“Unbelievably Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake” from “Home Cook”

I’m not going to beat around the bush: This was a disaster.

Just look at the picture above as it really is worth 1,000 words. It’s just one big gloopy mess. It was, frankly, an embarrassment. Even worse, we had guests over for dinner, so I was mortified times 1,000.

The reason I wanted to make this was because I was intrigued (to say the least) by using melted Mars bars to make the chocolate ganache-like topping. It worked, but only up to a point, because there was no indication that I should let the topping cool a bit before assembling the cake, and thus, disaster struck.

Obviously, the instructions are lacking in some regard. Although I let the chocolate ganache on top cool before I had poured it over, (even though the recipe didn’t say to do this) clearly I didn’t wait long enough. But what is that sweet spot timing wise between having pourable chocolate that doesn’t melt the whipped cream but hasn’t solidified too much that it doesn’t pour? Alas, the recipe doesn’t say.

Consequently, it was just a big hot mess on the table.

The story does have a happy ending, though. After it had time to cool off and get its act together, the cake really was delicious the next day. It was just hard to forgive it the mess it made the previous evening.

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“Unbelievably Dark & Delicious Chocolate Cake” from “Home Cook”

“Black Velvet Cake” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

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Does this cake look like a Great British Bake Off contender to you?

Nope. I didn’t think so.

This cake was a disaster. “How?” you may ask.

Let me count the ways, though it’s so hard to know where to begin.

The reason I wanted to make this cake in the first place was because I was intrigued by the icing, whereby you take a bottle of champagne (not a typo) and boil it down into two tablespoons to act as the flavouring. This was a variation on champagne cupcakes I had made last weekend from “Lola’s Forever,” but in that case, for the icing you add just two tablespoons of champagne to it after adding two tablespoons to the cake mixture. This method comes with a special bonus because you then have to drink the rest of the bottle yourself because it’ll lose all its fizz by the time your guests arrive. I can fully endorse a recipe that has leftover fizz that I need to drink right away. (If you’re curious, those cupcakes were delicious.)

To Gizzi’s credit, she says you don’t actually have to use champagne– though I wouldn’t mind having a life whereby you’d give no thought to having a spare bottle that you could use in that way. I ended up using a bottle of Cava we had kicking around. I was curious as to how it would work, and it was fun to see the Cava fizzing away on the stovetop. But at the end of the day, it meant I spent £6 on two tablespoons of ingredients, which seems a bit rich to me.  We couldn’t even taste the cava in in the icing anyway. Also, as you can see in the picture, the icing was a bit gloopy, which meant I couldn’t really ice the cake well.

The other method she endorses that I’ve never really understood or used when I make cakes myself (though other people, including the Queen of Cakes herself Mary Berry do sometimes do it this way) is to make one large cake. Once it’s baked, you then slice it into thirds for your three layers. I don’t know why you’d do it this way when it’s so much easier to just divide the batter into thirds and bake them.

In this case, this created one large cake that then cratered in the middle. I’m not sure if it was operator error or a problem with the recipe, but either way, it didn’t work. Consequently, it was impossible to then divide it into thirds. I could then use all the icing to fill up the crater in the middle, which was a means to an end but not the way I’d like my cake to be.

It looked a disaster and it tasted fine. Not delicious exactly, but our friends seemed to enjoy it. On the other hand, that might have had something to do with the copious amounts of wine we drank that night. But when I went to eat the cake, I could only taste bitterness, because I thought of the wasted cava and the wasted afternoon lost in the making of this cake.

Important Addendum: Thanks to “A Cookbook Collection,” she told me that Gizzi posted an apology on her Instagram feed that said the recipe should read 2 1/2 teaspoons NOT tablespoons. Duh! I should have known better, but sometimes you just have to trust what they tell you to do. (That was my mistake.) If you want to read the apology yourself, it’s here. As I don’t follow Gizzi on Instagram, I didn’t see the correction. At least now I know it wasn’t operator error. But there’s no way I’m giving this cake another chance, given all the other amazing things I want to bake. As a variation on the saying, “You only get one chance to make a first impression,” I would say, “You only get one chance to boil down an entire bottle of Cava.”

Will I make this again? I think you all know the answer to that one.

“Black Velvet Cake” from “Gizzi’s Healthy Appetite”

“Grasshopper Slices” from “The Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home”

I look at the picture for my grasshopper slices and can think of only one thing: There’s a whole afternoon of my life wasted that I’ll never get back.

Dear readers, it was a disaster.

Yes, they look pretty. Yes, it is the classic tasty combination of mint and chocolate. Yes, some people even seemed to think they tasted good. But I didn’t agree with them. I certainly won’t be making them again.

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Where did it all go so horribly wrong? I’m not sure, but I’ll try to figure it out.

First, with the ingredients. You need 1 kilogram of what is described as “good-quality white chocolate.” When I went to my local store, I had two choices when it came to picking said chocolate: the Doctor Oetker for 38 pence per 100 grams (total cost £3.80), or the fancy Lindt for £1.09 (total cost £10.90).

Going for the cheaper chocolate might have been a mistake. But there was no way I was going to invest– and invest is exactly the right word– in just one ingredient for a recipe I hadn’t tried. When it came time to make the mint ganache, by heating the double cream and adding it to the chopped white chocolate– it became a culinary disaster. The chocolate separated and the ingredients refused to combine. I stuck the whole mess in the refrigerator out of frustration and by the time it was time to assemble the slices, there was a whole layer of gunk on top of the mix, which I just skimmed off, threw away and tried to forget all about it.

The brownies weren’t as a big as a disaster as the mint ganache layer, but they too proved to be a headache. This could have been down either to operator error or bad instructions, or a combination of them both. But the brownies were dry and not at all good.

So all in all, a disaster. I won’t be making this ever again.

“Grasshopper Slices” from “The Hummingbird Bakery Home Sweet Home”

“Very Special Fried Rice” from “Madhouse Cookbook”

I really wanted to like this recipe. I wanted to like this recipe so much that even after its disastrous first round that I tried it again. Alas, while it wasn’t as big a disaster the second time, it still wasn’t very good. Life is too short to be making bad food.

This recipe was like a date that was good on paper, but once you met him, it just didn’t work.

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It should have worked because it has all the things we like to eat. Loads of vegetables? Check. Rice? Check. Chicken? Check. Asian influences? Check. And yet, it still didn’t work.

This recipe presents several problems. First, you need 250 grams of leftover basmati rice. Who ever has leftover rice in their refrigerator? I mean, we do, sometimes, but that’s only when we order a takeaway curry and ordered too much, but then we have leftover curry to go with it. But the “leftover” is key. I discovered that if you make the rice fresh, as it did the first time, the resulting dish is a big gloopy mess and not at all fried-rice like.

For the second go around, when I STILL didn’t have any leftover basmati rice, nor could find any in the ready made section of the supermarket, I decided I would try to the microwaveable express rice that they have. That seemed to work better, because it was a drier rice, which is probably what she was looking for. In any case, I didn’t have a gloopy mess, so that was progress.

The second big problem is the question of how many people it actually feeds. It says that it makes enough for “2 adults or 4 kid-sized portions”. That’s annoying for someone like me, who needs to make enough for two adults, one teenage boy and one 9 (nearly 10) year-old. The first time I made it, I doubled the recipe, figuring that would feed us all with some leftovers. How wrong I was. I had enough to feed any army. When I made it again, I only had to feed one adult, one teenage boy and one 9-year-old, so I followed the recipe and didn’t increase it. We had just enough for the three of us.

The third problem was the inclusion of PINEAPPLE– yes, you read that right– in the fried rice. I’ve never had pineapple in fried rice, and I don’t intend to start. I know Kirstin would agree with me, because she cannot abide any savoury dishes with fruit in them. Fair enough. A quick Internet search showed that some Thai fried rice dishes use pineapple, but still, it didn’t seem right to me.

So what’s the verdict on Very Special Fried Rice? Not so special in this house, I’m afraid.

“Very Special Fried Rice” from “Madhouse Cookbook”

“Spaghetti with Tomato & Basil” from “The Family Meal”

Maureen: We have another epic disaster on our hands, boys.

Andrew (12): What do you mean?

Maureen: Well, I know this tomato sauce looks OK now, but that’s only because I had to completely disregard the recipe in the end to make it edible.

Nicholas (8): Oh no. Did it not have enough flour again?

Maureen: This time, it was a case of too much of something, in this case olive oil, rather than too little, like the flour in the chocolate cookies. I wanted to make about a jar’s worth of sauce, so I doubled the amounts for the 230 grams of sauce. Unfortunately, using my higher-level maths skills of doubling amounts, that meant he wanted me to use 240 millilitres of olive oil.

Continue reading ““Spaghetti with Tomato & Basil” from “The Family Meal””

“Spaghetti with Tomato & Basil” from “The Family Meal”

“Chocolate Cookies” from “The Family Meal”

The scene: While I get the supplies in order before we start, Nicholas, 8 is reading the ingredient list and recipe. 

Nicholas (8): It says here we need two teaspoons of flour. That doesn’t seem right to me.

Maureen: Nor me. Here, let me have a look. (Looks at the cookbook.) You’re right. It says two teaspoons of flour to make 20 cookies. Maybe we don’t need as much flour because we’re freezing the dough.

Nicholas: It seems to me that it’s not right.

Maureen: You would know. You ARE my No. 1 assistant, especially when it comes to baking.

Two hours later, after the dough has been frozen…

Maureen: Oh no!

Nicholas: This is a DIS-AS-TER!

Maureen: It certainly looks that way. There’s no way these look like the picture, or indeed, even like cookies.

Nicholas: It’s a good thing you’re not on the Great British Bake Off today.

Maureen: You’re right. This might be a disaster, but lets bake them, just to be sure.

10 minutes later…

Nicholas: Baking them didn’t make any difference. This is an EPIC disaster.

Maureen: Epic might be overstating it a bit, but it’s not good, that’s for sure. Let’s taste them…

Nicholas: They don’t taste bad.

Maureen: No, they don’t, but nor do they taste good. This was, as Andrew would say, an epic FAIL.

Do you see those chunky chocolate cookies pictured in the cookbook?

That’s what they’re supposed to look like.

Do you see the flat, flacid cookies in the foreground? That’s what we ended up with.

I can only conclude with one word: #FAIL.

“Chocolate Cookies” from “The Family Meal”