Monday, 10 August 2015

My GBBO Challenge #1: Madeira Cake

First of all, Monday's housekeeping: as of Monday 10th August, I weigh 11 stone (69.9 kg).

There's not much more to say on this topic, so I'm going to keep myself accountable by posting my weight each week but without the longer post.  Now that my weight is down to a manageable and maintainable level, it's just a case of plodding along, making sure I behave myself after any indulgences.  Not the stuff of an exciting post.

Now, to the cake!

OCD Panic Rating: 1/5
Handwashes: 2

I mentioned last week that I was going to try to focus my baking using challenges from this year's series of The Great British Bake Off.  Having never made a Madeira cake before, this seemed like a good starting point, particularly as the original tie-in book had a simple-looking recipe for it.

The recipe really is simple.  There are very few ingredients as the flavouring comes from the addition of a small amount of  citrus.  I used lemon for this, but I get the impression from GBBO that you can get away with other flavourings.  The trick with this cake comes from the order in which you add the ingredients and the extent to which you mix them.  Starting with whipping the butter a little, you then add the sugar and cream it until it's got a light, fluffy texture.  I don't have an electric mixer so I burnt off some cake calories by hand at this point.  Then you add the lemon zest, juice and the eggs individually (my OCD handwashes occurred here), followed by the rest of the dry ingredients.  The recipe warns that you don't want to overcombine here.  You need to gently fold the ingredients until there are no longer any streaks of flour, but no further.  I suppose this is because a Madeira cake already has quite a close texture; if you overmix the batter, you lose all the air and the lightness of the cake with it.

After I had combined everything, I had a batter that looked like this.  It's not too clear from the picture but the mix is quite firm, much more doughy than the usually loose cake mixes I've worked with.  Undeterred, I moved the batter into the prepared loaf tin and put it in the oven for half an hour.  After half an hour, based on the cookies I made last week, I turned the cake around to make sure that the bake was even.  The recipe suggested putting a couple of strands of lemon peel on the top of the cake.  I did not.  I will never be an aesthetic baker (my showstopper challenges would be brutal).

I gave the cake about an hour, until it was firm to the touch.  It came out of the oven with a big crack across the top, just as they had wanted in the show.  I left the cake to cool fully in the tin before revealing my creation to the world.  It looked something like this:

You can just make out the distinctive Madeira texture.  Even though it has quite a dense crumb to it, it is still light.  The lemon flavour doesn't come through straight away, instead hitting the tongue at the end of the bite.  The only minor complaint is that there are a couple of pockets of salt and baking powder in the cake.  You have this lovely mild flavour then get hit by an offputting sting of salt.  I think this is because the dry ingredients are only lightly mixed into the wet ingredients, so they don't disperse as fully as they do in a more heavily mixed cake.  It's definitely worth sifting the dry ingredients together and mixing them fully before you put them in the batter.  That should be enough to spread it all around.

Only a small issue though.  Overall, it was an easy cake to put together, producing a bake that goes beautifully with an afternoon cuppa.  Compared to the bold flavours of a chocolate or coffee cake, it seems very refined and delicate.  A real taste of what Great British baking is all about.

Key points:

  • The order of ingredients is important here.  You can often get away with chucking loaf cake ingredients into the bowl all at once: do that here and the texture will suffer.
  • Mix those dry ingredients well.  Sift them together, mix them, then sift them again, to avoid those pockets of sharp flavour.

Win Rating: 4/5.

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