Chocolate Cake: Once more.

What is the idea of beauty? You may get answers infused with poetic descriptions to those with bland philosophical tinge. So, it truly is in the eye of beholder. Someone may term a rustic bread loaf with crack on top and interiors poking through as “beautiful” while others may snipe at the most invisible bubble in otherwise perfectly crafted fondant cake. And though one may play with the camera and light and angle and lenses to make a most ordinary bowl of oatmeal porridge look like the most delicious dish on this planet, it actually remains what it is: A bowl of plain oatmeal porridge. So, I just don’t get this whole humdrum of “beautifying food”. I tried joining the brigade to see if I had too rigid an opinion but that didn’t do any good and I reverted to my “cake alone” photos. To me personally, a clear picture of the food showing its color and texture in natural light is far more appealing than one styled with a hundred props and what not. Former exudes honesty and latter kind of deceit. But not many concur with my opinion and it is absolutely fine with me. We all are entitled to our opinions and live in harmony.

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For the same reason, I love reading Deb Perelman’s blog smittenkitchen.com. There are many other blogs but hers has what I found lacking in most others- the easiness, the honesty, and the confidence it gives the reader that “it might be difficult, but you can totally do it”. And I guess last year I came across this lovely article by her and the full article may be read here because it is such an interesting read. Therein, I found these golden lines which I always believed in and I quote, “I’m not interested in food styling: I like taking pictures that show the details of the food as it actually looks. When you see a photo of an overly styled dish that you’re supposed to cook at home, you’re going to be disappointed when your food doesn’t look like that. I can’t relate to stunning, gaudily lit photos of perfectly plated dishes arranged on an old, wooden barn table with frost-hued linen and wildflowers—that’s not my life, and it has nothing to do with the way I actually cook. My goal is to encourage people—their dish will probably look something like my pictures. I try to have good, natural lighting, and that’s about it. If people see that, then hopefully they’ll feel confident enough to try it.

Those lines, whenever I read them, feel like a comforting pat on my back. Every time I struggle to take “good” photographs of my cake and they whisper in my ears to better concentrate on baking good cakes than making them look “good” with props. And as long as the cake speaks for itself, I refuse to place a flower and a ribbon next to it with dew dangling down a leaf in the backdrop.

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You see here a chocolate cake slathered in meringue buttercream with ganache dripping over. The piped flowers and shells are dusted with edible glitter and it was to celebrate a petit princess turning four. You can make it with any of the chocolate cake recipes, the only meringue recipe and ganache recipe on this blog, fill the layers with buttercream and chocolate chips or compote or anything you fancy . But if you insist on knowing which one I used for this one, just leave a message and I shall update 🙂

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Fondant Cake: Chocolate Cake

I AM NOT a fan of fondant. But, then many others are and I think that is because they don’t know what it is like to work with fondant in a coastal city where temperature never touches below 35 degree C. But that’s beyond the point. The point is that some people DO like fondant and when I was requested to create a car themed fondant cake for a boy’s first birthday party, this is what I could do. The children went bonkers over the cars and cheerfully gobbled the fondant figurines in no time, like they always do. And that’s precisely the reason I agree to do fondant cake time and again even though I assert it every time, I am not a fan of fondant.

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Pina Colada Cheesecake

On Sunday we had such fun filled birthday celebrations in Bahamas! Or so I imagined, eating this Pina Colada Cheesecake that really made up for a few misses. Well, almost.2Its been a long time since I baked a cheesecake though there often is a demand for one. As we geared for the birthday in smoldering May, a coconut cheesecake seemed the best choice. A few splashes of rum and a few chunks of pineapple make everyone merry. Did I mention hidden chocolate chips in the rum cream topping? I was ready with the plan.1WP_20160529_08_54_22_ProThough we do get mascarpone here, it’s obscenely priced and I can’t bring myself to bake with an ingredient I wouldn’t be happy buying. Luckily, you can make your own mascarpone at home and that what I do. It tastes far better than the store bought and costs a fraction. Though it takes a bit of planning as making mascarpone at home takes two days, it’s totally worth the time. I suggest you make your own mascarpone and spend that hard earned money on that Ruby woo or Nymphette, or both. Making your own mascarpone can empower you in some ways.WP_20160530_17_50_03_Pro (2).jpgI believed that Pina Colada would be a great flavor to be translated into a cheesecake and I wasn’t wrong because it’s one of the most superlative cheesecakes I have baked, and is decadent at its best. Though I trust my gut feeling while choosing a flavor, it’s the smiles, hugs and kisses which really tell it all.3Homemade Mascarpone Cheese:
(Adapted from here)
Yields around 650 grams cheese

• 1 Liter amul cream (25% fat)
• 2 tablespoons lemon juice

1. Prepare a bain marie  large enough to hold the vessel you are going to pour your cream in. Bring water to simmer.
2. Empty the cream in a large heatproof vessel and place in bain marie. Heat the cream gently till it registers a temperature of 85° C.
3. Add the lemon juice and keep stirring the cream till it thickens and coats the spatula, 3-4 minutes.
4. Take the cream vessel out and cool it to room temperature. Chill cream for up to 24 hours. It will thicken further under refrigeration.
5. Spread layers of clean muslin cloth and empty the thickened cream into it. Hang it inside refrigerator for 24 to drain out whey.
6. Store tightly under refrigeration for up-to a week.

Pina Colada Cheesecake
(Adapted from here)
Makes a 9 inch round cheesecake

Ingredients:
For the Crust
• 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted, divided
• 3/4 cup digestive biscuits crumbs
• 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted, cooled
• 1/4 cup sugar

For the filling
• 680 grams cream cheese, room temperature
• 1 ½ cup sugar
• 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
• 3 tablespoons corn flour
• 4 large eggs
• 1 cup canned cream of coconut, unsweetened
• 1/4 cup rum

For the topping
• 400 grams amul cream
• 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
• 2 tablespoons rum + a handful of chocolate chips (optional)
• Small chunks of freshly chopped pineapple

Bake the crust:
1. Preheat oven to 176° C. Brush 9-inch-diameter springform cake pan with 2.5-inch-high sides with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Line the pan with parchment paper; lightly brush paper with some of melted butter.
2. To roast coconut, scrape a fresh coconut and roast at 176° C for 7-10 minutes, tossing the coconut regularly till it turns very light golden. Cool and keep aside.
3. Blend crumbs, coconut, sugar, and remaining butter in a medium bowl. Press mixture tightly over bottom of prepared pan. Bake crust until lightly browned at edges, about 10 minutes. Cool. Reduce oven temperature to 150° C

Prepare the filling:
1. Using electric mixer, beat first 4 ingredients in large bowl until blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating for a whole minute before adding the next. Beat in cream of coconut and rum.
2. The batter will be thin. Gently pour batter over crust.
3. Place the pan on a big sheet of heavy duty aluminium sheet such that you get over-hangs above the edges. Secure the overhangs to make it a watertight contraption.
4. Place cake pan in large roasting pan. Add enough boiling water to roasting pan to come 1 inch up sides of cake pan.
5. Cover roasting pan with foil and bake cake 1 hour.
6. Remove foil. Bake until cake is pale brown, puffed, and just set in center, about 40 minutes#. Cool cake in water bath 2 hours. Remove from water; run knife around cake to loosen. Chill cake in pan for minimum 6 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)

#My cake took more than two hours at this step and I almost became impatient. A frantic google search enlightened me by the fact that it was alright to bake as long as the center was jiggling and that the baking time has a lot to do with the temperature inside the oven. Mine being an old equipment, took more than two hours but you really need to keep a check to avoid over-baking. The key is to turn off the oven when its still jiggling in the center and leave it in the water bath inside the oven where it will keep on setting with time.

For the topping:
1. Chill the amul cream at least for six hours. Remove the thickened cream in a bowl and discard the separated water. Add the confectioner’s sugar and beat gently to lighten the cream.
2. Add in the rum and beat once more. Mix in chocolate chips if using.
3. Spread over the cooled cheesecake and decorate with pineapple chunks and cherries.

Eggless Vanilla Cake with Rich Vanilla Buttercream

When I thought that I knew American buttercream like the back of my hand, this happened:

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You see those tiny bubbles in the buttercream? I don’t like them there. Its true that this buttercream still pipes well, tastes divine and is devoured by kids and grown ups alike,  but truth be told, I was a bit disappointed when they appeared. But more than success, its failure that makes us strive to learn further. It urges us to find ways we wouldn’t have otherwise known. So, it was back to reading about bubbles in buttercream. There are many reasons bubbles are formed in the buttercream and I would love to compile them in another post. There is nothing wrong with the buttercream recipe. Its just the technique, a point that I have missed. I would update as soon as I find out.

As for this cake, its an eggless vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream. I bake with eggs all the time, so this one made me push the envelope and the result was a moist cake bursting with vanilla flavor. Dress it up with buttercream or chocolate ganache and sandwich with cream and fruits for celebrations. Or sprinkle it with tutti-fruity if you aren’t feeling too fancy. Either way, this cake will make you happy, and that’s what a good cake is supposed to do.

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Eggless vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting
(I made 2.5 times of the recipe to make a two tier cake)

1.5 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
½ cup water
½ cup oil
¾ cup fine sugar
5 tbsp yogurt/curd
1 tbsp white vinegar
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla extract
• Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line an 7 inches pan.
• Sift the cake flour with the baking powder. Add a pinch of salt to the sifted flour.
• Add the sugar to the oil and mix well and keep aside.
• Whisk the yogurt till smooth. Add 1 tbsp vinegar. Then add baking soda into the yogurt and stir.
• Now pour the oil-sugar mixture, ½ cup water and the frothing yogurt-vinegar-baking soda into the sieved flour. Add vanilla extract.
• Fold quickly to make a lump free batter, Avoid over-mixing.
• Pour the batter in the prepared pan. Tap the pan a number of times to release the trapped air bubbles.
• Bake at 180 degrees C for 30-35 minutes or till a tooth pick inserted in the cake comes out clean.
• If the cake starts browning too quickly, cover the top with an aluminium foil tent.
• Once baked, let the cake cool at room temperature before frosting.
• The cake can be baked a day before and frosted the next day.

Rich Vanilla Buttercream
(I made 1.5 times of this recipe to fill and frost the two tier cake)
1 cup unsalted butter
3 teaspoon of pure vanilla essence
4 cups of icing sugar
3-4 tablespoons of fresh cream

• Whip the butter till its light and fluffy, for about 2-3 minutes
• Carefully sift the icing sugar over it. It helps to remove any lumps and gives a better texture to the buttercream. It is also important to use fresh icing sugar as it really builds the taste.
• Start adding the cream, one table spoon at a time, and whip it well before adding further. Once the desired consistency is reached, add in the color and whip well before frosting the cake.

Flourless Chocolate Orange Cake with Caramel Dark Chocolate Ganache

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Whenever I have a chocolate cake to bake, the most daunting task is to decide “which one?”. The term “chocolate cake” is obscure to say the least, especially when the chocolate can be combined with endless ingredients in endless combinations. From beetroot and zucchini to bananas and oranges, from buttermilk and malt,  to Stout and Marnier, from candies and peels to walnuts and almonds, its a tough decision to choose “the one” every single time, more so because each one is more spectacular than the other. But then, that’s what makes it exciting at the same time.

But I never have to think twice about baking this cake. In fact, this is the cake I have to really keep myself off repeating as often as I want to. Its such a winner. Specially if you like oranges.

The richness of this cake betrays the easy preparation method. It is essentially a one-bowl-recipe with no all purpose flour or butter for that matter.  Here the three main players are cocoa powder, almond meal and orange pulp. Use the best of each ingredient and what you get is the closest cake version of this, which by every means is my most favorite chocolate on this planet.

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Chocolare Orange cake with Salted caramel ganache
(Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Feast – Chocolate Orange Cake)
Yields one 8 inches round, 2 inches tall cake

Chocolate orange cake:
2 small mandarin oranges, total weight ~375g
6 eggs
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
200g ground toasted almonds
250g brown sugar
50g dark cocoa powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

• Keep the whole oranges in a pot and cover with enough water. Boil until soft and tender, around 45 minutes.
• Drain and cool the oranges. Cut open into half and remove the seeds. Allow it to cool completely.
• Butter and line an 8 inches springform cake pan.
• Heat the oven to 180°C.
• In the bowl of a food processor, add the oranges and all of the remaining ingredients. Process until a smooth and creamy mixture is formed. The mixture will have tiny bits of orange pieces which will taste awesome once the cake is baked.
• Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for about 40 minutes, or till a tester inserted in the center comes out clean.     Cover the cake with an aluminium foil tent if it starts to brown too quickly.
• Cool the cake completely before frosting.

Salted caramel ganache:
75g dark chocolate, chopped
75g milk chocolate, chopped
200g cream
50g butter
100g sugar
large pinch of salt
• Chop both types of chocolates in a big bowl and place a metal sieve over it.
• Keep the sugar in a heavy bottomed pan and heat over a medium-high heat till the sugar starts melting. Do not add water. Swirl the pan in between for even caramelization.
• When caramel is of deep amber color, pour in the cream slowly and whisking gently till mixed evenly. Be careful as the mixture will splatter a lot.
• Pour the hot mixture through the sieve onto the chocolate. Mix with a spatula till chocolate melts into a shiny creamy glaze. Add salt and mix gently.
• Allow to cool completely before frosting the cake.
• Frost the cake as desired.