9th April 2012 - Gayle Lazda
After her mouth-wateringly successful experiments with the marshmallow teacake recipe from Oliver Peyton's British Baking and chocolate Guinness cake from the Hummingbird Bakery's Cake Days, Gayle tries a recipe from Guardian favourite Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet.
I would like to preface this level-headed and utterly impartial review of Short and Sweet by stating: I love Dan Lepard. Not only does he have the kind of round, beardy face that lets you know you can trust a baker, but he also comes out with statements like, "I truly believe that life is improved by cake", which are clearly the words of a very wise man.
I've been a fan of his Guardian column for a while, and here you'll find all the best bits of that, with lots more besides. In his introduction to the book, Lepard describes it as a "how-to manual", and that's really what sets it apart from other baking books. Without straying too far into the technicalities to bore the casual baker, he outlines enough of the science behind the processes to help right problems when they go wrong. And it's not just advice for when (or more likely, if) you're brave enough to try a failed recipe again; there's all sorts of tips to make the most of a disappointing bake. Apparently, if a cake is too dry, all you need to do is whip up a batch of cake syrup, and it's saved! Why didn't I already know this? Oh, the hours of heartache this book will save.
The passion and knowledge that's gone into the recipes in this book make it the perfect introduction to all aspects of baking for a beginner, as well as providing inspiration and advice to the more experienced baker. And to test it out, I'm jumping right in there, with a cake that contains all the good things: sugar and butter, obviously, but also apples, walnuts, brandy and custard, and which demands to be served with maple syrup and crème fraiche. I can't wait. So here goes: Dan Lepard's apple, walnut and custard cake.
To begin, the custard. There are few things I would rather spend the fleeting time I have on earth doing than making (and, obviously, eating) custard, even if by that I just mean whipping up a batch of Bird's. This custard's a touch more complicated than that, but with a good heap of cornflour, the milk, egg, vanilla and sugar is quickly transformed into a good thick custard. This goes into a lightly buttered bowl, and into the fridge to set.
Next, the apple and walnuts go into a pan with brandy, water and more sugar, and they all bubble away together until sticky, syrupy and delicious.
Once I've mixed up the cake batter, I'm somewhat concerned at how little of it there is (and not just because I've been eating it along the way), but I trust to Dan's authority, and pour it into a lined tin. Being childishly impatient when it comes to things as delicious as this, I haven't given the custard enough time to set; next time, I think I'd make it a few hours in advance to make sure it has time to firm up properly, but I mix the pieces through the batter as carefully as I can, and top with the apples and walnuts. Once it's in the oven, I can't help peering in once in while, suspicious of the tiny amount of actual cake that went into it, but - hoorah! - it rises and goes golden and looks, on the whole, thoroughly cake-like.
When given such excellent advice as "serve warm with maple syrup and crème fraiche", who am I to argue? I do so, and the result is wonderful. It's more moist and puddingy than cake-like, which seems perfectly appropriate to the pockets of custardy, appley goodness running through. In case you were in any doubt, I still love Dan Lepard.
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