Thursday, November 27, 2014

A birthday and chocolate Malteser cake

It was Émilie's 25th birthday this week! My first born... I still remember her as a little one. The birth, her peach skin, finding out she was a girl, blond curls, she looked so different from what I was expecting. She was perfect. I was 19. Life was for ever changed. Seems like yesterday yet a quarter of a century went by. It is true that as you get older life goes by faster and with our two youngest girls, life is definitely bustling by! All I can do is hold on and smell the coffee once in a while. 

The actual party was Saturday night when my girl went out with her fiancé for drinks at the 3 Brewers downtown Ottawa. They were joined by a whole bunch of friends in their mid and late twenties. Marc and I had no babysitter so he stayed home with the young ones and I joined the merry bunch for a few pints of dark brown goodness, a shot of Tequila and lively conversations with familiar and new faces. I left around midnight to catch the last bus while the birthday girl moved on to a dance bar. I made it home safe by 1h00 a.m. with a smile on my face and cozied up with Marc who was watching a movie. My girl was happy I attended and it was nice to see her old friends and meet new ones. Overall a good time which was followed by a mild hangover (unlike the party girl who apparently nursed a major one for the next 24 hours).

She came to our house 2 days later to hang out on her actual birthday while I baked her a cake and a homemade lasagna. Here is the cake! A fun chocolate one with a mild malty flavour, buttercream icing and Maltesers on top! 

If your inner child doesn't smile at this, well, I feel sorry for you. It was my favourite candy when we arrived to Canada (after Mars bars). In 1980, they would sell for 1 cent at the corner store and if I was lucky to have a quarter to spend, I would ask for 25 of those beautiful orbs that the clerk would give me in a small paper bag. I even remember a few decadent days where I had a whole one dollar bill to myself. 100 malt balls!!! A kid can learn to do math quickly on a deal like that!

The recipe is from Nigella Lawson's book Feast. I enjoyed her book for 8 years and I love the chocolate Guinness cake that is featured in her impressive chapter "Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame". For some reason, no matter how fun it looked, it took me that long to try this Maltesers one. Mainly because finding malt powder was always an issue at my local store. There is no Horlicks here (a hilarious and ugly name by the way) and I never found substitutes like Ovaltine or Carnation. Then the other week I came across this imported Columbian product called Chocolisto with malt and chocolate. Yay malt! I went with that. The other break I got was to find Maltesers at the new Dollarama for $2.00 the bag. I grabbed 4 packets and went on my merry way knowing that this cake was finally going to get baked. 

I admit I had serious issues with the conversions. Maybe I just couldn't focus that day but my old notes from other cakes were missing and the web kept giving me different numbers for the oven temperature or various ingredients in the recipe. It was a frustrating hour of surfing and guessing instead of baking. In the end I managed and wrote my notes directly in the book. The other thing is that the recipe said to mix the malt powder with the butter in hot milk. I tasted it out of curiosity and wasn't satisfied with the flavours. So, I cheated. I boosted the small amount of chocolate malt powder from 2 tbsp to 4 generous good ones. Once you cheat it's hard to stop though. ;) I figured it wouldn't hurt to add more butter as well! So I went from a lame one tablespoon to two, three, four spoonfuls. It's butter in cake batter! How bad can it be? Just as I was about to mix the wet mixture with the dried ingredients, I realized that I had forgotten the cocoa powder and had no proper conversion for the amount that was requested. 25g didn't sound like a lot to me. It was also too small for my scale to read. What is it? 1/4 cup? 1/3 cup? The truth is, I was planning on cheating with a good 3/4 cup but wanted to know what the original amount really was. 

That made me go back online to research and I suddenly stumbled on a blog that actual tried the recipe (conversions included). Excitement and relief! Except my smile turned into frown when all I read were negative comments. Her link lead to an other blog that I actually love who echoed the same review. What!? Words like: "gross", "tough", "dull", "rubbery", "mousy colour", "taste of failure" were burning my eyes as I read in disbelief that it didn't taste like chocolate or malt. My heart was sinking. How could this cool kitschy looking cake from the domestic goddess be so bad!!?? I was cursing and swearing and losing my groove so fast. What to do?? I had to start on the lasagna, the little one kept pestering me to help, the clock was ticking, the room still needed to be tidied, presents had to be wrapped and I had no idea if I should continue or quit and grab my coat to run to the store for new ingredients. 

I usually bake a trusty old favourite that never fails: Dark moist chocolate cake filled with whipped cream and strawberries then topped with chocolate ganache. Perfection. It was tempting but it was also predictable (in this house) and I was stubborn. I decided to stick to my malt/choco creation with a possibility for plan B (quick cocoa brownies) if this turned to disaster. I'm glad I did!

This birthday girl wasn't sure if she was crazy about malt balls but the look of this cake was pretty cool and change is refreshing. Also she tasted the buttercream icing and approved. It rocks. It's different from the other buttercream icings I've done before. It was suspiciously easy and not as greasy as some old standards I used to do. I cried over buttercream before. Not this one. I did boost the amount of cocoa powder a bit and did the same with the malt. It tasted great but the coloured contrast between the pale icing and the chocolate malt balls was gone. I didn't think about that detail until I assembled the cake. They both shared the same shade of brown which didn't look as cool as in Nigella's book below. I will go with taste though and this icing tasted right.

I moved on with the lasagna which was great, no pics but it's begging for it's own post. Managed to tidy up and wrapped some presents with Marc's help. Birthday girl was initiated to My Little Pony with her younger sisters in the afternoon, then she moved on to play Battleship with Marc and continued with a serious vintage board game from the 60s called Stratego. Her fiancé joined us, so did her girlfriend and my father. Who all treated her with various gifts. There was chips, wine, records being played and a hockey game to watch. After some digesting and presents-opening, the cake was lit and coffee was poured.

Cake verdict: I think this cake was simply misunderstood. Poor thing. I'm glad I gave it a chance. If you want something that has the characteristics of a box cake, this isn't for you. If you want to make cup cakes out of this, this cake is so not for you. I was expecting the worse but it wasn't like what others described. Sure it wasn't the moist sweet cake that is so common with North American desserts. It was sturdy but not heavy and tasted great with the buttercream icing which was the perfect sweet complement to it's texture. It had time to sit and mellow in the fridge (my kitchen was too warm). The chocolate and malt flavours were definitely present but not overly sweet. It reminded me of European cakes of my childhood. Especially the spice cakes from Germany (but without the spices). Maybe it was the changes I made, maybe it was the icing but nobody at our table of 8 thought it was dry and we were rather amused that it made me look like I overcame the infamous challenge of the Malteser cake. Fist pump! It's the perfect thing to have with a coffee! Even 3 days later! You have to look at the whole package here and how it gets served. This cake is firm and definitely needs the soft, rich, sweet contrast of the buttercream to balance things out. It's better served in thin slices and the Maltesers on top add a fun touch of crunch. Coffee or tea a must. A happy ending to a busy little evening which turned out to be a pretty fun affair. Maybe our best one yet! 

Recipe after the pics.

Oh yes and it's high time I introduce my little buddy. Meet Vincent. Our little hedgehog who loves to attend our little fêtes.

Malteser birthday cake

Heavily adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe in Feast

The cake
3/4 cup soft light brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
3/4 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons Chocolisto (or other chocolate/malt powder like Horlicks, Ovaltine or Carnation)
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Icing and decoration
1 1/2 cup icing sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup Chocolisto (or other chocolate/malt powder like Horlicks, Ovaltine or Carnation)
1/2 cup (1 stick) + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons boiling water
2-3 x 100g packets Maltesers to decorate and eat as you go

Take whatever you need out of the fridge so that all the ingredients can come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Butter and line two 20cm (8 inches) tins. Mine were 3.5cm (1.5 inches) deep and had no removable bottoms. The cake will come out  as long as the bottom is lined. Wax paper works fine here. No need to freak out if you have no parchment paper. Butter that too and move on.

Whisk together the brown and white sugars and eggs in a stand-mixer. This allows you to prep the other ingredients at the same time. Or you can give your wrist a good work out.

In the meantime, heat the milk, butter and malt powder in a saucepan until the butter melts, and it is hot but not boiling.

When the sugars and eggs are light and frothy, beat in the hot malt mixture. Then fold in the flour, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda. I think using a sieve for those last 4 ingredients would have helped with a few lumps but I managed without.

Divide the cake batter evenly between the two tins and bake in the oven for 25 minutes. The cakes should spring back when pressed gently. Let them cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes. You can then run a knife along the edges before turning them out of their tins. Peel the wax paper off the bottoms.

Once the cakes are cold, you can get on with the icing. A food processor makes this really easy. No need to sieve the icing sugar. Just put the icing sugar, cocoa, malt powder in the food processor and blitz to remove all lumps. Add the butter and process again. Stop, scrape down if you have to and start again, pouring the boiling water down the funnel with the motor running until you have a smooth buttercream. Magic!

Sandwich the cold sponges with half of the buttercream then ice the top with what is left, creating a swirly pattern rather than a smooth surface. Stud the outside edge with a ring of Maltesers. It will hold nicely in the cold buttercream. I should mention that the top layer was turned upside down so I would get a nice flat top for the icing. It left a gap between the 2 layers though so I saw this as an opportunity to add more Maltesers by nudging them in between.

Put in the fridge to let it set and mellow. Brew some coffee, invite peeps and share thin slices with extra Maltesers on the side! Just because.