Throughout the whole experience so far, from bread to chocolate, jam to pasta, there has been one glaring omission from my From Scratch story. Those of you who know me can probably guess, and for those of you who don’t you can also probably guess!
What else could it be but the master of all food loveliness – CAKE!
When it comes to cake I am like a sugar starved child with a constant image of what could be if only I had a slice of mouth watering chocolate, lemon, carrot, banana (you name it, I love it … except coffee, but nobody likes coffee) cake.
So before I disappear into the spongy goodness forever, let’s talk cake.
Given this love of cake you won’t be surprised to hear that my lack of cake blogs aren’t a result of an absence of cake, I’ve made loads, probably about 1 a week. It’s just I have always made cakes, so it doesn’t feel special or original in any way, in short not really worth blogging about. But after a weekend in which I made 3 cakes and a set of macaroons, I felt the need to share my adoration for cakes.
A little more background before we start: I have always baked a mean cake, for which I have to thank my mother for her patience with me and my sister in the kitchen from a young age. However presentation is another matter, in fact it’s always been a bit of a bug bear for me.
So last month for my friends 30th Birthday, I wanted to not only make cake that sizzled the taste buds, but simultaneously bewildered the eyes. A veritable feast for the senses.
The gauntlet was thrown down. I set myself a challenge: 2 cakes, 1 day.
Black Forest Gateau and classic Victoria Sponge. And because I love a good bake, I decided to whip up a loaf of bread, a banana cake, and some macaroons on the side. Nothing wrong with ambition!
An epic day of flour, butter, sugar, and rose petals; from hence forth known only as ‘Baking Saturday’. The sort of title that bodes a great moment in the history books – an era defining day that changed the lives of everyone, everywhere, forever.
With this in mind I will try and keep this to a gripping journalistic take on the experience rather than a ancient never ending tome.
So Saturday 12pm:
The first revelation of the day was the cake decorating shop I discovered. A supermarket is no longer good enough. The experience of the cake decorating shop was invigorating. It’s like being in a sweet shop, except instead of being surrounded by jars of humbugs and liquorice you are surrounded by sugared flowers, food colouring, edible glitter, icing, cake stands, boxes, ribbons and so much more! Heaven!
This is when it hit me, a little more prep and some specialist shops could change by presentation woes forever.
So back to the baking. Saturday 1pm
The real work starts..
Starting at 1pm finishing at 7pm meant it was a whole day experience. I don’t know if I would have made it in the Great British Bake Off, but in my head I did… and won. But before I start handing myself undeserved accolades (‘The Best Cake Baker on Planet Earth’) you might have a different interpretation, so here is how it went.
I started with the sponge , the simple and well practiced classic.
Classic Victoria sponge ( this recipe is for a 3 level cake – if you want an ordinary sandwich I would decrease down to 6oz and 3eggs or 4oz and 2eggs)
- 10 oz Butter
- 10 oz Caster Sugar
- 5 Eggs
- 10 oz Self Raising flour
- Strawberry jam – see previous blog for recipe
- Strawberries, raspberries and blueberries for decoration
- 2oz Butter
- 5oz Icing Sugar
- A dash of Milk
- Heat the oven to 180 C
- Cream the butter and sugar together
- Whisk up the eggs until light and fluffy (I think most people slightly under whisk there eggs so spend a little more time)
- Weigh out the flour
- Slowly add the eggs to the butter and sugar, make sure you stir in, if it looks like it’s getting too liquidy add a bit of flour to avoid it curdling
- Finally combine the rest of the flour into the mix
- Grease 3 tins and divide the mixture evenly
- Heat in the oven for 20-25 mins, once cooked remove from the heat and leave to cool on wire racks ( small tip – if you want to check if it’s cooked put sharp knife or kebab stick into the middle – if it comes out clean the cake is done!)
- Next is the exciting bit – Icing!
- For the icing mix together the butter and icing sugar until you have a smooth paste, add a dash of milk to loosen the mixture
- Wash the fruit and cut some of the strawberries
- Once the cake has cooled slowly layer the cake adding strawberry jam followed by butter cream followed by fruit to each layer. On the top layer only use only butter cream and be quite decadent with your use of fruit on the top – I think quantity here really does mean quality
- For a final piece de resistance make some chocolate leaves ( recipe to follow ) and garnish with some edible gold dust!
Here is the result!
Due to the busy schedule there was no time to marvel at my own brilliance, we can save that for later.
2:30pm Cake Numero 2
Again this was a three layer cake, which I made by pouring the mixture evenly into 3 tins.
- 2oz cocoa sifted
- 6oz self raising flour
- 1 rounded teaspoon baking powder
- 6 tbs boiling water
- 3 eggs
- 120 ml (4 floz) milk
- 4oz soft baking margarine
- 10 oz caster sugar
- 1 Jar Morello or tinned cherries in syrup
- 5oz plain chocolate
- 10floz Double Cream
- Left over dark, milk and white chocolate
- Edible Glitter
- Put cocoa and boiling water in mixer/processor and blend for 1-2 min (I did this by hand)
- If using processor / mixer put in remaining ingredients and process until mixture a smooth thickish batter. Otherwise cream margarine with cocoa and sugar whisk egg and add a little at a time with milk, flour and baking powder
- Divide mixture between three tins
- Cook in oven 180 C on same shelf of oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove and turn out onto cooling rack after 5 min. Leave to cool completely before removing greaseproof paper
- For the icing, whip up half the double cream, chop the tinned cherries and piece together the layers with cream and cherries – with a little bit of syrup
- Then using a double boil (boiling water in pan with glass bowl on top) melt the dark chocolate and cream together then leave on the side to cool, it’s ready to use when it looks like its setting
- Again using a double boil melt dark chocolate, get some washed leaves from the garden, dip them in the chocolate on one side and leave to cool, and repeat the process with white chocolate and milk chocolate
- With a palate knife ice the top and sides of the cake, slowly adding so you end up with even coverage at the end
- Once the leaves have cooled slowly peel the chocolate off. Don’t worry if they break a little – it’s a very delicate process so I just added them slightly dishevelled- I think in fact it adds to the look
- Finally add chopped cherries, chocolate leaves and edible glitter to the cake and you’re done!
This is what the finished article looked like:
After this I was still raring to go, so after blitzing through another white loaf my keen baking eyes spotted some over ripe bananas. What else can you do but make banana cake?
I cheated a bit here and just adapted the Victoria sponge recipe – so I wont go into to much detail.
In short.. recipe goes like this
- 4oz butter
- 4oz Sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 mashed bananas
- 4 ¼ oz self raising flour
- Classic butter cream from Victoria sponge recipe
- Cream the butter and sugar together
- Whisk the egg until its very frothy
- Slowly add bit by bit mixing as you go
- Then add the flour a little at a time, keeping about a quarter of it back
- Then stir in the mashed banana and add the remaining flour, then pour into a greased tin and bake for 25 mins
- Remove from the oven and leave to cool
- You can have it as is, or ice it with some butter cream and then sprinkle with crushed walnuts
So by this point it was about 5.30pm and I was buzzing. Then it hit me: Macaroons – what a wonderful birthday present.
I think the confidence from my success so far gave me the bravado to assume that I could pull off one of the most notoriously difficult baked goods at my first attempt.
Nonetheless I think the baking gods were smiling on me as my macaroons worked first time and were delicious!
If you want to attempt your own baking miracles here is the method I used ( as I said these are notoriously hard to make so I think a key component is keeping your fingers crossed it will work at all times.)
- 4 ½ oz Icing Sugar
- 4 ½ oz Ground Almonds
- 3 ½ oz free range egg whites (stupid I know I think this was about 2 eggs)
- 2 tbsp Water
- 4oz Caster Sugar
- food colouring
- 5 floz double cream whipped
- Preheat the oven to 170c and line a baking tray with greaseproof paper
- Put the icing sugar, ground almonds and 1 ½oz of egg white ( this is just under half the egg whites so best thing to do is judge it with your eyes) together in a bowl and mix into a paste
- Put the water and caster sugar in a small pan and heat gently to melt the sugar. Then turn up the heat and boil until the mixture thickens ( now I did this nad then did the next step and my sugar was rock solid so my recommendation start of your gentle melting and do step 4 then go back to sugar)
- Whisk the remaining egg whites in a small bowl until medium stiff peaks form
- Then add the sugar syrup and whisk until the mixture is stiff and shiny
- Add food colouring to this ( I did two colours so I split both mixes in half – not the wisest decision but I was quite lucky)
- Tip the meringue mixture into the almond paste mix and stir gently until it becomes stiff and shiny again
- Put the mixture into a piping bag ( pipe a bit of mixture under each corner of greaseproof paper to avoid it moving on baking tray) With the bag held vertically pip about 4cm flat circles about 2 cm apart
- Once you have finished piping you should be left with circles with small peaks give your baking tray 2-3 light slams to flatten these out
- Leave to stand for half an hour to form a skin and then bake for 12-15 mins with the door slightly ajar until firm. Remove from the oven, lifting the greaseproof paper off the tray leave to cool on paper.
- When cool sandwich the macaroons together with whipped cream ( I put a drop of food colouring in with cream so it matched my macaroons- but of course this is just optional)
And there you have it, 3 cakes – or technically 7 with all the layers, and 1 batch of macaroons, not forgetting the loaf of bread
I was all baked out but a blissful floury mess, the meditation of a good bake can’t be beaten.
So what did I learn: preparation, preparation, preparation, or to put it more mathematically preparation and time = good cake and good presentation.
All in all, well worth the effort.
I have now decided I want to set up a cake baking business in my spare time, specialising in Pac Man cakes – that way I always get a slice!
Talk about having your cake and eating it…