This is a cake for people who don’t think they’re into cake.
I’m sure you all have one of those friends (or colleagues … or bosses). Well. This cake will turn them. To me, this is what cake is all about. There’s no fuss or fondant, and every element celebrates the others in a beautifully simple way. I made it up on a lazy Sunday afternoon in which the salted caramel set a precedent for me to be unusually productive.
Maybe it’s because I know my winter will be broken up by one month of glorious, European summer, but I am so enjoying the crisp autumn days lately, the wearing of sleeves and the changes in produce that the seasons bring. Now that I’m comfortable enough to essentially throw together a recipe of my own accord, it is so much easier to base what I make around what looks best at the farmer’s market. I’m reading that sentence now and realising I sound like an utter food wanker. But basically, the pears were cheap and fresh and this cake is delicious. You need to make it and experience it for yourself.
This birthday cake went down purr-fectly!
Given that my flat-mate Emma is not particularly into treats of the “too sweet” variety, an autumnal apple and walnut cake seemed the perfect way to celebrate. In fact, there was almost more apple going on than cake! The maple cream cheese icing accompanied it perfectly – despite being a little reluctant to pipe! The cake itself is delicious enough in its own right not to require animal adornment, and the perfect addition to an afternoon tea.
I think this cake speaks for itself.
Perhaps it’s the fact each of the layers of this one was a different, garish colour – or maybe the marvellous consistency of cake drips down the sides, but this cake was pretty much the ultimate statement to myself that I can produce something both genuinely beautiful and very, very edible. I’ve undeniably drawn inspiration from the incredible Sweetapolita and Katherine Sabbath, but the satisfaction of creating this was utterly all my own.
I’m feeling much more confident with the technique of assembling layer cakes neatly (cling wrap and freeze the cakes, crumb coat, secure the cake to the stand with a blob of frosting, thank me later). This cake, however, involved two new experiments: 1) cooking meringues using Ottolenghi’s method and 2) Swiss meringue buttercream. I’ve never played with either of them, and they both played roles in the huge success of this cake. This cake could just as easily be iced with regular buttercream, but spreading my wings into the SMB territory means I have much more flexibility with a smoother, richer and less cloyingly sweet frosting to play with. I would not do it without a sugar thermometer, however if you have one on hand (and you should, do I need to write a fudge recipe to convince you?), it’s pretty much paint by numbers.
Bizarrely, the person who told me it was “the best cake he’d eaten all year” (easy to achieve I suppose, though we are already halfway through April), also suggested that my cake could have perhaps been created to celebrate Rastafarianism. I was really trying for mermaid meringue dreaminess, but I suppose I left it rather open to interpretation.
Once again, “where do you have the time?” came into play with this cake (I brought it to work for a birthday). It took, at most, four hours of dedicated time in the kitchen (excluding time for cooling cakes, baking, etc). For me, to produce such a pretty final product whilst learning new cooking techniques is something I’m always going to find time for. It’s how I relax, but it’s also how I feel fulfilled.
While I have been baking less frequently lately, I’m trying to do so with more care, i.e. extra hours of day dreaming. Quality over voracious quantity, I suppose – with respect to reminding myself I don’t have to bring treats in to work everyday despite having set a precedent for such a thing to be expected (an expectation I entirely place on myself – thank you, type A personality). I’m pleased with the result – creating something in person that is just as beautiful as what I’ve pictured in my head is enough to induce genuine squealing (of joy, not like a pig stuck in a fence or something). This cake is no exception.
It is a creme egg in cake form – the bottom and top layers made from chocolate fudge mud cake, the middle vanilla buttermilk (both arising from the same initial batter because I am that lazy or efficient, depending on how you want to look at it). The filling between is a buttercream attempt at the fondant inside the egg, and the Dairy Milk fudge icing completes it, with actual Creme eggs and other Easter treats to complete it. I’m a loyal Whittaker’s girl in most respects, but their lack of Easter goodies and desire to recreate Cadbury’s ubiquitous Easter egg means the Dairy Milk is absolutely non-negotiable.
My Dad remarked over beef rendang, which incidentally, I had stirred religiously all afternoon, that my baking on here was a little “over the top”.
This post is not so much as to assure him that that is entirely the point of my baking, but rather to enforce the idea that layer cakes are neither hard nor time consuming. I can assure you I spent more time thinking about making this than I actually did in the preparation.
I’ve learned a few tips with layer cakes – and these are neither novel nor necessary, but they certainly make life easier:
- Read the recipe so you know what you’re getting into before the get go. I don’t mean cast your eye over it – layer cakes take patience and planning in order to be fuss free.
- Have two days to prepare – it’s so much easier to prep cake and topping decorations the day prior to putting it all together.
- Unless you’re using a sponge or light/fluffy textured cake, butter cakes and mud cakes are ideal for wrapping in cling film when cooled and storing in the freezer (for weeks, even!) until ready to decorate. This makes them vastly sturdier and less of a liability re: crumbs, especially in summer heat!
- Don’t skimp on frosting – if anything, make extra. The stress of trying to cover a cake neatly is bad enough without rations being enforced.
- Purchase a proper spatula for smoothing your icing (I found mine at the supermarket, brilliant!) if you like a tidy finish.
- Sprinkles save all things.
After all that is said – this cake had the best effort:aesthetic/taste payoff ratio of any so far. The cake itself is a simple chocolate mud cake with crushed Oreos through, the filling an absolute dupe for the filling of Oreos themselves and the icing I’ve actually modified from what I used myself to be a buttercream with sour cream to offset the sweetness of the entire thing. I don’t think anyone needs a proper reason to eat Oreos, but a celebration or occasion might just be the perfect excuse.
Making salted caramel sauce is becoming something of a weekly habit; it’s no skin off my nose given I generally have sugar, cream and butter on hand. I find any kind of cooking involving the heating of sugar moderately terrifying (re: burns and ruined saucepans), however I’m becoming much more comfortable with bringing it to a gentle simmer over the stove, and so now I find whipping up a jar of it rewardingly satisfying. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say I’ve perfected it – but I’m determined to, and therefore have popped a candy thermometer on my list of things to treat myself to come payday. In any case – I’m coping reasonably well in the meantime.
This cake was effectively rustled up based on things I had on hand, and is by no means limited to summer fruit. I think it would work great with apple segments, and perhaps some toasted walnuts, and I initially brought it to work as a plum variety. Both disappeared on night shift in less than an hour: incredibly pleasing given it takes barely any time to whip up. I didn’t expect something so easy would produce such a glorious result, and this is absolutely going to be on heavy rotation with every kind of fruit variation I can think of.
The effort:payoff ratio of this cake really couldn’t be better – the only things I didn’t have on hand to whip this up in the hour before night shift were lemons (problem solved thanks to the bar across the road). My rush to bake it resulted in its arrival still warm, and its disappearance before cooling entirely. While the decoration side of things may look impressive, I simply used two different sized cake tins, placing the smaller on top after drizzling the larger, and then sprinkled a few decorations on that I thought looked pretty.
The cake recipe is a pretty standard pound cake, and can be easily divided/adjusted according to how large you want it. I usually make it in a loaf pan, however since moving house into an apartment, such a baking item has been lost in translation. It was no worse off for being in a round springform tin, in any case!
I went a bit mad over my last set of nights and baked something for every single shift. One of my goals for January is vaguely more conservative, and that is to only bake once a week. I find the act of bringing in baked goods very positively reinforcing, and I’ve yet to do it in 2015 – I suppose I’m just waiting for the right recipe to catch my eye.
Ingredients (enough to make a layer cake as pictured above, or two small loaves):
- 170g butter, softened
- 170g caster sugar
- 3 eggs, room temperature and free range
- 1 tsp pure vanilla essence
- 170g self-raising flour
- Zest of 3 lemons
- A few tablespoons of milk or plain yoghurt
- For the drizzle: the juice of the 3 lemons and enough icing sugar to get things syrupy (maybe one cup or so)
- Preheat oven to 180C/350F fan-bake. Grease and line your baking tins/loaf tins with baking paper.
- In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, along with the vanilla essence. Beat the flour and zest in on low speed. Add enough milk or yoghurt to loosen the batter so it’s at a “pouring” consistency – slightly gooey.
- Pour into pans and bake until the middle springs back when pressed and a skewer comes out clean – around 20-30 minutes depending on both your oven and the shape of your tin. While baking, make the drizzle simply by combining the lemon juice and icing sugar.
- Cool on racks for 5 minutes before removing from tins. Pierce the cake all over with a bamboo skewer or equivalent spearing item. Drizzle the drizzle on liberally. Decorate with pretty items of your choice (lavender is cute, fresh flowers, pistachios, extra lemon zest …).
- I have no idea how long this keeps for – it’s always disappeared too quickly for me to find such information out.