I have a confession to make...there are a few things in the baking genre that I am afraid to try:
It is irrational really but there you go. When I look at the list now written before me I think I am afraid of "things that rise!" (said followed by dramatic music aka Law and Order style).
I can see now that all of these require spectacular feats in rising and staying that way! The pavlova also has the added complication and fear because it has to be crisp on the outside and really chewy and marshmallowy on the inside. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING like the pavlovas you buy in the shop. If you are tempted to buy this shop version, back away quickly and think of something else to bake, take, whatever. It is so second rate. What's more my grandma is the absolute best pavlova maker ever.
Anyway, enough of my fears. I am about to stare them in the face and start conquering them!
Starting with the sponge.
One of my absolute favourite cakes from childhood is a ginger fluff sponge. My mum makes the best one, often for my birthday (oven permitting - we wont mention the 2006 attempt, or should we say 4 attempts!).
I have never been into trying to do it myself. I think I was thinking it would ruin the magic of that once a year birthday treat but I had been eyeing a recipe for it in my favourite cupcake book, The Crabapple Bakery Cookbook, for some time.
I decided that Halloween BBQ night was the night! The kids had their cupcakes and cookies, we needed something all grown up.
The recipe involved lots of beating and eggs before some careful folding of flours into mix. Into the oven it went, all good so far. Out of the oven it went all risen and light looking gorgeous. It sat in the tin on the counter while I watched it slowly shrink into itself. I had a mild panic. How far would it go? Luckily it stopped after about 1 cm. Phew. And lucky I had a plan for its decoration which meant a little shrinkage would not matter.
In a twist on the usual cream filling and top, this recipe called for a apple filling (my absolute favorite combo - cake and apple). So I piped cream around the edges of the bottom cake and then filled in the rest with the apple mix.
I put a thin layer of cream around the edges and then pressed some italian biscuits around the sides (at the BBQ we lovingly referred to them as fence palings - ie "I will have two fence palings of cake). I then tied two pink ribbons around the side to finish it off.
The top of the cake was whipped cream with vanilla and a touch of sugar. I then crushed up some ginger biscuits. The original recipe called for fresh flowers to sit on top - but this is the desert so we need to be practical about this, so I put on some of my hand moulded flowers.
It turned out really well. Most of us didn't eat the biscuits or "fence palings", they are pretty dry and usually dipped in coffee so probably best as decoration.
I am so glad I attempted the sponge cake. It worked out really well. My only regret is that I didn't get a cross section photo of the cake. It was something to behold. Even the host brought it out to show the rest of the guests!
Now, on to stage two of sponge conquering. The "Butterfly sponge". These are probably somewhat old fashion now but if you cast your minds back to childhood you will probably remember the cup cake size sponges. They had the top cut off, jam and cream put in the hole and then the cut out cake, cut in half to make butterfly wings, topped with strawberries and dusted with icing sugar.
Again, I had been eyeing this off in my favourite book but I should have known something was up when in the notes Jennifer says, "we use our vanilla cake at the bakery rather than the sponge recipe but here is one for those who want to try". If the queen of cup cakes doesn't do little sponge cakes, why did I think I could?
They required 15 minutes of beating of the eggs, followed by 10 minutes with the sugar before some very careful folding. The batter looked really good but once in the oven they did not rise as much as expected and they did not look stable enough to cut the hole in them. I ended up swirling the jam and cream mix on top like I do with normal cup cakes and topping with a strawberry.
I decided not to waste them and so took them to the Workaholics office. I figured they had tasted all my successes and they could take the bad with the good. To my surprise they absolutely adored them and they inspired a whip around to the tune of $55. Just goes to show that someones trash is someone elses treasure.
So, to sum up, the big sponge is probably more my thing, rather than the cup cake version. If anyone has a fail proof recipe for the smaller version, I would love to have it.
Onwards and upwards! Now will it be the pavlova or the souffle????