Geek cakes

It’s nice to have something to look forward to.  I’ve been spending much of the last few months concentrating on the savoury side of GF cooking in preparation for what we do next year.  Yes, it’s still on the cards, but no, I’m still not going to put the kiss of death on it by putting it in writing.  Suffice to say the experiments have been equal measures fun and frustration and, while I’ve carried on caking in the interim [note to self: MUST post some pics at some point!] the most fun cake I’ve made in a while was this years Maclaren Formula 1 car for my husband’s birthday.  And that was almost a month ago.

However, thanks to the lovely Miss Cakehead, I have something else to get stuck into.  A few months back, she organised Cakes for Japan, which managed to raise £2K in three hours flat, purely from selling cakes donated by cakers all over London.  This time, she’s organising a geek cake shop as part of Internet Week Europe, with proceeds to Pancreatic Cancer Action.  So all cakes themed around Steve Jobs/Apple, or taking inspiration from other geeky things.

Which will have me making Twitter cupcakes for definite, and hopefully having more fun letting my inner geek out with other creations.  It may have been kept somewhat under wraps since leaving Syzygy all those years ago, but I know it’s in there somewhere…


Oooooh – excited!

I love it when the future starts to take shape, and round here it most certainly has.  We’ve been talking for a while about how to take things further, and it looks like we might have found a way of doing that.  I’m not going to tempt fate by saying too much here, or getting my hopes too firmly pinned to it, but if this one comes off, 2012 is going to be quite a year.

However, the preparation for all of this is going to mean lots of time in the kitchen and lots less time available to blog.  Will update when I can, but please keep your fingers crossed for me 🙂

The great gluten-free pork pie experiment – part 3

If there’s one thing I really ought to do, it’s finish off – for now at least – my gluten-free pork pie experiment posts.  To recap, I had done a little research, as I was sickening for a decent pork pie, worked out a couple of recipes to fiddle with to see what might result, and then done the initial experiment.  All that was lacking – from the blog, at any rate – was the results of that process… which is when the computer and other issues kicked in.

Gluten-free pork pie, cut in half and ready to eatAnd this is what we ended up with, although the camera flash has bleached it out a bit. Once chilled, the pies had a delicious filling and jelly – good – and a nice, crunchy crust. However, for all that the crust was crunchy, it was realistically also a bit hard. Not tough the way a crust with gluten can go, because from experience it’s pretty much impossible to overwork a gluten-free flour.

It’s entirely possible I’m being too demanding, of course, and that this is as good as it gets, but since it’s only my first attempt at a raised crust, I’m convinced at this point that there has to be a way of improving upon it and getting a result that is crunchy on the outside, but tender and crumbly enough to have that proper melt in the mouth texture I associate with Mum’s pork pies in my childhood.  Fingers crossed!

Plain eggless sponge – the vegan adaptation experiment

I was having a chat with someone in one of my favourite Facebook groups last night.  It won’t surprise anyone to hear that the group in question is a bunch of ladies who are obsessed with making beautiful and delicious cakes.  Someone posted up a request for a decent eggless sponge recipe – something actually worth eating.  The lovely Sandra posted up this recipe, as the first eggless recipe she’d actually found to be edible.

Of course, the next step was someone wondering whether it was possible to do a dairy free version of the recipe, and we all got to thinking of alternative for the condensed milk, which seems to have a dual role of binder and sweetener in this recipe.  My first thought was using coconut cream, as I had a 250ml carton sitting on a kitchen shelf needing a cake to call home, and volunteered myself for the experiment.

What I’d not initially considered, of course, is that the original recipe also calls for butter, which may be part of what makes the original taste nice.  Still, I had some Trex in the fridge as a substitute, and decided that, so long as I tasted the mix and adjusted the flavouring before getting it into the oven to bake, I probably couldn’t go too far wrong.

While the recipe in question could be used as well for a large cake as for cupcakes, I decided to use cupcakes for proof of concept: if it turns out as nice for cupcakes as I think it will, I’ll definitely be using it in future as a sort of vegan Madeira.

Here’s how it went:

Preheat the oven to 180C.  Harvey helped out, as he’s finished school for the summer, so between us we added 310g of Dove’s Farm plain gluten free flour, 1.5tsp baking powder, 1tsp bicarbonate of soda, and 0.75tsp xanthan gum to a large bowl.  I got Harvey to stir this gently to mix it all evenly, and then we added 250ml of coconut cream, which we mixed in thoroughly before adding 225g of melted Trex and 235ml of orange juice, plus 2tsp vanilla essence.

So far, so good.  However, since the original recipe calls for close on 400ml of fluid in the form of the condensed milk, we weren’t surprised to see that it was going to take more fluid to get us where we needed, and that, like it or not, the mixture we had in the bowl wasn’t really sweet enough to call itself a ‘proper’ cake.  So, testing all the way, we ended up adding 100g of golden syrup in total, plus another 120ml of orange juice.  And by the time we’d done that, we had something that looked and tasted like a decent cake batter.

Some 35 minutes of baking later – which is a lot for a cupcake, even in a muffin case, and I finally called a halt to things.  There was no doubt that the cakes were cooked, but the texture, just from doing the spring test with a finger, made me suspect we had a problem on our hands, even before we got them out of the tin.  Yes, the cakes sprung back, but there was an obvious underlying squidginess that had me thinking of steamed puddings.

Actually, steamed pudding is not a bad way to think of the final result we achieved.  There was a lot of melted fat in the base of my muffin trays once the cakes were removed from the tins and the texture of the first one we demolished tested was very much more of a pudding than a cake.

And so, in one sense, we have a failure.  We didn’t end up with a cake.  However, for all that we didn’t get a cake out of the deal, the underlying flavour was good, and could only be improved by reducing the amount of Trex.  I think, were we to lower the amount of Trex and swap sugar for the golden syrup, we’d have a much better result.  So that’s an experiment for later in the week and next time, I’m pretty sure, we’ll have a winner on our hands 🙂


Back online at last!

It has been far too long since I last posted on here.  Between issues of family illness – my lovely Granny, who has been defying all medical expectations – and then some kind of problem with my computer which has been making internet access intermittent at best and impossible at worst, it’s not been possible to get on here, so it’s lovely to be back.

Fortunately, everything in the kitchen is working, so I’ve been busy baking through the last months with a mixture of cakes and quiches: everything from cupcakes for my brother’s wedding to girlie birthday cakes, via a Bugatti Veyron cake and a number of yummy vegetarian quiches.

And right now I have in the oven another experiment – of which more in another post – and the smell wafting round the house is amazing.  Which probably means it’s time for me to go and get things out of the oven.  Mmmmm… cake!

The Allergy and Gluten-Free Show, London Olympia 2

I hate exhibitions.  No, really, I do.  Loathe them.  While I have friends who relish the opportunity to go and sample products, enter prize draws at different stands – one has an impressive record for winning such things, too – and come away with bagfuls of free samples, I generally steer well clear.  After all, it’s not my idea of fun to wander round a crowded exhibition hall along with hundreds of other people all crammed into the same space trying generally to see the same things at something approximating the same time.

So I’ll admit that since dragging my long-suffering husband to the Baby Show back in 2005, when I was pregnant with Harvey, I haven’t been to any others.

There was, however, one other show I went to in 2005, and that was what was – at the time – just called The Allergy Show.  I went with a friend who was a member of Coeliac UK and had free tickets, and we wandered around tasting gluten-free foods and trying out some of the cosmetics – this was before any dietary diagnoses for me, so I was far more concerned at the time with my reaction to cosmetics.  Overall, we hadn’t been impressed, and the highlight of the day proved to be sitting in a bar opposite Olympia 2 after we’d exhausted the show, enjoying an ice-cold drink and sharing a nice bowl of chips.

Still, things do move on and, as I’d not been since having to drop gluten, lactose and soy from my diet, it seemed as good a time as ever to go back, see what was new and hope to see something that made it worth the trip.

The biggest clue to how things have developed is in the name – The Allergy and Gluten-Free Show.  Where my previous visit seemed to show more of a balance of stands, with perhaps a predominance of products for asthma sufferers (although that may be the size of the stands, of necessity bigger when you’re thinking of bedding etc), food intolerances and allergies seem to be the bulk of the exhibition these days.  And while there are some big high street players in there – Sainsbury’s and Asda both have demo stands, M&S had a stand sampling cakes and some rolls – as well as some of the larger brands from the ‘free from’ universe – Juvela, Dietary Specials, Orgran, Amisa, Dove’s Farm and Lactofree to name but a few – it was refreshing to see that there are also some smaller companies booking stands.  Which is perhaps testament to the power of the internet to transform the way we buy things.  Either way, you won’t find me complaining to see the likes of Sweet Cheeks, WAG Free Café or Cake Crusader exhibiting at the show, because they all started from a similar position of being sick of the status quo and are doing their bit to change it.

Of course, the exhibition hall was crowded.  Of course, there wasn’t enough room to allow people to walk freely between the stands, especially once you factored in the buggies and bags and everything else, which meant I probably didn’t see everything I might have wanted, purely out of frustration trying to get from one place to another.

Of course it was hot and stuffy and noisy in there, which saps your patience and make you far less likely to persist in your quest to find all the stalls you’d earmarked in advance.  And of course it turned into a scrum when M&S decided to just dump their boxed products on the counter and let people take them home for free – one minute I was innocently holding a box of lemon cake to check the ingredients, the next someone was trying to grab it out of my hands – but I’m not going to blame that one on the organisers.

Overall, however, it was a positive experience.  I’ve tasted some delicious things today, and some passable ones.  Mostly, I’ve met people who were passionate about what they were doing, wanting to make their product the best they can, and that can only be good for those of us who suffer with food intolerances and allergies, whether we like exhibitions or not.  I’d give the event 8/10 for content, but 6.5/10 for realisation.

Will I be going back next year?  On the strength of this year’s exhibitors, probably.  But it would be nice for the exhibition’s organisers to look into taking on more space so that people can move freely, sit down and rest from time to time and generally enjoy the show, rather than endure it.

ETA: If you were wondering why I’ve not described any stalls and their offerings in particular detail, it’s because I found a few that I really liked, with some truly fabby things on them, and wanted to do them justice separately, rather than them getting lost in my views on the Allergy Show.  I’ll be posting them up in the next few days 🙂

Why oh why

…do all horrible things have to come at once?

Having enjoyed our pork pie lunch – no, not forgotten, and pics are waiting to be downloaded from the camera the minute I can get the lead back from my husband – I had a call from Mum telling me Granny had fallen and knocked herself for six.  Actually, from the sounds of it, she managed to knock herself clear over the grandstand and into the streets beyond.

So, one hurried day trip to Gloucestershire yesterday to see her, and now we wait and pray to see how things develop.

After the emotions of the day, I was rather looking forward to getting into the kitchen and putting together the week’s starting order for Kash – baking therapy – but it was not to be.  Somewhere near the end of the brownies’ cooking time, the heating element in my oven died, and further baking became impossible.  Cue frantic phone calls to every supplier in London this morning to find a replacement, only to be forced to admit defeat and have to order one on an overnight to get here tomorrow.

I feel bad for Kash, and I feel doubly bad for Granny, for whom I was going to bake some flapjacks and stick them in the post along with a picture Harvey drew to cheer her up.

My friend, however, did find a silver lining, cheering me with the thought that the heating element could have given up, instead, the day I needed to bake Harvey’s birthday cake.  She’s right, of course, but I apparently went a funny shade of green at the prospect.

So here, in so many ways, is to a quiet and uneventful week.