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Cardiff’s branch of the Clandestine Cake Club has been reborn! Meeting for the first time in a while at Coffee Da on a Monday night we were challenged to make something from our childhood and so I called my Mother.

“What did I like when I was younger?”
“Nothing, you were an awkward so-and-so”.

Fair.

The recipe also needed to be pretty simple and not too time-consuming as the day of making was also the Cardiff Half-Marathon and the chance of an unrisen cake or failed ganache would probably just finish me off. So I settled on a raspberry bakewell sponge from the BBC website here – one practice run for my works’ Macmillan Coffee Morning made me modify the recipe. Firstly, I don’t find all-in-one mixes do a cake justice so went the more traditional route of butter and sugar, then eggs, then flour and the remaining dry ingredients. Secondly, the mixture was far, far too solid – for my practice run I added milk but for the CCC night I added amaretto until it reached a suitable consistency.

The end result was a bit crumbly, but ok – main thing was it tasted suitably Bakewell-y.

The other challenge facing me was transporting the thing – I commute by cycle, which means everything gets shoved in a backpack which is fine if you’re taking about work clothes but keeping a cake pristine is an altogether different challenge. Even in a box, carefully placed at the bottom of the bag and covered with buffering layers it was a nerve-wracking journey over the city’s occasionally uneven roads – if it was something delicate or I’d spent time decorating it either a taxi or walking would be a better option.

And without delay, onto what you’re actually after – pictures!

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Yes, this is me semi-live blogging my first try at Clandestine Cake Club’s virtual meet-up!

I’ll update this as I go along as simultaneously attempting to make cake and complain about stuff on the internet might be a bit tricky. I have my mandated cup of tea, and will be ably assisted by my guest today, Giac. Thankfully my cake is not tuna and/or ham based, so he’ll probably be ok with keeping his face out of the ingredients.

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Today I’m making a gin and tonic cake – recipe here. My first two reactions to the recipe are (a) not made in a cake tin? That’s a bit weird…..and (b) URGH, CUPS AS A MEASURING DEVICE. My life would be a whole lot easier if everything was in grams.

The initial cake was fairly basic to make and has gone in the oven – once it’s out and needs glazing I’ll update again!

EDIT 1

Cake is out, and initial glaze is on! Hm, perhaps I should have thought about how to get it out of the tray once baked – maybe a layer of baking paper underneath it would have been smart. Oh well – if nothing else works I’ll have to cut it out, slice by slice. Waiting for it to cool now before putting the final icing on the top.

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EDIT 2

And here’s the finished product, with the icing on top. Still not out of it’s tray though – it’s going to need to be cut out which will have to wait until Monday as it’s for someone’s birthday.

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EDIT 3

Final verdict: a moderate success. I think the vanilla essence in the icing is a little over-powering; I’m going to remake the cake with lemon or lime in the icing instead, to give it that proper zesty taste.

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I’ve never done a recipe book review, but feel sort of inclined to do so now; such things have become something of a default gift for people to pass on to me and whilst the normal book will have a couple of interesting things in them here or there they’re often quite homogenous.

I will, however, rave about the Clandestine Cake Club book.

It’s full of recipes by the founder, Lynn Hill, and the various attendees of the events that run the length and breadth of the UK and beyond. They’re different, experimental and interesting and written with such enthusiasm that I can’t wait to try them out. Glorious sounding bakes like Dark Chocolate and Amaretto, Japanese Green Tea and Orange, Sweet Potato and Pecan, and the opinion-dividing Chocolate and Caramel Marmite cake.

I can’t recommend it enough, and not just because I attend the events.

I made the White Chocolate and Raspberry loaf, which was both lovely and moist, and a very simple cake to make. I did have a picture, but I deleted it because I am an idiot. Sorry. But here’s a picture of the book!

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Next: pastry!

Hello, blog. It’s been a while.

Circumstances have meant I’ve not really done a lot of baking during the first part of the year; batch of cupcakes here and there but nothing really worth writing home about but there’s been a couple of things that are worth shouting about.

Firstly; I’ve learnt to make bread! Well, kind of…..

As a birthday gift last year I was given an evening class at One Mile Bakery as an introduction to baking bread. It’s certainly a lot easier that I thought, and the entire evening was a lot of hands-on fun. I’d recommend the classes to anyone wanting to have a go at making a variety of bread.

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(Mine’s the third on the right!)

After this, I had a crack at making traditional Guernsey Fruit Bread (known as Gache (pronounced ‘gosh’!)). Bit burnt and I needed to knead the mixture more, but passable effort.

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Secondly, the return of the Cardiff branch of the Clandesting Cake Club! It’s been on a sabbatical for a while after Gladys, the previous organiser, stepped down but it’s now back up a running. Our first meeting was in the statuesque surroundings of the Cardiff Millenium Centre, with a terrific view looking down onto the oval basin and out onto the bay.

The theme of the afternoon was showstoppers; so I wanted to cook something that was both impressive and had something to do with shows / musicals etc. Helpful suggestions from my friends included: –

Crocodile Dundee Cake
Woman in Black Forest Gateaux
Cake the High Road
Rocky Road Horror Cake
Breakfast at Tiffin

…..and many more that too terrible to mention here. In wisdom, I decided the best thing to do after a break from regular baking was to attempt something (a) I’d never made before and (b) was intricate and complicated. And that would be Eric Lanlard’s Opera Cake.

All in all, it wasn’t too bad despite the many things that could have gone wrong. The sponges were a little overdone as I cooked them simultaneously on two levels of the over and one brown more than the other, leaving me to cook one longer than the other. The chocolate ganache was simple enough (it’s really just melting chocolate and cream together).

The buttercream though; heavens, that caused me some problems. Took three attempts to get close to right – the first batch was too runny, and the second I boiled the sugar too long and it crystallised in the pan. At that point I ran out of golden caster sugar and had to resort to the regular stuff; once getting it to a syrup-like state it had to be poured over eggs you’re already whisking with a hand blender.

Anyone aware with my physical dexterity can predict that this very nearly ended in disaster.

(It was the best buttercream I’ve ever made though; the coffee adds a layer of bitterness to the sweetness).

Constructing the cake was fun; layer of sponge, ganache, layer of sponge, buttercream, layer of sponge, ganache, then the chocolate topping. I ran out of time to decorate it.

The first time it came out of the tin was at the meeting and it was such a relief to see it stay together – I had visions of it collapsing due to the buttercream not being solid enough but it held together. Need to get some springform tins so I can take the cake out of the tin cleanly rather than practically chiselling it out.

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Five cakes in total – all delicious, and a good variation of flavours and styles.

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It’s certainly got me back in the mood for more baking, so hopefully more regular updates will be forthcoming.

New year, and a whole load of fun stuff to catch up on. I seem to have become somewhat easy to buy presents for as I got several cookbooks for Xmas. This, however, has certainly helped in my new plan to keep my baking motivation up; in April I’m running the London Marathon and my chosen charity is Medicins Sans Frontiers. To help raise money, I plan on regularly baking for my colleagues at work.

My first offering came from Annie Bell’s Baking Bible – a rich, indulgent chocolate torte. Whilst the topping was easy enough – very similar to making a cheesecake top – the base was something I’d never made before, a thin, sweet sponge that meant the cake wasn’t too heavy.

Thing I learned from baking this cake – using a springform tin would be better in the future for getting chilled cakes or dessert easily and onto the plate.

This week I made something simple and reliable – raspberry and white chocolate muffins. There’s a multitude of recipes for these on the internet but I normally turn to the BBC Good Food section. These proved pretty popular at work – I think that it’s easier to sell individual cakes than slices of something bigger.

Things I learned from making these cakes – I need to practice getting the time of baking exact, as I never seem to get a clean peel of the case from the cake.

Finally, for a challenge I ordered some moulds to have a crack at making my own Easter Eggs. The actual shaping of the melting chocolate is easier than you’d expect but the real challenge appears to be getting the lip of the halves precisely formed seems to be the challenge.

Things I learned from making these – you can actually get a bit sick from the smell of melted chocolate.

Sorry about the lack of pictures – I’ll make sure this gets rectified for my next post.

Here’s the final update before all seasonal shenanigans are done with; firstly, the final Christmas cake! I used Mary Berry’s recipe for icing from here and it turned out delicious. I didn’t really have a plan when going to ice the cake barring ‘dump it all on top and then try and smooth it out as it runs down the sides’. Next time I’ll need to get myself a palette knife and some hot water so it can be shaped properly.

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One of these days, I’ll read up on these tips before I dive in head-first.

The cake itself is a little dry – I think I was wary of it being cooked all the way through and, as a result, left it in the oven probably 15-20 minutes too long. The brandy has helped keep it somewhat moist, though, and in terms of flavour it really does taste like my Gran’s cake. The marzipan should be thicker, and the icing better shaped but as said – this was a learning experience and next year’s should be an improvement.

Finally, I made roulade as a Christmas day for the strange people who don’t like pudding – I’ve realised that although mentioning it several times in previous updates, I never took a photo of it.

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Happy New Year! I’m going to attempt to re-do the design of the website and keep doing regular updates in 2013, so I’d like to say a big ‘thanks!’ to everyone who’s taken time over the last year to read and comment.

When was my last post?

Oh dear.

I’d like to claim quality over quantity, but….you know. Anyway, Christmas is here, and I’m making festive stuff. First off: progress on the Christmas Cake.

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As you can see, it’s been marzipanned (shut up spellchecker, that definitely is a word). I had too much marzipan and had to consume the leftovers. This was a most arduous task. I’m giving it a few days, and then I’ll get a chance to try my hand at Royal Icing, which is probably a recipe for disaster as my icing skills are pretty terrible. Photos of the end product will be laid bare on this blog very shortly for you to gaze at in slack-jawed amazement.

I also have made: Christmas cupcakes! These, take from the recipe here but, as they were going into work, didn’t have the brandy in. Probably a mistake. Also would have generally been better as a pudding, with custard or some sort of brandy cream sauce as they had a bit of a spotted dick feel to them.

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(If you just sniggered at the last part of that sentence, congratulations. You are twelve years old and/or a bloke).

Next up: Egg nog! Hot chocolate! Cookies!