Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Pink zebra cake and life lessons

It's come to that time of the year again - exam time! And how time has flown by. It has been about three months since I last posted, but not because I haven't had anything to post about.

Somehow in August and September all the bad things seemed to happen at once, one after the other, in quick succession, with a fresh problem occurring just when one resolved. I'm sure that most regular people would be able to re-gather themselves quickly and move on. Unfortunately as I've come to realise over the years, I am rather more sensitive than the usual person, so whatever the situation is, good or bad, I seem to feel it more and take more time to recover back to a state of normalcy.

Now I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that there is not really such a thing as "normal" life, one where everything runs smoothly, everything's in order, and life events can be planned out carefully. But that is ok with me! In spite of the extremes, I don't think I would want life any other way. Accepting that normal can mean erratic bursts of chaos has helped me to be more happy with situations and people (including myself) even though there may be limitations and imperfections. And it pushes me to take more action in putting the balance, fun, and peace back into my life,  rather than just waiting for things to change.

Now onto some more light-hearted talk after all that reflection! As I mentioned, I have had a number of occasions in these past months which provided some good baking opportunities. One such occasion was my mother-in-law's birthday last month, and birthdays naturally means there must be birthday cake! However, with summer looming and concerns about losing that sneaky winter weight, I wanted to make a simple and light cake that would look impressive but that wouldn't take too much fuss. Luckily, as I was idly flipping through food magazines, I came across a recipe for chocolate zebra biscuits which triggered a distant memory of a zebra cake recipe I had read about ages ago. With some research and a few tweaks, I had the makings of a perfectly pretty birthday cake.

First, I decided to replace the chocolate with a pink batter, as I thought this would love more feminine and festive. Then, as a healthier (and easier) alternative to a full buttercream icing, I decided to top the cake with some dollops of light cream cheese and strawberries.

I was quite pleased with how easy it was to make. Basically you just have to put alternating spoonfuls of batter on top of each other. Normally when a recipe is described as being simple, I somehow find a way to get confused, and I really did not believe that such a simple method could create such perfect layers (at least not in my hands). 

My first tentative spoonfuls

But, to my joy and relief, I did achieve an orderly pink and white striped cake! The only problem I had was that my circles started to drift to one side as I poured the batter on!

My swirls drifting towards the left...

So what I did was to slowly drift my circles back in the other direction as I poured them on, which seemed to do the trick (although it did mean my cake no longer had a bullseye look, but more of a random swirls look).
Slightly off centre swirls...

Although the cake was simple, it was enjoyed by the whole family, particularly my mother-in-law! Whilst it tasted like a simple butter cake, the swirls of pink seemed to give it a special lift (I'm sure pink is a flavour!). I was also surprised at how nicely the little dollops of cream cheese went with the cake, adding a rich creaminess to the cake. And the batter uses oil instead of butter, again reducing the saturated fat and also making the batter super simple to prepare and work with.

So overall, it really has actually been a good few months - these "life lesson" times always seem to turn out that way, even though it feels like it's all too much at the time. Now I'm looking forward to finishing exams (only one more to go - yay!) and hopefully to sharing more of what I have been up to soon!

Happy Birthday!

Pink Zebra Cake

Adapted from Lorraine Pascale's Crounhing Tiger, Hidden Zebra cake, recipe from My Baba

Serves 8-10

250ml canola (or other flavourless) oil, plus extra for greasing
250g caster sugar
100ml reduced fat milk
4 medium eggs (at room temperature)
A few drops of vanilla extract
A few drops of pink food colouring
325g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
220g extra light Philadelphia spreadable cream cheese
Icing sugar, to taste
Strawberries to decorate
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease the bottom of a 23 cm sandwich tin with a little oil and line with baking paper. Set aside on a large baking sheet.

Put the oil, sugar, milk, eggs and vanilla extract in a large bowl and whisk together to combine.
Pour out 400ml of this mixture  into a medium bowl.
Sift 175g of the self-raising flour into one bowl along with 1/2 teaspoon of the baking powder. Mix well and set aside. This is your vanilla mix.
Sift the remaining 150g of self-raising flour and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder into another bowl. Add pink food colouring to achieve your desired pinkness and mix everything together well and set aside. This is your pink mix.
Put a tablespoon of the vanilla mix in the middle of the cake tin. Then, using a clean tablespoon, put a blob of the pink  mix in the middle of the vanilla one. Keep doing this, alternating between vanilla and pink, so you form a type of ‘bull’s eye’ or ‘target board’ look. Each time you dollop a blob in, the whole mix will spread out across the base (you may need to adjust where you put your blobs so that you get an even distribution of cake mix along the bottom). By the time you have used up both of the cake mixes, they should have just reached the edge of the tin (the pictures I looked at ended up with even concentric circles, looking like a bullseye, but don't worry if yours is not so geometrically accurate).
Bake in the oven for 35 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 10 mins. Then remove cake from tin and cool completely on a wire rack. Decorate with strawberries and cream cheese then serve.
Check the cake is cooked by inserting a skewer into the centre. It should come out clean. If not, then return to the oven for another 5 minutes or so until cooked. Once cooked, remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes in the tin. Then carefully remove from the tins and leave to cool completely on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, mix icing sugar into cream cheese to taste. Decorate cake with cream cheese and strawberries, then serve.