Cook the Books – Bluebells Cakery: Sweet & Savoury

. May 12, 2016
Photography by David Parker.
Cook the Books – Bluebells Cakery: Sweet & Savoury

I've been spoilt with a great many good cakes over the years. Too many maybe? I don't know, but I'm not stepping on any scales anytime soon. My mum is a great baker. She has a solid repertoire of classics, I know what books they're all from and most of them have a little note next to them. There's a particular recipe for a cinnamon tea cake she used to make when we were kids from an early '90s Australian Woman's Weekly cookbook that has the note: "Don't bother getting a cake tin out," because it would be gone by the end of the day.

I looked up "cakery" in my dictionary but couldn't find anything. I guess it's pretty self-explanatory though: a bakery that makes cakes. I'm sure that's what you'd get if you took a visit to one of Bluebells Cakery's Auckland outposts, but Bluebells also do catering for various events and occasions and feature savoury snacks alongside their cakes. However, I didn't think it'd be fitting to review a book called Bluebells Cakery without testing a cake recipe.

Maybe the amount of cakes I've eaten in my life is something to do with my lack of desire to bake them. Maybe it's all the cake I have access to, I don't know. But after lots of procrastination I settled on the Chocolate and Raspberry Drizzle Cake, because who doesn't love chocolate and raspberries? (Plus I figured the chocolate drizzle would maybe cover up what I assumed wouldn't be the tidiest icing job).

I started by mixing together all of the dry ingredients, then I added in the butter a cube at a time and mixed until it started to look like small breadcrumbs... Wait am I baking a cake or making pastry? I double-checked the recipe and did what it said.

Then I mixed together the egg and the milk and mixed it into the dry ingredients, a third at a time... I may not bake that many cakes these days but I know how the recipes usually go; cream together the butter and sugar, add the eggs and then the flour a bit at a time so I had to go back and read the recipe a couple of times to make sure I was following it correctly. I added the first third of the wet ingredients and the mixture became like a bread dough.

I wasn't sure how well the rest of the wet ingredients would incorporate into the dough like mixture but with a bit of mixing I added the other two parts of the milk and eggs and eventually it became a batter.

I didn't have and couldn't (cheaply) find 16cm tins so I decided to go with two 18cm tins that I had in the cupboard. Having already greased and lined the tins I poured in the cake batter and then gently poked in the frozen raspberries. Because of the larger size of the tins I had to bake the cakes for a couple of minutes longer but eventually the cakes were cooked – I confirmed with the classic skewer trick. [Food Editor's note: If you increase the size of the tins the cooking time needs to be reduced, which is why the cake turned out dry.] I let the cakes cool on a wire cooling rack while I put together the icing. 

First I beat the butter until it was smooth, then added cream cheese and incorporated that, then the icing sugar and finally the freeze-dried raspberries. While you might have to find a stockist of freeze-dried raspberry powder, I think using it to flavour and colour the icing is genius; it means no artificial flavourings but the colour looks amazing and it has a punchy genuine raspberry flavour. Great idea. If you're having trouble locating freeze-dried fruits etc you can find the Fresh As products around New Zealand, or order them from their online store.

With the cakes cooled and my icing together I could get on to the part of the recipe that scared me. The icing of the cakes. I've never really done much with icing cakes fancily, I've had a couple of previous disasters that really put me off it and I wasn't feeling confident in my ability, but I had a read-through the various sections in the book on icing and delved in.

First I levelled the cake with a kitchen knife, then I topped it with icing and the second layer of cake. After levelling the top of the second cake I could rough ice the outside. It actually went a lot better than I thought it would, the icing was maybe a touch thick to begin with but I eventually worked out the right pressure and speed to use. Having the cake sitting on a lazy susan really helped.

Then I stuck it in the fridge for half an hour for the icing to harden up. While the cake was cooling off I could make the ganache. I heated cream up in a saucepan to almost boiling and then poured over a bowl of chocolate, when it melted I whisked the two together and added in the butter.

Now that the rough icing had hardened up I could put a second layer of icing on. I managed to get it pretty smooth, not perfect but close enough. My top edge was a little rough but I wasn't too worried as it'd be covered by ganache soon enough.

I poured on the ganache and was really happy with how it was looking, however as I spread it to the edges to allow it to drip artistically over the edge it started to harden up and instead of pouring over neatly it formed big ugly lumps around the edge. Now I was in grave danger of running late to a party that I had to be on time for and in my panic I didn't take photos of what happened next, I started to think I could maybe melt the lumps with a blow torch.... that was very messy and wasn't achieving the pretty drips down the side. Then I figured I could carefully scrape the lumps off, re-melt the remaining ganache and just drip the rest down the sides and it'd look just like the photo... also a failure, now it truly was a horrible mess. 

To paraphrase William Shakespeare:

I am in icing
Stepped in so far that, should I wade no more,
Returning were as tedious as go o'er.

Fortunately, I had plenty of raspberry icing left over. I scraped the ganache and contaminated icing off the cake as best as I could, stuck the cake back in the fridge, re-made the ganache and re-iced the cake. This time I made sure the ganache was runny enough by sticking it in the microwave for a couple of seconds before pouring it over the top. Then I ran outside to pick some flowers and chucked them on to the cake with the raspberries, took a couple of photos before jumping into a taxi and leaving the kitchen looking somewhat like the aftermath from my friend and birthdate-twin Chelsea's 25th birthday (my 26th), which ended with the both of us squishing cake into each other's faces and then throwing cake at each other while an amused but fearful group of friends slowly backed away.

Anyway, I think the cake looked pretty in the end – even if I find fresh flowers as decoration and icing dripping down the sides of a cake a tad cliché at the moment. But how did it taste? Well the icing tasted great, but I'm not sure that a cream cheese icing really worked with a chocolate cake.

While I liked that the cake wasn't overly sweet, it also wasn't particularly chocolatey and to be honest it was quite dry for my liking. [Food Editor's note: If you increase the size of the tins you would need to reduce the cooking time, which is why the cake turned out dry.] I'm sure not all of the cakes come out like this, to be fair the icing was amazing, I was eating the leftovers with a spoon over the next few days.

The Book Cooked
Level of expertise required: It's a bit of a confusing mix from the over-simple asparagus rolls and cucumber sandwiches that hardly need a recipe to the complex macarons and perfectly iced cakes. I guess mostly it only requires a fairly low skill level but the cakes might require a bit of practise on the icing front. 
How many trips to the supermarket required? Just one, but I had to go somewhere I knew would have the freeze-dried raspberries, I don't think you'll have any problem sourcing most of the ingredients for this book though. Although, you may need to take a trip to the florist for most of the cakes.
How closely did dishes resemble those in the book? My cake came out pretty good in the end, I'm really happy with how it looked considering I hate icing cakes!
Ease of reading: It's pretty easy to follow and the recipes are fairly straightforward even if I had to double check some of the instructions that scared me. I like that there are photos next to each recipe so when you're flicking through you know what you're getting with each recipe. I think the start of the cakes section with run-downs of various icing techniques and cake-baking basics is a great idea for beginners and these sections in particular I found to be well written.
Pretty on the coffee table or designed to be battered through overuse? I think it all comes down to a matter of taste. At the end of the day I don't think this book is for me and that's fine. But I know people who would love it. They'll make the savoury muffins, the slices, the quiches and biscuits and maybe for a special occasion one of the cakes. Don't get me wrong, I love a savoury muffin as much as the next guy but it's not something that gets me super excited. I will however, be making that icing recipe again, smearing it on everything and eating it by the spoonful.