Thursday, 24 June 2010

X Marks the Spot

Thank God for the internet. It means that when I get a request for an unfamilar cake subject I can look it up ~ which saves the whole looking blank and playing 20 questions thing.

So when an email request for a birthday cake in the style of the X-Box logo came through a few days ago that's exactly what I did, and 5 mins of googling later not only was I familiar with the X Box logo I was able to say 'no problem', one shiny silver and green domed cake coming right up.

It has to be said that sponge cake isn't the most forgiving material to sculpt, it's soft, springy and full of air - which makes it great to eat but not so easy to carve a smooth curve on - and the more you try the more cake you carve - which makes it perfectly possibly to lop off most of your cake in the search for perfection. The trick is to recognise this and use the other tools at your disposal to fill in the imperfections, namely buttericing and sugarpaste.

Think of buttericing as plaster and sugarpaste as wallpaper - the buttericing smooths out any lumps and bumps and the sugarpaste gives a uniform finish. For this cake I used a white sugarpaste and coloured in myself using a touch of black food colouring. As a tip it's easy to colour your own pastel colours in icing but for strong colours i.e black, deep blues, greens, reds etc it's worth buying the pre-coloured sugarpaste as otherwise, whilst you may end up with perfectly sculpted upper arms due to all the kneading you're unlikely to get an even colour in your icing.

The shiny silver finish to this cake was achieved by using a pearlised spray ~ they're available in most good cake decorating shops now and the ones I use are the PME Edible Lustre Sprays, they come in a whole range of colours and are great if you need to give anything a silver or gold finish.

For me, the best bit with any cake is seeing the recipients face when they see it for the first time, and it's especially great when they takes the time afterwards to say how much they enjoyed it, which is exactly what happened with this cake ~ only this being the 21st Century and social media being king the compliment didn't come by post but by twitter.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Flat as a Cupcake

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is how to get cupcakes to come out of the oven with a flat top, rather than something that resembles a miniature volcano. Without fail, the answer to this connundrum lies in building a good relationship with your oven ...

Oven temperatures are not an exact science, in fact rarely does the temperature on the dial match the temperature in the oven ~ and the differences can be extreme. My current oven cooks around 10C above the stated temperature, my Mum's is at least 20C above. The upshot of this is that while a recipe calls for a temperature calls for 180C cooking temperature the actual temperature your oven is cooking at may bear no relation.

This gives rise to a challange, but one that is simple to resolve using either of the following methods:

1. Invest in  / or borrow an oven thermometer and measure the temperature in your oven.

2. Trial and error, if your cakes are getting burnt or rising more than you'd like, or if they're not cooking in the stated time turn the temperature of your oven up or down 10C and see what result you get, then keep experimenting until you get the result you want.

Of course just because you have discovered the optimum temperature for flat topped cupcakes doesn't mean you shouldn't turn the heat up occasionally. After all there aren't many things that beat the crispy crunch of those volcano like cupcake tops, still warm from the oven.