When Science goes bad, there’s always Cake

Many of the scientists at work are talented bakers, and the rest are pro’s at eating cake. Quite a few of us have the back up plan “if the science doesn’t work out, I’ll open a bakery/café/restaurant”, after all, baking is a sort of science…

During an experiment that wasn’t going very well, I started chatting with Laura about cakes that could represent various aspects of science, whether the experiment is working or not. So here’s some of my possible science-cake suggestions, and some examples of how science can learn from disaster cakes.

The device isn’t capturing cells at all:
Super rich dense chocolate brownie, with walnuts. Served sandwiched with a very good vanilla icecream and a dark chocolate and whiskey sauce poured over the top.  In a bowl, because you’ve learned your lesson about fluids misbehaving and a plate would make a mess.

A sadly batched tray of muffins, tasty but unbeautiful

Don’t buy the cheapest gloves, don’t buy the cheapest muffin cases. Science and baking have learned many similar lessons

The perfect micrograph using all those fiddly fluorescent stains
Summer fruits tart, with a rich, chewy batter half enveloping the fruit, and a very crisp yet crumbly base. Served with whipped cream with a hint of vanilla. The juicy fruits might stain the cream but it’s all terribly beautiful and neatly presented.

Even Linus Pauling gets it wrong
An orange drizzle cake, moist and delicious, with a scoop of lemony moussey curdlike stuff. No longer full of vitamin C after baking, but hey, megadosing vitC doesn’t work anyway!

Poor melty cinnamon rolls, but they went to a good home

The rolls have leaked in the oven? Still delicious. The PBS leaked in the autoclave? Still a sterile buffer.

Have you any science-cake suggestions? Could you happilly substitute science for cake in your every day life (or vice versa)?

Modifying the lemon drizzle cake, a little

I love lemon drizzle cake. It’s really wonderful, and not so hard to make, and in my experience, (almost) everyone loves lemony cake. As I make this cake often enough, I made some adjustments to it, to see if the people who like it a lot could find it in them to like it even more!

Inspired by my labmate’s love of lemon and poppyseed cake from the canteen (I’m impressed, they didn’t mess up the cake), I threw a teaspoon of poppy seeds into the cake batter and baked like normal. The seeds give a gentle bite to the cake, it’s really wonderful.

Poppy seeded lemon drizzle cake

Lemon drizzle cake filled with poppyseeds and super tangy drizzle for my sister’s graduation

In addition, my beloved’s favourite part of the cake is the lemon drizzle part (and quite a few other people, I’ve found), so I doubled up on the lemons to make his face pucker up even more. I used the juice of two lemons for the drizzle but the same amount of sugar. The centre of the cake is the most dangerous for those of us who like moderately (rather than insanely) tangy cake, I have yet to master the art of getting the drizzle to hang around the edges. As the cake top is a bit wetter with the extra juice, only dust it with icing sugar right before you plan to show off.

The above pictured cake was dusted with icing sugar twice, once before heading to the university for my sister’s graduation (yay! she’s got a PhD now, in microbiology though, yucky), and then again when we got home and were about to eat the cake. The cake didn’t last long, but that’s ok, cause when you get a PhD, many people make cake, so there was carrot cake, caramel squares, and cheesecake too!

Experimentation – peanut butter

I am told that there are “people” out there who don’t like peanut butter, not because they’re allergic and their face will swell up, but because they just don’t /like/ it. Well, this is not for those “people”, this is for us normal folk who enjoy smushed nuts smeared on toast.

We like peanuts in this house, they’re tasty, very tasty, and go great with beer, cider or just a big mug of milk. Every once in a while, we end up picking up a bag of peanuts that aren’t nice and crisp and seem to be under roasted. One day himself decided we should figure out how to make peanut butter to use up these less nice nuts.

In the quest to learn how to make peanut butter, it was discovered that stick blenders aren’t very good for making peanut butter, and that my mother will sleep through using her (loud) food processor to make the same. After a time, we picked up a handy wee chopper in Aldi for blitzing the nuts, as we don’t have room for a full-size food processor.

This evening’s experiment was to see if maple syrup would work nicely as it’s a good substitute for half the golden syrup in peanut butter cookies (recipe to follow at some point).

Ramekin of peanut butter

A handy ramekin, filled with delicious peanut butter.

  • 200g salted peanuts
  • 1 dessert spoon of maple syrup (proper stuff, you know, the stuff in glass jars that’s pretty runny) (Aldi do a good one that won’t break the bank, Marks and Spencer do a good one that will)
  • 3 teaspoons vegetable or peanut oil (for the love of god don’t use olive oil or other strong tasting oil)
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt

In theory you can shell, skin and roast your own nuts, but buying bags of salted peanuts is just as easy. If you like a well roasted nut (an even more roasted one that how it was roasted before you bought it), scatter them on a lined tray and put into a 200°C oven for 10 minutes. Check them after five minutes and give a little shake, don’t let them scorch.

Then tip the nuts into your chopper/food processor, and start whizzing. When the nuts have turned into a coarse powder, add 2 teaspoons of the oil, the maple syrup and keep whizzing. My chopper isn’t amazing, so I periodically stop, scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, and go again. It takes longer than you’d expect but the nuts should break down to a paste. Taste the butter, and add the salt if it’s needed (some salted peanuts are saltier than others). Add more oil if the paste is too stiff (you need to be able to spread it on toast at the end of the day).

So basically, lots of whizzing and a bit of extra oil is all you need to make peanut butter. The oil seems to be necessary to get the butter to come together enough to be chopped finer. Sugar is optional, but I like slightly sweetened pb, salty and sweet things are what taste buds were made for!

I’m looking forward to smearing this on thick slices of toasted scotch batch in the morning and drinking some fine fine coffee with it. (Also, next time I make it, I’ll be doubling the maple syrup, so you might want to experiment with that if you’ve a sweet tooth).

Chocolate biscuit cake experimentation

I’ve had half a pack of digestives staring at me for the last week and a bit. Shocking stuff I know, but as a caffeine half-intolerant (none after lunch) coffee drinker and someone who doesnt like tea, I don’t have much opportunity for chowing on digestives in the evenings. The other half of the packet was sacrificed to the noble cause of being a cheesecake base (I’ll write it up soon, honest). I’ve never made chocolate biscuit cake before and got the idea into my head earlier that that’s how I’ll use up the biscuits.

A Slice of Chocolate Biscuit Cake

A squidgy slice of chocolate biscuit cake, and a butterknife covered in squidge

I couldn’t find a recipe in one of my books, so armed with duckduckgo I did a quick search. The one I settled for is roughly based on the odlums recipe, except for a few changes due to what I had to hand. I can vouch for maltesers being great in biscuit cake, but I dont usually have them lying around the house.

  • 200g chocolate digestives (broken up, not pulverised)
  • 140g butter
  • 80g golden syrup
  • 125g dark chocolate
  • 1 dessertspoon cocoa powder

Put the butter, chocolate, and syrup in a pyrex jug and microwave on full for 40 seconds. Stir, and put it in for another 40 seconds. Stir and decide if it’s no longer lumpy or not, if needed give another short nuke/stir cycle. If the mix is smooth, mix in the cocoa powder and then throw in the biscuits. Smush into a lined springform tin or cake tin and chill in the fridge (honestly, the lining is essential, I poured straight into my springform tin with a nubbly-cheesecake-holding base, whoops).

After chilling for two hours, I took the squidgy slice shown above, despite being imperfect it’s still lovely with a big glass of milk. I reckon it’ll set better by the morning (I’ll let you know if it doesn’t). Changes to be made in the future: increase biscuity content (quantity AND type, eg. rich tea), add malteasers, line the base of the tin, learn to wait for it to chill overnight.