Alright, here is the tale of the cranachan cake. It is very much with the words. The words are a bit rambly, and potentially a bit dull. Skim as required.
My friend Mr F is moving home to Italy, after living and working in Scotland. This makes me sad. I’m not the only one, either; it makes everyone at work sad, and it’s a big place. We had a leaving do for him last nigh; I use the word ‘we’ even though I had no input whatsoever to the night except for turning up and bringing cake, then dancing till half two in the morning. Since that was my only contribution, I wanted to make it a decent one, so I did two big cakes in the hopes that lots of people will get to have a wee bit; it’s bound to be one of the best attended leaving nights that anyone’s ever seen. I have no idea if either got sliced on the night or if Mr F took them home – I can only hope they came to a good end. At any rate, having decided to make two cakes, I then had to decide what kind. Hm.
Did I mention that Mr F is Italian? And that he’s been living in Scotland? Two countries, two cakes; it’s almost like it was meant to be. Once I hit on that idea it was easy to choose flavours, I just went for the most clichéd desserts I could think of. For the Scottish themed cake, I used the traditional Scottish dessert cranachan. I’m not really a great fan of cranachan, if I’m honest, but cranachan cake, on the other hand… Well, it’s bound to be an improvement. So, my plan was to create a whisky and raspberry sponge, fill and coat it with buttercream (not whipped cream, which couldn’t be left out at room temperature for as long and also would have to be made at the last minute, rather than ahead of time) then coat with toasted oats. I like the sound of it, even though I don’t like the taste of whisky; I’ve used it in baking before and the medicinal taste bakes out, leaving a nice boozy taste underneath. The plan didn’t go exactly right, and I had to add a middle layer of raspberry oat sponge, but overall the concept was good.
I bought up all my cake ingredients for these two, and also for the birthday cake I’ll be making this weekend, at once. This meant a stagger home with two extremely hefty shopping bags, and sore shoulders this morning. There’s also nothing quite like trying to carry bags which are just within your lift limit up two flights of stairs. I’m always happy to get home, but heavy shopping really makes you appreciate your own front door, you know? As I was shopping, I had a spark of inspiration. A moment of genius, perhaps. I decided that I would combine the whisky and raspberries a couple of days *before* making the cake, to give the flavours time to infuse. I would get raspberry flavoured whisky, and whisky flavoured raspberries, and the whole cake would benefit. Huzzah! When I got home, I pushed a punnet of raspberries into an empty glass bottle and topped up with about 200ml of whisky – Whyte and MacKay, to be precise. I chose this on the basis that there were no other half bottles available in the shops and I didn’t want to stop at another shop, laden down with bags, to buy a half bottle of whisky. I would have looked like a crazy bag lady. I know that’s an insensitive turn of phrase, but when you get right down to it, it’s the truth; I’d have appeared to be a crazy bag lady wearing a pirate hat, at that. No, I just bought what I could get and hoped for the best. One thing I did think while I was poking raspberries into the neck of the bottle was that I’d have to smush these self same raspberries up if I wanted to get them back out of the bottle again, but they came out with no real persuasion other than a bit of a shoogle. Still, a bowl might have been a better choice, or a jug, or really anything. I also put one raspberry into the Whyte and Mackay bottle. I don’t know why I did that. I must have had raspberry fever. You can see it in that photo, bobbing around at the back.
Phase two of the cranachan cake was deciding on a recipe. Any recipes for whisky (or whiskey) cake I already had, or could find, were for heavy cakes using brown sugar and spices – that’s a traditional whisky cake. That is also not what I wanted. I wanted a light coloured, light textured sponge; cranachan consists mostly of whipped cream with bits in. The cranachan fans among you will no doubt be outraged by this description; to you, I say ‘Gie yersels peace. It’s whipped cream with bits in’. To try to capture the essence of the dessert, I needed a soft, moist sponge with all the right flavours in to. What did I do? I freestyled, of course. Here’s my recipe for cranachan cake, and may it do you good:
- 6oz butter
- 4oz margarine
- 8oz golden granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 8oz plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 150g of whisky-soaked raspberries – reserve eight raspberries from the punnet for decoration
For the raspberry oat sponge:
- 150g butter
- 125g caster sugar
- 75g oats, ground into flour
- 50g plain flour
- 50ml vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 75g raspberries, fresh or frozen and defrosted
For the whiskey honey drizzle:
- 100ml raspberry infused whisky
- 3 tbsp honey
When it came to it, the whisky soaked raspberries came out of the bottle with very little persuasion, which was great, but some of them had gone a bit wrong in there – had lost their colour and gone on the yellow side of things – I think this is probably where the fruit was a bit based or otherwise damaged. I picked through them and took out any bad bits, then rinsed the excess whiskey off them. The whisky had gone a great colour and was definitely sweeter and less rank than it had been to start (I’m not a whisky fan at all, if you couldn’t already tell).
To make to whisky raspberry sponge, I combined the butter and margarine, then added the sugar and mixed until light and fluffy. I added the eggs one at a time, then folded in the flour, baking powder and soda, and finally the raspberries. I poured into a greased and floured ten-inch cake tin, and baked in a 170C oven until firm but springy to the touch – I have lost my grasp of how long that might have been in the baking frenzy that this weekend has so far been. I think it was about forty minutes …?
Towards the end of the baking time, I put 100ml of the whisky I’d soaked the raspberries in into a pot, and added the honey to melt. When the cake came out of the oven, I used a skewer to make holes in the sponge, then poured this over the top. DISCLAIMER: this led to an extremely moist sponge, to the point of almost excessive moistness, and I have no idea if it tasted too strongly of whisky. I would probably reduce the amount to 50 or 75ml another time. I am awaiting feedback…
To counteract the booziness and softness of the whisky cakes, I made a raspberry oat sponge to go in the middle. For this one, I started by separating the eggs, then whisking the whites until stiff. Then I mixed the yolks with the butter, sugar and oil until pale and creamy. I mixed in the flour and baking powder with the hand mixer, then carefully folded in the egg whites, starting with one spoonful to lighten the mix and make it easier to fold the rest in. Finally, he raspberries wen in, carefully so as not to knock too much air out, then I baked this at 170C, again for a non-specific length of time – 20 – 30 minutes might be right. Then again, it might not.
The whisky cake got split in two, after resting overnight, and all three layers were held together with a plain buttercream – that is, a combination of 250g butter and 400g icing sugar. 150g of the finished result was set aside for icing another cake, the rest went towards this one. The very top layer of the cake was upside down, so that the flat, sliced side was the top surface. I quartered the icing; half went to layer the three sponges, then another quarter went round the outside of the cake, with the final quarter being reserved for decoration and emergencies. Before I started icing the edge of the cake, I toasted 50g of oats in a frying pan until browned and fragrant. I transferred them to a bowl to cool, and once the icing was done I pressed them round the edges of the cake. I’m getting right into decorating cakes this way, though of course it does make a bit of an old mess. Also it’s important to let the oats cool down, having to go to hospital with a burned hand and explain that you got it from raw porridge would be too embarrassing.
The final touch was to pipe on some buttercream flowers, then pop the reserved raspberries on top of those. Et voila!