Posts Tagged ‘Bundt cake’

Bundt cake part 2

December 24, 2012

A soddy cake: my mother’s name for a cake that hadn’t cooked properly – most of hers were soddy.  She said the word with a kind of rueful pleasure – Schadenfreude. I suppose, except it was her own dismay that triggered it.  Selbstshadenfreude, therefore?  There are reasons for a soddy cake: perhaps people stamped or trod heavily while it was cooking; perhaps there had been an angry voice.  Anger was known to ruin the rising of cakes.  So we crept around the kitchen, trying to be nice to one another.  Still the cakes fell.  Sometimes it was the oven’s fault (and by extension, the landlord’s fault – another in the catalogue chalked up against him) – the door didn’t fit, or she looked inside too soon (no glass doors in those days).  They were always packet cake mixes – Mum loved (and loves) innovations.   

It may be a very old word: in early modern English ‘sodden’ or ‘sothen’ means ‘boiled’ (the present tense is ‘seethe’).  Meat might be ‘roast or sod’ in the sixteenth century.[1]  Of course Mum was having a sneaky little giggle because a ‘sod’ was a term of abuse for anyone you felt was behaving meanly, but also a sodomite, and so an obscenity in the intolerant world of the fifties.  A child could detect the giggly sneer and the rudeness, even without knowing the derivation.  She loved to get away with things – and a fallen cake allowed her to get away with using the word and the smutty reference in front of children.


You’ve guessed by now that the lovely Bundt cake was almost totally uncooked inside.  The outside a lovely golden brown, it slipped eagerly out of the tin.  I put it on my mother-in-law’s glamorous blue-and-white Victorian cake plate, dusted it with icing sugar, and it was a gorgeous sight to behold, its peaks dominating the table of party food.  Until I cut into it: Alas! a solid, greyish-gluggy, inedible interior.  A truly soddy cake.  That damn oven! 


In that wakeful moment in the small hours I remembered how I had mixed it.  I adore that word ‘blitz’ that Nigella uses, but it is ambiguous.  How long do you blitz for?  And I thought about those meanings: ‘Blitzen’, the reindeer paired with Donner, is of course ‘lightning’ – a short sharp shock – yoked with her mate, the thunder.  (Are the reindeer gendered?  I suppose Vixen is – but the others?)  In comparison, I had blitzed that cake mixture to hell and back.  Somewhere in the depths of my mind I recalled a recipe book’s advice: “Do not overbeat the eggs.”  But in what context?  Anyway, I can tell you that overbeating the eggy mixture, followed by putting the cake into too hot an oven, in an overgreased tin, then turning the oven down too far, to compensate for the initial error – – – well, that’s a recipe for disaster!!

Just a dream of perfection: an image found online

Just a dream of perfection: an image found online

[1]Andrew Boorde’s Compendyous Regyment or Dyetary of Health of 1542, “Potage is made of the lyquor in which fleshe is soden [boiled] in , with puttyng-to chopped herbes and otemel and salt”.


Kitchen Disasters – the Voice of Experience

December 21, 2012

I’m feeling tense preparing for the little party we are having on the weekend: first party in the new, downsized, tiny house, so ‘party’ isn’t quite the word.  More a small collection of local people – dog walkers from the Eagle Rec., fellow drinkers from the pub that shut down recently.

(I hear that they’re going to build flash houses for pseuds on the lovely old orchard that was the beer garden. )

We might be able to shoehorn twenty folk into the living room, if they don’t mind a squeeze.  Then I was told that Saturday night holds unmissable TV – the final of Strictly Come Dancing.  So maybe it will be a very small group indeed

Today I am baking – a catalogue of disasters real and imagined.  First, I need to boil up some white rice – the only rice in the cupboard is whole grain or expensive organic arborio.  This is for a puppy with diarrhea – so it’s the arborio, then.  While that was bubbling and then cooling, I iced the Christmas cake – the best royal icing I’ve made in years, since usually it’s too runny.  I don’t do that skating-rink smooth icing (don’t?  I mean can’t) and I don’t much feel like flicking it up all over – that’s fun occasionally but not every year.  And I realised that actually I like the rough-hewn look you get from just running a knife over the top, and letting the marks fall where they may.  Maybe we can tell fortunes that way?  A cake fortune-teller – and a fake fortune-teller,  like the frog in The Mouse and His Child.  But handling the cake brought home to me how soft it feels.  It looks paler than it should, too.  Is it perhaps undercooked?  Oh the embarrassment of cutting it and finding it is still raw dough – and rather old raw dough, at that, as it has been maturing on top of the fridge for weeks, fed with brandy, in the proper style.  So it will be well preserved and sloppy – perhaps even drinkable – uncooked cake.  Maybe I can just shrug it off and shout ‘Yum Yum!’  Pass it off as a new seasonal cocktail?

Set off to make pumpkin pies – scrupulously carefully – this year using an uncooked pastry –  pate brisée from The Joy of Cooking.  Delighted to realise that the icing needed egg whites and the pastry needed yolks.  Terrific!  That drying crust of part-egg waiting forlornly in a cup at the back of the fridge won’t happen this year.   The pastry – obediently well-chilled – went solid in the fridge (is it supposed to?) and, solid yet sticky, wrapped itself around the winebottle I was using as rolling pin, tearing here and there as it stuck and fell back over and over.  Fingers work best to press it into shape, and I went over the bases scrupulously sticking and pressing bits of stray pastry wherever there were holes.  I’ve had this happen before – the filling seeps through those invisible gaps and forms a delicious but unsightly baked-on mass below the pastry.  Nobody eats this but me, and there’s far too much of it to throw away.  All those good ingredients!  (my mother’s voice, of course).  But this time will be different – and I think it just about is.  There’s no big mixing bowl this year – it went with my husband to his flat, when we divided up our possessions.  He texts he can bring it round later, but I want to pie onwards now, now, now!  So I opt for the blender.  Maybe this year the pies won’t be fibrous, with those dubiously-mashed bits of pumpkin I usually give up on too soon.  Also, this year, with little storage space, I haven’t kept a pumpkin from November, but bought a butternut squash.  (Well – in Australia we call them butternut pumpkins – so I reckon they can make a pumpkin pie as well as the next one – though never as well as a proper, solid Queensland Blue – but that’s another story.)  I check back in Joy of Cooking and find that the recipe says ‘Pumpkin or Squash Pie’ – so all the bases are covered.  I’ve forgotten to get Ideal milk, and can’t wait for the groceries to arrive, so I substitute crème fraiche and yogurt.  (I’ve used yogurt before, with great success.)  One of the crème fraiche pots is nearly a week past its sell-by date – but it tastes fine.  If anything, slightly milder than yesterday’s.  I don’t think it will poison anybody.  Vast quanitites of pale mixture zap around in the blender – I like Nigella’s term ‘blitz’.  Ah blitzed them stringy varmints down to a light cream.  As usual, I have far more mixture than I need – maybe something goes wrong in translating American volume measurements into UK weights – so once the pies are in the oven, write myself a pencil note in the recipe book.  ‘Always too much of this.’  Satisfying: I like marginalia in general, but especially in recipe books.  Ruthlessly, I tipped the leftover deliciousness straight down the sink.  Normally I would wait for it to go mouldy-green and stinking before tipping it out, but today I need the blender for other things.

The oven is an enigma – an oven of extremes.  At high temperatures it seems fairly accurate, but lower and middling ones are seriously low – so it seems that one can cook on hot or on cool, but never on moderate.  The warming-up time is leisurely.  My oven of extremes: passionately hot, or cold and unresponsive.  Manic-depressive oven. (There may be a connection between this and the state of the Christmas cake.) Right now it is taking an hour and a half to bake pumpkin pies – which should take an hour – and they are still pale on top.

And so Thursday passed into evening – I was doing well, so obviously that was the moment to open a bottle of red wine with a friend, and then when she went away, to open another with my stepson.  Midnight is too late for me (and certainly too late for an early-rising company chef).  Friday wasn’t going to be easy.

The pies came out fine – with some extra time.  Same for the chocolate brownies, which I have never made before.  The clue is to believe that they are done even when they don’t look done.  (My chef stepson’s words – a mantra to hold to as the afternoon wears on.  That, and remembering the time when I didn’t know that about biscuits: I baked and baked them to a crisp, not realising that they would crisp up once out of the oven.  I don’t think I have tried to make biscuits since.)  Needless to say I faithfully took the brownies out of the oven before they looked cooked (and anyway, we had a date to go uptown, Christmas shopping with two grandkids).  Maybe they are undercooked, like the Christmas cake.  ‘Bung ’em in the fridge,’ says my stepson, ‘they’ll firm up’.  And I do, and they do.  And later on – after a brisk shopping session and a trip to MacDonald’s – the youngest grandson has first slice of the Christmas cake.  It’s a bit pale – and oversweet to my taste – but it seems cooked enough.  The bundt cake is another story – I think I over-oiled the tin, tried to compensate for the cool oven by turning it up to start with, then felt guilty and turned it down again. The cake has come out partly-fried on its edges and not well risen.  Too hot and then too cool.  But at least it has held together rather better than last time.  More marginalia needed – I will note all this down in my copy of Nigella’s Christmas.  

I will defrost the pack of red summer fruits and use crème fraiche to disguise the shortcomings.  Gleaming in their various icy reds, the blackcurrants and redcurrants, the raspberries and blackberries look gorgeously Christmassy.  Youngest grandchild tells us all many times: ‘Those red berries are poison – you can’t eat them.’  He is very persistent, and listening to explanations is not his strong suit.  I suppose he has been told about holly berries, and there may be an element of Snow White in there as well.  Wickedly witchy, I, the stepgrandmother, hold the glowing plateful out to him.  As the kitchen’s warm fug touches the berries, a white sheen of frost forms, wonderfully or horribly, depending on your point of view.

In tune with the themes of this post, wordpress seems reluctant to let me upload pictures today.  I’ll fight that battle another day – in the meantime, my apologies – just use your imaginations, please.

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