Oct 30, 2011
Donna Hay Challenge #2: Lemon Sour Bundt Cake
This month I participated in the second Donna Hay Challenge hosted by Simone of Junglefrog Cooking. I found Simone's blog and learned about the challenges just as the first one was ending. I made a point to try to make it the next month and as you can see by the late date on this post, nearly missed this one too.
You can read more about the challenges here; basically, each month, Simone chooses a recipe, with accompanying photo, from a Donna Hay issue. Anyone interested in taking part makes the recipe, then styles and shoots the dish, doing their best to replicate the photo from the magazine. You have until the end of the month to produce the recipe and post your take on the photo.
This month the challenge was to recreate a lemon sour bundt cake from Donna Hay issue 44, 2009. I won't refuse anything containing lemon so deciding to participate in the challenge was a no-brainer. For me it was a matter of setting aside the time for the project, as well as sourcing the bundt molds and props on a budget. I ended up getting 2 mini tins for less than $4 and a small round cheese board that I fell in love with at first sight.
The beautiful photo on the left in the next two images is from the magazine and was taken by one of my favorite food photographers, Con Poulos. The ones on the right are my attempts to come close but of course not getting anywhere near Mr. Poulos' shot. The light and shadows create beautiful depth, mood, and texture in his photo; achieving those qualities require manipulating and directing the light source, techniques I'm just beginning to scratch the surface of. The challenge couldn't have come at a better time.
I hit some snags along the way. My first attempt (above) was nearly a disaster; had it not been for my daughter turning on the oven light and peering inside, I'm sure I would've set the house on fire. I'd poured too much batter in the bundt tins and they overflowed within 5 minutes, batter freely falling onto the racks and on the oven floor, prompting everyone to ask not too long after, "What's burning, Mom?"
I quickly placed a cookie pan underneath to catch the globs, all the while hoping to salvage the cakes. 30 minutes later, I took out what you see above. The cakes weren't totally ruined but because of the batter baking over the edge of the molds, I didn't get the defined cake bottoms. I also didn't like the huge gobs of icing that pooled at the end of the drips... I personally would love to know their food stylist's secret for achieving pretty icing drips!
My second attempt the following day turned out a little better, baking-wise. Did not set off any fire detectors or stink up the house. Since I was using mini tins, I didn't need to redo the whole recipe, just used leftover batter from the day before. All total I had enough to make 5 mini bundt cakes. The second day I made sure to pour the batter a little over halfway in the tins. I liked the color the cakes took on but the icing continued to frustrate me. I had to add more water to the icing because it was originally too thick to ice the cake.
From a photography standpoint: the goal is not to straight out copy the magazine photo but for this first challenge, I wanted to get as close to the original as possible because I'd never really worked with defined, contrasty light affecting a subject within the frame. I'm also not used to shooting "dark" moody photos, and as a mostly natural light photog, this was going to be an interesting experiment in playing with, and shaping, available light.
Speaking of which... I didn't realize how fast the sun sets here now... never really paid attention until I needed light! A few months back, I could easily shoot as late as 8:30 pm. When these pics were taken, it was already dark outside by 6:15. My husband kindly reminded me of the shortened hours of daylight due to the seasons changing. Thanks, dear.
Techy info: attempt #1 was shot at ISO 2000 (yep, that dark out), 1/40 sec, f/1.4, 50mm. Attempt #2: ISO 1250, 1/30 sec, f/1.4, 50mm. My set-up (below left) consisted of using a large piece of dark fabric as a backdrop, and to modify I brought out a white foamboard and a huge white reflector (it's one of those double-sided deals, you can see the gold side on the lower right side of the pic), though I don't know how much, if any, they helped in directing light towards the subject because my dining room was literally a cave at this point. Did I even have them positioned in ideal spots? I dunno. I also used two small pieces of black wood to the left of the cake to block side lighting and keep the area primarily in shadows.
Overall, this was a great learning experience, and I don't mean that lightly; it's made me want to practice, practice, and practice some more. I've a ton of respect and admiration for photographers who create amazing captures like Con Poulos' image; it's not as simple as clicking the shutter button that's for sure.
Thanks for the opportunity, Simone. Check out her blog to get the recipe for this cake, find out the results of the photo challenge, and find out what she has planned for November. Can't wait.
p.s. the cake was outstanding!