know this looks bad, but it totally wasn’t us…”

And so *another* 40 minutes later, I finished *another* gluten-free sponge and decorated it.

The finished cake.

The finished cake.

This entry has a good and bad ending, regrettably. Unfortunately, the day after the cake was made, I came down with the flu and wasn’t in a condition to anywhere, let alone on a several hour train journey to see my friends. However, the cake was every bit as good as my other sponge cakes and tasted absolutely fine. So hopefully, when I head up to see my friends soon, I’ll be able to make them a gluten-free cake with confidence. ^_^

Entry 15: Where The Heck Have You Been?

Hey Koala fans….

I apologise for not uploading anything new over the past couple of weeks. I’ve been having some problems with depression lately and it’s really sapped my enthusiasm for doing anything at all. I’m starting to get back to my old self though, although it might take a little more time. Just bear with me a little.

 

Now, to get back into the swing of things, last week I made a birthday cake for a friend at work (and a big hello to Marie-Claire if she’s reading this). She made a request for marble cake and I said I’d give it a go. Marble cake is one of those things that looks rather impressive with all the random swirls of colour but is actually not much harder to do than any other sponge. My usual haunt yielded a reliable recipe to work from:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/5557/chocolate-marble-cake

To top it off, I settled on some chocolate buttercream icing, which I’ll talk about in a little while.

"Hey Koala fans - did you miss me?" <3

“Hey Koala fans – did you miss me?” ❤

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it before on here but my kitchen lacks a food processor, so all my mixing is usually done by hand (or occasionally paw if I’m not keeping an eye on him). The first step was creaming together all of the butter and caster sugar, similar to the way we’ve done before:

He's getting better at this. It only took one hour to clean the walls this time.

He’s getting better at this. It only took one hour to clean the walls this time.

After this, the eggs were added one at a time, along with a little vanilla extract. Without the flour, the result looked a little like runny custard, or the “food” that is served on the hovercraft in The Matrix:

Cakes look really odd without any flour in...

Cakes look really odd without any flour in…

Either way, it didn’t look particularly appetising, so I made an effort to get the flour in as quickly as possible. The mixture thickened up nicely, looking more like the sponge mixes I’ve made on here previously.

It was at this point my phone’s battery decided to pass out, which was something of a problem as it’s camera is the one I use for photographing on here. However, given this place is called “WordPress” rather than “Low Quality Photopress”, a description will have to do. The mixture was split in half and two (fairly largish) tablespoons of cocoa powder were added to half of the mixture. (Random note – why is tablespoon called a tablespoon? Most spoons tend to be used on tables. Unless, of course, many years ago people ate tables with this type of spoon…answers below, please.)

Then came the rather fun bit of adding alternate spoonfuls of chocolate mix and vanilla mix. It was really cool – the bottom of the tin looked like a chessboard at the end. Then I repeated it the other way around for the next layer, until all the cake mix was used up. To get the marbling effect, I swished a knife through the mix a few times – the key bit is not to overdo it though, otherwise it’ll just become one rather dull generic colour:

"Oooo, swirly...."

“Oooo, swirly….”

I put the sponge in the oven for about 50 minutes on 170*C and made sure to test the centre with a skewer. It was just as well I did so, as the bottom inch of the skewer was sticky at the end. Another 15 minutes and the sponge was fine. Next time I’ll try a slightly higher temperature.

So the sponge was in fairly good shape – that just left the icing. Eagle eyed readers will have noticed that I haven’t listed any ingredient quantities for the icing and this is because I have absolutely no idea how much icing sugar I used. The box for the sugar suggested 75g of butter to 175g of icing sugar. When I tried this, I found it wasn’t mixing too well, so I added about a tablespoon of hot water and then I just topped it up with icing sugar until it was the right thickness. I think icing, especially buttercream, is one of those things that you kind of need to play by ear. If it looks about right and it’s clinging onto the spoon the right way, then you’re probably good. I also chucked in a heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder as well:

The finished cake.

The finished cake.

So it certainly looks good, especially after the chocolate curls were added on top. Unfortunately, I am now aware of the cake decorating section of my local supermarket and all the fun things that can be done in future.

My friend was kind enough to offer me a slice of the cake as well:

Absolutely "marble"-ous.

Absolutely “marble”-ous.

Cringe inducing pun out of the way, the cake was fairly good, I thought. The texture was moist and light, the buttercream icing was a definite success. If I had to complain, I’d probably say the chocolate flavour of the sponge wasn’t particularly strong – maybe some  chocolate curls would have given it a better taste. Not bad overall.

*****

I’m still not quite 100% yet but I will try to get another entry up next weekend, even if it’s just something simple like a salad. Hopefully the Koala and I will see you soon. ❤

 

Entry 8: The Father’s Day Cake

Hello again, Koala fans!

Following the somewhat exhausting to make quiche last week, I decided to go with a more straightforward recipe this week. However, straightforward doesn’t necessarily mean “flawless”.

 

This weekend was Father’s Day in the UK and although I love my dad to bits, Father’s Day has always been something of a niggle for me. It’s the usual conundrum that I never know what to get him and he doesn’t know what he wants. Usually, we go to our local pub restaurant as a compromise (and also because the food there is *fantastic*) but this year, the family’s wallets were feeling a little more stretched than usual, so we had to give it a miss. Also, I don’t think they allow koalas inside. >.>

 

So, if you can’t buy a gift for them and you can’t take them out somewhere, you make something for them instead. My mum used to make these absolutely divine chocolate cakes when I was younger but sadly doesn’t have much time to bake these days. This week, I’m attempting something that approaches on blasphemy and making the same style of cake she used to. First off, we need a recipe for a good chocolate sponge and after a little casting around, I found this one on Allrecipes.co.uk:

http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/17558/chocolate-victoria-sponge.aspx

However, I did not follow the recipe completely – I had my own plans for the filling and topping – so I just used the ingredients on the left hand side. As usual, here’s the ingredients photo:

It's amazing how affectionate the Koala can be at the mention of the words "chocolate cake".

It’s amazing how affectionate the Koala can be at the mention of the words “chocolate cake”.

The first step was mixing the butter and caster sugar together in a method called creaming. There’s a rather good video of the process here, which helps to give you a rough idea of which mixing speeds to use and when:

"Ummm, shouldn't there be more than this...?"

“Ummm, shouldn’t there be more than this…?”

I was starting to get a horrible feeling of deja vu from last week, except instead of having too much, there was too little this time. After pouring the mixture in and baking it, my suspicions were correct:

Two tins, one cake. Not to be confused with an infamous Youtube video.

Two tins, one cake. Not to be confused with an infamous Youtube video.

The sponge had turned out well, with a fantastic smell and a firm, yet spongy texture. However, the end result was very much on the small side:

"Think Koala."

“Think Koala.”

I had two tins, a hefty amount of remaining flour, butter and sugar. With another six eggs, I could attempt to surpass my mum’s original recipe and make a triple layer chocolate cake. The idea was sheer madness. However, given that the only person that could talk me out of the idea was a plush toy koala with a insatiable lust for cake, we set to work:

"Now *that's* a proper quantity of cake mix!"

“Now *that’s* a proper quantity of cake mix!”

So basically I repeated the recipe for the sponge mix, using double of each ingredient (6 eggs, 300g of sugar, 300g of butter, 220g of flour and 80g of cocoa):

With a little Koala magic, these will become sponge cakes.

With a little Koala magic, these will become sponge cakes.

"Koala Magic" in this case consisted of 190°C of fire for 20 minutes.

“Koala Magic” in this case consisted of 190°C of fire for 20 minutes.

And this is where I made a fatal mistake, even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time. Both cakes were firm to the touch and smelled fine and I tipped them onto the rack to cool:

"Do a couple more layers and it'll be the same height as me!"

“Do a couple more layers and it’ll be the same height as me!”

While the cake was cooling, I phoned my mum to discover the ancient secret of making cake filling:

* 1 oz of butter

* 4 oz of icing sugar

* 2 heaped teaspoons of cocoa, with a few drops of hot water poured on both

I may have overdone the water slightly as I had to use an awful lot more icing sugar to get the icing to bind together. However, when I taste tested it, it was *exactly* the same as the icing my mum used to make.

It was either this or forcibly remove him from the icing bowl.

It was either this or forcibly remove him from the icing bowl.

Then it was time to spread the icing. If you recall from earlier, I mentioned I made a fatal mistake with the sponges. In this instance, it turned out that the centre one was undercooked and when I lifted it off to spread the icing…:

"It's a disaster! A delicious spongy chocolatey disaster!"

“It’s a disaster! A delicious spongy chocolatey disaster!”

If I had remembered to test the centre with a fork or knife, just I did with the first cake I made for this blog, I would have popped it back in the oven. Fortunately, the other two layers were absolutely fine. I finished off the cake with a little melted chocolate on the top while my assistant finished off the remains of the middle layer:

The finished sponge cake.

The finished sponge cake.

I’m pleased to say the cake was a big hit with my dad and the rest of the family, along with the small box of whiskey truffles I bought for him. Definitely a big success!

Not pictured: the missing quarter of cake or the missing Koala.

Not pictured: the missing quarter of cake or the missing Koala.