Monday, 18 August 2014

More cake. Seriously. (hidden design cake)

Look, I don't only make cake. I cook other things too. But I just don't blog them - they're too dull. Maybe I should find more interesting dinners, or maybe dull, safe, easy dinners are just fine when you are also toddler wrangling. Celebration cakes, on the other hand, are infrequent and infinitely more exciting than Yet More Pasta. This one was so exciting I even had a practice run. Oooh.

Inspiration came from this Tablespoon recipe for Rainbow Tie Dye Surprise Cake. Swiftly followed by "ow, my eyes!" "I need to spend HOW much on gel colours?" and "packet cake mix - meh". So it was then tempered down to UK standards (and ingredients) by this BBC Good Food recipe for a Hidden Heart Cake. The plan was to follow the HH recipe but partify the innards with different colours.

There's no point in telling the whole story of the practice run and the main event, so I'll just try to get a sensible recipe and all the tips down for my (and maybe others') future reference. As an overview, you make one coloured cake, cool and slice it, cut a design out of the slices with a biscuit cutter, then place the cutouts in the centre of a plain cake which you bake around them.

The basic foundation is the N-egg sponge. You take your eggs, weigh them, and then use the same amount of soft unsalted butter, golden caster sugar and self raising flour - it means you can actually make it work with whatever eggs you have to hand, small or large. I used a 3-large-egg (roughly 180g) sponge for the inner design and 4+ large eggs (~260g - see, a different source of eggs and a different size) for the main cake (see tips below).

I used a creaming method to make the cakes: cream the butter and sugar really well until pale and smooth, then whizz in the eggs (and vanilla, if using), and finally fold in the flour.

For the first cake, at this point I split the mixture into 4 to add the colours. I used 2 Sugarflair colours, Royal Blue and Melon, plus a Dr Oetker red, given to me by a friend. I remembered from reading baking forums or comments on recipes that the Dr Oetker gel colours are not the same sort of thing as the "pro" gels like Sugarflair, being weaker, and boy was that the case. The blue especially was very vivid, and the red was not vivid at all. In my cake mix (remember, a quarter of a 3-egg sponge), I used almost all of the whole 10g tube of red, whereas I used a *tiny* amount (the tip of a teaspoon handle - maybe half a pea-sized amount) of the blue. I was a little (but only a little) more generous with the yellow, and added in a blob of red too to make it more orangey (to stand out from the surrounding plain cake), and then mixed yellow and a tiny smear of blue to make green. (Note: gel colours on eBay are cheaper, e.g. any 3 for £7 as opposed to £3.25 each, but you might also like to support your local cake shop!)

You can see how the colours came out in this slice:

That was pretty much the effect I was hoping for. I didn't go the whole hog (as per the Tablespoon recipe) of piping the colours in a Pollock-esque splatter, but just dropped in teaspoonfuls. Once I had used all the mixtures I dropped the tin flat on the surface a couple of times to settle them all down. For the test cake I used larger spoonfuls and swirled with a skewer but the effect wasn't mixed enough when cut, so the teaspoons are worth the extra time.

Which brings me to the tin. I used a silicone loaf tin, 2lb size (about 9" x 3"), and while this makes the cake easy to release from the tin, the sides do bow out when using a lot of mixture. Not the case at this stage, but definitely a problem for the final cake.

I baked at 140°C (fan oven) for 1h10 and the cake was done perfectly. After 10 mins in the tin I turned it on to a cooling rack and left for a good few hours to cool. I sliced it into 1" slices (depends on your cutter depth) and cut a star out of the centre of each one. The cake was tricky to release from the cutter but luckily it was a nested set of star cutters so I used the next smallest one to poke it out :) I would say you need to think carefully about your shape, and any skinny protrusions will be troublesome. Remember you not only have to cut the shape out and keep it whole, but also place it in the other cake mix and get it evenly surrounded and supported. Also the more cake you use out of the coloured loaf, the less plain cake mix you will need! Round shapes like BBCGF's heart are a great choice.

Phase 2 involved making more plain cake mix, 4 eggs this time. I put a thin layer in the bottom of the tin and then placed the stars in a tight row on top of it (making sure they were in the same order so the swirls matched up - picky, me?). I then used a piping bag with a wide nozzle to get the cake mix down the sides, before piping the last of it on top. Here the bulging sides of the silicone pan were unhelpful as they created more space and meant the mixture did not cover the stars - argh. I actually ended up whizzing an extra egg's worth of sponge together to go on the top, before I realised that there would be enough if I could hold the sides up. This involved getting a bit Heath Robinson with a roasting tin and some folded tinfoil, which upped the cooking time (almost 2 hours)... the mixture overflowed volcanically... anyway, long story short, use a metal tin if you value your sanity.

The other thing, which I have no idea how to control, is that as the cake cooked (or perhaps during my piping of cake mix, or during my fiddling with tinfoil) the stars moved, off-centre and upwards. So when I trimmed the cake top for icing, I sliced into the star (see top photo). Nooo! I never thought I would curse a cake for rising! This happened a bit with the practice cake, but not as much. My best suggestion is to use just a very thin layer of plain cake on the bottom and wedge the coloured shapes well down into it, and make sure not to pack one side better than the other.

With the cake done, I crumb-coated with buttercream (75g butter, 175g icing sugar, tbsp milk) and then coated with plain white fondant and stars cut from coloured fondant. Another learning point here: when moistening fondant shapes to apply onto the white, use barely any water to avoid coloured dribbles. A ribbon around the bottom finished it off.

So, main cake complete but I felt guilty about the amount of offcut coloured cake. Not that it wouldn't get eaten, but it seemed a shame. Another 3-egg sponge mix was divided between 12 muffin cases with a chunk of offcut in each. As it was getting late I made the sponge with an all-in-one method (no creaming, just whizz everything together) and it was perfectly tasty, just a bit more crunchy on the top. I also stirred in a pack of sprinkles to try for a 'funfetti' effect. It was more successful than last time (I used Dr Oetker sprinkles this time). More fondant stars stuck with the last of the buttercream completed the look.

So, there we go. Been there, done that, not rushing to repeat the feat but still quite pleased with it despite my wonky stars. But blogging the experience just in case I change my mind!

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Further adventures in cake

Another birthday cake, this time for the joint first birthday party of our NCT group, which we call "winter babies". It needed to be free of both chocolate and nuts, so I went for just a sponge cake and nice decoration.

As it had to serve up to 16, I made two 4-egg sponges (4 eggs, 225g each of caster sugar, softened butter and self raising flour, done with the creaming method) with a hint of orange zest in the mix. Top tip - I found that you can get zest off the spiky side of the grater (the only way to get it fine enough, but it retains a lot) with a cube of refrigerated butter. Just press it on and lift off to take the zest with it.

I made the cakes in my two 20cm tins, although they are different designs and at 175°C (fan) one cooked in 35 minutes while the other took 40. I lined the tins with greaseproof paper but would have been better to either do it more carefully or grease and flour them, as the paper left indentations in the cakes so they weren't perfectly round. I had a choice between trimming them or filling in any major holes with icing, and chose the latter! I don't have a turntable so trying to get them even vaguely round would have been a nightmare.

To sandwich and first-coat them I made buttercream with 75g soft butter and 175g icing sugar plus a teaspoon of milk and some lemon zest, beaten until light. That was just enough for a decent layer in the middle, and a crumb/smoothing coat around the outside. I also put some lemon curd in the middle, but this was a bit of a bad move as it lubricated the cakes and let the top one slide about. Next time I'd use jam if anything, or maybe just stick to buttercream.

I'm not sure I would have known to first coat (crumb coat?) the cakes with buttercream if I hadn't done some research. This video was helpful - I can't say I'm aware of "international cake decorating expert Pat Lock" but she sounds like a no-nonsense sort of lady and the steps were easy to follow. I fudged together a turntable of sorts by placing a round cake board on top of a shiny cake tin base, sandwiched the cakes together and then lightly slathered them in buttercream. (Can you slather lightly? I digress...).

The big step into the unknown for me was the fondant icing (hence the video). I was armed with a packet of Sainsbury's ready to roll white icing, plus black, and some leftover blobs of royal blue and other colours kindly donated by one of the other mums. I kneaded the white (1kg) with the blue (a generous walnut size, maybe) and worked it until it was just slightly marbled as I thought that looked good. It was softer to work with than I imagined, so no Paul Hollywood-esque muscles were developed during this stage. Then I rolled it out on a silicone pastry mat dusted with icing sugar, to the requisite size as determined by Pat's string method (i.e. diameter of icing = 2 x height + diameter of cake). This took it to about pound coin thickness. The icing was huge - wider than my rolling pin, only just fitting on the mat. It meant I couldn't do "roll and turn" to keep it from sticking, and I just had to trust the icing sugar would do its job (thankfully it did), and then when it came to transferring the icing to the cake, I had to use my hands as the rolling pin just was not long enough. With the icing being quite soft, it did sag over my fingers a bit and I had to work quickly to pass it from mat to cake and get it centred.

The hard part was getting it down the sides of the cake to the bottom without wrinkles. Despite the video instruction, I didn't quite manage it, but just called the wrinkly part the back, and put a wide ribbon around the bottom to hide any more errors (thanks again, Pat!). The top was good, which was the main thing. There was some minor cracking in the fondant but it didn't seem to go right through, and wasn't too noticeable. I don't have a cake icing smoother thingy so just did the best I could with icing sugar dusted fingers.

Decoration was the fun bit :) I'd already mocked it up in powerpoint, using the drawing tools to trace over a penguin I found online (edited a bit - can't leave anything alone!) so that I could separate out what I needed to cut out of black icing, white icing, etc. Printing it at the right size gave me templates to use when cutting. I found a font I liked for the lettering (Boyz R Gross - sorry, boy babies!) and another one for snowflakes (WWFlakes), but then I spotted rice paper snowflakes from eBay. Quicker, nicer looking than I could do, and very cheap. Deal!

The lettering was done with glitter writing icing in purple, and the snowflakes were affixed with the same stuff in white. Yes, at 10pm on a Friday I was in my kitchen, kneeling before the worksurface, attaching tiny rice paper snowflakes to a cake using tweezers. This is the life.


So, that's it. My first solo adventure in cake decorating. Fun stuff! Given that I have leftover blue icing and snowflakes, I know what Small's birthday cake will probably look like :)

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Christmas 2013

My first crack at a proper Christmas dinner :)

I decided on pork as I love crackling, so I ordered a roast from the local butcher as I know their meat is far better quality than the supermarket's. I didn't specify what cut but it looked like loin and there was plenty of it (I ordered for "3-4 plus leftovers") so I cut the smaller end off and it's in the freezer for another week.

Good old Delia came up trumps for a recipe: roast pork with crackling. All I had to do was dry the skin and salt it, and place the meat on a topped, tailed and halved onion. I adjusted the oven temperatures down slightly for our fan oven, and did 25 mins at 220° and then another 2h at 180°. This was a bit of a mistake as I calculated the time on the original weight and not after I'd cut a bit off. Still, the pork was well done rather than overcooked, with perfect crackling and very tender meat.

What did perhaps suffer a bit was the meat juices. Although they were supposed to go to make gravy, it was entirely fat in the tin. I poured it off, and what was left was very dark - not tempting crusty bits so much as blackened. The outer layers of the onion had also burned, so I binned those before deglazing the pan with cider and making up gravy with that, stock (~150ml each) and flour (1 tbsp plain), with water to taste later - there was a definite dark tang to it but I had no other means to make gravy so had to make it work! Straining the finished product removed the onion bits before serving, and the verdict was fairly good but by no means perfect.

Of course, it's not just the meat - alongside it we had apricot stuffing, roast potatoes, red cabbage, brussels sprouts and parsnips. Oh, and sausages in bacon, but they negate the point about the meat :)

Apricot stuffing: a fairly random recipe pick, it's American style stuffing involving an onion and 2 cloves garlic, cooked in butter with thyme, then adding chopped dried apricots, bread, and cream. It turned out rather sweet, and a dash of worcester sauce evened it out. Next time I'd use the suggested variation of subbing some of the cream for stock as it was quite rich.

Potatoes: large King Edwards, parboiled (or rather boiled, since I forgot them) and then tossed about a bit in vegetable oil and a dash of salt, and roasted in the oven for a good 30 minutes.

Red cabbage: braised with cider and apples. I used 600g cabbage, made necessity-based substitutions of a bramley apple, white wine vinegar, and tangerines, and used half of all the other ingredients except the sugar which I reduced a bit further. An hour's cooking time was fine.

Brussels sprouts: peeled, halved, and stir fried/braised with streaky bacon trimmings from the sausages in bacon. Several splashes of water, and a lid on the pan, kept things moist and helped them to steam as well as fry in about 20 minutes.

Parsnips: peeled, chopped, roasted in oil, honey and wholegrain mustard with a dash of black pepper. I didn't really roast them for long enough, so next time would pop them in for 45 mins to an hour.

Dessert wasn't my responsibility, so that's it for this year :)

Friday, 20 December 2013

More Christmassy goodies

I'm not a big one for "stuff" (ornaments, keepsakes and that sort of thing) and consequently have no eye whatsoever for what "stuff" (if any) might appeal to other people. This, along with the fact I enjoy cooking and baking, means I tend to gravitate towards food gifts for Christmas. I've blogged Christmas Spice Cookies and white chocolate and cranberry cookies before, so here are some other recipes I've used  more recently.

Pretzel bites (pictured, right) are ridiculously easy and almost as ridiculously moreish, if you are into the sweet-salty thing. The verdict from my brother and his clan was that the bag barely made it home! The basics are:

150g salted pretzels, broken but not crushed to smithereens.
250g chocolate - white, dark, plain, any flavour you like
50-75g 'extras' - dried fruit or other goodies.

Melt the chocolate and stir in the pretzels and any other goodies. Dollop into bite-size mounds on foil, clingfilm or a silicon cookie mat, and refrigerate until set.

The original recipe uses white chocolate and sultanas, which I then varied to white chocolate and dried cranberries for extra Christmassy pep. Candied peel would also work, I think. This year's variation is dark mint chocolate (I used Green & Black's), and crushed candy canes sprinkled on top of the bites before they set. I will say that candy canes, if they are of the chewy variety, are harder to smash than you think! I conceded defeat with the rolling pin and had to blitz the last few big bits.

Peppermint creams are an old favourite - this recipe was good but a bit wetter than ideal. Given that just a little more or less liquid can really make a difference to icing sugar I'm surprised at the use of the naturally variable amounts of egg white and lemon in the recipe. Next time I'll measure, and not add all the lemon at once. I'd also hold back just a bit on the mint, as it was more extra-strong than candy cane!

1 free-range egg white
½ lemon, juice only
1 tsp peppermint flavouring
425g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
(optional - tiny drop of food colouring if you want)
175 dark chocolate, for dipping/piping

Whisk egg white to stiff peaks and fold in everything else except the chocolate. Work until smooth on a surface dusted with sugar - if you want to use colour for only part of the mixture, divide it here and work in the colour to one half. Roll out to pound coin thickness and use cutters of your choice to cut out shapes, then chill until set. Melt the chocolate and dip, pipe, drizzle, or use some other inventive method to get it on the creams.

The Rocky Road to Christmas Excess (pictured above, left) - adapted from this Nigella recipe. Like a normal Rocky Road, but with festive goodies. Indulgent, and serves several people as a present since it's so rich it's able to be cut into very small pieces!

400g dark chocolate - I used 200g plain and 200g of Green & Black's Maya Gold
175g butter
4tbsp golden syrup
Moderate handfuls of Christmassy inclusions - I used:
Gingerbread pieces (mix of lumps/crumbs)
Shortbread pieces (ditto)
Mini marshmallows
Glace cherries (halved or whole)
Candied peel
Sultanas soaked overnight in Cointreau (sherry, brandy, whatever... or tea for a non-alcoholic option)

Nigella says you can melt the chocolate directly over a gentle heat with the butter and syrup, but I don't trust my electric hob to be gentle so I used the double boiler method for the chocolate and stirred in the separately-melted-then-cooled-a-bit butter and syrup. Then add that mix to the goodies in a mixing bowl, and stir gently until well combined (the marshmallows will melt and mix in if you are too rough). Pour into a clingfilm-lined deep tray and refrigerate overnight. Turn out, chop into bite-size cubes and dust with icing sugar and maybe edible glitter or lustre if you're feeling sparkly.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Feeding the five thousand, or, chilli for a large number

A local charity I volunteer with, Wherry Yacht Charter, has an annual quiz and supper evening in November. With an eye to winter-warmer-type food, not to mention the practicalities of catering for 40-60 people in a church hall, we usually serve beef or mixed bean chilli over tortilla chips, with cheese and other toppings. A few people opt for baked potatoes through preference or dietary need, but generally we find ourselves with a lot of chilli to cook.

For future reference, and for the possible benefit of others, here's a rundown of what we do, based on this year. It's set out with prices and amounts in terms of shopping for bulk items at a wholesaler such as Makro, although fresh ingredients were bought at local independent shops and some smaller items were purchased at a supermarket (noted as such in the list).

Serves 40
(Approx 32 meat eaters and 8 vegetarians; allows for a handful of tortillas and a ladle and a half of chilli per person; there will be some for seconds/leftovers)

Ingredients - chilli
2 x 2.5kg tins tomatoes (total £3)
1 x 2.5kg tin kidney beans (£2)
8* large spanish onions (£3.60, local greengrocer)
8* large courgettes (£5.30, local greengrocer)
8* large red and orange peppers (£6.30, local greengrocer)
2/3 wholesale box* mushrooms (£3.50, local greengrocer)
5 tbsp hot chilli powder **
5 tbsp ground cumin **
5 tsp chipotle chilli paste **
5 stock cubes (veggie or beef, as appropriate)**
vegetable oil**

For veggie: 2 x 0.8kg tins spicy mixed bean salad (£4)
For meat: 2kg minced beef (£13, local butcher, lean steak mince)
(For comparison, cheapest supermarket minced beef is about £4/kg and supermarket lean steak mince is about £7/kg)

Ingredients - to serve
3 x 750g bags mild/plain tortillas (£6)
2kg grated cheese (£8.50)
4  x 300g soured cream (£4.40, supermarket)
2 x 300g guacamole (£4, supermarket) - squeezy bottles as found with taco kits etc.
1 x 480g jar jalapenos (£1, supermarket) - large jars in world foods section of Tesco (Caribbean, Polish, etc.) much cheaper than small jars found with taco kits etc.

Weights given for tinned and jarred ingredients are as purchased, not drained.
* Vegetables were sold by number rather than weight.
** Taken from my store cupboard. To buy from scratch in a supermarket: £1 chilli powder, £1 ground cumin, £1.90 chipotle paste, £1.20 stock cubes, £1.50 oil, total £6.60 but buys more of all items than is needed for this recipe. Naturally you can add more or less spice depending on who you are catering for!

Total price for 40: about £64, not including anything for store cupboard items. Of this, about £24 is for the tortillas and toppings. This makes a total of £1 per head for the chilli, and 50p for the other items which could be seen as optional. The meat and veggie options differ by only a few pence per head using the spicy mixed beans as above; if you used plain beans and your own spices the vegetarian one would likely be a little cheaper.

What you need
We used 5 very large saucepans (pressure cooker size) plus a large saucepan and large frying pan. We also used a very large cooker! For a normal sized home hob and fewer pans, pre-cook the mushrooms and meat first, and perhaps cook the veggie chilli separately, but of course increase the time needed. Miscellaneous kitchen equipment included bowls, colanders, spoons, etc. You will also need large plastic boxes and a lots of fridge or freezer space for storage.

Allow 2.5-3 hours for 2 people to chop the veg and do all the 'interactive' cooking, i.e. everything except simmering. Allow another half hour at the very least for simmering, but if you can do longer at a low heat, so much the better. If you're not using the chilli straight away, don't forget to allow significant cooling time before you can refrigerate or freeze it (possibly 2-3 hours, although see below for suggestions to speed this up).

Chop all vegetables into 1-2cm chunks/thick slices for mushrooms.
Drain kidney beans and rinse.
Drain mixed beans and reserve spicy sauce.
Drain tomatoes and reserve juice.

Using one separate large pan for vegetarian chilli (1/5 of vegetables and tomatoes, plus mixed beans), and as many other large pans as you need for the meat chilli (rest of ingredients), gently cook the onions in a little oil until translucent. To reduce the amount of oil, start with only a little and top up with tomato liquid as needed to stop the onions sticking. Add the chilli powder, cumin, chilli paste and stock cubes to the onions while cooking.

When the onions are translucent, add the courgettes and peppers, and cook, stirring frequently, until beginning to soften. Add a little further tomato liquid to help things along if needed (or spicy sauce, for the veg version), but remember the vegetables will release more moisture as they cook.

Meanwhile, brown and break up the mince in batches, draining any excess fat. Optionally, you can add more chilli powder and/or cumin to the meat at this point. When done, you can deglaze the pan with a little of the tomato juice if there is lots of good stuff left in it. Add the mince and any juices evenly to the meat chilli pans. Add the spicy beans to the vegetable chilli pan.

Divide the drained tomatoes between the various pans. Add some tomato liquid to the meat pans, and spicy bean sauce to the veggie pan, to get the texture you wish. Stir well and leave to simmer and reduce, stirring occasionally.

Cook the mushrooms separately, as they will cook more quickly and retain their flavour. Heat in a lidded pan with a splash of water and a crumbled vegetable stock cube (or simply a pinch of salt), then divide between the large pans.

If you find you have too much liquid, you can try one or more of the following: simmer to reduce; use a ladle to remove liquid and discard it or use for other purposes e.g. soup; add gravy granules to thicken; add flour to thicken. To use flour or gravy granules, mix evenly with a little cold water first, then add some of the hot pan liquid, then return all to the pan and mix well.

Serve the chilli with the listed accompaniments on a help-yourself basis. Await compliments!

Storage and food safety notes
If not using the chilli straight away: When cooked, pour the chilli into large plastic containers or similar. Cool as quickly as possible, e.g. place container in a cool room or in a sink of cold water, or bury freezer packs (inside clean plastic bags) inside. In terms of food safety, the cooling down period is when the food is at optimum bug-breeding temperature, so make it as short as possible. Then chill or freeze depending when you need to serve the chilli. Needless to say, you should then also defrost it evenly and reheat the food until piping hot. These suggestions stem from common sense and are not written from any position of authority on food hygiene.

Note: I detest food waste, but when catering for a large number there can be quite a margin of error, especially when you are keen not to short change people or run out. Personally I would happily save and thoroughly reheat leftovers for myself one more time, including freezing them beforehand if the chilli had not previously been frozen, and I an other volunteers have done this before with no problem. This may not tally with official food hygiene advice but I think everyone should decide on their own level of risk when feeding themselves and their immediate family. Clearly, when feeding others, more caution is needed and risk should be minimised - hence the above suggestions. If in doubt, consult relevant food hygiene regulations or ask someone with a food safety qualification.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Fast fish pie

Happy to report another success - a quick and easy meal that's turned out delicious and, this time, healthy. BBC Good Food's Fast Fish Pie lived up to its name.

The recipe starts with celery and garlic, adds fresh cherry tomatoes, then stock (or wine) and tomato puree along with the fish, plus tarragon to finish. I used mixed fish (hake, smoked haddock, salmon) rather than the white fish plus prawns in the recipe, and dill rather than tarragon as I had none in the cupboard. My stock is baby-friendly (low salt) Heinz but with the smoked fish it was fine. A good grinding of fresh black pepper finished things off beautifully.

I made cheesy mash without spring onions (again, none in and not worth buying just for one recipe), and served it with the fish mixture rather than making a pie. It means forgoing the crispy top, but you get your dinner quicker and have one less dish to wash up, so that's a win in my book.

I have to say that the 10 mins prep was a bit optimistic for me. Chopping celery, garlic and tomatoes, making stock, and prepping potatoes were just about quick enough, but skinning the fish and checking for bones was time consuming for a non-expert.

In general it's a pretty healthy and diet-friendly dish. I didn't use as much oil as suggested, but braised the celery with some of the stock, and I could easily have omitted the cheese from the mash - in fact I used some leftover cheese sauce from another dish, giving it good anti-food-waste credentials too. On that note, as the tomatoes and celery are cooked, you can use up ones that might be a bit too past their best to eat raw, and other veg such as carrots or broccoli stems could go in too. To give it a trio of haloes, it's also pretty budget-friendly as you can eke out the fish with more veg, and/or choose cheaper fish or even offcuts - I've seen fish pie mix in the supermarket, which is ideal.

Overall, an extremely tasty dish, and one that can easily be batch cooked into larger portions. Definitely a keeper in our menu rotation!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013


Time for a bit of fun! I just could not resist this for my Whovian husband's (WH) birthday - when friends got a Dalek cake mould and said I could borrow it, it had to be done. I did a bit of Googling to see what I was up against, found a couple of blog posts, and Operation Secret Dalek Cake was on (hat tip to the second of those for the blog post title...)

Now, I'm the first to admit that a detailed silicone cake mould is not exactly the stuff of Great British Bake Off dreams, but with a 9 month old in tow, practicality wins every time. For the same reason, I was not planning to go all-out on decoration either! I'd seen my friends' results and hoped that the cake mould would give me a recognisable chunk of sponge that was also edible, and anything else would be a bonus.

Right. WH went to work, Small went down for a nap, and with the possibility of only 40 minutes to get the beast into the oven, I rolled into cake baking action and turned on the oven at 180°C then greased the cake mould liberally with butter using a pastry brush. The back of the cake mould box said to use an 8-egg sponge mix so I turned to my much-used Hannah Miles book and chose a 4-egg mix to double. The quantities were: 2 x (4 eggs + 225g each of  butter, sugar, self raising flour) - a pretty consistent ratio in her book.

Rather than struggle with a massive bowl of mixture, I decided to make two separate mixtures (mint and chocolate) and create a marbled Dalek, so prepped two mixing bowls with butter and sugar, cracked and beat two lots of eggs, and weighed out and sieved two amounts of flour. I then replaced 2 tbsp of one lot of flour with about 4 tbsp of cocoa, or maybe more - there was only a smidge left in the tub after that so I chucked it all in :)

The method was the usual creaming method - beat the butter and sugar to pale creamy fluffiness, add eggs gradually, then fold in flour. For the mint sponge I added green colouring and mint flavour to the butter/sugar mix with the eggs, so I could blend them in evenly before carefully folding in the flour.

I then had a brainwave and decided to use an icing bag to pipe some of the mint sponge into the details on the cake mould. This is where I fail any kind of Whoviometer test, and say the mint batter went into the blobs, the ears, and the grille bits on the head. Geeks, please correct me in the comments. (I do know the flashing things are not ears, but you knew what I meant :)  It went in fairly well, and stayed, but I then found I had to spread chocolate sponge mix up the sides of the mold behind the details, which was trickier. Of course, the mixture doesn't fill the mould before baking, but rises up in the oven, so if you decide to try this method then focus on the details that are lowest in the mould and let the top ones take care of themselves - they'll be at the back/bottom of the finished cake, depending whether you let it stand or lie. I finished off by scooping the rest of the mint sponge into the centre of the mould, and tried to make an indentation with the spoon to allow for more rising at the centre of the cake.

The big unknown was the baking time. After much skewer testing, it seemed to be done, taking 40 mins at 180°C plus another 40-50 turned down to 150°C (fan oven) when I was worried about it burning on the outside before the inside was baked. Although I'd made an indentation over the fattest bit it still rose too much there at the expense of elsewhere. So my Dalek had a fat arse and I was forced to cut that bit off and eat it for quality control. Shame... I heeded the various warnings and let the cake cool completely before trying to turn it out, and it came out like a dream. A slightly greasy, crispy-at-the-corners dream, but hey.

The idea of piping the second cake mix into the blobs and other bits kind of worked - the head bits were good and the blobs less so, as it looks like it oozed down before it baked. I'm 50/50 as to whether it was worth it, especially as the cake baked so long they are just slightly different shades of brown! However, the green came out well when cut.

With the cake cool, it was time to decorate during afternoon nap time. No time for fancy fondant and complicated marzipan here! I brushed on blue lustre powder to highlight the low-contrast minty details. Lurking in the cupboard I also had chocolate icing in a tube, so added some freestyle detailing with that. The 'ears' had shrunk to tiny crispy blobs, during baking, so I augmented those with icing. The weapony bits (sorry...) are all made from tinfoil and toothpicks, augmented with a sharpie pen, black writing icing (since I already had some of that too), and a solitary blue mini Smartie. I had to buy a Smartie-filled chocolate Hallowe'en pumpkin to get the one blue one, and was then stuck with chocolate I didn't need for the cake. Another shame...

With only about half an hour to go before WH was due home, I took the cake upstairs and hid it in a big box with a 'keep out' sign on it. It worked :) The big reveal was done at work after I took the cake in as a surprise tea-break delivery, and the cake seemed to go down very well with the assembled company of geeks. It was even done in the middle. Hurrah!

All in all, a fun and interesting adventure in cake making, although it would be more fun without the time pressure and surprise element! Hopefully the above may be useful to someone else as well as jogging my memory if there is a next time. If you find any of the info helpful, please leave a comment!