Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Testing 1, 2, 3 | Orange and Cinnamon Cake with Buttercream Icing

Sometimes, things don't always turn out the way you imagined.

I'm always trying to replicate dishes I have eaten out at cafes. When I bite into some delicious cake of whatever variety, the taste of it will stay on my mind for ages, until I feel compelled to try and bake it myself.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited a cute cafe in town called The Little Bird Cafe. Their Orange and Cinnamon cake with butter cream icing had me fantasizing about it for days on end. I did a few searches around the web, but I just couldn't find a recipe that matched up to the one I had eaten, which was a very moist, yet still light and fluffy sponge cake. So after much searching with little results, I decided to experiment and tweak a standard recipe for orange cake. This cake is the result of my efforts. 

Don't get me wrong, the flavours are there, and it's tasty. But it is a lot denser than what I desired. I think if I ever decide to have a crack at the cake again, I wont put the orange juice in the batter, and will instead soak the sponge with juice after it has been baked, hopefully resulting in the perfect light and fluffy yet moist texture I desired. If anyone is interested, I posted the recipe below for the cake pictured above.

For the cake
2 cups plain flour
1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups castor sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
juice of 2 oranges
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp cinnamon
150g butter

For the buttercream
75g butter
2 cups icing sugar
2-3 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a cake pan.
In a measuring cup, combine milk, oj, beaten eggs, and 1/2 teaspoon orange zest. Set aside
Sift flour, salt, cinnamon and baking powder into a large bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until light and creamy, then gradually add sugar, beating between each addition.
Alternate between pouring in the milk mixture and the flour mixture. Beat until well combined.
Divide batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool.
Once fully cooled, I cut the cake in half to prepare for the icing.
To make Buttercream
Cream butter until smooth. Gradually beat in icing sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Beak in the milk and vanilla to bring to spreading consistency. Ice cake and enjoy!

While my baking endeavors don't always turn out as planned, I nonetheless always find it fun to play around in the kitchen!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Books I Read in July

I thought I would start a regular kind of post on here where I give short reviews of the books I have read each month. If you have a bit of a wander through the archives, you will find that I wrote a post about my favourite 13 books of 2013, and I intend to do the same by the end of this year. However, it is hard just picking a select few favourite books, so I thought it would be good to have a few reviews up of the books that may not make the ultimate 'end of year' list.

In July, I read a total of six books, which is an outstanding number for me. This was largely thanks to the fact that I went on a holiday for a week where I had no internet connection or other distractions. It was wonderful just being able to focus completely on my reading for once. I admit, I am probably too reliant on the internet than I need to be!

Books I read in July

#1 Divergent by Veronica Roth
Having completed a semester at university, with the required reading list for my English unit including a lot of American classics, I felt like an easy YA read. Divergent is a dystopian novel which takes place in Chicago. The society in which protagonist Beatrice Prior lives is divided into five factions, with each one being dedicated to the cultivation of a certain virtue. Having just turned 16, Beatrice must partake in a ceremony where she must chose one faction that she will devote the rest of her life to; Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful) or Erudite (the intelligent). Beatrice grapples with her decision, of whether she should stay with her family or go with her instincts and join a new faction. On top of this, Beatrice has a secret that could mean the difference between survival or death if it is revealed.

Divergent was a thrilling and easy read for me, which was exactly what I wanted out of it. As with the Hunger Games, I felt empowered by the female protagonist and the hurdles she had to overcome. I wasn't all that fussed with the romantic subplot though; call me hard at heart, but I didn't find it all that interesting or necessary. I also felt that the ending was quite rushed, and came to somewhat of an abrupt halt.

For what it is, Divergent is enjoyable and if you feel like a quick read, then this is a good option.
3/5 stars.

 #2 The New Hunger by Isaac Marion
The New Hunger is the prequel to the highly successful Warm Bodies, which I had read a couple of years back. I was eager to revisit Marion's post apocalyptic world where zombies roamed!
This prequel essentially describes the early beginnings of the zombie epidemic, and provides a back story to the main characters in Warm Bodies, being the lovable zombie R, Nora and Julie. I found it really interesting to read about the three characters' pasts, as it provided a lot of answers. I was delighted to discover that Marion's prose is just as poetic in this novel as it is in Warm Bodies. I think this is what sets these books apart from, say, typical YA vampire novels. Marion writes in such a way that the whole idea of the novel isn't totally laughable. In fact,  it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy's The Road with its similarly haunting descriptions of deserted highways and city landscapes; just with The New Hunger, you get zombies. It's a win win situation, if you're into that kind of thing.

Overall, The New Hunger was another easy and delightfully creepy read. I wouldn't recommend reading it late into the night (as I did).
3.5/5 stars.

#3 Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Having heard a lot about this book, most recently from friends, I was keen to get my hands on a copy. It's really hard not to give too much away or spill the beans when it comes to describing this novel. Basically, it is a contemporary thriller in which character Nick's wife goes missing without a trace. I personally really loved Flynn's style of writing, as it had me laughing aloud but also giving me goosebumps at times. Flynn switches narration throughout the novel between Nick and Amy (the wife). While the ending was really quite bizarre and far fetched, I really enjoyed this novel due to Flynn's marvelous ability to manipulate the reader. Nothing is as it seems with this novel!
4/5 stars.

#4 If I Stay by Gayle Forman
This book is incredibly popular, according to Goodreads at least, so I was intrigued to find out what is apparently so great about it. Mia is a talented seventeen year old musician, who has hopes of getting accepted into Juilliard. She has a supportive network of people who love and cherish her, including her family, her best friend Kim and boyfriend Adam. However, after a catastrophic car crash that puts her into a coma, Mia must face the most difficult decision she will ever make; should she stay or should she go?

Numerous reviews of this novel go along the lines of 'heartachingly beautiful', 'captivating', 'compelling' and 'will cause readers to laugh, cry, and love'. For me, however, this book didn't have that effect at all. Sure, it was good. It wasn't terrible by any means, but it was no where near close to being the most touching book I have read, which is why I find it hard to understand the praise it receives. Yes, the situation is tragic and unthinkable, but Forman failed to provoke an emotional reaction from me. Again, I must sound heartless. I promise I'm not! There are plenty of novels that have touched me in ways I can not even explain (see: Birdsong, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Book Thief...). If I Stay just wasn't one of them.

Apart from this, I also felt that the ending was quite abrupt. The story moved at a moderate pace and then just ended all of a sudden in the last few pages, as if Forman was rushing to finish.
2.5/5 stars. 

#5 The Cat in The Hat by Dr Seuss
What can I say about The Cat in the Hat? I just loved it; its simplicity, its creativity and the sense of fun it evokes. I had not previously read this timeless children's classic, until I was required to read it for one of my English units. On close inspection and discussion, I was amazed by how revolutionary this book really was at the time, and continues to be now, as it has such an integral impact upon early childhood development and teaching. Simply wonderful.
4/5 stars

#6 The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
This is another English text that I thoroughly enjoyed and found to be incredibly poignant. It chronicles the tragic life of a poor black family in 1940s, with 11 year old Pecola arguably being the focal point, as she prays every night for a pair of blue eyes like those of her white peers. In such a way, Morrison's novel rebels against standardized ideals of beauty, and it also confronts issues such as sexual abuse and racism.

Toni Morrison has a particular gift for weaving stories in a unique way. As she did with Beloved, she moves between past and present in a effortless way that heightens the reading experience and really gets the reader immersed in the story.
4.5/5 stars.

Have you read any of these books or do you plan to? What did you read in July?