note: yes, this is an upside down cake and, yes, this is the downside ... believe me, on the first attempt it was better looking than the upside
a runaway karaoke session last night meant that i nearly didn't get to make this blog. luckily, knowing that i would be in tokyo this week, i wrote most of this last week when i cooked. let your mind go back a week and read on ...
... i've been working from home today; i don't think that i could ever be a writer, apart from the apparent lack of style, i think that i would go mad being in the house all day. in an effort to see some people i went to the starbucks down the road (it's healthier than going for a pint and i've discovered that it is recommended by fairtrade so can't be all bad). the fact that i could barely mumble my order and that i found myself slinking off to the corner with pete mccarthy's "mccarthy's bar" to hide from any other customers perhaps means that i really do need to interact more when i work from home - maybe i should start shouting over the fence at my neighbours?
in an effort to avoid seeing no-one on my blog as well as in my house, last week i contacted a few people running food blogs ... debbie from www.wordstoeatby.blogspot.com (that makes us related somehow?) recommended that i stop hassling her and instead cook something for her sugar high friday blogoff (i may have imposed that term on you debbie - sorry).
so i thought - what to cook?
first i considered toffee - the last time i made this was over an outdoor fire in a trangia pan. it didn't turn out all that good as all the toffee burnt to the bottom of the pan and we bent the thing trying to get it out. we did get it out in the end, but the trangia remained scarred and unusable from the experience. considering i'm still new to the learning to cook gig i thought best of breaking the pans ... at least for the moment.
next caramelised onions came to mind - but decided they didn't qualify as the lack of sugar and caramel probably made them a little too abstract for a friday ... (i'm trying to be professional here).
finally, with a little bit of prompting from the chef and a look at the "Books for Cooks 5" i decided on red plum caramel cake. i have it on good authority that this is a big time favourite at books for cooks (www.booksforcooks.com); why should i not take this opportunity to prove to the world that recipes are not a license to produce quality cakes, but that in the hands of truly inexperienced cooks, the entire thing can come out tasting like ... well, caramelised onions?? in conjunction with their recipe, i am also using a recent bfc purchase; mcgee on food & cooking for the science behind the food as i go along ...
the ingredients: [for the caramel] 175g caster sugar, 6 tbsp water, 4 large red plums [for the cake] 180g plain flour, 1tbsp baking powder, 160g butter, softened, 160g caster sugar (this is sugar high friday!), 4tpsp ground almonds, 3 organic eggs (med), 1 tsp natural vanilla (note: this is adjusted from the book recipe ~ other option is to use the book recipe, but increase the oven heat)
the caramel is obviously what we're all here for - this was the first time that i've ever made caramel and i have escaped without burns and the kitchen still in one piece. a secret that blanca taught me during the cooking: clean the pan with vinegar in order to ensure that there are no impurities that would destroy the caramel. place the sugar and water over the heat and stir until dissolved. increase the heat to boil, reduce and heat until dark brown begins to form at the edges. another good tip is to brush the sides of the pan while cooking in order to prevent the caramel from crystallising.
caramelisation is taking place; the process of heating the molecules to the point at which the begin to break apart. during this reaction, they change from a single, odourless, sweet molecule into literally hundreds of molecules that generate flavours (alcohol, butter, fruit, nuts etc.) and a rich brown colour. the longer you leave the caramel on the heat, the more the original sweet is broken down and the more bitter the end product will be. at this point of cooking, i involuntarily decided to part from the recipe; my caramel started bubbling as if i had cleaned it with fairy liquid instead of vinegar and hadn't washed out. i battled through to produce relatively good caramel (albeit with bubbles) at the other end. when cooked, pour the caramel into a cake tin (spring) and place the plum halves face down on top.
for the cake, cream the butter and sugar in a mixer. add the wet (eggs and vanilla) slowly allowing them to mix in with each addition. add the dry (flour, baking powder, almonds) and mix. pour the cake mixture onto the caramel base. cook in an oven at 150c for approximately 100 minutes+ (see note above and comment below about the heat) ...
it is good for the soul to write about culinary disasters and, no doubt, there are many in my future giving me tonnes of inspiration and soul. i managed to undercook the cake. when i released the spring the top of it was pretty liquidy. i tried to reseal the spring and put back in the oven, but the cake was never really the same again. it did taste good, but wasn't exactly attractive. the second attempt was a raging success ... but i'm happy to dwell on the failures for a while ...
p.s. i'm back to london tomorrow so blogging will resume to usual low standard, but regular timing ... until then ... have a happy sugar high friday!