Baking - Desserts, Decorating

Homemade Birthday Cake on the Road

While on vacation we celebrated our daughter’s second birthday. It gets a bit trickier to bake when travelling, because I don’t have access to all my recipes, equipment and on-hand decorating ingredients. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

We were staying with family, which means I had a kitchen to use (an important factor), so I looked up a simple cake recipe in one of their cookbooks, went to the store to get a couple ingredients, and set to work. I made a sour cream cake, using yogurt instead of sour cream because they already had it on hand. I couldn’t find their electric mixer, so did all the beating by hand with a whisk. The batter seemed quite thick, so I thought it would be a very dense cake, but it actually came out quite light, which made me happy. And I made a simple buttercream frosting, and tried to colour it with blueberry juice, but because I didn’t make much juice it wasn’t very noticeable. However, the taste of the buttercream was fine all on its own.

I didn’t want to go overboard with the design, seeing as I didn’t have a lot of tools or time. Our daughter loves animals, and particularly likes looking for fish in water. I baked the cake in a rectangle pan, and cut out the shape of a fish once it had cooled. Then it was just a matter of spreading on the frosting, and adding a few berries to finish the design.

As a baker, I don’t like having to buy something pre-made for someone who means so much. I was glad to be able to make a cake for her birthday. It may not have been elaborate, but it sure was delicious. Sometimes simple can be surprisingly sensational!

Baking - General, Ingredient Insights

Freezer Jam Tainted by Carrageenan

This week’s post has gone through many revisions. Where do I begin? I wanted to make a batch of freezer jam with our surplus of strawberries that we’ve been getting from our CSA boxes over the winter. I chose freezer jam for a couple reasons. 1) because you don’t need to sterilize the jars; and 2) because one of the gelling agents I found for freezer jam required significantly less sugar than cooked or freezer jam made with traditional pectin. I made the batch, and everything was hunky dorey, including a glowing post about it. Then I looked into the gelling agent for this freezer jam: carrageenan.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that there is controversy around it, as there is with so many food additives.¬†Carrageenan is derived from an algae, similar to agar agar, so it is vegetarian and vegan, and is often used as an alternative to gelatin for gelling or thickening food products (eg. low fat yogurts). But studies have linked it to various gastro-intestinal problems, and even some cancers, (See Carrageenan on Wikipedia, or just search carrageenan in Google to find several articles about it), and most articles I read suggest avoiding food products that contain it.

I was going to publish my original post after this intro, but as I thought about it I couldn’t in good conscience publish something positive about something that made me feel so angry and disappointed. I felt like I had wasted all those delicious berries and turned them into something potentially¬†harmful; I had taken something beautiful and made it ugly.

'Feel Good' strawberry freezer jam made with pectin.
‘Feel Good’ strawberry freezer jam made with pectin.

Luckily I hadn’t used up all the berries. So a couple days later I took out my pectin and enough berries for a batch of the freezer jam listed on the package. It used a heck of a lot more sugar (which also has its drawbacks, I know), but I felt a lot better about making and eating this jam. And I still have some beautiful berries to spare!