Alright Amblers? This month I’ve been battling with cakes in the heat and making plans for a spectacular, gravity-defying, purple number (keep your eyes peeled for that one).
I’ve also been a bit nostalgic, looking back at some of my early forays into baking. The piping was sloppier and the décor a little informal, as Mary Berry would say, but it’s good to take note of how far you’ve come. We’ve all got to start somewhere and practice makes perfect!
My tips for this month are all about baking gluten free. I’ve been experimenting with a few recipes in preparation for a special order coming up and experiencing the trials and tribulations of working with gluten free flour. The main problems with using it are the cake being too dry, having a claggy, floury texture and a lack of rise. The cakes that work best as gluten free are ones that already contain a lot of moisture or wet ingredients; carrot cake, red velvet, etc. The simpler they are the less room you have to play with the ingredients. Unfortunately, I’ve been tasked with making a super-duper victoria sponge, which means I have nowhere to hide.
I tried a few different variations, using different ratios of flour to eggs and milk and experimenting with adding things to see what produced the best results. The winner came from using a larger amount of eggs to get a better rise and swapping out a little of the flour for ground almonds for moisture. The almonds made it a little more dense than a traditional victoria sponge, but as it’s for a tiered cake, more structural integrity works best for me. I found that using less flour also got rid of the floury texture that you can get in a gluten free cake (this can also be avoided by removing some rising agent or using a mixture of different flours, e.g. coconut flour, gram flour, buckwheat flour.) It’s always advisable to try out any recipes first, as it can be a bit of a balancing act to get it finely tuned.
In my search for a great gluten free cake I came across this great blog (glutenfreegirl.com) by Shauna James Ahearn. It describes her struggle with Coeliac disease and features loads of helpful guides and videos on gluten free living and baking. She also has a number of cookbooks available.
I’ve also been sampling some of the cake on offer at Artichoke. I love sitting by the canal in summer with a beer from their local selection. This time we opted for inside, which is light, spacious and comfortable with a cake counter tucked away in the restaurant. My friend and I ordered a couple of espressos, the white chocolate, cherry and amaretti cake and the double chocolate honeycomb cake.
The cakes arrived as gloriously messy slabs, one covered in cherry and crushed amaretti biscuits, the other oozing with chocolate. The sour cherries really cut through the rich white chocolate buttercream and the amaretti on top balanced the flavour nicely. The big chunks of white chocolate through the cake had caramelized to give a hit of sweetness too, although I think soaking the sponge layers in a little amaretto before assembly would have taken it to the next level! I loved the big chocolate flavour (dark and white), again with caramelized white chocolate in the sponge, but I found the cake itself was a little dry. Unfortunately, as freshly made honeycomb isn’t particularly stable (especially in the heat), it seemed to have mostly dissolved and was a little lost on the cake. The espressos were beautifully strong and served with an orange and pistachio biscotti, which was a nice touch. There’s definitely a little room for improvement with the cakes, but they have a lot of refreshingly different options to choose from and some exciting flavours.
I’ve recently been discussing experiments with wedding cakes and mermaid creations (are they the new unicorns?) watch out for some interesting bakes coming up!