Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Kitchen Cabinet

On Twitter last week, I saw a tweet inviting people to the recording of a new cookery show on Radio 4. Having been to the recording of Radio 5 show a little while ago (it was the last ever Richard Bacon evening show), I thought it might be a fun way to spend a Tuesday evening. So, off I duly trotted to Whitechapel, with my map in hand, in search of Wilton’s Music Hall. Perhaps it says something about me, that the only history I knew of Whitechapel involved Jack the Ripper, rather than any cultural or foody heritage, but I came away at the end of the evening richer for my time spent there!

Wilton’s Music Hall is an extremely unimposing location; you can walk past it, thinking nothing of it. Indeed, even the bar area isn’t that exciting. The Music Hall bit, where the recording took place was beautiful however and very surprising. If you haven’t been, I recommend a visit.

On arrival, we had to complete two forms – one included a question we would like to put to the panel and the 2nd was a questionnaire loosely based on Valentine’s Day. The questions would be put to the panel and those from the questionnaire would be weaved into the discussion. When would we throw out food in our fridge? What were our favourite aphrodisiacs? What would be the next trend in baking?

Around 7 o’clock we went through some health and safety notices and then the panel was introduced. Jay Rayner would be overseeing the proceedings and the panel comprised: Henry Dimbleby, Angela Malik, Rachel McCormack and Peter Barram (apologies if I have Peter’s name down incorrectly – I have spelt it 3 different ways in my notes!).

Jay took us through the start of the questionnaire – the findings on what we would like our partners to cook for us on Valentine’s Day. I had made an error in completing my questionnaire, which I will never make again. In addition to ticking a box, I wrote something down. I can’t remember exactly what I wrote, but if you tune into the show, Jay will read it out. It was something like ‘None of the above – I’m single’. Everyone howled with laughter. I joined in, so as not to draw attention to myself, but the shame. Note to self, when filling in anything for a radio show, tv show etc, never write anything down when you can just tick a box!

Well, the recording carried on and it was entertaining and interesting. I learned that we shouldn’t keep tomatoes in the fridge as it renders them tasteless. (Incidentally I still have tomatoes in my fridge, but as I can’t bring the taste back, they may as well stay there!) Cheap saffron can taste of soap, or even bleach and some people are unable to taste it. Eating a hot curry isn’t always a good idea as its molecules can chemically attack your nerves. Fortunately most of the damage is repairable, but not the most pleasant thought!

More episodes of ‘The Kitchen Larder’ will be recorded over the country in the next few weeks and if there’s one near you, I recommend going along. I’ll be listening to the broadcast on the i-player, seeing how much of what was recorded makes the final show (I suspect my ‘I’m single’ comment will!). The series starts on Radio 4 on 7th February at 3pm, with the Valentine’s Special on 14th February (also at 3pm).

My one disappointment from the show is that when we completed the questionnaire the last question ‘what is the next trend in baking’ wasn’t answered. Perhaps they ran out of time, or perhaps no-one knows and the cupcake is here to stay!

The Red Velvet Experiment

Yesterday I posted some photos on Twitter and I’ve decided to turn them into my blog post for the week! Apologies if you’ve seen the photos, but you don’t yet know the whole story…

It’s coming up to Valentine’s Day and I thought I’d try out a red velvet cake as they seem to be all the rage. I had a go at making one last summer and it won’t go down as my most successful cake ever! I have a problem with red velvet cakes because they require food colouring (either liquid or paste) to turn them the bright red colour which one associates with the flavour. The problem I have is the amount of food colouring which is required.

Now, I’m quite particular about what goes into my cakes. I bake seasonally, I use organic and fair trade ingredients where I can, I try and source local produce and I don’t just throw anything into my cakes. Therefore, the thought of adding food colouring (some recipes call for 2 tsp, some 1 tbsp, some even more) just frightens me. How can I use the best ingredients around, which I source with pride and then pour in a load of e-numbers? It doesn’t sit right.

Therefore, I tried the ‘red velvet experiment’ yesterday. Essentially, in the old days, the red from the red velvet came from the reaction of the buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda. So, I used a recipe which required buttermilk and bicarbonate of soda. It also called for red food colouring (20mls of it!) and I decided not to use it. I doubled the recipe and split it into two batches. In one batch, I didn’t add anything and to the other batch, I added beetroot and lemon juice. I thought beetroot would make the cakes redder, though I had read that the reaction of the beetroot with the other ingredients wouldn’t change the colour. I thought then that if I added some lemon juice, that might bring out the red colour after all.

I felt a bit like an alchemist! It was quite exciting, though very messy! These are the cakes that I made before being baked – the cake on the left is the cake without anything added and the cake on the right is the beetroot juice cake.

After about half an hour, the cakes were ready and they were taken out of the oven. The difference after cooking wasn’t so apparent, but was still there. (As above, the beetroot juice cake is on the right.)

When the cakes had cooled, I cut them in half and iced with a cream cheese frosting. It was then that it became apparent there was little difference in the colour as you can see below:

After icing

So, finally, the taste test. I actually liked both cakes (which surprised me!) but I preferred the beetroot juice cake. It was a bit moister and just had more of a depth of flavour. When I gave them to my friends to try them and said they were red velvet cakes, I did have to explain why they weren’t red. Once I’d done that, I think I won them over by saying I didn’t want to use colourings and e-numbers to get a pretty cake. I think the proof is in the eating. No, it’s not very red, but personally, I’d rather have a cake that wasn’t bright red, if the only way to get it like that is by using food colouring (or ‘nasties’ as a friend called them!) and hopefully others will agree.

Where I’m going

It seems like I was only just planning my Christmas break and now we’re almost into the third week of January! How did that happen?! Christmas was a time to slow down and recharge the batteries, as well as give some serious thought to where I see Claire’s Handmade Cakes going in 2012. I tend to do things as and when they come up, but I think it’s important that there’s a direction in which I want to head.

I treated myself to a copy of Dee Blick’s ‘The Ultimate Small Business Marketing Book’ after having already bought her wonderful ‘Powerful Marketing on a Shoestring Budget’, which I re-read over Christmas. I’m still working my through her second book, and it’s quite involved – I have to think about what I’m reading, make notes and think about what she says in relation to my business – but they really are fabulous books.

I struggle with my marketing (I struggle with quite a lot of aspects of my business, actually! When I’m my business’s IT helpdesk and I don’t know what I’m doing, there can be (and often are!) tears…) and one of my goals for this year is to do something about this. Dee suggests writing a marketing plan (which I don’t have), think about who your customers are (and who you would like them to be), then think of ways that you can target / appeal to them. Not everything you do will appeal to all of your market and nor should it.

I’m already starting to think differently about what I’m doing and I’m making lots of lists and lots of plans. This year I’m starting a monthly newsletter (I’ve already sent out January’s!) and whilst I want to do more fairs, I am going to be more discerning about which ones I choose. Short-term, I’m also going to commit a marketing plan to paper and the other task on the horizon is to put actual numbers into my business plan.

I know I usually talk about cake and I’m sorry for not doing so this week, but having a cake company is about so much more than being able to bake a nice cake and make it look pretty! Sometimes it’s important to stop, take stock of what’s going on and to actually really think about what you want to do. Taking the time now to do some serious thinking and planning will hopefully stand me in good stead over the rest of the year and if I really know where I’m going, it will make the journey so much easier.