Short and Tweet Challenge 20: Sophia Loren Cassata Cake, Saffron Peach Cake & Butterscotch Banana Cake
This week’s #shortandtweet challenge from Dan Lepard’s Short & Sweet was for Saffron peach cake pg 137 (an earlier challenge resulted in some useful tweaks); what Dan styles the “‘Sophia Loren’ of cake: four layers of orange sponge cake filled with a simplified Sicilian cassata mixture and drizzled with a light orange syrup”, pp 132-3; option three was a deep-flavoured Butterscotch banana cake, pp 126-7. It’s been an interesting selection of bakes that has generated questions about cakes with dome tops, what variety of cinnamon is commonly available in South Africa, and why a period of fast and abstinence has a cake associated with it. [The opening photograph is @joellybaby’s banana cake.]
This week’s cakes have felt uncannily family and nostalgia related. Because of the saffron, the Saffron peach cake nods toward traditional associations with Mothering Sunday and, for me, the Butterscotch banana is reminiscent of childhood toffee smells. Looking at #shortandtweet-ers’ Orange cassata cake, there’s a sense that if we did not quite reach the acme of Sophia Loren, we brought to mind a glamorous aunt who somehow manages to wear a frilly-tiered outfit with panache. Monday 19 March was St Joseph’s Day (celebrated as Father’s Day in some countries) and in Italy, this is celebrated with regional food (this is Italy, what isn’t?). When I was at school, I had a weekend job in a pizzeria that was owned by Sicilians: so, from my n=1 experience, Sicilians (and others) celebrate by making and eating Sfinci di San Guiseppe (also pasta topped with breadcrumbs to recall the carpenter’s sawdust). Anyone who had been following #shortandtweet would have been able to do this because it involves frying choux puffs and filling them with a custard or creamy filling that is very similar to ‘Sophia’s Cassata’ filling. I was charmed to learn that @tomasi_carla made these traditional pastries and we’ve storifyed her account: @tomasi_carla’s Sfinci di San Giuseppe.
@underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree baked two cakes: Short and Tweet: ‘Butterscotch Banana’ and ‘Orange Cassata’ Cakes. There were some hiccups with both: “I can say straight up that neither would win “Prettiest Cake in Show” but taste-wise, there were varying degrees of success”. In an entertaining mix of personal preferences and interesting adjustments to allow for the impact of baking a sponge at altitude, @underthebluegum has a number of grumbles and misgivings about the Orange cassata cake. “Given my cake’s stunted stature, cutting it into three gave me a queasy moment but it was just about manageable. However, even after padding it out with the ricotta filling and giving it a drizzle of orange icing it looked a bit squat and lopsided..In the recipe intro, Dan refers to this dish as the ‘Sophia Loren’ of cakes. I am not sure what decade he was talking but my cake was certainly no sixties screen siren. I guess with a squint and in the right light it could possibly pass for today’s septuagenarian Ms Loren but that is probably being generous.” Remarkably enough, despite the low expectations: “I was surprised to find just how much I enjoyed this cake”.
“To be honest, with my consistent lack of ability to bake sponge with a flat top, I should have known I would never have resulted in the poster-child of layer cakes. I should have baked just one large one and sliced it up, rather than two with their very domed tops (see ‘wonky cakes’ pic.”)
“On the day it was baked, the cake was ok. Ricotta filling lumpy, and strangely textured…The after-taste was a little sharp and peel-y (my brand of candied peel?). However, the next day, something rather splendid had happened. The ricotta filling gently leaked into the sponge, mellowing the flavours beautifully, creating something far greater than the sum of its ingredients. I would make it again, to relish the next day.”
“Oh, and I could do with some practise (advice?!) at creating the perfect flat-top sponge.”
Please read @north_19’s full account on Storify (where I’ve made some comments) and chip in with any advice. My additional suggestions are mundane and remedial rather than a pointer towards flat-top sponge perfection. It’s possible that the cakes rose unevenly because: i) the batter wasn’t level in the tin (an offset spatula might help to rectify this); ii) the oven isn’t level; iii) the oven has temperature zones that cause one side of the sponge to rise/set more rapidly (rotate the cake tins halfway through the cooking time; heat a bake stone in the oven and place the cake tins on that to reduce the temperature imbalances).
Domed tops can occur for several reasons. One of the likeliest problems is uneven transmission of heat so that the outer walls of the tin conducted the heat quickly and set the outer edges of the sponge while the centre of the sponge mix heated more gradually and then rose higher than the sides. In recipes with chemical leavening agents, the gases can’t escape from the cake mix once the crust has formed around the edges and they crowd towards the weakest spot (the unset centre) and push that up more. Domed tops can sometimes be fixed if you act quickly: as soon as the cakes are out of the oven, keep on the oven gloves and, using a clean tea towel, gently press down to flatten the dome and level the cake (watch out for steam as it can scald). Alternatively, when the cakes have cooled enough to be removed from the tin, invert the cake onto its top so that the top flattens under its own weight while cooling on the rack. This is helpful when slicing a cake into even layers for sandwiching.
It is at this point that I should mention that my Best Beloved succumbed to the siren promise of the Sophia Loren description and baked the Orange cassata cake. This was an ambitious choice for somebody who has never previously baked a sponge cake and so it was, perhaps, inevitable that at various points there were moments that resembled The Great British Bake Off in drama and emotion. The cake was fragrant and tasted delicious but a too-hasty turning out of one of the cakes, in combination with inadequate preparation of the sponge tins, meant that at one point we considered converting the presentation to an orange sponge and cassata trifle.
My Best Beloved removed the two cakes from the oven, and, giddy with success, turned one of them out before it had cooled enough. A section of the cake stuck to the silicone pan, and some of the part that did release broke up: despite the recipe instructions, neither tin had been lined. At this point we had nothing to lose as plan B was to serve it as a trifle so we placed the still warm sponge topside down onto some clingfilm, drizzled it with a small amount of warm sugar syrup, scraped the remaining sponge out of the pan and matched/patched up the holes, then gathered the clingfilm together to create a slight tension and gently slid the whole cake back into the still warm pan and left it to set (topside still down). We twisted and pegged the clingfilm to provide a gentle pull to encourage the cake to stick back together. (If the cake tin had been metal rather than silicone, we would probably have just folded the excess clingfilm flat and put a plate and suitable weight on top of the sponge to press it together but the silicone is flexible enough that it might have bulged.) The sponge was coaxed into sticking together well enough that it formed a sound base for the cake (we didn’t attempt to slice it into layers and the topside remained at the bottom) and held together without falling apart when it was cut and served. The final cake was just two layers of sponge, sandwiched and topped with the ricotta filling. It lasted 4 days in the fridge and matured delightfully.
I feel as if I’m highlighting the mistakes that my Best Beloved made rather than celebrating the fact that most of the procedure was correct, the cake crumb was light and it was delicious. It’s the more impressive that this was a lifetime first attempt at baking a sponge and it feels mean to detail the errors. However, it’s sometimes useful to have some back-up plans for taking remedial action and I’ve offered the above description of ‘how to stick a sponge cake back together’ in that spirit. Nonetheless, I’m conflicted precisely because I think that a number of home bakers are discouraged when their own attempts don’t look as fabulous as the photographs in a book or because other people criticise their mistakes while ignoring how good something tastes. None of the bakers who attempted it has any criticism of the taste, but none is wholly content with the appearance of their very first attempt at baking this cake. If none of the cakes achieved Sophia Loren status, I still think that we have a baker’s collection of aunts, wearing frilly outfits with panache.
I’m pleased to welcome back @joellybaby of Joelle McNichol. Her photographs and comments are storifyed: @joellybaby bakes Butterscotch banana cake. Go and admire the photographs, you might well think you can smell the caramelised banana just by looking at them.
As mentioned above, @underthebluegum of Under the Blue Gum Tree baked two cakes: Short and Tweet: ‘Butterscotch Banana’ and ‘Orange Cassata’ Cakes. In her account of the banana cake @underthebluegum speculates whether the taste of the delectable caramelised banana was smothered by her substitute spicing and wonders if other bakers had a similar experience (from the other accounts of this cake, it doesn’t seem as if this is a common problem). My own observation is that cinnamon is notoriously tricky to judge in recipes from other countries because it’s rarely clear which variety of cinnamon the recipe writer is using (eg, a floral or hot variety with varying strengths). Eg, we purchase Sri Lankan cinnamon in the UK; the commonly available cinnamon in the US is Indonesian cassia: it would be interesting to know which cinnamon is typically available in South Africa.
@BakeCakeCrumbs of Cake, Crumbs and Cooking has a helpfully illustrated account of various stages of the recipe: Butterscotch Banana Cakes - Short and Tweet. The write-up includes several useful tips. “Verdict? Great recipe - quite time consuming in terms of making the caramel, cooking the banana in it and then leaving to cool but once that bit is done, it’s plain sailing…[One] of my colleagues said that she thought these were possibly the best cakes I have ever taken to work!”
@BakerHay likewise baked the Butterscotch Banana Cake and had good intentions about giving them to her neighbours although it’s murky as to how many managed to make the handover. Her assessment is: “oil based cake light, moist and delicious”.
@lapindor of Lapin d ‘Or and More gave us: Reasons to be cheerful Jill’s variation on the Saffron peach cake substituted frozen nectarines for the peaches (in keeping with the desirable gold colour). Jill has some wisdom from Prue Leith and some praiseworthy reasoning on the health virtues of cake that contains fruit, nuts and saffron. Jane’s post triggered a series of questions from a visitor. Condensing the Q&A, I mention the following as it seems arcane to some people. Saffron has traditional associations with Mothering Sunday and Simnel Cake in the UK. Although Mothering Sunday is part of the Lenten calendar in the UK, and therefore a period of fast and abstinence, it has a cake associated with it because there is an official relaxation of Lenten observance to allow a day of celebration, also known as Refreshment Sunday.
It’s apparent that #shortandtweet search doesn’t always show everyone’s tweets so I apologise if I missed any notifications - please let me know and I’ll update this compilation.
I propose that we close the month with Light spelt rough puff pastry, pg 497. Dan Lepard notes that, “A smidgeon of baking powder softens the pastry and helps to gently aerate the tender buttery flakes as they bake”. This is a fairly free-form recipe as Dan suggests using it as you would puff pastry (lids for pies, or bases for tarts); as a wrap-around for items such as Pigs in blankets, or simply prepped for nibbles.
However, pp 498-503 have some excellent “ideas for individual savoury tarts”: be sure to read the additional baking notes for First-class tarts pg 498. The tarts can be as small or large as it suits you and the toppings can be simple or sophisticated. They’re flexible and allow a range of toppings to be baked at the same time (useful in families where people rarely agree on a single dish). For smaller households, the pastry freezes well and defrosts without mess for fast pie tops or tarts.
If you blog about your experience with one of the above recipes, please post links in the comments or tweet pictures or links to @foodcraftspace or @evidencematters using the hashtag #shortandtweet - Thank you. It’s the same procedure if you don’t blog but just post a photograph of your work. Please send the links by 8pm 25 March or as soon thereafter as practical.
Thank you for sharing your cakes. I look forward to our spelt rough puff pastry, whether whether it’s acting as a pie top, tart bottom, wrap-around, or nibble.NB: apologies for the delay in sending out this compilation, it’s taken me a while to recover from a lengthy migraine. I’ll update this post with a link to the April Challenge schedule as soon as practical.