Sunday, 20 July 2014

Strawberry Champagne Layer Cake for Marathon #2!


I have three cake recipes to share with you. Not now. In the (hopefully not too distant) future! I had chosen to post this one first because it is a Champagne cake. Champagne = celebration. Me successfully completing my 2nd Virgin London marathon = a reason to celebrate.
But that was soon after the marathon which was on the 13th of April. Now, 3 months later, when I'm finally getting round to sharing it with you, the link between the cake and my race isn't quite as poignant but I'm still going to tell you all about it anyway!

It was a hot day. 18C! Well not hot hot, but hot for running. Anyone who knows me knows I love to run in winter and I refuse to run in any temperature over 16 degrees. Well ... it was 18 degrees and it was what it was, so I ran.

My sister and I were both running it but as she had gotten a charity place and I was running on a ballot place, we were in different colour group things (That actually the official name ;p). Red and blue. Or red and green. I forget. We just assumed that we would be able to start together anyway only to get there and realise that there were completely different starting points for the different colours. Still cool we thought. Until I tried to walk into her starting group and we were stopped by security who explained that I could very well start with her but my chip would not be activated upon crossing the start line as it could only be activated when I crossed my own colour start line. Ain't nobody running an entire marathon only for it not to be recorded anywhere!
We were running late as usual so we hurriedly made plans to meet at the mile 1 marker as we assumed  the different colour groups would have converged by then.

We go off, start the race. Separately. I had planned to run some of the marathon without music and just take in the crowds. That lasted all of about 2 minutes and I stuck my headphones in and got lost in some no-doubt expletive filled hip hop track (which seem to make up most of my running soundtrack) *shame faced*. I passed a man walking the marathon on crutches(!) on my way to the mile 1 marker and it helped me adjust my attitude to the weather. This man knew it would take him forever to complete this marathon and yet here he was giving it his all. I have two legs, some decent training under my belt and therefore no excuses! I got to mile 1, waited 30 seconds and then asked a girl next to me who was also waiting for someone just to make sure that my sister's colour would be passing through here and she said they wouldn't be. They wouldn't be converging with us till mile 3. At that point, I pretty much thought it would be impossible for Kitty and I to find each other out of 36,000 people and just really hoped that she hadn't waited too long at her mile 1 before finding out that we weren't going to be meeting there. I also prayed she would have a good race and feel okay running it on her own - as she was very stressed, wasn't feeling 100% the week before, and is generally less confident about running alone - and off I went.

At mile 4, I noticed the hoardes of runners from the other colour group joining the rest of the runners so I stopped again, and decided to give it 5 minutes to look for her. I knew it was a long shot! After 4 minutes passed, I saw her white cap! Against all the odds! I ran under the rope separating her group from ours, ran up to her and joined her stride to continue the race.

It was a tough race, but I just took it one mile at a time. I was waiting to get through the first half, and then the first 16 miles, because it was at mile 16 two years ago that I realised that despite being over half way, I still had a while to go and I started to struggle. In 2012, up till about mile 16, I had such a blast! But then I felt crappy, had blisters and just felt like there was no end in sight and that mindset led to me struggling for a while and then stopping to walk.

This time, the first half wasn't as fun, it was a race. But I also didn't hit a downer. One mile at a time till mile 18 where I started to get hot and tired and wanted to slow down to a walk. My strategy was to give myself permission to walk, all I had to do was run till the following mile and then if I wanted to walk then, fine. It was always one more mile, then walk if I want. I never walked.

I saw a work friend at mile 19 and another just after mile 20 I think and then I was on the home stretch and I just wanted to get it done. The last couple of miles - which last time dragged longer than the rest of the marathon put together - flew by and I people watched. I saw two people walking, supporting a friend between them. I saw people see their families and break down in front of them and the families hugging them and encouraging them to finish. I saw people walking, exhausted. I saw my family with about 900 metres to go. My cousin said later I had a huge smile on my face before I even saw them. I genuinely enjoyed that last couple of miles. I ran under the finish line listening to Coldplay's "Magic"and then burst into tears - again that didn't happen last time. The line "And if you had to ask me, after all that we've been through, do you believe in magic? Yes I do. Of course I do" particularly resonated.

My official time was about 5 hours 4 minutes and something. My watch time was 5:00:17 due to the wait for my sister. I just missed running a sub 5 hour marathon. But I don't care. I slowed down for a while with my sister which I don't regret as I know how I felt last year when I just wanted her to go off so I could stop and I wasn't going to let her stop. I was proud of myself for running the whole way and really pushing myself. And it'll just make my sub 5-hour marathon next time that much better!
Our before and after. We look better after. Weird.
Highlight for me were the showers - I ran into every single one of them with this smile of bliss on my face! I must have looked crazy!

Sorry for the long marathon post - it just sort of came out of me :) I didn't have this cake after the marathon but it was very good cake when I did have it. It's very rich; I think that's the swiss meringue buttercream - with a really nice dense cake that has just the right amount of champagne flavour!


Recipe (adapted very slightly) from Beantown Baker

For the Champagne Cake
3 3/4 cups plain flour
1 3/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 1/3 cups sugar
213g unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cup champagne, flattened
5 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp vanilla
9 egg yolks, room temperature
5 egg whites, room temperature

For the Strawberry Swiss Meringue Frosting
5 egg whites
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cup butter, cut into cubes
2 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup strawberry puree, or good quality strawberry jam
pinch of salt

10-12 strawberries, thinly sliced.

Directions

  1. For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 180C / Gas Mark 4 / 340C. Grease three 9" round cake pans and line bottoms with grease proof paper.
  2. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and 2 1/2 cups sugar together in a large bowl. In mixing bowl whisk together melted butter, champagne, oil, vanilla, and yolks.
  3. In clean bowl of a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment/beaters, beat egg whites at medium-high speed until just foamy, about 30 seconds, gradually adding in remaining sugar; continue to beat until stiff peaks just form. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
  4. Add flour mixture to now empty mixing bowl fitted with whisk attachment. Gradually add in butter mixture and mix until just incorporated. Stop mixer and scrape whisk and sides of bowl. Return mixer to medium-low and beat until smooth and fully incorporated.
  5. Fold the egg whites into the batter, pour into cake pans and bake for approximately 35 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cake rest in cake tins for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire cooling rack. 
  6. Cool completely before frosting. When cool, level tops of cake with sharp knife and discard cake cuttings. Set aside until ready to decorate.
  7. For the Strawberry Swiss Meringue Frosting: If making your own strawberry puree, place three to four strawberries into food processor and puree. Set aside 1/4 - 1/3 cup of strawberry puree.
  8. Wipe the mixer bowl and attachments with lemon or vinegar to make sure they are all completely clear of any residual grease. Add egg whites and sugar to mixing bowl, and place it over a sauce pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 160F (I don't have a food thermometer and simply leave it over the heat for 7 minutes exactly), or until the sugar is totally dissolved and the eggs are hot.
  9. With the whisk attachment of mixer, begin to whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels nearly room temperature. DON'T begin adding butter until the bottom of the bowl feels neutral, and not warm.
  10. Switch over to the paddle attachment / regular beaters and add butter one cube at a time until all has been added and is incorporated. Mix until it becomes smooth. If mixture is too soft and runny, place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes and continue mixing with paddle attachment until it all comes together. Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined.
  11. Add strawberry puree/jam and beat until evenly incorporated. Add small amount of pink food colouring, if desired. I didn't.
  12. To assemble cake: Level cakes and invert one cake layer on cake plate so that the bottom of the cake is on top. Dollop frosting onto it and spread evenly. Add a layer of thinly sliced strawberries. Repeat with other two layers. Frost top layer and smooth. Frost sides of the Cake. Garnish with fresh strawberries if desired.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Chocolate Truffles with Sea Salt


Hellooooooo!

Is anybody out there???

Not that I blame you if you're not since it's been 5 months since my last post. I come bearing chocolate - peace offering?

In fact, I made these truffles a couple of weeks after my last post; they were goodie bags for my annual Thanksgiving get together. Now this Thanksgiving "dinner" has little resemblance to the traditional celebration except for the part where lots of people come together to eat and have a good time - which is actually the most important part if you ask me! Year after year I mean for us to go round in a circle and say what we are thankful for but we're mostly too busy playing a really loud, noisy game and trying really hard to cheat. And by "we", I mean everybody else. Obviously.

It differs on the whole turkey and traditional Thanksgiving food thing. I don't like turkey and it's bad enough that I eat it at Christmas, I'm definitely not cooking or serving it at anything I host. I just don't 'get' turkey! It's so dry! Except for the dark meat but even then, there's better meats. I am on a personal mission to change the traditional British Christmas meat from turkey (dry, boring) to lamb (succulent, so tasty) and the dessert from Christmas Pudding (ewww) to Sticky Toffee Pudding (hella sweet but amazing!) - that reminds me, I have been saying I'll make and blog Sticky Toffee Pudding for literally years now.  I will.

But I digress ... I guess that's what happens when I don't blog for half a year, I have LOTS to say!

Anyway, my mum reckons she reads all of my blogs and has be hassling me for a while now to update my blog because she wants something to read. I know, I know, I have suggested that books and magazines make for wonderful reading material but apparently, if I didn't write it, she doesn't really enjoy it. Mothers eh?

Well Mama, I have updated my blog. Let's see how long before you read it. Readers, I'll update you on how long it takes her to read it so that we can know once and for all if she really reads it or if it's just something for her to hassle me about (I'm pretty perfect so there's very little she gets to tell me off about).

Back to these truffles, they are wonderful! Rich and dark (just how I like my .... coffee), not usually how I like my chocolate - I'm a milk girl through and through - but these are perfect. And you know how much I LOVE the salty sweet combo!

These are easy to make but depending on how many you make, the rolling and dipping process can be time consuming. I made over a hundred of these bad boys - yup, guests ain't getting truffles again. Next time I'm going  make a cake and break them all of a chunk; no dipping and rolling, no siree!



Recipe from The Pioneer Woman 

Ingredients

452g good dark chocolate
1 x 396g can condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
226g milk chocolate
Sea salt

Makes about 36 truffles

  1. Heat dark chocolate and condensed milk in a double boiler/bain marie over medium low heat until chocolate is melted. Stir - the mixture will have a slight marshmallow texture. Stir in vanilla.
  2. Remove from heat, cover and refrigerate for two hours, until the chocolate becomes firm and workable.
  3. Once chilled, roll in balls about 1/2 - 3/4 inches in diameter (mine were probably double that) and place on a cookie sheet or baking tray lined with grease proof paper. Place the cookie sheet containing the truffles into the freezer for 15 - 30 minutes to firm them up before you place them in the hot melted chocolate.
  4. Melt your milk chocolate in the microwave, and then coat your truffle balls in the melted milk chocolate one by one (Put your truffle in the chocolate, retrieve with a fork - this will allow the excess chocolate to drain back into the bowl - and tap the fork lightly against the bowl to let the excess chocolate drain back).
  5. Transfer the truffle back onto the baking sheet and sprinkle on a small amount of sea salt or whatever coarse salt you have on hand (just be sure to sprinkle on the salt while the chocolate is still soft. This will ensure the chocolate will stay on the truffle.)
  6. Allow the chocolate to harden and voila - yummy yummy chocolate truffles.