Cat’s Chocolate & Raspberry Cake

My beautiful, vivacious, generous, intelligent, loyal and all-round awesome friend Cat turns 30 today.  She is the most marvellous maker of mischief, queen of comedy and has the capacity to create magic out of absolutely nothing.  There was never a more worthy recipient of a genuinely extravagant birthday cake… I found this recipe for a chocolate and raspberry cake online, so I converted it into UK measurements for a two-tier cake:

Ingredient 8” cake (+ 4 cupcakes) 6” cake (+ 3 cupcakes)
Dark chocolate (53% cocoa solids) 85g 55g
Hot brewed coffee 350ml 230ml
Caster sugar 600g 400g
Plain flour 312g 205g
Cocoa powder (unsweetened) 125g 85g
Baking powder ¾ tsp ½ tsp
Bicarbonate of soda 2 tsp 1½ tsp
Salt ½ tsp ¼ tsp
Large eggs 3 2
Sunflower oil 175ml 115ml
Buttermilk 355ml 235ml
Vanilla extract ¾ tsp ½ tsp

Preheat to 150C.  Butter and base-line your tins.  (I often take the bone-idle route and settle for just base-lining, but you really should butter these tins, even if they’re non-stick.) Measure out and sieve all the dry ingredients into one bowl.  Finely chop the chocolate, then pour the hot coffee over, let it sit, then stir to make sure the chocolate is evenly melted. In a stand mixer, beat the eggs for about 3 minutes until slightly thickened.  While the beater is running on slow speed, add the buttermilk and vanilla and beat until combined, then add the oil in the same way.

Looks a bit like custard

Looks a bit like custard

Pour in the chocolate/coffee mix…

Slightly darker custard

Slightly darker custard

Finally, sift in the dry ingredients and mix (carefully, so as not to let too much fly out of the bowl) until properly combined.  You will have a VERY liquidy cake mixture, which will make you question whether it could possibly create a cake.  Have faith, my friends.

Drip.  Drip.  Drip.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The original recipe is for three 9″ pans but my trio measure 8″ so I made some Brucie Bonus cupcakes with the extra batter (very useful for Quality Control purposes).

Three 8" cakes + Brucie Bonus cupcakes

Three 8″ cakes + Brucie Bonus cupcakes

Bake on the middle shelf for 35-40 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.  Interestingly, the 6″ cakes took the same time to bake.

Pile 'em up (and fire the lighting designer)

Pile ’em up (and fire the lighting designer)

Next comes the raspberry goodness, for which you need:
300g fresh raspberries
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour
(I made twice this, and now have an absurd quantity in my freezer.)

Blitz your raspberries then sieve the seeds out.  As for how to clean the sieve afterwards, I have no tips.  I yelled at mine, but it didn’t help. Pour the blitzed berries in a saucepan and sprinkle the sugar and cornflour over.  Heat gently until it thickens, stirring all the time.  It’ll take a good 10 minutes, I reckon.  I reduced the sugar from the original recipe so this tastes relatively sharp (depending on your raspberries) but the rich, chocolatey cake can absolutely take it.

Look at that colour

Look at that colour

Pour into a bowl and let it cool completely before sandwiching the cakes together with it.  Be a bit more generous than I was; I could barely taste the raspberry (this may or may not have been influenced by the quantity of red wine I had already consumed).

Raspberry tanginess

Raspberry tanginess

Serious cake

Serious cake

Ganache time.  The addition of Golden Syrup adds another dimension to this, which I really enjoyed.  I did, however, remove the sugar from the original recipe.  This quantity does a nice, thin-ish layer on the two cakes.  You don’t really want it too much thicker, I don’t think.

210g dark chocolate (53% cocoa solids)
300ml double cream
2 tbsp Golden Syrup
75g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

Finely chop the chocolate and throw in a heat-proof bowl.  Over a low-medium heat, slowly bring the double cream and Golden Syrup to a boil.  Pour over the chocolate and stir VERY SLOWLY in concentric circles starting in the middle.  Be patient.  For a long time, it’ll look like it won’t emulsify but it will.  Do not be tempted to speed up your stirring.  When it has emulsified, throw in the butter a few cubes at a time and continue stirring gently until it’s all in and melted.  You’ll have a beautifully glossy ganache.

The phases of ganache-making

The phases of ganache-making

I refrigerated mine (stirring every 5 minutes) until it reached spreading consistency.

Glossy

Glossy

Into the final phase… decoration.  YES.  For the 6″ cake, I cheated and bought some high quality dark chocolate pencils and stuck 75 round the side.  At 10cm, they only just fit the height of the cake..

Cheating

Cheating

Looks good though, right?

Looks good though, right?

For the bottom tier, I tried my hand at tempering chocolate without a digital thermometer.  Then I put “digital thermometer” on my list for Santa. The theory is that you take 200g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) and melt 130g of it in a bain-marie, keeping it over the pan until it reaches 48C.  Then take the bowl off the heat, and add the remaining 70g of chocolate, stirring gently and continuously until it cools to 32C.  If you do this successfully, the chocolate will set more quickly than usual and will be more robust (i.e. won’t melt as easily) as normal chocolate.

I did just fine with my mercury jam thermometer until the cooling down bit, when the minimum measured temperature of 40C was something of a hindrance.  So I guessed.  As luck would have it, the result was alright, but it took an age to set so was definitely not tempered properly.

The sharp-eyed among you will have noticed that my kitchen is a little… petite, so this next project had to take place at my dining table, with the help of some foam-board I had left over from a crafty project…

I cut and taped an acetate cocoa butter transfer to make a 70cm long strip, 12cm wide, which I laid out cocoa-side up.  I spread the chocolate (a little too thinly) over with an angled palette knife and waiting IMPATIENTLY for the FLIPPING thing to set, wishing that it were a cooler October evening than it was.

Uncharted territory

Uncharted territory

Set, you fickle bugger.  SET.

Set, you fickle bugger. SET.

Eventually, it was sufficiently set for me to wrap it around the cake.  In light of the fact that I knew I hadn’t tempered the chocolate properly, I decided it needed a little technical assistance to set properly so put it in the fridge overnight.  In the morning, I carefully peeled off the acetate (not quite carefully enough, you might notice).

We didn't need that little chunk.

We didn’t need that little chunk.

A quick trip across London and some holding of breath, and the genuinely extravagant birthday cake was assembled, beribboned…

Chocolate & Raspberry Cake

Chocolate & Raspberry Cake

… and set on fire.

Happy birthday, Cat. x

Happy birthday, Cat. x

Raspberry & Blackberry Ripple Loaf

Every so often, I stumble upon a recipe I rather fancy and I optimistically print it off, in the naïve hope that I will test it that weekend. Then, all kinds of exciting, unexpected things happen that weekend and my printed recipe – so full of promise – ends up hidden in a crumpled heap beneath a stack of newspapers.

Well, last weekend I spent some glorious quality time with my wonderful friends Sara, Liz and her 6-month-old daughter Honor (who is undoubtedly the most gorgeous, smiley, good-natured baby in the WORLD). Then I trundled home, shifted some papers and out dropped a tattered, long-forgotten printed recipe and I decided to give it a bash.  I know – I am, like, SO spontaneous. I’ve made some changes, partly due to a shortage of raspberries in my Sainsbury’s Local at 8pm on a Sunday…

I stupidly forgot to add the milk to my version but I’d recommend you include it.  Aside from the change in texture to the finished result, spreading the stiff-ish cake batter without it is a bit of a bugger.

150g fresh raspberries
120g fresh blackberries
2tbsp cornflour
3tbsp cold water
200g unsalted butter
200g golden caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
250g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
4tbsp whole milk

Preheat the oven to 160C.

Keeping five or six good-looking raspberries aside, fork-mash the rest in a bowl and the blackberries in a separate bowl until they release lots of their juice and colour. Put two small saucepans on a medium-low heat and drop 1 tbsp cornflour and 1½ tbsp cold water in each. Mix until smooth, then drop the mashed raspberries in one and mashed blackberries in the other. Heat gently for 3-4 minutes, stirring often, until the mixtures start to thicken. Pour back into the two bowls and set aside.

Raspberries & blackberries: whole

Raspberries & blackberries: whole

Raspberries & blackberries: forked

Raspberries & blackberries: forked

Raspberries & blackberries: saucing

Raspberries & blackberries: saucing

Raspberries & blackberries: sauced

Raspberries & blackberries: sauced

Beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest until pale and fluffy. Add the eggs and yolk a bit at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. You should end up with something light and almost mousse-like in consistency. Sift in the flour and baking powder and mix gently until just combined. Finally, add the milk and give a last gentle beat.

Line the base of a loaf tin with baking paper (you’ll notice that I do this the laziest possible way, but it enables me to use the overlapped bits to lift the cake out of the tin easily). Cover the base of the tin with a layer of cake batter, then splodge a good spoonful of each berry sauce on top, spreading it a little bit.

Splodging

Splodging

Repeat this layering process, making sure you distribute the berries so that each slice will get a bit of each flavour, and finishing with a layer of cake batter. Use a skewer to swirl the batter around a bit, going in all directions including up and down. Half-bury your good-looking raspberries in the surface of the batter (not quite as deep as I did) then scatter a spoonful of golden caster sugar over the top.

Rippled

Rippled

Sprinkled

Sprinkled

Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tin, then serve with a good cup of tea.

Baked

Baked

 

Raspberry & Blackberry Ripple Cake

Raspberry & Blackberry Ripple Cake

 

Rapunzel Cake for Bella’s 4th Birthday

My very favourite small person in the whole wide world (to whom this kind of statement is currently of the utmost importance) is a delightful four-year-old called Annabella.  Her very favourite film in the whole wide world is Disney’s “Tangled”.  As is “Hotel Transylvania”.  And probably three or twelve more films.  But “Tangled” is in the top twenty, at least.  So, after a couple of months’ careful planning, blueprint sketching and the purchase of one plastic model, the time finally came to construct a Rapunzel cake for Bella.  (There’s a chance I was more excited about this than she was…)

Devil’s Food Cake
(NB this doubled recipe is just enough for one three-layer 26cm round cake plus two deep 10cm round cakes)
8tbsp cocoa powder
350ml boiling water
2tsp bicarbonate of soda
200g dark chocolate
250g unsalted butter at room temperature
700g caster sugar
4 large eggs
2tsp vanilla extract
600g plain flour
250ml soured cream

I baked this in two batches because there was only room in my oven for two 26cm tins at a time (and I imagine my mixer might’ve struggled to accommodate a double batch).

Preheat to 180C.  Mix cocoa and boiling water to a smooth liquid, then stir in the bicarb and set aside.  Melt the chocolate gently in a bain-marie and set aside.  Beat the butter until creamy, then gradually beat in the sugar and beat for about 5 minutes until very pale and fluffy.  A bit like this…

fluffy, pale butter and sugar

fluffy, pale butter and sugar

In a separate jug, break up the eggs and vanilla with a fork, then add it to the butter/sugar one tablespoon at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition.  Fold in the flour in three batches, alternating with the soured cream.  Go easy on the beating at this stage.  Mix the cocoa liquid with the melted chocolate (and resist the urge to lick any errant chocolatey goodness from your fingers – the bicarb does not a tasty experience make) then fold it in to the cake mixture.

evidence (if it were needed) that scraping down the bowl is important

evidence (if it were needed) that scraping down the bowl is important

Divide the mixture between your tins and bake as follows:
26cm sponges – 25-30 minutes
10cm sponges – 30-35 minutes

velvety-smooth cake batter

velvety-smooth cake batter

tiny tin (teaspoon for purposes of scale)

tiny tin (teaspoon for purposes of scale)

Make sure you do the skewer test before turning onto a wire rack to cool.

cooling

cooling

Initially, I was determined that the entire cake would be edible, but a little guiding voice popped into my head (as it did on a number of subsequent occasions – usually when my quest for perfection had spun out of control).  That phrase?

“THIS IS FOR A FOUR-YEAR-OLD.”

Instead, I opted for a more sensible mid-section structure of polystyrene, which also meant I didn’t have to bake a random conical cake.

hidden scaffolding

hidden scaffolding

So, in terms of scaffolding, we have a wooden spike at the bottom that was eventually hammered into the base board to make sure nothing tilted nor toppled, then a 10cm board, which would be supported by plastic dowels hidden in the bottom cake so that the tower didn’t sink, then a polystyrene cone, from which I had chopped off the bottom section.  I inverted that section and chopped it down with a craft knife to make that beamy supporty bit under the house.  (That’s an architectural term.  Ask anyone.)  Then there was a board for the house cake, through which I’d made a hole for the wooden spike to go into the house to ensure it didn’t fall off.  Technical, eh?

Back to the cake.  Next, I knocked up a bit of chocolate buttercream (600g icing sugar, 200g unsalted butter, 80g cocoa, 80ml whole milk), sandwiched and covered the base cake.  I shaved a bit off one of the 10cm cakes to make the roof, then sandwiched and covered the house too.

chocolate buttercream-covered 26cm cake

chocolate buttercream-covered 26cm cake

a chocolatey roof

a chocolatey roof

chocolate buttercream-covered 10cm house

chocolate buttercream-covered 10cm house

Ah.  Fondant.  My NEMESIS.  I’d mind less if it tasted nice, but it looks and tastes like sugary Plasticine and is much more difficult to manipulate.  Flippin’ ‘orrible stuff.  Looks good, though.

I mixed 1kg white with 1kg obnoxiously bright emerald green and got a lovely muted green colour.  I think a total of 1.25kg would’ve been enough as I have a shed-load left over but I’m paranoid about needing to roll the stupid stuff too thinly so I always overcater.

lovely green fondant

lovely green fondant

Next up, covering the tower.  I mixed a little chocolate fondant (by Renshaw, in case you’re interested) with white to make a stoney-beige colour, then painted the polystyrene with egg white to make it stick.  I rolled the fondant quite thinly and rolled the polystyrene over it rather than lifting and draping the fondant.  I ran a knife along the join to cut through both overlapping bits and removed the excess from each side to make a sharp seam.  I then took a pin (such high tech equipment – what a pro) and used the head to make stone shapes in the fondant.

pin-head stone work

pin-head stone work

probably my favourite feature

probably my favourite feature

I covered the house pretty roughly, knowing that the rough bits would be covered by beams and other decoration.  Whilst making said decoration, the eagle-eyed among you will notice that I watched “Footloose”.  A classic.

note a young Kevin Bacon in the background

note a young Kevin Bacon in the background

Next came three shades of lilac for the roof tiles, which were individually cut and brushed with a bit of egg white to stick them on.

roof tiles in the making

roof tiles in the making

there is a lot of work to be done, here

there is a lot of work to be done, here

I decided where the tower would go and sank the plastic dowels into the base cake so that I could see its position while I decorated.  Then I whipped up a batch of green royal icing ready to pipe (1 large egg white, 250g icing sugar, 2tsp lemon juice, green gel colouring).

dowels safely in place

dowels safely in place

it all starts from this tiny shoot

it all starts from this tiny shoot

I did spell it right, right?

I did spell it right, right?

up the vines went, right over the tower and up onto the house

up the vines went, right over the tower and up onto the house

Another batch of lilac fondant, a plunge cutter, a paintbrush, some edible glue, a pair of tweezers and a little pot of tiny edible pearls, and we have pretty flowers.

as close as I get to gardening

as close as I get to gardening

ready to be boxed up and transported to Surrey

ready to be boxed up and transported to Surrey

Rapunzel Cake

Rapunzel Cake

One of the best things about small children is their honesty.  They have absolutely no filter.  Bella’s comments?  “Where’s the glass in the window?”  “Why isn’t Rapunzel in the house?”  “Where’s Flynn Rider?”  Later, though, I overheard her chatting with her little buddies whilst looking at the cake and claiming “I’m going to eat the Rapunzel bit.  That bit’s for me because I’m the birthday girl.”  Well, she’s made of plastic, my tiny friend, but feel free to give it a go.

Later still, she told me, “I don’t like the icing.  I’ll just eat the cake.”  A girl after my own heart.

Happy birthday, Annabella xx

Cherry Pie

What better reason for trying an exciting new recipe than a visit from lovely family?  None.  My wonderful Mum and her wonderful fella John made a Sunday day trip to see me in London this weekend, which was an absolute joy.  John – a self-confessed foodie – had never experienced the modern day marvel that is Whole Foods so I took them for a jaunt along High Street Kensington to have a mooch around one of my favourite shops of all time.  He was like a kid in a sweet shop, which was a joy to behold!  Bewitched, bewildered and billed, we walked back to my house for a feast of duck with baked honey-balsamic figs, sautéed potatoes and fine beans, followed by home-made cherry pie.

Pastry
250g plain flour
50g icing sugar
150g unsalted butter, cubed
2 egg yolks
4tsp cold water

Cherry filling
800g fresh cherries
100g caster sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1tbsp lemon juice
½tsp vanilla extract
50g cornflour
½tsp ground cinnamon
good grating of nutmeg

Milk for brushing pastry

Sieve the flour and icing sugar into a bowl, add the butter and rub in with your fingertips until it becomes a sandy consistency.  Add the egg yolks and water, mix up to a soft paste then wrap well and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Pastry stage 1

Pastry stage 1

Pastry stage 2 - sandy consistency

Pastry stage 2 – sandy consistency

Pastry stage 3 - ready to refrigerate

Pastry stage 3 – ready to refrigerate

Pit the cherries.  If you’re brave and have plenty of time on your hands, do it manually.  If you’re sufficiently lazy to buy yourself a cherry pitter (*raises hand*) it’ll take you about 10 minutes.  BE WARNED: however you choose to do it, wear an apron over a short-sleeved top and be prepared for your kitchen to look like a crime scene and your hands to look like prime suspects.  Those juicy little beauties splash.

Cherries - pitted

Cherries – pitted

Throw your pitted cherries in a big bowl and scatter over the sugar, lemon zest and juice, vanilla, spices and cornflour.  Stir through thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour to allow the cherries to macerate.

Cherries - ready to macerate

Cherries – ready to macerate

Butter and flour your pie dish.  Halve your pastry and roll out one half between two sheets of cling film.  Peel the top sheet off and use the other to move the pastry to the pie dish.  The pastry will be fragile so be careful not to manipulate it too much.

Pastry case

Pastry case

Give the cherry mixture a good stir, then tip the lot into the pie dish.  Roll out the second batch of pastry and cut fine strips for the lattice top.  Lay the first strip across the middle, then across the middle the other way.  Keep laying strips across, being careful to fold strips back when another needs to be woven underneath.  When you’ve finished weaving the lattice, smush the ends into the edges, then brush with milk and refrigerate for another 30 minutes.  Preheat the oven to 200C.  

Cherry pie - almost there...

Cherry pie – almost there…

Cherry pie - laying the lattice

Cherry pie – laying the lattice

Cherry pie - lattice complete

Cherry pie – lattice complete

Bake for 15 minutes at 200C, then reduce the temperature to 160C and bake for a further 35-40 minutes or until the filling starts to bubble.  If the pastry starts to brown too much, cover loosely with a sheet of foil.

Cherry pie - baked

Cherry pie – baked

Cherry pie - with "slices" taken out

Cherry pie – with “slices” taken out

Cherry pie - a "slice"

Cherry pie – a “slice”

Serve warm, with vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.  YUM.

Gin & Lime Cake II

In May, I enjoyed a fantastic long weekend in Wales with a dozen friends who were climbing Mount Snowdon for Opera for Change. Its director (and brother of my most fabulous friend, Cat) is the multi-talented Andy, alongside whom I catered the weekend’s meals. We had an absolute blast that weekend. I digress. When Andy’s birthday rolled round (today, in fact) I took the opportunity to give the Gin & Lime cake another bash, hoping to improve upon my first effort. If the reviews are to be believed, I must have achieved my goal.

Sponge
225g unsalted butter, room temperature
350g caster sugar
4 large eggs (I used duck eggs)
Zest of 2 limes – about 1½ tbsp
1tsp vanilla extract
375g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
¼tsp salt
60ml decent gin (I used Tanqueray)
60ml milk
Juice of 1 lime

Syrup
180g caster sugar
5tbsp gin (Now, personally, I think this could have handled more than 5tbsp gin as the flavour was very subtle – next time, I might try 6 or 7.)
Juice of 1 lime

Buttercream
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
375-500g icing sugar, depending on how sweet your sweet tooth is
Zest of 2 limes
Juice of 1-2 limes (start with one and see how your texture is doing – you’ll need to balance the fluid with the icing sugar)

Shopping list tip: a bag of 5 limes will do the job for this cake

Fully line your tin with baking parchment (to prevent the syrup from escaping or making the cake stick irretrievably to the bottom. This recipe works best as a single layer ‘tray-bake’ rather than a stacked cake, so a square or rectangular tin works well. It doesn’t really matter what size you choose as long as you adjust the timing so that you bake it until it’s done. I didn’t fancy schlepping a cake box across town to the pub so I used a broad-based paper carrier bag that had once contained lots of delicious chocolates. In a moment of unprecedented forethought that impressed even my mother (the queen of forethought), I measured the bottom of the bag and made my multisize tin fit (11” x 8” (leaving enough mixture for three small cupcakes (for Quality Control purposes, you understand)). I then discovered – to my delight – that it was almost exactly the size of my placemats, so one of those served as a cake plate. In the words of The A-Team’s stogie-smoking Hannibal Smith: I love it when a plan comes together.

I digress. Again. Preheat your oven to 180C.

Stage 1

Stage 1

Beat your butter until it’s creamy, add the sugar and beat for a good 4-5 minutes, until fluffy and pale. Add one egg at a time, beating thoroughly after each one. Zest the lime directly into the bowl and add the vanilla, then beat again.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt together in a separate bowl and add half to the butter mixture. From this point onwards, avoid over-beating otherwise your cake won’t be as light as it could be. Beat gently, then add the gin, lime juice and milk, and beat gently again. Finally, add the rest of flour etc and beat just until thoroughly combined.

Pour into your tin and bake for around 35-45 minutes, testing with a skewer to make sure it’s properly cooked.

Oven ready

Oven ready

About 15 minutes into the baking time, put your syrup ingredients in a small saucepan and heat very gently (I have six heat settings on my hob and used the second) for approximately 10-15 minutes, stirring all the time. The idea is that you want the caster sugar to dissolve into the gin and lime juice without burning off too much of the alcohol – it might not all dissolve but the syrup will start to appear clearer, at which point take it off the heat and wait for the oven timer to ping.

Syrup, before heating and after

Syrup, before heating and after

When the cake comes out of the oven, sit it on a cooling rack but leave it in its tin. While it’s hot, stab the cake enthusiastically with a skewer, then use a soup spoon to drizzle the gin syrup all over the cake (if you pour directly from the saucepan, you’re less likely to get even coverage). Leave to soak and cool completely.

Baked sponge - warm, skewered and soaking in gin syrup

Baked sponge – warm, skewered and soaking in gin syrup

Standard buttercream instructions: throw the soft butter in the mixer and give it a good blast until it’s creamy, then sift the icing sugar in. Either mix it in gently with a rubber spatula or cover the mixer with a tea-towel before switching on at a low speed, otherwise a cloud of icing sugar will billow up into your kitchen, which will (a) make you choke and (b) necessitate the immediate recruitment of a white-coat-clad clean-up team. Zest the two limes directly into the bowl and blitz for a good 5 minutes. The longer you beat, the fluffier it will be.

With the employment of a cunning cake-lowering-in-and-lifting-out device made from foil lined parchment and a bit of home-made bunting, the cake was ready for its journey to the pub in Angel.

Bunting-clad, packed and ready for the tube journey

Bunting-clad, packed and ready for the tube journey

I was pleased to see that the mice in this establishment were so refined that they used cutlery to half-inch a bit of cake.

In situ, after the 'mice' had been

In situ, after the ‘mice’ had been

Where there’s a will, there’s a wedding cake…

A few months ago, my Mum’s colleagues Andy and Clare asked me to make their wedding cake.  Having sung at weddings for more years than I care to admit, I’m acutely aware of the honour of being asked to contribute to such an event, and of the significance of every detail to the couple in question.  So after discussing their thoughts, I considered it carefully and decided that – with a trial or two – I could do it.  Andy and Clare are designers, so they care a great deal about the aesthetic and fine detail of every element of their day.  Fortunately, my perfectionist streak and control freakery are irrepressible.

First stop, pink sponge recipe (improved once again)…

Quantities for a 13cm tall 5-layer 20cm sponge:
415g unsalted butter (room temperature)
415g caster sugar
2tsp vanilla extract
415g self-raising flour
3tsp baking powder
2tbsp low fat yoghurt
355g egg white (available in cartons from Two Chicks)
Gel food colourings

For the 14cm tall 5-layer 26cm sponge, I doubled these quantities, baked six sponges and discarded the palest.  You might wonder why I didn’t just split the doubled quantities between five sponges rather than making six and discarding one.  The reasons are twofold: (a) I didn’t want the cake to be so tall that fondant covering became impossible, and (b) I knew I had to mix the doubled recipe in two batches because I could only fit two sponges in the oven at once, and when cake mixture sits for too long before baking, it can go over and yield sub-standard results.  I could get away with leaving one sponge-worth to sit for 20 minutes but not for much longer.  Make sense?  It also gave me the opportunity to Quality Check the sponge and – honestly – this was one of the lightest, fluffiest sponges I have ever baked.

I’m a firm believer that the quality of ingredients has a direct impact on the quality of the result, so I raided Waitrose of its finest goods.

Only the best will do

Only the best will do

In brief, method:
Preheat to 180 (150 fan).  Weigh empty mixing bowl.  Beat butter, sugar and vanilla until almost white and very fluffy.  Add half the flour and baking powder and beat a little.  Add half the yoghurt and beat until combined.  Add the rest of the flour and beat a little.  Add the rest of the yoghurt and beat until combined.  Weigh full mixing bowl, then divide mixture into however many bowls you decide you want.  Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and set aside for a moment.  Thoroughly mix your gel colouring into each bowl as desired.  Split the egg white between the bowls and fold in thoroughly.  Bake 20cm sponges for around 11-13 minutes; 26cm sponges for 17-20 minutes.

26cm sponges ready to be stacked

26cm sponges ready to be stacked

I reduced the sugar in my buttercream because fondant is incredibly sweet and I didn’t want to be responsible for children at the wedding bouncing off the walls until midnight.

For 20cm cake (enough to stack and thinly coat before fondant; not enough for a buttercream finished cake):
250g unsalted butter
375g icing sugar
1-2tbsp whole milk

For 26cm cake (likewise):
500g unsalted butter
750g icing sugar
2-4tbsp whole milk

Beat into submission – 5 minutes or more.  The longer you beat, the fluffier it’ll be.

I did a thin layer (shown below), refrigerated it for ten minutes, then did a slightly thicker layer over the top.

Stacked

Stacked

Now, my mother quite rightly pointed out that Andy and Clare planned to keep the top tier until after their honeymoon, so nobody would ever see a slice from each tier together and therefore colour matching wasn’t a burning issue.  However, aforementioned control freakery dictates that when the newlyweds return and defrost their top tier, they should experience a carbon copy of what they had on Le Jour Grand.  It’s only right, right?  So, I reserved a little splodge of each sponge mixture from the bottom tier so that I could match the top tier to it.  Go ahead.  Judge me.  (N.B. The palest sponge was rejected at the stacking stage.)

Colour matching

Colour matching

Next came fun with fondant.  My NEMESIS.  The fondant for The Big’Un had to be rolled to at least 54cm in diameter (which is only 6cm short of the depth of a standard kitchen worktop, I am told).  Big.  So I used about 2.25kg of Renshaw’s fondant for this one, and about 1.25kg for the 20cm tier.  Wrangling so much fondant at such a massive diameter was really challenging for me, and I can’t say I was entirely happy with the finish but I did the absolute best I could, and the flaws were concealed by the top tier and forgiving lighting.  Thankfully, the top tier was absolutely perfect (even if I do say so myself).

20cm teir, covered with fondant

top tier, covered with fondant

When it came to decorating the bottom tier, Andy and Clare found a gorgeous peony skeleton motif that would tie in beautifully with their fresh peonies.  I drew the motif on grid paper, reduced it by 75% on a photocopier then traced the full sized one onto a long strip of baking paper, flanked by a smaller version either side.  I then pinned this strip to the cake, used a blunt instrument to create a slight indent on the cake so that I could pipe the dots in the right place without the indents being visible.

Tracing the peony design

Tracing the peony design

Skeleton peony detail piped by hand

Skeleton peony detail piped by hand

You’ll notice that the fondant goes all the way to the bottom of the cake.  Beneath is a thick cake drum the exact diameter of the cake itself.  I used a cake lifter to place it carefully on the base of the cake box as soon as I had finished the fondant so that I didn’t need to move it again before I sat it on its gorgeous wooden plinth at the venue.  The slightest misplaced fingerprint could’ve been a significant problem.

At this point, I sat down for a hard-earned gin cocktail.

Gin, Cucumber, Mint and Lime Spritzer

Gin, Cucumber, Mint and Lime Spritzer

The following morning, I woke bright and early, mainly to check that the cakes were still there and hadn’t inexplicably imploded overnight.  A short drive later, I was nervously assembling the cake at the venue with the help of some plastic dowels to make sure the top tier didn’t sink into the bottom.  Finished with a ribbon chosen by the bride herself and some stunning peonies that matched her bouquet, the cake sat in its spotlight.

Stacked, dressed and in situ

Stacked, dressed and in situ

With the bride's bouquet, ready to be cut

With the bride’s bouquet, ready to be cut

In all its glory

In all its glory

My favourite review was given the following morning by almost-three-year-old Maisy:

Maisy’s Mum Lucy: “Did you have a nice time yesterday?”
Maisy: “Yes.”
Lucy: “What was your favourite bit?”
Maisy: “The cake.”

Boom.

A little collage

Gin, Lemon & Lime Cake

Unfathomably (he paid me to say that), my friend Nick just turned 40 so I asked him what variety of baked goodness he might like.  When he chose a lemon cake, I confess that my heart sank ever so slightly, echoing the woeful rise I’ve achieved with previous lemon cake exploits.  A week or two later, another friend and fellow gin fan Lexie sent me a link to a Gin & Tonic cake recipe.  As fortune would have it, Nick rather enjoys a G&T so I decided to try and break the lemon cake curse by throwing gin into the mix.

Personally, I think it’s a little rude to tinker with someone’s carefully crafted recipe before you’ve tried it so I fully intended to give this cake a bash entirely unchanged, but one unexpectedly dead lime, forgetting to buy tonic and the fact that Nick had previously requested lemon buttercream on his lemon cake meant that a little jiggery-pokery was necessary.

(Also, I’ve converted the original cup measurements to metric weights, as I find it easier.)

Cake
375g plain flour
2tsp baking powder
¼tsp salt
225g unsalted butter, room temperature
350g caster sugar
4 large eggs
2tsp vanilla extract
1½tbsp freshly zested rind – ideally from limes, though I had to sub in a bit of lemon
60ml gin
60ml milk
juice of 1 lime

Drizzle
200g icing sugar
2-5tbsp gin
juice of 1 lime

Lemon Buttercream
250g unsalted butter, room temperature
500g icing sugar
zest and juice (approx 2tbsp) of 1 lemon

I followed the brilliant instructions on the original recipe, except I was too late to spot the advice about starting with 1-2tbsp of gin for the glaze; I went all-in with 5tbsp…  And I don’t regret it.

If you bake frequently, I’d encourage you to stick one of these brilliant multisize square cake tins on your Christmas list.  They give pleasingly sharp corners and take up very little cupboard space.  (Middle-aged comment alert.)

A fully lined 10" square tin

A fully lined 9″ square tin

A VERY orange egg yolk (Old Cotswold Legbar)

A VERY orange egg yolk (Old Cotswold Legbar)

Mmmm gin

Mmmm gin

Look closely to see the zest

Look closely to see the zest

Pouring the highly alcoholic glaze

Pouring the highly alcoholic glaze

Cooling and soaking

Cooling and soaking

For the buttercream, beat the butter until soft, then add the icing sugar.  Combine by hand with a rubber spatula before giving it a good beating in the mixer.  Zest the lemon directly into the bowl then add the juice.  Beat again.  I made mine on an extremely hot day so I had to add more sugar to get it to the right texture.

MANLY cake

MANLY cake

Nothing delicate or girly about this monster.  Excellent.

Flavour feedback: fresh, citrus flavour with a delicate but detectable tang of gin if you breathe in right after you take a bite.  A definite winner.