The cake I wanted to make for Valentine’s Day looked beautiful. It was a rose, raspberry and lychee cake from Edd Kimber’s Patisserie Made Simple. It had pink macarons, posh buttercream, Genoise sponge and sugared rose petals. I decided to make this cake for Valentine’s Day as soon as I saw the picture. It was the prettiest cake I’d ever seen.
I got as far as drawing round an espresso cup on baking parchment (templates for the macarons). The cake I actually made for Valentine’s Day was this one, a coffee cake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookboook.
There were several things that scuppered my attempt at roses, raspberries and lychees.
First, I had a cheese on toast disaster. I forgot to toast one side of the bread. If I couldn’t manage cheese on toast, how was I going to cope with macarons?
Second, I couldn’t find any lychees. The closest Tesco came was a selection of tropical fruit salads and something called “Chunky Tropical Medley”. You know the sort of thing, a mush of unidentifiable “tropical” fruit that would have been a treat at tea time on a Sunday in the 1970s. I suspected Edd Kimber had something a little more sophisticated in mind. By the time I’d finished hunting for lychees, my time for actually making the cake was running short (I’d planned that it would take at least two days – one for the macarons and buttercream, and another for the sponge).
Third, my husband told me that he doesn’t really like lychees, “they taste of plastic,” he said, either plastic or rubber, I can’t remember. That was the final nail in the coffin for my beautiful cake.
I flicked through my books to see if I could find something (a) that my husband would like, and (b) that I could make without leaving the house – the endless search for lychees had sapped all my strength and enthusiasm. I decided on the coffee cake from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook. A bit more robust than raspberry and rose, and certainly not as romantic.
The Hummingbird coffee cake is baked in a ring cake tin. I greased mine liberally with butter and dusted it with flour before I did anything else. I’ve had trouble getting things out of the tin before and I was taking no chances with this one. Next, I made the coffee flavouring by boiling instant coffee granules with water until the liquid had reduced by half. It tasted pretty bitter, but it was going to be mixed with a cake which had over a pound of sugar in it, and added to a buttercream that was, mostly, sugar so I wasn’t overly worried.
After the coffee flavouring, I made the buttercream. I beat sifted icing sugar with butter and then slowly added milk, vanilla extract and the coffee. My KitchenAid is now very dangerous on anything but the slowest speed. It managed to dislodge the bowl several times on level two and, when I tried going faster, it bumped its way from the back to the front of the worktop in record time. I think that 2016 may be the year of the new food mixer – and I doubt whether it’ll be another KitchenAid.
Onto the cake. This is a big cake. As I said, there’s over a pound of sugar in it. There’s also over a pound of butter and eight, yes, eight eggs. I mixed the butter, sugar and coffee flavouring in the mixer and held onto the bowl as the machine shakily mixed them together. I added the eggs one at a time and then flour, cocoa powder and baking powder. I put the mixture into my greased and dusted tin, flattened the top with a knife and put it into the oven. The recipe says that the oven temperature should be 170°. I use a fan oven, so I’d usually set the temperature 20° lower, but I have baked a big cake using a Hummingbird recipe before and 150° has been too low – I decided to go with 160. Here’s what happened to my cake in the oven.
I watched, helpless, as it erupted out of the tin (the recipe contains a severe warning about the consequences of opening the oven door before the minimum baking time has elapsed). When I could bear it no longer, I turned my back on it and waited for the timer to go.
The cooking time in the recipe is 40 minutes, or until the sponge feels firm to the touch. At 40 minutes my cake was still molten. It took an hour before my skewer came out clean. Once I’d taken it out of the oven, I let it cool in the tin for a couple of minutes before taking a very deep breath and turning it out. It came out in one piece and didn’t look too bad at all. Once it had cooled, I covered it in butter cream and gave it a dusting of cocoa powder.
It didn’t have quite the same “Be Mine” quality as pink macarons, but it wasn’t bad. It could though, do with a bit more coffee flavour. Most of the coffee comes from the buttercream rather than the cake, which is strange, because when my taste testers and I scraped the mixing bowl, there was definitely a strong coffeeness about the batter. I don’t know where it’s gone.
So, it was another “OK but…” bake. I seem to have made a lot of these over the past few weeks. Fingers crossed for something delicious next time to rescue my fading baking mojo.