Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Malteser Displeaser

Nigella doesn't get it right all the time.

I was treated to some company this afternoon by my friend Sophie, who I met whilst working in the recruitment agency (she temped through us). Given she currently works about three minutes away from my flat, we thought it silly not to see each other. Coffee and cake were on the agenda, and given that I am trying to save pennies as I currently have no income, I thought going out for this would be far too decadent. Also, I've been itching to make a cake for a couple of days now.

Knowing that chocolate is usually Sophie's Choice* for something sweet, I checked out Nigella's Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame in Feast. I'd already made the 'Quadruple Chocolate Loaf' cake from the section with tremendous results, so eagerly decided to try another. I selected 'Chocolate Malteser Cake', given that I had all the ingredients to hand, and exactly the amount of eggs for the recipe, which for some inane reason is always a clincher for me. The cake looked fun and childlike from the picture, which is how I always think of mine and Sophie's friendship, given we mostly talk about how clumsy we are over bags of Haribo. Perfect.

So, everything was going swimmingly until the addition of the flour, Horlicks and cocoa powder whereby everything but the flour incorporated properly into the mix. I'm not sure why this happened, but I was left with a very wet cake mix with tiny white lumps suspended in it. I folded away, attempting to smoosh the coagulated flour bumps against the side of the bowl to disperse them and had I really been bothered, I guess I could have eradicated them with the magic of the sieve. However, time was paramount so I pressed on, and, having got all the big lumps out, poured the mix into the tin (well, it should have been in two tins but I only seemed to have one suitable one), taking comfort in the fact that American muffin batters go into the oven barely stirred and that when I pulled the cake out of the oven, it would probably look beautiful and homogenised.

30 minutes into the baking time, I checked on the cake's progress. On the cake's surface, the tiny white bits had now cooked solidly into, er, tiny white bits. SIGH. I put the cake back in since the middle clearly wasn't springing back to the touch of an inquisitive finger.

15 minutes later, the cake still didn't seem fully cooked and now was rising slightly unevenly, a dent occurring an inch from the centre on one side, and a large nubble rising proudly on the other. Maybe the oven needs calibration, I'm not sure. I place it back in the oven once more.

10 minutes later I decide the cake is cooked before I even see it in the oven, and frustratedly pull it out. What was a nubble is now a majestic peak, and the dent now looks akin to the sea of tranquillity. More worrying still is the leathery resistance the cake has when touched. I pray that what it lacks aesthetically, it makes up for gastronomically.

After leaving it to cool a little, I flip it out of the tin. This is where I really can't believe my bad luck. It would seem that the crater in the cake not only exists on the top, but on the bottom too, meaning that at one point, the cake is roughly a centimetre thick (the rest is about four). In an odd way, it looks pleasingly stylish because the contour of this dip is, at least, remarkably smooth and chicly off-centre. Deciding that this is now a plus, I go on to slather the thing in buttercream and then as well as studding the circumference with maltesers, I fill the concave part with a mini pool of the little devils. It actually looks passable.

Sophie arrives and in anticipation of culinary disaster, I apologise before I cut her a slice. My instincts were correct. The cake is not entirely unpleasant, but in terms of texture it has a terrible rubbery quality and its taste has a tangy bicarb finish, which I suppose is part of the cake's malty oeuvre, but coupled with the former problem, becomes a problem in itself too. I apologise once more and she graciously comments "The icing's really nice". Subcutaneously, the flour lumps barely exist, but the top of the cake, which has now become the bottom of my finished cake has a bit of a crust and when I clear Sophie's plate I can see that she's quietly left it there like people do with fish skins and anything else that belonged to their food that they didn't want to eat.

I think my oven was partly to blame, as was I for not splitting the mix into two tins as the cakes may have risen more evenly in thinner layers. However, I am not entirely sure that the recipe is solid either. The cake has very little fat in it and quite bizarre ingredient ratios and realistically, I think that even if everything had gone to plan, it would still have a definite boing boing factor. I think you could make a sufficiently malty chocolate cake by adding the Horlicks to an existing choc cake formula (and subsequently removing an equal weight of flour), rather than concocting an off-the-wall ritual involving melted butter and hot milk. I actually ate one (sans maltesers) from Waitrose's Patisserie section which was fantastically soft whilst being densely chocolatey and maltily resonant. I imagine it was not made with the Nigella method either.

In support of my disaster, I've found numerous accounts of this recipe failing in other peoples' blogs. I'm not publishing the recipe, by the way, because I think it's a waste of time.

She gets it wrong. I've tasted it with my own mouth, man. Despite claims to being a (domestic) Goddess, she's just like the rest of us imperfect mortals.

*I really couldn't resist the pun. I do apologise.


At 3:11 PM, Blogger Monaz said...

Apologies for the less than perfect pictures here - these were taken with a camera phone - not my usual camera.

At 3:09 AM, Blogger Lori said...

I enjoyed every word of your account. Hilarious! We bakers do get into these pitfalls sometimes. Sad though, because this cake is one of those I've been meaning to try.

At 9:35 AM, Blogger Monaz said...

Thank you so much Lori! Yeah, I was a little upset when I wrote that, but it may have been my fault. Perhaps you could try it and follow the recipe down to the letter and see if it works? Still, the ingredient ratios do seem odd to me. As I said, I think taking your favourite chocolate sponge recipe and adapting it may be the way forward.


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