Jaffa cakes!

So, this isn’t a recipe. This is my ‘bored at work and having an idea that might be interesting and then actually following through on it’ experiment. I generally don’t get beyond the ‘have an idea’ stage, so yay me. Progress!

That idea was basically: ‘I bet I could make Jaffa Cakes’. All it is is sponge base, orange jelly, and chocolate. How hard can it be?

I gave it a try. I made a sponge cake mix, but rather than baking it in cake tins, I smoothed it onto a cookie sheet, kind of like you would a Swiss roll. (Although this would never have worked as a Swiss roll; way too stiff.) Once it was cooked, which was barely any time at all, I cut out a bunch of cookie cutter circles – I guess 1.5 inch. That obviously left me with a whole load of non-circle cake mix, but that’s hardly the end of the world. ‘Oh no, I have to eat cake!’

Then I needed to make the jelly. So I got some orange juice (with bits, in case that matters), and some agar flakes. I was undecided between gelatine and agar, but vegetarian friends demanded agar, I guess in the misguided belief they’d get to eat some, which: lol no. I think agar is better, really, because I get a bit grossed out about ground-up bones if I think about gelatine too much. Also, it’s not like you an easily get hold of free-range gelatine, and I get weird visions about industrial farmed animals and all that stuff, because my brain likes to take unpleasant ideas and run with them. So agar it was, but that stuff is expensive. £5, compared with about 70p for the same amount of gelatine. Oh well, it just means I’ll have to make lots of jelly, and I’ve already got ideas for that (green tea, maybe Pimm’s in the summer, ooh, maybe coconut milk).

I’d literally never made a jelly other than from blocks before, and I’d certainly never used agar. But I just had to boil up the orange juice with the agar flakes (1 tablespoon per cup/240 ml, fact fans) and then let it set. I used the cookie sheet again, because I needed it to be flat and thin. It worked better than I had hoped. It didn’t want to cool down at first, but I lost patience and shoved it in the fridge, and then it set within like ten minutes.

I took the cookie cutter one size down and cut out circles of jelly. It took a little while to work out how best to remove them, but in the end I worked out a method: slide the jelly circle onto a pallete knife, place the sponge circle on top of that, and then flip them over. A couple were a bit misshapen, but it was pretty successful.

Again, there was a lot of non-circle leftovers, and I confess that in this instance I just threw it away. Bad Joel. Wasteful.

Then I just melted down some pain chocolate in a bain marie. Well, I say bain marie. A cereal bowl over a pan of water, obviously. I didn’t want to try dipping two-part biscuits into hot chocolate, because they’d probably slide apart or melt or otherwise collapse, so I just painted it on with a pastry brush. They didn’t look the most delicate or anything, but it did work. They looked like this:

Kind of clumsy, but lookit! There’s a layer of orange jelly and everything! They tasted pretty good. The fresh orange worked against the richness of the chocolate to keep them from being too rich, and the sponge was light. Cooking it in the tray made it a bit crisper, which worked well; I was a bit worried they’d be too soft and collapse, but they didn’t.

I definitely need to work on my Presentation Skills, as India Fisher would undoubtedly say on Masterchef, but as a complete wild idea experiment, they were really successful. I know that I can cook from recipes, but it’s reassuring to know that I can try stuff from my own brain and it can work. It makes me think I can go further with baking, which is kind of cool.


Christening the stand mixer

I’ve been a bit lax, haven’t I?

Not at baking, so much, but at writing about it. I’ve been applying for jobs, and playing lots of Mass Effect 3, and also being really ill, so that accounts for most of it.

I’ve been making more stuff, though. I made some lavender shortbread. I made the New Zealand delicacy Lolly Cake (cut up foam sweets, crushed up biscuits, melted butter and condensed milk, rolled in coconut).

And the, for my birthday, I got a stand mixer from my flatmate. Hurrah!

The first thing I made with it was a sponge cake. Well, the first thing I made was a failure, because even a stand mixer can’t apparently handle chilled butter like I thought it could. So after I scraped out the bowl and cleaned it all off and started again with some softened butter, I made a sponge cake. It was … well, it made a huge difference. The butter and sugar mix really did get fluffy, and stayed thus once the flour was in. So there was just *more* cake. The mixer was also great for the buttercream icing.

I tried to be a bit inventive and wasn’t entirely successful. I was going for a green tea frosting, but I just brewed some very strong tea and mixed it in once it was cool. It didn’t really work, becase it made it way too liquidy, which I then had to compensate for with more butter and sugar. It stiffened, but it wasn’t really ideal. The maple frosting from the other week worked a lot better. Also, in the bowl it had a definite green tea taste that wasn’t really present in the cake.

It was still tasty. And the sponge was super-light. It looked like this:


Not my finest hour, I’m sure we can all agree.

Then I made some bread. I thought I’d be adventurous, (well, for a given value of adventurous) so I went for half white flour, half wholemeal. I love making bread, but confess I’m just not good at pulling the dough together in the first place. It ends up bitty, or too wet, or ragged. The dough hook took care of that for me in about six seconds. At that point I wasn’t too sure if I should then keep the hook going or grab the dough and knead. I ended up doing a bit of both, which probably wasn’t ideal.

My flat suffers from a glaring absence of suitable places to prove dough. So my bread’s never as good as I feel it could be if I had an airing cupboard or some other cozy little nook. Anyway. The bread was decent enough. It looked like this.



Because for some reason I thought I’d be ‘rustic’ rather than just use a loaf tin like a normal person.

I did, however, use the loaf tin to make banana bread. There are obviously a thousand thousand recipes for banana bread, but I found a pretty simple one that was low on butter and sugar, and fairly high on flour. And REALLY high on bananas. Like, 500 g of bananas. That’s more than all the other dry ingredients combined. I did half and half with the flour again, because why not. And threw in some vanilla extract, because why not. And threw some sliced almonds on top, because why not. But I also learned that even when using over-ripe bananas deliberately, there are some bananas that you do NOT want to use. A banana should not be of feathery consistency.

The stand mixer was a total boon, because the recipes are all ‘mashed bananas’ and I’m all ‘screw that, the machine can deal with it’. And it did. It got a far more thorough mix than I could have done by hand.

And it looked like this:


It was very well received. And it’s nice to have something to make that’s ‘puddingy’ but not obscenely bad for you, because the stuff I’ve mostly been making tends towards the ‘butter, sugar, butter, flour, butter and MOAR BUTTER’ end of the spectrum.

So yes, that’s what I’ve been up to. Nothing too adventurous, but keeping my hand in.