Monday, 2 August 2010

Cake Galore!

All moved in, sadly no books yet unpacked (despite me theoretically setting aside tonight to do it... and my ironing, incidentally, which also hasn't happened). Luckily I put a couple of books in my last minute bag, so haven't been short on reading material.

As promised - or rather, as offered - here is the recipe for the Apricot Meringue Gateau I made the other day. Basically I took two different recipes from Afternoon Teas: Homemade Bakes & Party Cakes and doctored them a very small amount. To be honest, you can substitute any fruit for the apricot - I think this would be lovely with mixed berries and kiwi fruit, for instance. It was all much easier than I anticipated. But - warning - you will need an electric whisk. Or lots of muscles.

Whenever I put recipes up, I assume total ignorance, and that lots of things will go wrong. This is because I hate recipes which assume you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of baking ('until it is the consistency of creme brulee' or whatever) and especially those which don't give warning for the things which might collapse or crumble or not work... Basically I've added my own irreverent comments to each step. Ok, warnings done, here is the recipe:

1.) Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/Gas Mark 3. Grease and line two circular sandwich tins. Nobody EVER does this first, but recipes always put it first, so I'm going to follow suit.

2.) Whisk four egg whites until they're stiff
- i.e. they hold their position if you make little mountains in them. (Separating eggs is, I discovered, much easier using your hands - break the egg, put the lot in your hands over the bowl, and pass the yolk between your hands until there is no egg white yet.) I couldn't find any use for four left over egg yolks... any ideas?

At this stage, and indeed all the whisking stages, whisking too much is better than whisking too little, I find... obviously, as Goldilocks would say, whisking just the right amount it best.

3.) Add 110g/4oz/half a cup of soft light brown sugar (brown caster), and continue to whisk until the mixture softens again. Then fold in the same amount of sugar again, with a little vanilla essence. 'Fold in' is one of those lovely baking phrases which everyone interprets to their own discretion - I see it as stirring but with a horizontal, rather than circular, motion. Oh, and vanilla essence is one of those ingredients that surely can't ever really be necessary, but feels fun.

4.) Put half the mixture in each tin, spread evenly, and bake for 40 minutes. Leave to cool. But of course we'll be getting on with the next bit, not just watching it cool. A tip I nabbed from Delia Smith, and which seemed to work, is to turn the oven off after about 30 minutes or so, and then leave it in the cooling oven for... well, any time really. I left it in for about 25 minutes in a cooling oven. And I have no way of telling whether a meringue is cooked or not - it's obvious on top, but not so obvious underneath. What with the top getting in the way.

5.) Now for the filling. Whisk (or, indeed, whip) 300ml/half a pint/1.25cups of double cream. That might be known as 'heavy cream' in America? Basically, the least healthy cream on which you can lay your hands. The recipe book suggests you whip it alongside 25g/1oz/4 tablespoons of icing sugar (also known as confectioners' sugar?) which I did, but I think it would have been quite sweet enough without it. Chose, based on the sweetness of your tooth...

6.) Chop up the contents of a 150g/50z drained can of apricots
into fairly sizable chunks - quarters, say? (Tinned apricots should give you a weight and a drained weight - make sure you get the drained weight, i.e. without the water.) That's the least amount you could use - I feel it could easily have had a few more. I suppose you could use real apricots, but let's pretend you're not.

7.) Divide your chopped apricots into four piles.
(This is where I depart from the recipe, which wants you to keep them all together.)
--If you have a food processor, then process two of the quarters, and stir into about two thirds of the whipped double cream. If, like me, you don't own a food processor, then add them to the whipped double cream and whisk it a bit more, covering the bowl with your other hand, so that it doesn't go everywhere...
--then loosely stir in another quarter. And put the mixture in the fridge.
--Yes, you've got another quarter of the chopped apricots and a third of the whipped cream left... be patient!

8.) While you're waiting for the meringues to cool, get working on the caramelised sugar shapes. If, like me, the idea is terrifying - be calm! I found this quite surprisingly easy. That might be a fluke, and I'll never manage it again, but... we'll see!

9.) Line a baking sheet (or any flat surface, really) with baking paper/parchment. Heat 6 tablespoons of granulated sugar gently, until it melts, then increase the heat and cook until a spoonful hardens when dropped into cold water. The key here, I think, is heating it really gently and slowly to start with. I stared at it for ages, and it was doing nothing. I started to wonder whether the heat was turned on, whether the book was lying, whether the sugar was somehow heat resistent... but no, it just needed time to contemplate melting. And the spoonful-hardens-in-water thing sounds like fanciful recipe book nonsense, but it worked - it even made a clink against my glass bowl. It made me feel a little like a magician.

10.) Drizzle the sugar into decorative shapes. So says the recipe book. As you can see, my 'decorative shapes' are just blobs. But it was fun, and so easy - put a small amount on a wooden spoon, and drizzle it around. Add more to each shape if you want to. Maybe next time I'll be ambitious and spell out my name or something, but my baking parchment wasn't quite level, so the melted sugar ran everywhere. Perhaps you should use some to weigh down the corners first?

11.) Compiling Time!
--Turn one cooled meringue-filled-baking-tin onto a plate. This is where I accidentally dropped the tin onto the oven, and caused earthquake-like cracks throughout the meringue. Oops. Have it upside down, so the softer side is in the middle of the gateau.
--Spread the meringue/cream mixture on top
--Put the second meringue on top. Try and keep the top uppermost... might involve some judicious juggling, or turning onto another surface first, but the firm bit needs to be on top. (And you know how fragile meringue can be. Maybe use cream as an adhesive...)
--Spread the remaining cream on top.
--Scatter the remaining apricots over the top (you knew there was a reason these were left!)
--Add your decorative sugar shapes - and we're all done for a yummy, oh-so-healthy (ahem) pudding!

Do let me know if you give it a go...


  1. This recipe is delicious, and I will make it!

    (side note: one of my favorite scenes of all times is when in the hours, clarissa separates her egg white and yokes by hand)

  2. forgot to add: use the yolks for creme brulee! easier than it seems!

  3. Oh, I so enjoyed reading this -- it was highly educational for me. I've never heard of brown sugar as brown caster. And, would vanilla essence be the same as our vanilla extract, I'm guessing? Thank you so much for the recipe AND the American conversions. This looks like a good one to try. I think you are right about it being "heavy cream" over here -- about the only other "bad" one is "heavy whipping cream." "Bad" in the very best sense of the word. :)
    So glad you are all moved, and that you apparently aren't having any internet set-up issues.

  4. A custard is a good use for extra egg yolks. The cake looks gorgeous.

  5. The cake does look magnificent. Just to follow on from the comment about custard, I make pain au chocolat pudding, adapted from Nigella Lawson, which is basically pain au chocolats sliced with a milk custard over them (a very special bread and butter pudding), and the custard involves a pint of milk and cream (ratio depends on your feeling about saturated fats, I usually do three-quarters milk to a quarter cream), heated, then poured over a jug with one egg plus a couple of yolks (all beaten), three tablespoonfuls of caster sugar and a dash of vanilla essence. Mix that up thoroughly, pour over the pain au chocolats and cook in a medium oven for about 40 mins. It's a family favourite, and really simple to make.

    Otherwise, have scrambled eggs on toast with extra yolks. That's nice too.

  6. You should write a cookbook Simon! Pared down instructions for complete beginners!!

    This looks delicious and the sugar shapes sound super fun - I've never tried doing that before!

    I always make a very yolky omelette with my leftover yolks, though as Mystica says, you can also make custard with them.

  7. Egg yolk omlettes are rather yummy.

  8. Love your way with a recipe...thanks, Simon! Fry up some onion, green pepper and a little bit of ham to add your yolks to...grated cheese on top and Bob's your uncle.

  9. Sounds delicious - must try it.

    Folding though is a bit more technical. It's a way of getting the maximum of mix with the minimum of stir, to avoid releasing all the air you've just beaten into the mixture. As we "gels" used to be told in Home Economics, always use a metal spoon, slice into the mixture using the edge and try to cover the dry ingredients as much as possible with each pass. And do it as few times as you feel you can get away with.

  10. Thats now nicely printed off and will possibly being baked this weekend. Thanks Simon, from Simon.

  11. Sounds yummalistic.

    I'm not much of a kitchen person, but it sounds like even I could do this..

    Thanks for the recipe!

  12. Sounds yummalistic.

    I'm not much of a kitchen person, but it sounds like even I could do this..

    Thanks for the recipe!

  13. The cake looks beautiful - anyting with a hint of meringue and I am hooked.

    Extra egg yolks? Lemon curd is good - it will keep in a jar in the fridge, and is much zingier than any bought substitute. It could also be made into a pie if you were feeling so enclined. Extgra egg yolks in a quiche or omlette will prevent it being to rubbery.

  14. Beautiful, simply beautiful! Have I told you lately how much I admire you?

  15. Wow, that looks SO delicious!

  16. I have a recipe for a breton cake which calls for SIX yolks - it's in Nigella's domestic goddess and is apparently very yummy - cross between shortbread and sponge cake. You could scale it down if you only had 4 yolks.

    Otherwise that fallback - cheese straws...might make rather a lot with 4 yolks

  17. How big/what is a circular sandwich tin?

  18. Daniel - oh, I love EVERY scene in The Hours

    Susan - I try and make my recipes entertaining :) I know lots of people are better at baking than me, so I give it a personal spin...

    Mystica - thanks for the tip!

    Victoria - oh that does sound WONDERFUL!

    Rachel - haha, maybe one day... I'd buy a Cornflower Cookbook right away - recipes alongside related books, someone needs to tell Karen... And I love making hugely over-ambitious things with my friend Lorna, because we always fail in amusing ways.

    Alison - noted.. some yolks in the fridge looking at me...

    Darlene - thanks! If only I weren't vegetarian...

    Anon - thanks for explaining folding - I live and learn!

    Simon - so, did you make it? I demand pictures!

    Liz - oh, do give it a go... and report back

    Henrietta - a website I saw suggested lemon curd, but since I never eat it... well, I could make it as a present I guess!

    slr - awww, bless you!

    Emily Jane - I think I gained weight just looking at it, be careful ;-)

    Verity - wow! Does sound gorgeous... Never made cheese straws, though, could be a good staple for parties.

    Anon - it's just a circular tin with some depth to it. The recipe did stipulate a depth and width, but those things always annoy me because clearly people will just use whatever size tins they have! I haven't got the dimensions here, but basically any sponge-cake-ish sized circular tins.


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