Sunday, 6 April 2008

Shroom-tastic and carrot-astrophe

I’ve had a bit of a bleurgh week – nothing too bad, just a general feeling of frustration that I’ve had to spend a lot of time going to meetings and departmental events and not getting any of my own research done. I know, welcome to the life of a faculty member. Sigh. I wanted to cheer myself up on Friday by baking something for The Scientist to take away to his weekend of gaming, and selected a Delia carrot cake (with a lemony orangey glaze poured over it, and a cream cheese icing, though her original was for a fromage frais one). I really should have just written off the week as one of under-achieving, but it seemed like just the thing to do at the time…

The first slight hitch was that the cake needed self-raising wholemeal flour, as did all the other carrot cake recipes I found. I only had plain, but added 3 tsp baking powder to make up for it, as per the instructions on the baking powder pot. While I was doing that, the pecans I was toasting busily turned themselves into nasty-smelling little cinders, which I thought was particularly evil of them as they didn’t have much longer than Delia instructed, and that was in an oven which was starting from cold (I was trying to put this together between breakfast and starting work so that it would be cooled and iced by the time The Scientist left for the weekend. This may also have been unwise). So, the pecans got binned, and untoasted walnuts were substituted. The rest of the mixing went ok, and I bunged it in the oven in one round pan rather than Delia’s two, as I didn’t have enough cream cheese (or inclination on a work day) to be sandwiching two together as well as icing the top.

I left the cake for just under the allotted half an hour as our oven has a tendency to be too hot (though my lovely new oven thermometer is helping to quantify that now). Then I put it back for another 10 minutes. And then another few. By this time I was getting fed up with constantly leaping up to check on the damned thing while trying to work (plus it was testing poor Mausel’s patience that her lap kept disappearing). Eventually I took it out and poured the glaze over it, but stuck it back in the cooling oven as a compromise measure. Some time later I came back to turn it out, when – absolute disaster – it flopped out of its tin as I released the spring, and spread itself goopily over the hob. Not only was it as smooshed as a custard pie, it was also clearly not cooked through (although nicely risen). I was cross, and I may even have questioned the legal status of its provenance. Then I picked it all up, padded it back down into the tin and shoved it back in the oven for 20 minutes. It was getting iced, after all, and The Scientist and his gaming friends are very forgiving over appearances as long as the taste is good. So far so not exactly according to plan. This cake was trying my patience (and Mausel’s)

By the time it came out again it was looking a little darker on top than would be ideal, but it did at least seem a bit more cooked through than it had on its previous appearance. Once cooled and (cautiously) released it didn’t look too bad, and maintained a reasonable degree of structural integrity when I transferred it to a plate. I made up some icing using cream cheese, icing sugar and maple syrup, and slathered that over the top. There were still a few volcano-like peaks sticking through, so I chopped up some more walnuts and scattered them over the top. It’s not going to win any prizes for its looks, but it will hopefully satisfy a group of hungry role-players. I’m actually quite surprised by how not-completely-awful it looks in the photos, as I don’t think I’ve made a less aesthetically pleasing cake since a cornflakey one which looked like it had the pox.

So at whose door do I lay the blame for my carrot-astrophe? While I’m not a big fan of Delia’s veggie recipes, it’s on the ground of extreme unhealthiness or lack of imagination. On the whole I’ve found her recipes do work, and have had some good experiences with her cakes and breads. I’m therefore reluctant to blame the recipe, and think that I will have to accept my ongoing voyage of learning as to the vagaries of our oven, and the fact that I was trying to do at least four other things at the same time. Plus perhaps you just can’t expect a cake to make up for a substandard week. That’s the cook’s view anyway; I’ll wait to hear what the consumers say.

My work day did actually get better after that, and come the evening I decided to treat myself to a mushroom fest in The Scientist’s absence. I also decided to revisit the yeast-based vegan cheese sauce effort since I have to admit that I didn’t actually do it justice in my last disastrous attempt. That time, I had been unable to find nutritional yeast, and so had used brewer’s yeast after reading that it was similar. Since then, however, I have read a lot more information about it, and you definitely can’t substitute the one for the other. Brewer’s yeast is bitter and not at all cheesey, so really I didn’t do a fair trial. I found some nutritional yeast in the health food shop in Lewes (of course), and bought it in the interests of finding out what the sauce was supposed to taste like.

Tonight, I just improvised a bit. I made up some pancake batter (that’s crepes to you, Dr D!) and while it was sitting, relaxing its gluten, or whatever it does, I gently heated a cup of soya milk with 3 tbsps of the yeast. When it started simmering I seasoned it with salt, pepper and parsley, and let it sit there over a low heat. Meanwhile, I fried some chopped garlic in some fry light, and after a few minutes added some chopped mushrooms. When that looked nice and done I added in some chopped chard, and cooked it until it was wilted. Then I stirred the whole thing into the cheesy sauce. It was looking a little thinner than I wanted, so I added a bit of cornflour and water. I then cooked the pancakes, placed some filling in the middle and folded it all up into a little parcel. And it was delicious. Really delicious. So delicious that I didn’t want to stop to photograph it. I apologise profusely to the nutritional yeast, and regret the size of the pot of brewer’s yeast I now have no use for. Any ideas? My ‘shroomy supper rounded off my slightly variable day nicely, and it amused me that I’d managed to concoct a meal with such Scientist warding-off properties. Mushrooms, savoury pancakes, nutritional yeast: I doubt he would have stayed in the same room. But then he’s off eating pizza and almost-disaster carrot cake while acting as Games Master in an alternative universe.

**Update: The carrot cake was a winner with the gamers (none of whom knew anything about the saga of its creation, including The Scientist). That’s got to be a point for Delia, I think**

Delia’s Ultimate carrot cake (From her Vegetarian Collection)

Serves 6-8

200g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
175g dark soft brown sugar
2 large eggs
150ml sunflower oil
200g wholemeal self-rising flour (or the same quantity plan flour with 3tsp baking powder)
3 tsp mixed spice
1 tsp bicarb of soda
Grated zest 1 orange
110g sultanas
50g desiccated coconut
50g pecan nuts

For the syrup glaze:
Juice 1 small orange
1 tbsp lemon juice
75g dark brown soft sugar

For the cinnamon icing [I didn’t do this, but used cream cheese mixed with some icing sugar and maple syrup instead]
250g marscapone
200g 8% fat fromage frais
1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon
1 rounded tbsp golden caster sugar

To finish:
50g pecans

Pre-heat oven to Gas 6/4—F/220C, then turn down to Gas 3/325F/170C when you have toasted the pecans

Prepare two 20cm 4cm deep sponge tins by lining with baking parchment

Place all the pecan nuts (110g in total) on a baking sheet, and toast in oven for 8 minutes. Now chop one half roughly for the cake, and the other more finely for the topping later. Then turn down the oven

To make the cake, whisk the sugar, eggs and oil together in a bowl with an electric hand whisk for 2-3 mins, then check that there is no sugar left undissolved. Then sift in the flour, mixed spice and bicarb into the bowl, tipping in the bits of bran left in the sieve. Then stir all this in gently, followed by the remaining cake ingredients.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared tins and bake on the centre shelf of the oven for 30 mins. They should be nicely risen, feel firm and springy to the touch when lightly pressed in the centre, and show signs of shrinking away from the sides of the tin. Of not, give them another 2-3 mins.

Meanwhile, make the topping by whisking all the ingredients together in a bowl until light and fluffy. Then cover with clingfilm and chill 1-2 hours.

To make the syrup glaze, whisk together the fruit juices and sugar in another bowl and then, when the cakes come out of the oven, stab them all over with a skewer and quickly spoon the syrup evenly over the hot cakes.

Now leave them on one side to cool in their tins, during which time the syrup will be absorbed. When the cakes are completely cold remove them from the tins. Spread one-third of the icing over one of the cakes, place the other on top, then cover the top and sides with the remaining mixture. Scatter the remaining toasted pecans over the top just before serving.


LisaRene said...

How frustrating! I'm glad the end result was delicious. The cake looks quite appealing in the photos. Cream cheese frosting is sooo good. I've never had it with maple syrup, that's a great idea!

Glad your experience with vegan cheese sauce was more successful this time.

I came upon a blog post I think might interest you. Mary at
has developed a way to mail iced cupcakes and have them arrive looking as perfect as when she first made them. She has been working on the concept and has just perfected it! It would also be a practical way to transport cupcakes when on your bike.

Ilana said...

ho ho ho, that post made me laugh :)