I really like this photo.
I did not specifically bake this cake with aesthetics in mind. I baked it because I thought Earl Grey tea and maple syrup would be a swoon-makingly good pair when in cake form. But I also had the secret hope that I'd be able to ice it all cool and it would look like an Internet Cake. Just wanted to impress you guys, is all. And maybe enjoy the rush that comes with a flood of one-off hits to my blog from people who will probably never read it again or even make the cake via Pinterest, as I am but human and not saint.
It ended up being a bit more Glittery Nipple than anything else, but no-one ever said glittery nipples were a bad thing - I'm not sure anyone ever said glittery nipple three times in one sentence even. (It's edible glitter by the way, in case you thought my aesthetics really had got the better of me.)
It's a layer cake, even though I could only find one of my 20cm caketins, which meant I had to bake half the mixture, then put that cake on a rack, then bake the rest of the mixture in the same tin. It's not the greatest hardship recorded, but it is a pain. The two cakes were all mountainous, so I had to level one off with a serrated knife. And finally a rogue air bubble appeared in one of them, and I kept getting thumbprints in the icing, but the cake itself just tastes so good, and I told myself that it would be reassuring to the public or something. I also told myself if I was constantly reassuring the public that I'm not all that good at stuff they might not trust me to do anything, like write a cookbook. And then I was like "nope! It's reassuring!" in a strained voice. Besides, Radiohead were singing "try the best you can, the best you can is good enough" through my computer speakers so I took it as a sign. And it's not like it looks terrible. You have to get quite close to see all the flaws, and if you're that close to cake, you might as well be eating it.
Hack icing job and air bubbles aside, it tastes super excellent. The pillowy buttercream, sweet but darkly so, the cake all tender and awash with fragrant flavour. The buttercream is unsurprisingly all you can taste initially when you plunge your teeth into the cake, but the Earl Grey makes itself known at the end, with a pinprick of orange from the bergamot, and the palest suggestion of tea's clean bitterness.
I haven't even addressed yet that maple syrup is hellish expensive. I probably only buy it once a year, and what can you do with such an ingredient but send it to the cupboard like you're Henry the Eighth, too wracked with guilt over price to actually use it, until eventually you forget you have it or it goes past its best-by date and coagulates. My solution to stop turning delicious maple syrup into Tincture of Financial Self-Reproach, is to use small amounts of it in really good recipes where its flavour can shine. So: this cake. Also, I don't even drink Earl Grey, I'm more of an English Breakfast person, or whatever plain tea is available, consumed black. Well, that was the case until I forgot to have breakfast the other day and so subsisted at work on black tea with spoonfuls of sugar in it till I could meet Tim for lunch. As a result...I think I prefer it sweetened now. It just tastes good. At least, this preference is hardly spurred on by remembrance of the good times I had with it.
Earl Grey tea and maple syrup both have what you could call a complexity of flavour and scent. Earl Grey is all rounded and fragrant with bergamot, while maple is smoky, almost savoury. They are a perfect pair. It's a dick move, but if I didn't have real maple syrup I'm not entirely sure I'd use fake - at least, unless I could find a brand that doesn't put 'synthetic bouquet' at the top of its priorities when taste-testing it. Golden syrup is what I'd use itself as intensely flavoured as maple. But seriously, just ignore me and use maple flavoured syrup if you dig the taste and you have it and you want this cake. I don't want to stand between a person and their hypothetical cake.
Earl Grey and Maple Syrup Cake
A recipe by myself.
Speaking of not a big deal, all you have to do is half-heartedly mix this cake and you're done. Faint-makingly good though the buttercream is, the cake recipe itself is dairy-free, and if that's what you're after you could try baking it in a 22cm tin for about 40 minutes.
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
175g brown sugar
250ml very strong earl grey tea
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 cup (125ml) plain oil, like sunflower
Set your oven to 180 C, and line the base of two 20cm caketins with baking paper. Or, if you only have one, just do one, but bake two cakes in a row. This is what I did, and it's annoying, but the price is right. Place the flour in a large bowl, then sift in the baking soda and baking powder (sifting is boring but I'm terrified of lumps of baking soda) and stir in the salt and the sugar. Tip in the cooled tea, the eggs, the maple syrup and the oil, and stir thoroughly till it forms a thick, smooth batter. Either divide between the two caketins and bake for about 35 minutes, or tip half into one of the caketins and bake for 25 minutes, then remove it and scrape in the remaining batter and bake for another 25 minutes. Once cooled, slice off the top if you need to, to make a more flat surface for icing, then...ice it.
Maple Syrup Buttercream
180g very soft butter
300g icing sugar
4 tablespoons maple syrup
This may or may not sound like large quantities of ingredients. This is because you need a lot of icing. So. Carefully beat the butter and icing sugar together (icing sugar is wont to fly everywhere) till light and very thick and fluffy. Tip in the maple syrup, and continue to beat to form a thick, gorgeously coloured icing. Spread a large dollop on top of one of the cakes, sit the other cake on top, then carefully spread the rest of the icing over the top and side of the cake.
Speaking of standing by stuff, while we wait, fingers ever crossed for marriage equality laws to pass in New Zealand, Tim and I were thinking of having an engagement party. Strangely it was Tim gunning for it more than me, even though I love having parties. I was all "but can't I just hide in bed and ignore everything, like how we're going to get family all in one place and make sure everyone enjoys themselves and that we don't get stressed out by people and vice versa." We also realised, having pooled our life experience, that neither of us really knows what to do at one. The one engagement party I've been to was practically a wedding in itself - tears, speeches, large piles of presents, waiting forever to eat. And ones that I've seen on TV have been either debutante cotillion-esque, or (*spoiler alert but really*) Leslie and Ben's awkward meeting of families on the so important Parks and Recreation. Thus, any advice and thoughts and experiences would be appreciated. Especially if it's given in a friendly way, not in a "if you don't do this exactly you will be naught but the Bride of Failure-stein." I mean, I will ask my married friends what they did, I just thought this would get me more comments on my blog. I mean, would engage with my audience. I mean. Honestly: I just want to hear some opinions from people who have done it, is all, and I bet you have a good one.
Finally: here's something I noticed recently that made me...smile.
At my christening: Before I even grew eyebrows I was furrowing them.
Family photo: I can almost physically feel myself overthinking in this one.
Earlier this year: a relaxed photo I quickly took after getting a fringe trim I was really happy with.
I recently realised I had all three of these photos on my phone, and had a bit of an "oh, you!" moment at myself. I suspect many of you have been in this situation, where someone - okay, it has never not been an older man - has said something like "smile, love!" or "cheer up!" or the weirdly specific "it might never happen!" All of which seems relatively innocuous to most, but is also so very creepy and imposing, and maybe I want to not smile right now, and stop trying to control my body you YOU FOOTSOLDIER OF THE PATRIARCHY*.
* heard this from a cool friend recently, noted it down for inevitable future need of it.
I concede that I look grumpy often, but without defensiveness or apology, because frankly there's a lot to be grumpy at in this world. And this is just what my face does sometimes. For what it's worth though, and in typically extreme fashion, I also had the most bared-teeth enormous smile as a child. Total strangers would approach me after ballet recitals to tell me, age eight or so, that I had such a wonderful, huge smile. (This really did happen. Nothing I say on this blog is fictional flourish.) So...yeah. To my original point: Those three photos together made me feel happy inside.
So did, to bring it full circle, this cake. It's utterly delicious and it's easier to make than it looks and it's fancy and it looks like a glittery nipple. What a coup!
title via: Lana Del Rey's Velvet Crowbar. I almost literally have to limit my listening of her music to very rare occasions because it makes me feel all weird and feelingsy inside. I know what you're thinking: so brave of me to quote it here, then.
PJ Harvey, Good Fortune. As freshly obsessed with this song as when I first heard it on the radio.
Connie Converse, How Sad How Lovely. Connie Converse disappeared in 1974. She left behind a small body of work. Haunting seems to be a dully obvious word to use, but it's hard not to listen to these tunes without that context over the top. This song lives up to its name, is all.
Next time: New I Should Tell You interview. Woop, there it is!