A cake that didn’t quite work

It was my birthday on Saturday, so I made myself an experimental cake:

2016-03-14 08.59.49--cakefail

It’s a variant on the chocolate and marmalade cake that I’ve been making. I wanted to aim for a more fresh, real flavour, so I dumped the 450 g marmalade, and instead used two whole oranges. I gently simmered them whole for thirty minutes to soften them, then blended them, and used the resulting semi-liquid in place of the marmalade.

When it first came out of the oven, I th0ught it had about the best texture of any cake I remembered — light, and very very moist. But the flavour was disappointingly bland. And once it had cooled completely, it settled into the rather dense texture you see above.

So it’s a step backwards from the original in both texture (compare with this photo) and more importantly flavour. Turns out that marmalade is a more intense flavour than oranges — to my surprise, really.

Lessons learned

  1. Some experiments fail. That’s OK; so long as you can understand what went wrong and why, you’ve taken a step forward.
  2. A texture that’s good when a cake comes out of the oven might not stay good.
  3. Fresh fruit can lose its freshness of flavour when combined with other ingredients, where preserves fare better.
  4. Finally, a good one. This is the first iteration of this cake that I have got out of the tin cleanly. That’s probably in part just because oranges are less sticky than marmalade, but also because I came up with a better way to grease and line the tin. (I’ll document it another time.)



10 responses to “A cake that didn’t quite work

  1. “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” (Theodore Roosevelt)


    “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” (J. K. Rowling)

    And “a Great Cake is a Glorious Triumph” – (Me)

  2. Yes, I can verify that orange juice has very little orange flavor when cooked — it’s mostly just sweet. Orange Marmalade uses the peel, rather than the juice, for flavor that that stands up better (as a note, I’ve found the same to be true of maple syrup — not a good sweetener for baked goods, because the maple flavor dissipates in cooking).

    On the other hand that also means that you could use a good quality orange essential oil to boost the orange peel flavor if you needed to. But that wouldn’t be replacement for the marmalade, because it includes some of the flavor of the pith, in addition to the oil.

  3. Excellent thoughts from Jon, thanks!

    NickS, don’t forget I used the whole oranges, peel and all — not just the juice. Still, though, it does seem that marmalade is just the right thing in this case.

  4. “NickS, don’t forget I used the whole oranges, peel and all”

    Yes, my main point was that there are some ingredients which are quite flavorful plain, but don’t add much flavor to baked goods, and I don’t know why that is — it’s just something you have to find out.

    However, two things to note about using the whole oranges. First I’d guess that the marmalade contains about twice as much peel (that’s a very rough approximation, but if you think the oranges weigh 800g and are 10% peel that would be 80g of peel. If the marmalade is 40% peel that would be 180g of peel). Second, and more importantly, marmalade is often made using varieties of oranges which have less flavorful juice but more flavorful peel (bitter oranges or something similar).

  5. That all makes sense. Thanks.

  6. Off topic, but this seems like a good place leave a note. I was recently looking at the website for a folk musician who is an excellent historian of and performer of traditional songs, and I happened to notice that he’s doing a UK tour in May/June and I wanted to recommend to you might want to check him out.

    I’ve seen him twice in concert and both times were remarkable. He’s somebody who grew up with the music, his parents were folklorists who collected traditional songs on the East Coast and in Appalachia, recording and interviewing folk musicians in the 30s and 40s. Jeff is both very conscious of the musical history and tradition and an excellent performer who is amazing at communicating the emotional weight of the song (one particular example, I heard him sing “The Trees They Do Grow High” which is a song various people have recorded, and his version was far more compelling and emotionally engaging than any that I’d heard before).

    For example you can hear him talk about “Tom Dooley” here (I’m linking to him talking about the history of the song, which I find fascinating, but the song itself starts 1:30 later at 6:15).

  7. Thanks for the pointer, NickS!

    (BTW., you can leave a comment on any post, however old, and I will see it.)

  8. True, I have noticed the ongoing conversations on the sort and git posts.

    I could have looked for a music post but, from memory, I couldn’t think of one which was directly related, and I thought this counted as a “hobby” post which was close enough :)

    If you do see him, I’d be interested to know what you think. I think he’s fantastic, but I grew up around a lot of traditional music. My impression is that you are more interested in the contemporary folk scene, so I don’t know if it will feel as familiar.

    But judging from some of the (very impressive) testimonials quoted on his website, I’m not alone in my appreciation for him.

  9. This post would have worked: https://reprog.wordpress.com/2011/07/09/modern-british-folk-singers/

    But no problem — basically, comment anywhere you like :-)

    It’s true that my tendency is more towards modern music that uses folk idioms to tell stories or convey moods (hence Paul Simon, early Joni Mitchell, Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, Chloe Hall). But I’m not closed to good traditonal stuff.

  10. I already made a lot of comments in that thread. I wouldn’t want to exceed my quota . . .

    It was fun to look over that thread again; there were a lot of good recommendations. Thanks.

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