Tuesday, 25 May 2010

What cake did next...

I had a lovely email from the friend who I made the wedding cake for, which reminded me of the half-finished work in progress that resulted from that project. That and being asked for my fruit cake receipe.

Receipes have always been a bit of problem for me as I don't often write things down. I sort of guess - and just carry on until things look like they are okay. To be honest I'm not even very good at following written instructions as I'll get distracted and drop extra things in. Often if I bring cakes into work and people comment on them in my heart I know that there is actually very little chance that I will ever get the same result again. I cook by eye, measure by the handful and wander off halfway through to do other things. Delia would have a fit.

I was determined this time that it wouldn't be like that. The daunting task of a 12 inch diameter, 8 kilo fruit cake does something to rein in the spirit of the runaway chef. A project on that scale is the Ritalin of cookery. If something that size goes wrong, it's an expensive, time consuming mess to sort out and I don't think could face eating that large a failed attempt. And it would just be me eating it as my other half doesn't like dried fruit. In fact very few people I know actually like dried fruit. So this time I weighed things.

A quick sort through my cupboards yielded a five inch, an eight inch, a nine inch and a twelve inch round cake tin. I also have a nine inch, a seven inch and a five inch square.

All of the rest of my baking forms are very daft shapes, so aren't a great deal of use here unless you want a wedding cake shaped like a caterpillar.

I liked geometry at school, so size and volume were easily calculated and I can see that the mixture I'll get in the the seven inch square tin will be the same as what I'll get in the eight inch round one. That makes sense as the seven inch tin has corners that the eight inch round one doesn't. I was going to try and prove this by pouring water from one form to another, but I've just noticed that the round tins have loose bases so that proof-of-concept does have the potential to go horribly horribly wrong and you'll just have to take my word for it.

Cookery time!

As with most cakes, the first part involves beating the butter and sugar to a pulp. I have quite bad RSI, so find this quite difficult and tend to do it in the food mixer. I don't really like the food mixer - partly because to me it was bought because of a physical defeat and is therefore a sign of weakness and partly because if I forget to lock the sneeze guard in place I end up with cake mix in my hair.

Eggs next. Most cookbooks will tell you to beat them in slowly in small portions. Life is too short, just beat them in hard.

Whilst the mixer is doing it's stuff, you can sort the fruit out. Mix the fruit together and soak the whole lot liberally in alcohol. I should tell you to use the finest oak aged cognac, but you could just do what normal people do and douse it in the evil local firewater you bought back from your holidays ten years ago because you have vague recollections of it tasting good on a beach in the sun and don't understand why it suddenly tastes of meths the moment you cross the UK border. I'm using a mixture of Czech plum schnapps, German pear schnapps, Cointreau, Ammaretto and some Hungarian cherry moonshine that was brewed in someone's garage. I must admit that I think alcohol adds nothing to fruit cake other than the aseptic environment you need to stop the bugs eating it. At least by using fruit based and strongly flavoured liquers you can add something to the taste rather than just making the thing smell of petrol. Throw lemon juice and rind in here too and leave it to sit for a bit. If it is a large cake, I do this overnight so the fruit has time absorb the liquid.

I do find that the food mixer overbeats stuff even on the lowest setting (this is the point I get lynched for dispecting the Kenwood on my other internet forum) so I tend to scrape it into a bowl (or a new bucket if it's a big one!) at this point and do the rest by hand. Usually wincing in pain. In goes the fruit, spices and other random bits.

Plonk it into a greased tin (cake release and strip lining will save you a world of stress later on, but it's optional), throw in oven, bake for days until it's solid enough to case serious injury when dropped from a first floor window. Job done. Attack it Quentian Tarantino style with a kebab skewer. Soak in a lethal cocktail of miscellanous spirits, wrap in greaseproof paper and plop into an airtight tin until your ready to use it. Store away from sources of ignition in a well ventilated room. Do not inhale vapour. Get it out and sedate it with more alcohol every so often if you plan to keep it a few months. Otherwise it will get angry. Before you marzipan it, take it out of the greaseproof paper and leave it open to the air to dry off a bit. Or rub the surface with icing sugar.

You may have noticed the lack of promised measurements in this walk-through. That's because I spent quite some time repeating this process on different scales and doing some number crunching.

Here we go :) Numbers! I hope they will be helpful :)

Fruit cake receipe table

This receipe makes a darkish fruit cake - the one I use for wedding cake tiers when dark fruit cake has been specified. The longer you keep it and the more you feed it, the darker it gets. If you want it really dark, use darker sugar and throw a couple of tablespoons of treacle into the mix.

You can alter the ratios of fruits as long as you keep the total mass the same. Sometimes I add all sorts of random stuff to it - dried papaya, dried apricots, prunes, dried pears. I admit that I actually tend to replace the cherries with crystallised apples too (crystallised, not dried) as I don't like cherries, but that's just a personal thing. You can choose whatever nuts you like - I normally use hazelnuts as I think almonds are the cyanide flavoured no-legged spawn of Satan's bedsit, but anything goes. Think of it as a guide, rather than an absolute. It's not a receipe, it's a comfort blanket :)

Oh - and cool oven - gas mark 1 :) If you are doing a big one, wrap the tin in greaseproof paper, stand it on a couple of sheets of newspaper and tie it up with string, that way you won't cremate the edges. It's done when a skewer comes out clean. It will take ages. I cook large ones overnight, turning the oven down to gas 1/2.

Think that's everything...

I would like to say a huge thank you to Selki from Folksy for explaining how to link a file into a blog :) Turtle has some wonderful downloadable projects on his blog too which can be found here

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