tentimestea turns 5: a birthday cake, obligatory autobiographical ramblings (which I enjoy far too much) and tips on making a lower sugar layer cake with moderated sweetness
every most blogiversaries, another year another cake – as well as uber-sentimental musings (replete with pretentious writing as usual) on how much I love baking and some more soul searching to try to figure out how to balance blogging with other priorities.
It’s been five years of blogging and I’m simultaneously surprised at how long it’s been, but how short it feels, how much it’s formalized the role that baking plays in my life, but how little I sometimes feel this blog captures that.
I still love baking just as much as five years ago, and maybe even more so now, in the way that I plan my free time around it, that when I close my eyes a rambling train of flavour combinations and baking ideas keeps me up at night, and that so far my bucket list is, well, primarily things I want to try baking.
I’ve loved baking since I was young. Thinking back, I had a lot of time to myself in my adolescence; it wouldn’t be described as lonely, and it was only occasionally solitary, but I had an abundance of (adequately supervised) unstructured play time where I was left to my own devices. My friends lived far away as I often went to schools out of my neighbourhood, my parents were occupied with work and otherwise, by their own admission, not fond of playing games. With little homework, my after school afternoons and weekends filled with single person pretend which transitioned to writing stories, and then, eventually, to baking.
The more I baked, the more fun and freeing it became as I realized that there were no limits – not on creativity, and nor on my lists and lists of ideas. Phases came and went. For a time, I was fully occupied with the epiphany that cupcakes were truly the pinnacle of all baking endeavours. I would always be budgeting a stick of butter in my head, dividing recipes to use only a couple tbsp so that I could squeeze in just one more small batch.
I became intent on baking bread when I was 13, making it the focus of an ambitious open-ended school project (and dragging a reluctant friend into it with me–by the end of it, she swore off bread entirely); at 14, Bartholomew the sourdough starter was born on my countertop and together we briefly became a member of the Fresh Loaf. I never kept bread baking up enough to actually become competent at making the type of bread that I wanted to, reduced to enviously poring over other’s pictures of craggy, loose and open crumb structures.
Arguably, some of the strangest moments were in grade school: dried shiitake-infused chocolate pudding, barbecue spice blend shortbread, and dried orange peel and peppercorn granola (inspired by my family’s brief Guangdong-style dried orange peel – chen pi – rediscovery where we ate it by the bagful).
None of those ideas are worth returning to – but at least I, and my family, know that now!
I began to seriously plot my food blogging debut after writing for a youth blogging site in high school. I usually wrote editorial-type articles, such as about my high school’s racist mascot, and the strange roles of patriotism and money in the Olympics (as a result, I ended up being recognized for writing about sports of all things…). I had written a bit about food too, such as an ode to my sourdough starter, but it felt out of place. My summer job provided all the extra push I needed to start a food-focused blog. Five years later, somehow, here I am still.
tentimestea is a record of baking for the last five years, but also a rather personal record as well. I always liked food blogs with personal stories (like Not Quite Nigella and many others) and that was generally the sort of form I wanted to emulate. In some ways it’s fun and nostalgic to have this record of the last five years, and in most ways it’s bit embarrassing and I’m pretty certain it’s better not to look back at anything over a year old! Because just what have I been writing about all these years?!? What childhood stories have I shared?!! What mundane anecdotes have I attempted to dramatize?! Ahh! — and so on.
Setting the self-centred biography aside, I’ll continue this self-congratulatory tone by pointing out that relative to last year, I’ve been prolific so far – fifteen posts in the first half of 2019 already has brought me to over twice that of all of 2018 (seven posts).
My blogging approach has certainly changed. Compared to a few year ago, I’m no longer particularly socially engaged with other bloggers unfortunately. Early on, especially being part of Fiesta Friday, was genuinely the most rewarding part of my initial blogging experience. That experience of community helped bolster my confidence and persistence to still be posting today.
However, other priorities in my life have meant that I haven’t really had as much time for blogging. As a result, I used to neglect all aspects of blogging, feeling guilty about posting when I wasn’t visiting and commenting on others’ blogs, but lately I’ve tried to continue posting even when I don’t have time for the social aspects of blogging. I do want to get back to it perhaps once I learn to manage my time better though!
This blog has had to sit patiently through I don’t know how many renditions of oh gosh, how shall I reorient my blogging priorities and get started on blogging again!?, perhaps the last blog birthday being the most recent manifestation of that. Not to disappoint, this post is briefly, briefly returning to that – currently I conceptualize tentimestea as a baking portfolio, and I’ve settled on their internal-looking approach to building up that portfolio as the primary priority (Instagram would be fun though… I should pick it up again!).
For the fifth blogiversary, thought I would return back to the cake I made for my first year of blogging. While I loved the concept of it, it hadn’t quite come together – the icing was simultaneously bitingly acidic and achingly sweet, and the cake filling a bit unsatisfactory and unbalanced against the roasted fruit. This ended up being the perfect excuse to revisit the cake and make it more palatable.
And besides, there’s also some satisfaction to demonstrating that I’ve improved a bit too, four years later!
I’m so used to the typical ordering of “strawberry-rhubarb,” though perhaps it’s a family echo chamber thing, but it flows off the tongue so easily in the context of crumbles, pies, galettes, compotes and jams. So it was a deliberate effort to call this a roasted rhubarb and strawberry cake because it is primarily rhubarb, but of course with some strawberry to capitalize on the combination that does make rhubarb taste fuller and fruitier than when its on its own.
The cake itself is a rather lightly flavoured anise chamomile cake, layers sandwiches with vanilla pastry cream (I splurged by using 1.5cm piece of vanilla bean but in the current vanilla economy please feel free to use extract) and roasted fruit, and everything covered with a thin layer of rhubarb strawberry ermine buttercream.
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of frostings aside from whipped cream. The last time I made a buttercream was in fact the first blogiversary cake – four years ago! Since then I’ve only make a couple cream cheese frostings – oh and well, I suppose I did make one semi-unpalatable American-style buttercream where I was able to substitute kinako for some of the icing sugar. But as far as layer cakes go, I’ve mostly avoided buttercreams, my preference being unsweetened whipped cream.
Or at least until this ermine frosting has changed my mind. Ermine, or cooked flour frosting, has been on my radar for a while now, but given my general lack of enthusiasm for frostings, never sufficiently on the radar to actually make. But it was lovely – light and super buttery and smooth, without the starchy taste of powdered sugar buttercream. And given that sugar is not integral to its structural integrity (unlike powdered sugar or meringue-based buttercreams), its sweetness can be easily modulated too.
I used reduced rhubarb juice and strawberry puree in place of the milk in the pudding base, and it turned out to be be ample fruit to flavour the entirety of the buttercream. (I love it when there is an easily modifiable component – just think of all the options! Tea? Coconut milk? Fruit purees?)
This was also the first time I’ve ever used cake flour (all the other cakes I’ve made have been all-purpose all the way) – and it definitely makes for a soft downy cake. I do need to work on making the cake though as it was full of large bubbles – here’s a great post I found exploring some of the reasons for this, and I suspect that in my case the culprit may have included overmixing.
Overall, as a cake, it works – not to sweet, pretty obviously rhubarb and strawberry-focused especially with the roasted fruit, and buttery and tart.
See also previous years rhubarb-themed blog birthdays:
- first blogiversary – the original roasted rhubarb and strawberry layer cake,
- second – a rhubarb strawberry Victoria sponge,
- (skipped the third), and
- fourth – a cardamom croquembouche with rhubarb strawberry curd.
roasted rhubarb and strawberry layer cake
- chamomile anise cakes
- vanilla pastry cream
- roasted rhubarb and strawberry
- rhubarb strawberry ermine frosting
- garnishes: in this case strawberries, and various foraging from the garden: dill, twigs off of a saskatoon berry bush, strawberry flowers, johnny jump ups, and a begonia
To avoid complicating matters, I would prepare the icing last to avoid needing to refrigerate it overnight and then bring it back to the room temperature. Everything else can be used at any temperature.
Make a cake base by tracing a 6″ circle out of cardboard and parchment paper. Tap the parchment onto the cardboard. Use a long serrated knife to level each cake layer by trimming the domed top off.
Transfer around half a cup of frosting to a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip (I used Wilton 2A).
Place a cake layer on the cardboard cake base. Pipe a circle of icing around the top of the cake to hold in the filling. Dollop around 1/4-1/3 cup of pastry cream in the middle and spread out with a small offset spatula. Top with some roasted strawberry and rhubarb. Place a second cake layer on top and repeat the process. Place the third cake layer on top.
Squeeze any remaining frosting from the pastry bag back into the bowl of frosting. Pile some on top of the cake and spread to an even layer using an offset spatula. Dab the remainder of the icing along the sides of the cake. Spread evenly with an offset spatula tight against the side of the cake, spreading the icing flat. (I used all the frosting I made covering the cake, so if you want less of a naked-cake type look, I would increase the recipe). Garnish as desired.
chamomile anise cake
Makes 3 6″ cakes. Adapted from Sally’s Baking Addiction vanilla cake.
- 210g cake flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp chamomile tea
- generous 1/2 tsp ground anise (enough for only a slight anise flavour)
- 173g butter
- 100g granulated sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 180g milk + 1/2 tsp vinegar (or buttermilk)
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Butter and flour three 6″ cake rings and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet – or line the bottom of 3 6″ cake pans with parchment and butter and flour the sides.
Whisk together the flour, salt, baking soda, chamomile and anise.
Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy (3 minutes on high with a stand mixer). Add the eggs one at a time, beating in until incorporated, and then the vanilla extract.
Alternate adding the flour in three additions and milk+vinegar/buttermilk in two additions. Split amongst the three cake rings/pans and spread evenly with an offset spatula.
Bake for 15-20 minutes or until an inserted wooden skewer is removed clean.
roasted strawberry and rhubarb
- 3 stalks rhubarb
- 8 medium strawberries
- a few spoonfuls of sugar
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Chop the rhubarb and quarter the strawberries. Toss together with the sugar in a pan lined with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes or until rhubarb is tender, giving it a gentle stir partway through. Taste for sweetness and mix in some more sugar if needed.
vanilla pastry cream
Makes more than needed for the cake. I used extra rice flour and stirred in some butter to ensure a pastry cream that was thick enough to not run. This pastry cream was so thick it was not running anywhere anytime soon… well, perhaps it was a bit starchier than it needed to be, but it still tasted quite nice!
- 140g (1 cup) milk
- 1.5-cm length of vanilla bean
- pinch salt
- 1 egg
- 18g rice flour
- 2 tbsp soft butter
Place the milk in a small saucepan. Slit the length of vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and them and the pod to the mild.
Whisk together the egg, sugar and rice flour in a bowl. Warm the milk until steaming, and pour into the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Transfer back to the saucepan and continue to cook over medium heat, whilst stirring constantly. Try to prevent the mixture from boiling. Continue to cook until thickened – I usually try to gently cook it for a bit longer to ensure the flour taste is cooked out. Add the butter and stir it in as it melts. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let cool.
strawberry rhubarb ermine frosting
Adapted from Stella Parks via Serious Eats. I made the minimal amount of frosting for this cake so if you’d like a thicker layer, perhaps increase the recipe.
- 2 cups chopped rhubarb
- around 25g strawberry puree (more or less depending on quantity of rhubarb juice obtained)
- 19g flour
- 50g granulated sugar
- pinch kosher salt
- 106g softened butter
For the fruit preparation: Place the rhubarb in a saucepan, toss with a couple spoonfuls of sugar to help draw out the juice, add a good splash of water and cook until soft and liquid-y. Set a jelly bag in a strainer over a bowl and transfer the cooked rhubarb to drain. Once it’s cooled down, squeeze out as much juice as you can by twisting the top of the bag tightly.
In total you will want 115g of fruit preparation, made up of rhubarb juice and strawberry puree.
The exact numbers may vary, but here is what I did: Measure out the amount of rhubarb juice – I had 180g. Transfer to a small saucepan and cook down to reduce by half until 90g. Mix with 25g strawberry puree to reach 115g fruit preparation.
For the frosting: Transfer the fruit preparation to a small saucepan. Whisk in the flour, place over medium heat and cook until thickened, around 2 minutes. Whisk in the sugar until dissolved. Let cool until room temperature.
Beat the butter in the bowl of a standmixer with the paddle until light, around 5 minutes. Beat in the cooled fruit mixture, a spoonful at a time. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is fully combined. Switch to the whisk attachment and whip until light and fluffy, a few minutes.