Two major attempts at cooking today. One blueberry pancakes, one banana cake.
The former were nearly a disaster. I used Nigella's recipe from How to be a domestic goddess, and my recommendation to you, dear reader, is don't. I thought it was odd while I was mixing the batter that she uses only baking powder, and no bicarb. And indeed, chemistry will out and the bloody things stayed as flat as, well, a pancake. So I speedily looked up my favourite recipe from It's all American Food, and realised that yes, american-style pancakes should have both bicarb and baking powder, and actually more sugar than Nigella recommends (I never thought I'd say that, Nigella usually makes things too sweet I think). So I added a slug of bicarb and sugar to the remaining batter, mixed well, and lo and behold, the pancakes rose. My husband had four large ones and declared them delicious. I had two and declared them too sweet, but you live and learn. The best thing about them was the way the blueberries exploded as they cooked. Yum.
The banana cake was my best yet. It too is a recipe from how to be a domestic goddess, and luckily I've learnt from experience to reduce the sugar somewhat and not to melt the butter. The first time I made it I melted the butter and then tried to mix in the sugar, and nothing happened. For a really long time. Until I gave in and started again with solid, room temperature butter. Don't know what Nigella was thinking.
I also beat the butter and sugar for a really really long time. I feel good doing this because I now understand cake chemistry. I kept finding that my cake mixture would start to curdle when I added the eggs, no matter how room temperature they were. So I went off googling and found The Joy of Cooking which explains what is going on.
At the point where the butter and sugar mixture is light and fluffy, room temperature eggs are added. (The use of cold eggs will reduce the volume of your finished cake. ) You may have noticed that there may be curdling of the batter at this stage. This is particularly so when the recipe is for a high-ratio cake (see below). This is caused by the addition of more liquid (eggs) than the batter can handle at one time. Once the flour has been added it will smooth out the batter so don't worry. One solution is to add the eggs to the batter more slowly as opposed to one egg at a time as most recipes state. Lightly beating each egg first and then slowly adding the egg down the side of the bowl as the mixer is running will help. If you see curdling, stop adding the egg and beat the batter a little to smooth it out before continuing the addition of more egg
So that explained my curdling problem. The site also provided this:
The creaming of the butter and sugar produces air bubbles in the fat created by the rubbing of the sugar crystals against the fat. These holes will get larger and multiply as you continue beating. Starting on low speed and then gradually increasing the speed allows the air bubbles to form and strengthen. Starting at too high a speed could damage or break the fragile air bubbles which will cause the finished cake to be heavy with a compact texture. The goal is to have maximum aeration, that is, lots of air bubbles in the fat. A well aerated batter means a cake with good volume and a soft crumb.
So I creamed for a long time, then I beat my eggs together before slowly dribbling them in, and look ma, no curdling! I also added orange zest and a few drops of orange oil to the recipe. It turned out perfect and has made H very happy.
I've done my work for the day, and am about to go to the gym. At least since I'm not pregnant I can push myself on the treadmill without fear (or excuse). Today I'm not despairing. Not happy, but ok.