Appetite Disturbance

Appetite Disturbance

I like baking. I like baking cakes, especially. I especially like blogs that show cake baking at its finest. Like this blog and this particular cake. That is a lot of cake. And icing. And macarons. But really when would making such a cake be warranted? Can I really justify making this cake, and during the week, no less?

Sure can – because it’s World Mental Health Day today! And today at work there is a “bake-off” fundraiser. Each year, on October 10, the Mental Health Foundation holds a global celebration to promote mental health education, awareness and advocacy. The theme for 2014 is Living with Schizophrenia. The Mental Health Foundation website provides information about schizophrenia, and suggests holding a Tea and Talk fundraiser. Because this is for charity, I really wanted to bake something spectacular. I think that THAT cake fits the bill. For the bake-off, we need to name our cake. I’ve named mine “Appetite Disturbance” which is a symptom of schizophrenia. But it may also be what happens to people when they eat this cake.

Obviously this isn’t my recipe. I’m just following instructions – which are rather lengthy but very well-written. It is, however, an epic cake and I’d like to share my experience making it.

I typically make a cake, all of it, even an elaborate one, the day before I’m going to serve it.

This cake required different three different kinds of icing: Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, ganache, and a glaze. Even the buttercream was split into three different flavours: vanilla, strawberry and chocolate. 2 (yes, 2) flavours of macarons. 3 cakes cut in half horizontally to make a 6 layer cake. Didn’t I say that was a lot of cake?

Even if I stayed up all night, I wasn’t sure that I would finish it. So I started on Tuesday, making the buttercream and one batch of the macarons. The next night I made the other batch of macarons, ganache, and the cakes. Yesterday I make the glaze, and then put everything together. Putting it all together was relatively easy. But here’s some problems that I had, which I normally wouldn’t have had if I would have made it all in one go.

First, the buttercream. I would normally make this and then frost/ice the cake immediately. But the instructions said the buttercream could be left in the fridge for 5 days before use. I’m good at following instructions. But when I got it out of the fridge, it was obviously very hard to spread and I wasn’t sure whether to leave it out to get warm – which would have taken forever – or what. So I stirred it to get it warmed up. And it curdled and stayed curdled. No picture here. It’s ugly. I was about to throw it out and start again, but then remembered that handy invention called the web. I internet searched for how to “un-curdle” swiss meringue buttercream. Hint: heat up about ½ cup of the curdled stuff in a microwave, until it’s runny, and then while the mixer is going, pour the heated stuff back into the mixer with the curdled stuff and the icing will become smooth again. True story.

Second, the macarons. Wanna know how many videos I watched on how to make macarons before I made them? No, trust me, you don’t. I’ve actually made them twice before. The first time, they were near perfect. The second time, they were close to inedible. The thing about macaron dough is that if you under-mix, then you get cracks in the top which is not how it should look like, and if you over-mix, then you don’t get the classic “feet” – you just get a very flat meringue/sugar disc. This time, when I made the strawberry flavour, I thought I was nearly to the point of over-mix and was worried about lack of feet. But they turned out great! You can see them on the top of the cake.

For the chocolate flavour, I really didn’t want to push it as close as I thought I had with the strawberry so I didn’t mix it as much. And while I got feet, the macarons aren’t smooth and shiny on the top, and a couple are cracked. So I think that was slightly under-mixed.

Chocolate macarons

For that reason, none of the chocolate macarons are displayed on the cake top, only inside the cake.

macaron inside cake

Third, the ganache. Ganache can split/break/separate. Essentially instead of a nice shiny glossy smooth chocolate spread, you get a grainy oily mess that has no business being put on a cake. When I made the ganache the night before I needed it, it was fabulous. Exactly what you expect. Then I put it in the fridge to microwave the next day. The instructions said I could! I was very very careful about not putting the ganache in the microwave for too long between stirs, but I could see it was close to separating. It finally came together but I did have to give it a zap during the cake construction process because it kept going a bit grainy.

In the end, the cake came together fine.

Second layer

The second of six layers. Ganache and macarons.

6 layer cake

6 layer naked cake. Don’t worry – it will look better in a minute.

Not naked cake

I just had a few panics during its construction because of my inexperience in storing individual bits and then putting the cake together. Overall, I think it looks pretty good. I’m hoping that I won’t be able to show you what it looks like inside, in a future post, because it means the cake will be all gone. More money for the charity and less temptation for me.

My next challenge? How in the world am I going to get this cake to the office for the bake-off?

cake light 2



The Mountain Man returns

15 (long) days ago, the Mountain Man left for a walking trek up the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. As a welcome home treat, the boys wanted to make a cake. I had visions of a really nice mini-cupcake I’d see on a favourite blog. I was really looking forward to making it. So I showed the boys. It was met with a distinct lack of enthusiasm, followed by: “No, Mum. A mountain cake”.

“Umm? Hmm. Ok…are you sure?”

“Yes. A mountain cake.”

Knowing what I was comfortable making, working with, and had on hand, I put together a Plan. Yes, this one called for a capital letter.

I seriously thought about buying a couple of boxes of cake mix and some packaged frosting (icing). Both of these US baking stalwarts are only really starting to take off here. But in the end, I decided if I had to make a Mountain Cake, I wanted an authentic one. However, I wasn’t going to go all out. There is something about a novelty cake that makes me think that the contents won’t be the star. And I had helpers; while Boy 1 and Boy 2 are super enthusiastic, complicated cake recipes weren’t going to work. So I used a basic recipe for chocolate cake from the New Joy of Baking, along with the basic buttercream icing. And off we went.

Chocolate cake in the making

The obligatory bowl of soon-to-be-cake.

Yeah, I’m not convinced either. Although the eggs weren’t in yet…

We made 3 batches of cake mix and distributed it into a jelly roll pan (kinda like a texas sheet cake pan), a 8″ round cake tin, and a medium pyrex bowl. We then made the buttercream frosting and coloured one portion green, one portion brown, and then left the last bit white. I found some sprinkles that we use for ice cream that had been hanging around for a bit looking for a good purpose (other than ice cream, of course).

I had plenty of help with the icing and decorating. Here’s what we ended up with.

Mountain Cake

The jelly roll cake provided the base, the round cake was the bottom of the mountain, and the pyrex formed the dome part of the mountain. The craggy top was made from offcuts from the bottom of the dome (so that the dome could sit flat).

Mountain cake 2

The boys enjoyed finding appropriate lego figures for Mountain Man (right) and his bestie. They are pretty good likenesses! Although, it’s really just walking, not climbing…


Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way this turned out. Mountain Man is back tomorrow, and then we’ll know how it tastes. But frankly, the boys had so much fun doing it, it doesn’t matter.

Maple Syrup – UK gold dust

A Saturday morning, without any running around to do, calls for coffee and baking. I’ve been wanting to make some donuts and had my eye on a recipe from one of my favourite baking bloggers*. Maple Glazed Donuts sounded like just the perfect addition to my lovely cappuccino.

As the name suggests the donut glaze uses maple syrup. As an ex-pat in the UK, finding ingredients that are common in the US can sometimes be challenging here. Maple syrup is one of them. People really don’t know what to do with it, and pancakes – as I know them – aren’t on any breakfast menus. And when you can find maple syrup, it’s jaw-droppingly expensive. I’m trying to contain my excitement now that Costco has arrived here. I bet I was one of the first people to take out a membership at our local store! But I haven’t bought any syrup from there yet because whenever I go to the States to visit my family, I come back home with some that has been locally tapped. It’s a bit of a risk to pack the glass bottles (yup, that’s what the locals use) in my luggage and then let the baggage handlers have at it. When I get home, I always breathe a sigh of relief that no leakage has occurred.

My main decision this morning was whether I really wanted to part with a half cup of home tapped syrup from my very last bottle. But it was a Saturday morning, without anything that absolutely had to be done. There isn’t much more indulgent than that when you have two boys with loads of activities. So maple glazed donuts, here we come.

These baked donuts use a spiced cake base which was really easy to put together. I followed the recipe exactly, including the tip about filling the donut pan (put the dough in a plastic bag and cut off the tip to squeeze out).

Maple Glazed Donuts

After just 10 minutes, these beauties came out.


And when they were cooled, I just dunked them in the maple syrup glaze.


At exactly this moment, Boy 2 twigged what I was doing in the kitchen. What happened next is pretty predictable.


Boy 1 then got in on the act. The key, I think, to this recipe is the spices.


If you like strongly cinnamon-y flavours, then you’ll like this. Boy 2 likes strong flavours and devoured his donut. If you don’t like strong flavours, then this recipe probably isn’t for you. That’s my Boy 1, who promptly gave his donut to his now sugared up brother. Me? I’m somewhere in between. If I make these again (taking into account that maple syrup here is like gold dust), I think I’ll dial back on the spices or use a vanilla cake base.

Oh, and Mom and Dad – I think I now qualify for a maple syrup emergency! Send some soon.