Sorry for the radio silence and the lack of blogposts. I’ve been doing some baking, admittedly not as much as before, but I’ve been really busy and sadly updating Half Cut Cakes has taken a bit of a backseat. I’m going to do my best to get them written up and share some of my experiments!
This is probably going to be my ‘about’ page, but I thought I better explain the project a little more…
Back at the beginning of 2012 when everyone else was making New Year’s Resolutions to drink less, mine was to drink more. It’s odd, I know, but I figured after having worked (in events and marketing) for two of Birmingham’s best drinking establishments for over a year, I ought to actively learn in depth more about the product on offer.
After attending some Rum Clubs which were open to the public and bartenders’ training sessions, I started filling a notebook with info and soon realised that as great as it was to understand the products on the back bar, I needed more of an outlet for this newfound knowledge and a reason to build on it. Sure, to most people bartending might’ve been a more sensible progression but I wanted to apply what felt like the alchemy of cocktail making with another kind of alchemy; baking. After all, I like cake, I like spirits, why not add them together. And so Half Cut Cakes was born; the name being a play on the idea of ‘half cut’ referring to cutting cake and also being drunk.
There isn’t really much rhyme or reason as to what I make. Sometimes it’s just a case of wondering whether a single spirit in a cake would work, other times it’s what something would taste like with some alcohol added and others how a cocktail can be re-imagined in cake form. I’m lucky enough to have bartenders of three pretty awesome venues to pose questions to, get advice from and most importantly feedback on the cakes (although I think they win on that too).
Pretty much all of my cakes are tasted by my non-bartending housemates, the general managers of two of the venues I work for and a random sampling of whoever else is about and gets to the cake first. I’m not a professional baker by any stretch of the imagination, but I like to think getting bartenders and ordinary folk to try the cakes means I get an idea of how accurate the flavour is, but also if it appeals to people who don’t spend their lives around them. It seems to work pretty well.
Oh and in case you were wondering the photo banner is a small portion of the Island Bar in Birmingham’s back bar.
I had an email recently from someone about a new ITV show looking for participants who will submit their favourite recipe for a chance to win £20,000 and see their dish on the shelves of Marks & Spencer.
I’ve been having a look through my Half Cut Cakes notebook, but I’m not sure which one – if any – to enter. All of my recipes are pretty new and haven’t had the rigorous testing that some of the well-loved recipes which have been tested over and over. Perhaps that’s just an excuse to bake some of my favourites again!
But if you’re interested in entering Food Glorious Food it looks pretty simple to do so; fill in an application form which can be found here – http://www.foodgloriousfood.tv/. You’ve got until the 31st August 2012 to enter and good luck!
Over at my other blog I’ve written up my thoughts on the Birmingham Whisky Club which I attended recently. My new year’s resolution this year was to learn more about alcohol, so this fits in nicely.
Sitting in a room with a bunch of people tasting whisky might not be to everyone’s taste but it’s actually a really fun way to learn more about the spirit and was a great way to try a range of whiskies that I wouldn’t have ordinarily, particularly as one of the bottles cost £160! Six whiskies of different ages, some single malt and some blended and lashings of storytelling about the history of whisky making is certainly a way to encourage people to the benefits of a dram of the good stuff. Tasting the difference in whiskies aged in sherry and bourbon barrels and the note of fruitiness gave me a few ideas for some cakes to try out later!
I’ve also been attending a series of Rum Clubs at Island Bar which have been doing a fine job of extolling the virtues of rum. These are even more informal, mainly by virtue of the fact that they’re mainly attended by bartenders as rum doesn’t have quite the same reputation as whisky. It’s only really in the last five years that the idea of rum as a sipping spirit has become acceptable (largely helped by El Dorado 15 year old rum winning a major award some time in 1997/8). But given that before this year rum was a spirit I didn’t really care much about, these events have been a good way to view the spirit in a different light and I’m really appreciating it a lot more – I just wish other non-bartending folk would too!
As well as teaching me more about whisky and rum these clubs have been giving me a better understanding of the different notes to find in the spirits. It’s been a great way of being able to identify complementing flavours and hopefully inspire some more cakes! It’s definitely worth having a look around to see whether bars or specialist shops near you are also running whisky/rum clubs.
After some success with the whisky and rum cakes I wanted to try another spirit cake. Gin is my favourite spirit (with lemonade, ginger beer, Ting or in cocktails form, but I’m yet to develop a taste for tonic), so it only seemed natural to try this one next. Big problem though; gin cake wasn’t going to be as easy at merely wacking in a load of it into the cake, owing to the whole gin being a base spirit flavoured with botanicals issue. So the next best thing seemed to be to figure out how to get the most popular of gin botanicals into the cake, starting with the star of the show, juniper.
And this is how I happened upon the idea of sugar infusion. I’ve seen people use vanilla sugar before, but I wondered whether the same could be done with gin’s botanicals. I found an article on StyleAtHome.com where Heidi Noble talked about infusing sugar with cardamom. So I figured I’d give this a go…
The top box is the cardamom, corriander seeds and juniper ground down and mixed in with the sugar and the bottom box is the juniper and cardamom bruised (bashed?) slightly and left in with the sugar to be sieved out later. I’m leaving them for a few weeks, giving them a good shake daily and we’ll see how it works!
I think it’s safe to say creating healthy snacks was never part of this project, so the fact I’ve spend a slightly ridiculous amount of time reading about reducing fat might come as a surprise. But I vaguely remember reading that fruit purees can be replaced in cake. I figured if this were the case it might be a way to improve the Strawberry Daiquiri cupcakes I made a while back.
Some of the websites I read disagreed about the effectiveness of substituting fat. Some suggested it was entirely fine, but a good chunk (like this one) seemed to suggest that completely replacing the fat produces a doughy cake. From what I’ve read the fat acts as a shortening, coating the protein molecules in the flour and preventing it from making long strings of gluten. The shortened gluten is what gives the cake its light-fluffiness and the long strands of gluten is what gives bread its doughiness. So removing all the fat, even with a replacement, is likely to result in a doughier cake, which isn’t great. At least that’s what I understand from the reading, I could be wrong!
Now, to see if there’s a good strawberry cake recipe knocking around…
Welcome. This is my new blog chronicling my project into making alcoholic cakes and hopefully along the way learning more about alcohol, cake, baking and how they all combine together!
I work in marketing for two rather awesome venues – one pub, one cocktail bar – and my new year’s resolution was to try and learn more about the wonderful world of alcohol and its complexities. So I’m reading, asking questions and attending training, where possible. But me being me, I need a way to put the theory into practice, and rather than do something sensible like learn the art of cocktail making, I figured I’d combine this burgeoning knowledge with cake. Henceforth Half-Cut Cakes was born!