The Mirror Cake experiment – or The Great Vicky Baker Off Wk1

Hello again. We’re taking a bit of a break from Market Day Posts to bring you The Great Vicky Baker Off. For fans of the Great British Bake Off, you’ll understand this reference, for those who aren’t familiar with the show (currently only running on the other side of the pond, but hugely popular – really any baker who is even passingly familiar with pop culture has most likely heard of it).

Now the CBC, here in Canada, is planning their own version The Great Canadian Baking Show, and of course, I cannot resist tossing my hat in the ring. I’ve been obsessing about this and my application for the last two weeks and today my application goes in.

While I’ve been obsessing – it seemed prudent to practice and make sure my chops are what I think they are, and try and polish what are rough spots for me. Honestly, after my diabetes diagnosis, I wasn’t entirely sure I’d ever really be able to bake at my former levels again…. it hurt to think about. With my health under control, and learning that I can be both – diabetic and baker. I thought this could be a good test of whether or not I still have it, and do I have it well enough to open my own café, and can I bake everyday and still keep my blood glucose numbers under control. In short I’m thrilled, nervous, and excited to be baking again – and to see how my skills compare to the world at large out there.

One of the things I thought I ought to do, I tracked down some of the season 7 (latest) episodes of The Great British Bake Off and am trying them out – time limits and all – over the next weeks. This will introduce me to things I may not have thought of, some new techniques and interesting things, as well as encouraging me to take my normal good game to a higher level.

Strengths: Planning, Timing, Organization. In a past life I was an airline dispatcher – and a very good one, planning, timing and organization was the very lifeblood of being a good dispatcher – or Chief Dispatcher. I’ve always said, if I have a super-power – it’s planning, I can plan anything faster and more thoroughly than any human being alive.
.. and breads, my yeast breads are glorious and to die for, I *will* win bread week, and my laminated pastries – croissants anyone, are pretty much a “could do with my eyes closed”

Weaknesses: Hand skills, I don’t have the dexterity a lot of people do for fiddly wee hand skill things. So Cakes will be my downfall. Piping, decorating, neat and beautiful, that’s high on my practice page. And maybe stick with what I can do well, fondant cut outs, molded gum paste. After all my cocounut cake is a thing of glory because …. all that shining WHITENESS … a lovely boiled italian meringue frosting and just heaps of bright white coconut. It looks a thing of beauty, but very little hand skills involved.

All that said, I’m going to be posting the failures as well as the winners – because we need to learn, and as always I share the learning with you gentle reader, that’s how we both get better at this.

Week One was just such a failure. Decided to try the Mirror Cake – because it was a decorating technique I’d not tried before, and because I’ve had génoise cakes fail on me before (too much stuff in the batter – it fell flat.)

I will say that once I stuck to Julia’s “Perfect Génoise” recipe, without trying to doll it up with cherries and ‘stuff’ – the cake batter worked much better. It does take a bit of getting used to – to quote Julia, “Sturdy, firm, adaptable, and amenable to almost any flavouring, the génoise is the first cake a French patissier learns to make and the one (s)he’ll make most often in his/her career. It is drier than most American cakes and, for this reason, not every American’s favourite, but it’s dryness is considered an asset by the French, who soak their génoise with sugar and liqueur syrups of every conceivable savor.” It’s firmer dryer texture does make me want to believe the cake failed, but as the blind taster remarked they loved the cake it was more ‘pound cake like’ than the usual fluffy fare.

So the batter turned out perfectly – really it’s just a question of beating those eggs a minute past when you think it might be ready, give it a little bit more, and being very gentle with the folding in the flour. No nothing but cake flour will really work well here.
Perfect Batter

It baked beautifully. (As a side note, you have to know when a cake is done, more than one competitor has been tripped up by the use of an unfamiliar oven – and I expect they will be using convection ovens in competition rather than standard ovens. It took me some time to get used to the vagueries of this oven it might get tricky when I have an oven that actually holds it’s temperature properly.)
Baked genoise

It has a lovely crumb and a beautiful texture… but it is different from what a lot of us think of when we say “cake”.
Nice crumb
(ignore the bad lighting – shooting in the kitchen lighting is always challenging)

This is where things started going a bit sideways though.
My thought process was – most people do white chocolate in the mirror glaze, what if I changed it up a bit and did a white chocolate butter cream filling / crumb coat, and a fruit glaze? Rather than the more traditional other way around? There wasn’t too much wrong with the white chocolate butter cream , it’s hard to mess that up…. although it was very sweet and needed a bit more white chocolate and vanilla I think to really shine.
Melted white chocolate and whipping cream
Melted white chocolate and whipping cream

.. and a bigger bowl
.. and a bigger bowl”

So while the butter cream needed some minor tweaks, it was the mirror glaze which I haven’t done before that let me down. Problem one. Non of the recipes I came across gave a temperature to boil the syrup to, so it really came out a bit thin. Also the cake should have been colder – freezer, not fridge next time. It just didn’t adhere as well as it should have. Secondly, I was working with frozen mango chunks and should have thought to thaw them first and actually cook it into the syrup part…. adding the cold pureed mango to the syrup really brought the temperature down, and if it had been candied enough – it would have solidified the syrup before it even poured. Thirdly – mango and sugar syrup – it was deathly sweet especially with the white chocolate butter cream, it needs a hit of sharp, lemon juice would be the usual way to go…. but I’m thinking maybe go lime for a bit of the unexpected next time.

Thin syrup

In the assembly … it failed some. Partly that lack of hand skills thing. It needed to have the cake sides more tidied up and even, the butter cream crumb coat needed to be smoother. Then perhaps the mango glaze had it been the right consistency would have worked better, and the ‘sunrise’ effect I was going for with the naturally coloured sunny mango and darker, copper red glaze would have worked better.

Sunrise surpise

Lovely but not good enough

What it was – was a nice enough home baked cake, but not anywhere near competition standard. We will do this again… because we learned something, and I can see that the perfect mirror cake is within my grasp.


Now the next challenge this week is:
2 batches of 12 each danish pastries, one sweet, one savoury in 3.5 hours.

Danishes? Laminated pastry? I got this. BUT. 3.5 hours? I don’t know a danish pastry recipe that doesn’t call for a minimum 4 hr rest (preferably overnight). But I’ll try it. Also the burning question… most of the competitors went with a traditional lamination – dough, then butter, a la puff pastry or croissants, on the other hand, all my recipes, Julia, Anna Olson (will she be a judge? really in Canada in TV bakers who else is there? But she might still be under contract to Shaw?)… all refer to the method most used in Denmark these days of the butter in the dough before lamination – a sort of short cut puff pastry method – like a yeasted short crust, that’s then laminated.

The sweet: goat cheese and port wine jelly – I keep wanting to ADD something to this to make it “MORE” but.. I can sometimes over think a thing. And it should be perfect as JUST cheese and port wine. (or maybe a dried tart cherry or two?)

The savoury: roasted garlic goat cheese with sun dried tomato sausage topped with sun dried tomato and kalmata olives. I was just going to go with the sausage, but I’m not happy there’s enough of the tomato in the sausage. So we’ll top it with a bit more.

We’ve got a half a pot of coffee, a full larder, it’s 3.5 hours to the buzzer and we’re wearing aprons over our pajamas….BAKE IT!

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