Recently I’ve seen a lot of articles/videos/TED talks etc about the Draconian education system we’re currently stuck in – the advance of STEM subjects and neglecting of the arts, the misguided emphasis that’s placed on exam results and neglecting of students that might work in a different but equally as valuable way. ‘If you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree it’ll go its whole life believing it’s stupid’ etc. (although fyi, there is a fish called the ambulatory fish that has evolved little arm things that do let it walk and apparently climb trees, so they win in this little metaphor – thank you again David Attenborough). I think this is also a problem that can be applied to brussel sprouts, and I feel this is an issue that needs to be addressed with the same seriousness as the education system.
For decades sprouts have been the unwanted, offensive relative at the Christmas dinner table. They permeate the luxurious perfume of the turkey and gravy with their loud, abrupt odour, they’re a bit too big to eat without looking like a chipmunk but too small to warrant spending time and precious turkey-eating energy cutting them in half, and they taste shit when they’re cold. At least, these are the perceptions of sprouts that most people have when they think of them, sat in their serving dish with butter melting down the side of them, doing very little to add to their appeal.
But I say we’re doing sprouts completely wrong. Of course they’re going to taste like mushy, fart-inducing nuggets of boredom when simply boiled and served. Would you boil your turkey in a vat of water before serving it up? Put a bit of thought into your sprouts and you’ll find they’re just as versatile, and tasty, as every other vegetable on the planet. Cover the smell with the aroma of a maple and rosemary glaze, roast them up with cranberries and bacon and chestnuts, and they become a vehicle for Christmas. Shred them, sauté them in coconut oil and serve them up in a stir fry. Deep fry them for ultimate crispiness with chilli, coriander and garlic. This Guardian article has a few ideas to get you started – I would use this post to give you a few of my favourite recipes, but I made a killer cake the other day and want to share that instead, so I’ll end my sprout campaign and talk about that now.
I had my final presentation for Applied Drama the other day (my last ever assessed piece of drama. Ever. Goodbye world of giving presentations wearing novelty glasses and a fake moustache, hello world of having to actually present like a normal, boring person) and to celebrate I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to make cake for it; surely nothing says ‘these girls deserve a first’ more than a slice of galaxy themed chocolate cake? Anyway, I think this might genuinely have been the neatest, coolest and most important MOST FLAT CAKE I HAVE EVER MADE. I put a spirit level on it (that’s right, a spirit level) before icing, and it was -1 degree off perfect. Totally not a fluke. So here’s the recipe, plus a few vague instructions for getting your cake as level as mine (although, let’s face it, even Mary Berry couldn’t compete with my level of precision right now).
(Actually I take that back. She could probably tell the degree angle of a cake just by smelling it.)
This recipe makes A LOT of buttercream (better more than less), so you might want to reduce the quantities by 1/3 or so. I would also advise investing in some good quality gel food colouring if you want the colours to be as deep as mine; you only add a touch to the icing so it goes a long way.
Chocolate Orange Galaxy Cake
200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
6tbsp whole milk
175g caster sugar
4 large eggs
150g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g ground almonds
800g icing sugar
4 more tbsp whole milk, warmed a tiny bit
Food colourings; I used black, blue, green and purple
Silver balls to decorate
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees. Grease two 20cm cake tins and line the bottom with baking parchment (to make this easy, I always place the tin over the parchment sheet and run the tip of a bread knife around it).
- Melt the dark chocolate in a pan over low heat with the milk. Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar together until blended and pale yellow in colour.
- Add the eggs, one by one, followed by the sifting in the flour, baking powder, and ground almonds. Add the melted chocolate and stir to combine.
- Grate the zest of the orange, and squeeze in the juice from half the orange. Combine again, and divide into the two baking tins. Bake for around 25 minutes on the bottom rack of the oven. Once a skewer comes out clean, take the tins out and leave to cool for 10 minutes, before turning out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Meanwhile, make the icing. Beat the butter to soften, before sifting in the icing sugar, 200g at a time, adding 1 tbsp between each beating. Eventually you’ll get a good smooth butter icing with no lumps of butter. Divide into 5, and add your food colouring to all but one (the white colour is for the crumb coating).
- Once the cakes are cool, level them off with a bread knife. Place one on whatever you’re serving on/a cake wheel and slather the top with the white buttercream. Place the other cake, upside down, on top, and precede to cover the cake in a thin coating of the white icing. The purpose of the crumb is to fill any gaps between the two cakes, getting a smooth, straight edge, and to catch any crumbs in the icing so that no crumbs get into the top layer of icing. See the picture above for what this looks like. If you’re as pedantic as me, put a spirit level on the top of the cake and see how level you’ve managed to get it. I dare you to try and beat my -1 degree.
- Once you’ve crumbed the cake, place it in the fridge for at least half an hour to allow the crumb to set – this means that when you come to ice the cake properly, the white won’t get mixed in the the coloured icing, and it will maintain its shape.
- Take the cake out the fridge and, using a palate knife, smear random blobs of icing all over the cake in the various colours. Once covered, use either a cake scraper or some sort of flat edge like the blunt side of a big knife, to smooth and blend the icing, making long smooth movements around the cake and turning it as you go. You want a straight, smooth edge on the cake, so you’ll have to take a considerable amount of the icing off the cake. Once the colours have been successfully blended and the edges are smooth and straight, smooth the top of the cake, ensuring you get a nice sharp corner going down to the sides of the cake.
- Add silver balls, cake paint or whatever decorations you want to make your cake look spacey. Admire for a considerable amount of time. Take photos. Allow to set a bit before consuming.