This cake. It’s trying to make me angry.
It’s doing very well.
You know, I’m not particularly into custard, but on one of my food magazine freelancing days I read through an article that mentioned the Pinterest craze that is Magic Custard Cake, and the concept intrigued me (pour custard into cake tin, bake, comes out as a beautiful, distinctly 3-layered thing). This cake sounded like a fun experiment.
AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA – [gaaaasp] – HAHAHAAAA… Fun.
Long story short: I am in a fight with this cake.
Actually, let’s do the long story. My therapist is on holiday this week and I need to talk this one out.
I’ll just start with the spoiler that the cake won round one. However, if you know me at all, you know I don’t do defeat by pastry. I rev my electric mixer in the face of badly-behaved bakes. I refuse to let a bowl of whisked dairy products make me (any more) angry (than I already am).
See, the things is, I have a theory. Actually, I have many theories, but I’ll tell you the one that pertains to this caketastrophe first.
Actually, quick side note to demonstrate the best way to separate egg yolks from egg whites ever: touch the mouth of an empty plastic bottle to the yolk, squeeze and release. The yolk gets tidily sucked up into the bottle, without breaking. Release the yolk gently into another bowl by squeezing the bottle lightly.
ANYWAY. My theory. Let’s just say that this may or may not be the scene of a crime:
See, only one of the many recipes I found for this cake involved vinegar. Vinegar helps whipped egg whites stay stiff, and I thought, given that this cake is basically just a puddle of custard, that it might benefit from a bit of lightness and rising power.
You’re staring at my stiff peaks, aren’t you. (I’ve probably made that joke before. Just laugh so we can move on.)
The vinegar really did the job in terms of boosting the firmness – these were the airiest egg whites I’ve ever whipped up, and would probably pass the bowl-over-head test during an earthquake.
The deal with whipped egg whites, as we all know, is that they are 98% air (this may be a lie – again, move on). And I really hadn’t stopped to think about whether this cake actually wanted much in the way of air.
Ooh, okay, another side note: check out my analogue microwave. No, it’s not a bain marie (it’s entirely possible that this is a bain marie), it’s my way of dealing with recipes that tell me to nuke butter to soften it, or milk, to warm it slightly.
So basically I melted the butter by putting it in a jug and putting that jug in a pot to which I added boiling water. A few minutes and the odd stir later, I had a puddle of yellow butter.
The recipe only called for slightly warm milk, so swapped in the milk jug, refreshed the boiling water and let that sit while I dealt with adding the butter and flour to the yolks.
I very quickly gave up on using the electric hand-held mixer for any of this. ‘Splashy’ is the understatement of the century.
Spoons: safer than splashy electrical things.
Oh, I thought I’d get creative and add some autumnal spices to the mix. I didn’t add enough to actually give the cake any flavour though… Thinking that through was another thing I didn’t do. I totally took a photo though, so:
That was exciting. This, though. This is just upsetting. This is where the whipped egg whites are added to an almost totally liquid batter….
…which doesn’t look disgusting or wrong in any way at all. And, I mean, of course it didn’t look like a puddle of unmentionable once it went in the tin.
AND OF COURSE IT LOOKED FANTASTIC ONCE IT WAS OUT OF THE OVEN YES I AM SHOUTING.
As you can see, this thing rose (and then sank). There should have been a wobble in its belly when it came out of the oven, but it had ballooned so that nothing about it could have so much as quivered slightly. Surely no custard survived this ordeal.
No custard survived this ordeal:
That the thing I have just presented you with was overbaked is a given. We established in my previous post that the oven in my latest flat is a bit overenthusiastic, and so I probably baked this thing at a higher temp than I intended to. (If the fact that I just unconsciously referred to this cake as a ‘thing’ twice doesn’t indicate my feelings for it clearly enough, perhaps I should sum them up neatly with the immortal phrase ‘Hulk smash’). There was also more rising going on with this than I expected. Overbeaten whites, maybe? Should I have mixed them in more? Less? I’d love to blame the vinegar, because it was such an anomaly when I was recipe gathering, but I can’t quite make that alibi work.
I refuse to have my ass kicked by a supposedly magical bit of underwhelming overcooked goo. [slaps cake in face with oven glove, throws glove on ground… cake does not retrieve glove because cake is in bin… it’s wooden spoons at dawn anyway because damn it, cake]
I decided to get clever. The simple sort of clever. The sort of clever that throws away all the recipes it had gathered for consensus purposes and goes straight to the book that sparked the idea for this nightmare – um, adventure – in the first place. No more mucking about, I opted to follow the published recipe exactly. Some key findings:
- it calls for caster sugar rather than icing sugar
- the baking temperature is about 10 degrees lower
- the baking time is 10 minutes shorter
- obviously, vinegar is there none
- the milk should be infused with vanilla ahead of time
Finally, I thought it best not to do this again unsupervised. If you want me to freak out and do everything wrong, stick another human being in the kitchen with me. If you want me to be on top of things and also learn a few new expletives, call in the support monster.
He’s not very supportive, but he’s got cat food breath and he snores, so that’s… something.
Things that will not happen: finding a vanilla pod in Hackney at 9pm on a Friday. Reason that’s okay: vanilla extract with seeds.
Yes, I heated up the milk as per the recipe, and chucked in the extract equivalent of two vanilla pods (two generous teaspoons per pod). All the flavour and flecks, none of the fishing soggy bean pods out of a pan of tepid milk. Nice.
This time around I used a good old fashioned whisk for all the mixing. It allows you to be gentle and thorough, and to get a sense of the state of the mixture as you go in ways an electric mixer just won’t.
To add the whites, this time to a slightly less liquid mixture, I used a technique I’d noticed a few pros (Paul Hollywood) using: I added the first puff of meringue and mixed it in gently fut firmly, using small, energetic circles to slacken the whites a little and introduce them seamlessly to the batter. After that, adding the next two cloudlike blobs was much more natural, and the final mixture was still lumpy, as it should be, but also slightly thick and sturdy.
Pouring into the tin, you’ll see that you still have a liquid base, with the meringue-y bit floating on top. Think a cake batter cappuccino (calm down, Starbucks, you can have that one). Not to spoil the ‘magic’, but this should give your Baker Brain an idea of how the three distinct layers happen.
I think we can all agree that the above looks much more promising than the last mixture I poured into that tin.
The baked result (removed at 40 minutes because it was browned and just starting to lose the wobble factor) was looking miles better than the last effort as well. Fingers ‘n’ toes crossed, folks…
Barely. I’m calling it a win because I never want to look at this recipe ever again (you guys, I don’t even like custard… the things I do for you). The result is fabulous to look at, and the three textures are amusing in the mouth… If you buy the book I ultimately consulted, you’ll see that there are loads of flavouring options (caramel, coffee, chocolate…) and lots of good tips. This is a fun project – and hopefully I’ve taken a bit of the stress factor out for any not-too-sure-about-this types by getting it wrong myself and then getting it right. Just.
If you’re still with me and still want to give it a bash (totally do, you know I’m all drama), have ‘My’ Recipe, and my blessing.
Now, if you want to see a MAJOR take on three layers of cake magic, you absolutely have to check out what my brilliant friend Zac has concocted for David Burke in New York City for Thanksgiving this year: a pastry take on the Turducken called the PieCaken. That would be harder to make than this custard thing. Probably.
Fun fact: I bought an oven thermometer today.
Fun fact 2.0: Still not making this cake again.
If you’re a fellow Yank, a very happy Thanksgiving unto you… Y’all better have pink and white marshmallows all over those mashed sweet potatoes. Don’t make me come and check. (Can I come and check? Pass the cornbread pls?) Gobble gobble etc.