End of sugarbowl

Hi all and thanks for reading this blog. I don’t actually post frequently enough to warrant a dedicated food blog any more, so future kitchen adventures and Daring Bakers exploits will be posted on my other blog, Relentless Abundance.

All the best

DB Valentines: oh-so-chocolate

I have to admit, I was reluctant when I first read this challenge. A cake without flour? Whyyyyyyy? I mean, fine for all those gluten-free believers out there, but I LIKE gluten. I like the way flour makes a cake look and feel. I like it to rise. I like crumbs. And (warning: impending sacrilege here), I’m not so psyched about heavy-duty chocolate affairs. I kind of feel I’ve done my time in awe of the chocolate gods. These days, I prefer my dessert to be a single scoop of something cold, and light.  So I kind of dragged my feet. And chastised myself for missing last month’s challenge, which looked gorgeous gorgeous gorgeous – those lovely French tuile biscuits.  Wouldn’t they make a splendid little accompaniment to a tiny cold glass of Vin Santo, instead of cantuccine, for a kind of French twist on the Sienese tradition… Sigh.

But I wasn’t going to miss two in a row. So, late one Friday afternoon, I screwed my courage to my flourless sticking place, took out my lovely new mini-cake tins (yay!! I have mini cake-tins!) and told myself it would all be okay. Truth be told, this was undoubtedly the easiest of the DB challenges I have ever done. I think the challengers knew it would be easy, so they added a little fiddly bit: make your own ice-cream to go with it. Even with the ice-cream, it was a walk in the park. And – to my astonishment – delicious. Here’s how it was for me:

I made Dharm’s custard-based ice-cream. Vanilla bean, with the addition of some preserved ginger. Next time, I think I’d omit the vanilla. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a vanilla kinda girl. (Well, mostly vanilla, as a friend once reminded me.) But fresh vanilla is such an overpowering flavour that I felt it somewhat overshadowed the prickly, zingy edge I was hoping for from the ginger. Still, it was delicious. Especially because I found this delightful old hand-operated Donvier ice cream maker at the back of my mother’s kitchen cupboard. I think I ordered it off a mail-order catalogue when I was about 11 years old, but it still works a treat. It has a freezable metal insert; once that’s frozen good and proper, you just hand-crank the spatula to whirl up this perfectly soft, smooth gelato. Cute, huh?



dsc00903Teacup for scale… we had the bigger of the mini-cakes for Shabbat dessert the night I made it. The other little one is in the freezer, a treat for a rainy day. And you know, my fears were totally unfounded. It was delicious. Dense as sin, but utterly more-ish.


Chocolate Valentino
Preparation Time:  20 minutes

16 ounces (1 pound) (454 grams) of semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
½ cup (1 stick) plus 2 tablespoons (146 grams total) of unsalted butter
5 large eggs separated

1. Put chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and set over a pan of simmering water (the bottom of the bowl should not touch the water) and melt, stirring often.
2. While your chocolate butter mixture is cooling. Butter your pan and line with a parchment circle then butter the parchment.
3. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites and put into two medium/large bowls.
4. Whip the egg whites in a medium/large grease free bowl until stiff peaks are formed (do not over-whip or the cake will be dry).
5. With the same beater beat the egg yolks together.
6. Add the egg yolks to the cooled chocolate.
7. Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and follow with remaining 2/3rds. Fold until no white remains without deflating the batter. {link of folding demonstration}
8. Pour batter into prepared pan, the batter should fill the pan 3/4 of the way full, and bake at 375F/190C
9. Bake for 25 minutes until an instant read thermometer reads 140F/60C.
Note – If you do not have an instant read thermometer, the top of the cake will look similar to a brownie and a cake tester will appear wet.
10. Cool cake on a rack for 10 minutes then unmold.

Dharm’s Ice Cream Recipe
Classic Vanilla Ice Cream
Preparation Time: 30 minutes

Recipe comes from the Ice Cream Book by Joanna Farrow and Sara Lewis (tested modifications and notes in parentheses by Dharm)

1 Vanilla Pod (or substitute with vanilla extract)
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Semi Skimmed Milk – in the U.S. this is 2% fat (or use fresh full fat milk that is pasteurised and homogenised {as opposed to canned or powdered}). Dharm used whole milk.
4 large egg yolks
75g / 3oz / 6 tbsp caster sugar {superfine sugar can be achieved in a food processor or use regular granulated sugar}
5ml / 1 tsp corn flour {cornstarch}
300ml / ½ pint / 1 ¼ cups Double Cream (48% butter fat) {in the U.S. heavy cream is 37% fat)
{you can easily increase your cream’s fat content by heating 1/4 cup of heavy cream with 3 Tbs of butter until melted – cool to room temperature and add to the heavy cream as soon as whisk marks appear in the cream, in a slow steady stream, with the mixer on low speed.  Raise speed and continue whipping the cream) or use heavy cream the difference will be in the creaminess of the ice cream.

1. Using a small knife slit the vanilla pod lengthways.  Pour the milk into a heavy based saucepan, add the vanilla pod and bring to the boil.  Remove from heat and leave for 15 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse
Lift the vanilla pod up.  Holding it over the pan, scrape the black seeds out of the pod with a small knife so that they fall back into the milk. SET the vanilla pod aside and bring the milk back to the boil.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and corn-flour in a bowl until the mixture is thick and foamy.  3. Gradually pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly.  Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a gentle hear, stirring all the time
4. When the custard thickens and is smooth, pour it back into the bowl.  Cool it then chill.
5. By Hand: Whip the cream until it has thickened but still falls from a spoon.  Fold it into the custard and pour into a plastic tub or similar freeze-proof container.  Freeze for 6 hours or until firm enough to scoop, beating it twice (during the freezing process – to get smoother ice cream or else the ice cream will be icy and coarse)
By Using and Ice Cream Maker: Stir the cream into the custard and churn the mixture until thick (follow instructions on your ice cream maker)

The credit:

The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef.

We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge. February’s challenge is a Flourless Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Valentino, inspired by Malaysia’s “most flamboyant food ambassador”, Chef Wan. The recipe comes from Sweet Treats by Chef Wan.

I think perhaps I should change the name of this blog to Lisa’s occasional forays into Daring Baking. These days I only ever seem to post once a month – for the DB event. I’m sure no one who knows me needs the excuses – Kolya’s been teething and learning to crawl, I’ve been shooting TV ads and juggling the fair bit of work and play that always dominates Cape Town summer. Plus, somehow I haven’t been gripped with inspiration for cooking lately. The upshot is that my extra weight from the pregnancy has evaporated, which never really hurts, especially with TV castings – and social stuff – hitting full December throttle. But, I swear, the Daring Bakers are determined to slap a bit of butter back on these hips. Because this month’s offering is nothing short of excessive.


This month’s challenge is brought to us by the adventurous Hilda from Saffron and Blueberry and Marion from Il en Faut Peu Pour Etre Heureux. They have chosen a French Yule Log by Flore from Florilege Gourmand.

Until this challenge was announced, if you said “yule log” to me, I pictured a chocolate Swiss roll, with maybe a buttercream filling and a thin chocolate coating on the outside. And, I must admit, I pictured a store-bought, unremarkable thing (invariably the Woolies version – aka M&S to those of you in the UK). I had never heard of the French version, known as a buche; nor had I heard of the entire family of cream desserts, known as entremets, to which this calamitous piece of confectionery belongs. I had never heard of a dacqoise, which forms the meringue-like cake layer of the buche. Nor had I heard of gavottes, the lacy French biscuits we were supposed to make as an ingredient for the feuillette (never heard of one of those either). And I had never worked with gelatine. Are you getting the picture here? I used to think I knew my way round dessert. This time I was clueless.

Let’s start with the recipe. It has six parts. Each of the six parts has an array of variations. I printed out the recipe. It was 19 pages long. I kid you not. This recipe is so long and complex that the only reason for posting it here would be to knock your socks off that I (and the other brave folk of the Daring Bakers) actually completed the task. But, to be sensible, I’m just going to link to the recipe, which you can find here (it’s the Daring Bakers December recipe).

The bottom line was that you had to do all fo the six parts:

– almond dacquoise (a meringue-like cake layer)

– chocolate ganache  (made using a specific caremel technique)

– mousse  (this kind of envelopes all the other layers; the original is a dark chocolate mousse)

– feuillette or praline crisp

– creme brulee

– chocolate icing

So I told a friend I was planning to make this outrageous thing for Christmas lunch. It was three days before the last book club of the year. She said, Why don’t you make it for the book club. I thought, yeah, let’s do a trial run for the book club. So. Not only did I make this crazy dessert. I made it twice. Now, some of my astonishing fellow Daring Bakers made it more than that – notably those like Gfron1 who are professional confectioners. There ain’t nothing professionally confectionish about me, so I think twice will be it. The first one I did in a loaf pan, and stuck to the original recipe (except for flavouring the creme brulee with lemongrass, on a whim, which I would describe as dumb and pointless in a dessert of such extraordinary chocolatey richness). The Christmasey one I did in a round cake tin, went for vanilla rather than chocolate mousse, and went for an orange-vanilla-and-chocolate theme: orange zest in the dacquoise, orange liqueur in the ganache and mousse.

Round 1, early this month. Even though it’s not the most aesthetically pleasing thing I’ve ever done, I think I have won enough brownie points with the book club to excuse me for going AWOL for an entire year and forgetting to buy books this month.


Round 2, Christmas lunch at the Hoffenbergs. Red rose petals cover up a myriad of icing disasters…



The first Daring Bakers challenge I did was SO challenging that every month I quiver a little in my boots and wonder what they’re going to ask us to do next. So it was a sweet surprise to discover that this month’s challenge was technical, but simple: bake a cake. Very sweet, very homely. The technical bits of the challenge were the sugar work – boiling up a dark caramel syrup, burning butter and making caramels. I must admit I passed on the caramels as the caramel cake was sweetness overkill for me already.

Thanks to the hosts of this month’s challenge:

Dolores from Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity, along with Alex (Brownie of the Blondie and Brownie duo, Jenny of Foray into Food and for the alternative bakers, Natalie of Gluten-a-Go-Go.

The recipe is from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater – and you can it recipe here. To be dazzled and amazed by how glamorous this cake can look if you are a more dazzling baker than me, check out some of my accomplished fellow Daring Bakers – Aran, Helene and others. Me, I’m not one of those to turn my cake into spectacular works of art; this is about as homely-looking a baked thing as I’ve made in a long time. But sweet sweet sweet!

My only variation on the main recipe was to add sliced apples into the top. And I didn’t have a plain round tin, so I used this fluted one:


The batter took ages to cream, and then later it curdled somewhat during the beating process. I blame the 30-year-old Sunbeam I was using…


Mandatory breastfeeding break between batter and icing making:


One homely-looking cake, cooling:


For the icing, I used a bit of mascarpone instead of the cream. The burnt butter was AMAZING though, and we used some of the leftover butter over asparagus for the starters that night.


I couldn’t face icing over the pretty apples, so I iced the sides instead. I think it gives a very Bohemian 70s look. Not glam, but it has homely appeal 🙂 And it went down well for dessert on Shabbat, night before the posting date!




Caramel Cake With Caramelized Butter Frosting, courtesy of Shuna:

10 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/4 Cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 Cup Caramel Syrup (see recipe below)
2 each eggs, at room temperature
splash vanilla extract
2 Cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350F. Butter one tall (2 – 2.5 inch deep) 9-inch cake pan.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter until smooth. Add sugar and salt & cream until light and fluffy.
Slowly pour room temperature caramel syrup into bowl. Scrape down bowl and increase speed. Add eggs/vanilla extract a little at a time, mixing well after each addition. Scrape down bowl again, beat mixture until light and uniform.
Sift flour and baking powder. Turn mixer to lowest speed, and add one third of the dry ingredients. When incorporated, add half of the milk, a little at a time. Add another third of the dry ingredients, then the other half of the milk and finish with the dry ingredients. {This is called the dry, wet, dry, wet, dry method in cake making. It is often employed when there is a high proportion of liquid in the batter.}
Take off mixer and by hand, use a spatula to do a few last folds, making sure batter is uniform. Turn batter into prepared cake pan. Place cake pan on cookie sheet or 1/2 sheet pan. Set first timer for 30 minutes, rotate pan and set timer for another 15-20 minutes. Your own oven will set the pace. Bake until sides pull away from the pan and skewer inserted in middle comes out clean. Cool cake completely before icing it. Cake will keep for three days outside of the refrigerator.

Caramel Syrup:
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup water (for “stopping” the caramelization process)

In a small stainless steel saucepan, with tall sides, mix water and sugar until mixture feels like wet sand. Brush down any stray sugar crystals with wet pastry brush. Turn on heat to highest flame. Cook until smoking slightly: dark amber.
When color is achieved, very carefully pour in one cup of water. Caramel will jump and sputter about! It is very dangerous, so have long sleeves on and be prepared to step back. (The best tip I got for this was to cover the pot in some thick aluminium foil with a hole in the middle, and to pour the water through the hole. Muuuuuuch safer!!)
Whisk over medium heat until it has reduced slightly and feels sticky between two fingers. {Obviously wait for it to cool on a spoon before touching it.}

Caramelized Butter Frosting:
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound confectioner’s sugar, sifted
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2-4 tablespoons caramel syrup
Kosher or sea salt to taste

Cook butter until brown. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a heatproof bowl, set aside to cool.
Pour cooled brown butter into mixer bowl. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, add confectioner’s sugar a little at a time. When mixture looks too chunky to take any more, add a bit of cream and or caramel syrup. Repeat until mixture looks smooth and all confectioner’s sugar has been incorporated. Add salt to taste.
Note: Caramelized butter frosting will keep in fridge for up to a month.To smooth out from cold, microwave a bit, then mix with paddle attachment until smooth and light.

Daring Bakers do pizza

This month’s Daring Baker’s challenge was set by Rosa from Rosa’s Yummy Yums. We made pizza. We tossed it in the air. It was deliciously thin-crusted and FUN. Daring Bakers we are!!!!

Original recipe taken from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart.

Makes 6 pizza crusts (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter).


4 1/2 cups (607.5 g) unbleached high-gluten (%14) bread flour or all purpose flour, chilled
1 3/4 tsp Salt
1 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup (60g) olive oil
1 3/4 Cups (420g or 420ml) Water, ice cold (40° F/4.5° C)
1 Tb sugar
Semolina/durum flour or cornmeal for dusting


1. Mix together the flour, salt and instant yeast in a big bowl (or in the bowl of your stand mixer).

2. Add the oil, sugar and cold water and mix well (with the help of a large wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment, on low speed) in order to form a sticky ball of dough. On a clean surface, knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and the ingredients are homogeneously distributed. If it is too wet, add a little flour (not too much, though) and if it is too dry add 1 or 2 teaspoons extra water.

NOTE: If you are using an electric mixer, switch to the dough hook and mix on medium speed for the same amount of time.The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom of the bowl. If the dough is too wet, sprinkle in a little more flour, so that it clears the sides. If, on the contrary, it clears the bottom of the bowl, dribble in a teaspoon or two of cold water.
The finished dough should be springy, elastic, and sticky, not just tacky, and register 50°-55° F/10°-13° C.

3. Flour a work surface or counter.  Line a jelly pan with baking paper/parchment. Lightly oil the paper.

4. With the help of a metal or plastic dough scraper, cut the dough into 6 equal pieces (or larger if you want to make larger pizzas).

NOTE: To avoid the dough from sticking to the scraper, dip the scraper into water between cuts.

5. Sprinkle some flour over the dough. Make sure your hands are dry and then flour them.  Gently round each piece into a ball.

NOTE: If the dough sticks to your hands, then dip your hands into the flour again.

6. Transfer the dough balls to the lined jelly pan and mist them generously with spray oil. Slip the pan into plastic bag or enclose in plastic food wrap.

7. Put the pan into the refrigerator and let the dough rest overnight or for up to thee days.

NOTE: You can store the dough balls in a zippered freezer bag if you want to save some of the dough for any future baking. In that case, pour some oil(a few tablespooons only) in a medium bowl and dip each dough ball into the oil, so that it is completely covered in oil. Then put each ball into a separate bag. Store the bags in the freezer for no longer than 3 months. The day before you plan to make pizza, remember to transfer the dough balls from the freezer to the refrigerator.


8. On the day you plan to eat pizza, exactly 2 hours before you make it, remove the desired number of dough balls from the refrigerator. Dust the counter with flour and spray lightly with oil. Place the dough balls on a floured surface and sprinkle them with flour. Dust your hands with flour and delicately press the dough into disks about 1/2 inch/1.3 cm thick and 5 inches/12.7 cm in diameter. Sprinkle with flour and mist with oil. Loosely cover the dough rounds with plastic wrap and then allow to rest for 2 hours.

9. At least 45 minutes before making the pizza, place a baking stone on the lower third of the oven.  Preheat the oven as hot as possible (500° F/260° C).

NOTE: If you do not have a baking stone, then use the back of a jelly pan. Do not preheat the pan.

10. Generously sprinkle the back of a jelly pan with semolina/durum flour or cornmeal. Flour your hands (palms, backs and knuckles). Take 1 piece of dough by lifting it with a pastry scraper. Lay the dough across your fists in a very delicate way and carefully stretch it by bouncing it in a circular motion on your hands, and by giving it a little stretch with each bounce. Once the dough has expanded outward, move to a full toss.

NOTE: Make only one pizza at a time.
During the tossing process, if the dough tends to stick to your hands, lay it down on the floured counter and reflour your hands, then continue the tossing and shaping.
In case you would be having trouble tossing the dough or if the dough never wants to expand and always springs back, let it rest for approximately 5-20 minutes in order for the gluten to relax fully,then try again.
You can also resort to using a rolling pin, although it isn’t as effective as the toss method.

11. When the dough has the shape you want (about 9-12 inches/23-30 cm in diameter – for a 6 ounces/180g piece of dough), place it on the back of the jelly pan, making sure there is enough semolina/durum flour or cornmeal to allow it to slide and not stick to the pan.

12. Lightly top it with sweet or savory toppings of your choice. I used readymade napolitana sauce. Max and Noah got ham and mushroom, and Lara and I got artichokes and grilled vegetables…

NOTE: Remember that the best pizzas are topped not too generously. No more than 3 or 4 toppings (including sauce and cheese) are sufficient.

13. Slide the garnished pizza onto the stone in the oven or bake directly on the jelly pan. Close the door and bake for abour 5-8 minutes.

NOTE: After 2 minutes baking, take a peek. For an even baking, rotate 180°.

If the top gets done before the bottom, you will need to move the stone or jelly pane to a lower shelf before the next round. On the contrary, if the bottom crisps before the cheese caramelizes, then you will need to raise the stone or jelly.

14. Take the pizza out of the oven and transfer it to a cutting board or your plate. In order to allow the cheese to set a little, wait 3-5 minutes before slicing or serving.

Look here for everyone else’s achievements: http://daringbakersblogroll.blogspot.com/

Where did September go?

Damn September. I thought I’d have SO much opportunity to do my Daring Bakers challenge as Kolya and I were visiting Cape Town. But the visit was utterly packed, and then we got back to London on the 18th to discover that our lives had been turned upside down. Next thing I knew, it was already October, and the last few weeks gone in somewhat sweeping blur. So no September DB for me. Check out everyone else’s fabulous exploits at http://daringbakersblogroll.blogspot.com…

This month’s Daring Bakers challenge made Nikolai happy. Chocolate eclairs. Actually they made everyone happy. Who would not be made happy by one of these? Especially when the leftover chocolate sauce just goes on and on and on…

Chocolate profiteroles

Chocolate profiteroles

Now I have to admit I’d never heard of Pierre Hermé before this challenge. Who’s he, you ask? Well, if for those who are as ignorant as I am of pastry lore, he’s, like the god of French pastry. Strange, therefore, that his choux pastry recipe (as far as I could tell) takes some of the classic principles of French choux and adulterates them somewhat badly. The rules of this challenge stipulate that I use the Hermé recipe, so here’s the photo of the ones that I did using it:

Pierre Herme choux puffs

Pierre Herme choux puffs

Yes, well, you don’t need a thousand words on why I did another batch of choux pastry using the more classic French recipe (hot water, not hot milk; four eggs, not five). I found the PH recipe a bit too eggy, and (as you can see from the photo) somewhat un-puffy. The only variation I made on the challenge recipe was the shape – I just don’t like the shape of sausage shaped eclairs, so I did mine as big piped puffs. They went down a storm; I would make them every week if I could, and probably never get tired of them. And the unpuffy batch went into the freezer and has been turned into some pretty lovely goat-cheese and tomato canapés 🙂

It was hosted by Antonio Tahan and Meeta K and their choice of challenge went down a treat! I’ll post the link to the original recipe as soon as it’s up on the hosters’ blogs!!

Every now and then, for a couple of days, or a week or two, I suddenly lose interest in food. I mean, I don’t lose my appetite. I still get hungry, but nothing holds much appeal. And I end up living on cheese on toast and apples, or junk food (cheese on toast and chocolate). Until I get my food mojo back again. This week has been one of those. Can’t seem to find any inspiration. Which is really a big bad pity, considering the brand new Ottolenghi recipe book sitting on the shelf waiting to be explored. Please will someone bring back my food mojo… or tell me what you do when yours goes missing…

On some days…

A warm piece of baguette with butter and apricot jam is actually nicer than a croissant. Don’t know how it happens, but it does. Today was one of those days.

All done and pretty
All done and pretty

This is my first post as a Daring Baker!! To be honest, I thought I’d join this group for fun – hey, I like baking bread and cookies, and I know my way around a yeasted pastry recipe. No sweat.

This month’s challenge was hosted by Chris of Mele Cotte. When Chris posted this month’s challenge, I gulped a little. She chose the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream, from Carol Walters’ Great Cakes. As I read the recipe, I realised: I am actually a Lazy Baker. Firstly, I tend to make and remake and remake recipes that I’ve known for years. Secondly, I tend to veer towards the easiest (read one-bowl) recipes, or to tweak recipes to make them as easy as I can get away with. Now, that’s not exactly Daring! Time to let the DB crew yank me up to a new level of Daring Bakery!!

This month’s challenge was a Filbert Genoise with Praline Buttercream. It’s not a cake I would ever have chosen to make: laden with buttery icing, heavy on piping, finicky with layers. But quickly it dawned on me: this is the point of a challenge. What’s the point of an easy challenge? I had to google filbert, and then come up with a plan for how to make such a thing whilst working around a 3-month-old baby.

What I learned:
– that you can bake around a 3-month-old baby… if you do it in stages and plan it carefully
– what a genoise is, and how you make one
– how to divide a cake into layers (different techniques for slicing it)
– what buttercream is, and how to make it – and how not to make it
– a little about how sugar melts
– how to pour ganache (a skill I shall be using OFTEN from now on!)
– how to set aside my qualms about complicated recipes and unbelievable fat content, and just enjoy making and eating something complex and gorgeous!

This is how…

7 July: Take Kolya for his immunisation shots. Discover we have half an hour to kill before the appointment. Walk down to Holland and Barrett and buy a load of hazelnuts. Only discover later that Sainsbury’s have much more reasonable hazelnuts.

Hot hazelnuts ready for rubbing

16 July: Toast the hazelnuts to have them ready for cake and praline making. I discover via the internet that the way to do this is to put them on a baking tray in an oven heated to 190 for about 10 to 20 minutes. Then throw the hot nuts into a teatowel and wrap them up for a couple of minutes before rubbing it all together to peel them. The best part is opening up the teatowel and rubbing hot hazelnuts between my hands to get the more stubborn skins off. Hot nut hand therapy.

17 July: Bake the genoise. Easier than I thought, and a great technique for baking a cake. I like cakes that involve melted butter. I only realise later, when the cakes are wrapped and frozen, that I was supposed to seal them with apricot glaze while they were still warm. Oh well. They’re in the freezer.

Operation genoise

Operation genoise

18 July: I make praline. I have difficulty not eating half of it. I can’t bring myself to blend the lovely crunchy hazelnut candy into a fine paste.

Melting sugar on a skillet

Melting sugar on a skillet

The heavenly smell of caramel sugar and warm nuts

The heavenly smell of caramel sugar and warm nuts

22 July: First buttercream disaster. The original recipe calls for a Swiss buttercream that needs to be beaten into meringue over bubbling water. I don’t really have the facilities for that in our tiny kitchen, so I find an alternative buttercream recipe at Zoe Bakes, a wonderful baking blog I find via the Daring Bakers Blogroll. Great texture, but it tastes like… butter. Only later, when I’m breastfeeding Kolya, do I realise that this is because I left out half the ingredients when I boiled the sugar. Instead of dissolving it with water and cream of tartar, I simply put the sugar in the pot and waited for it to boil. And am surprised when it turned into a thick toffeeish stuff that solidified on contact with the butter mixture. Oh, well, bung it in the freezer.

Can you see the solidified caramel on the side of the bowl?
Can you see the solidified caramel on the side of the bowl?

24 July: Second buttercream disaster. This time I make Zoe’s amazing buttercream again. This time, it tastes great, but the texture is…. cake batter. Oh well. Freezer.

26 July: Dani’s having some friends round for tea tomorrow. I’ve promised to bring a marvelous cake. I express enough breastmilk that Nik can feed Kolya all morning and all I have to do is make more buttercream and ganache and do some piping. It’s about 29 degrees Celsius outside.

This time I get the buttercream a bit more right – still not quite as glossy and stiff as I’d like, but a half hour in the fridge and more beating works a treat. Thanks to several useful videos from youtube, I have a sneaky plan for my ganache-pouring. I cover the cake in buttercream, refrigerate it, smooth the buttercream all over the place like Polyfilla, refrigerate it more. Then I flood the ganache with perfectly warm-but-not-too-hot ganache. It’s the most glorious moment.

The piping is less glorious as it starts coming out in unpredictable forms every time a bit of praline gets jammed in the piping nozzle. Sounds like most DBs had this problem, so I’m not particularly surprised, just relieved when it doesn’t make a total mess

27 July: Cake-eating day!

To my surprise the cake is delicious – not as heavy and dense as I expected, and the buttercream is lovely, not offputtingly heavy either.

Pretty inside too
Pretty inside too

The full recipe for the Hazelnut Genoise with Praline buttercream can be found here.

There were several rules about variations. For the most part I stuck with the original recipe. The combination of apricot, orange and hazelnut, with the dark chocolate ganache worked beautifully, I think. I used Cointreau instead of Grand Marnier, and as mentioned above, chose an alternate buttercream which I found at Zoe Bakes, although it was flavoured with the praline and liqueur, not with chocolate and coffee as in Zoe’s recipe.