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Year of the Cake Part Twenty Four: The Birthday Double

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Well, where to begin? I suppose with relieving my camera of the dozens of photos it’s been holding on to over the last few weeks; I did that before coming here to start this post, and found myself quite overwhelmed by the number of photos and the task of sorting through them to delete the rubbish ones and name the decent ones so I can find and share them as I go along. I was surprised as well by the number of different occasions I had been cooking and baking for – though now that I think about it, it’s mainly just been one occasion dragged out to last forever, in the best tradition of these things. It was Miss J’s birthday, so we had dinner at home with the folks (Chinese food, as previously mentioned) and a little cake to share between us, then there was our girls night which required a minor batch of baking, but not a proper cake, and then there was the big party night, for which you might say I ‘pulled out all the stops’, except that I didn’t, really. The thing is, I don’t have that many stops in the first place so it’s difficult for me to know what is enough, what is too much, and what is the Goldilocks amount. I made a four-tier, three flavoured cake, with three different flavours of buttercream and hand-made fondant icing. Too much? Not content with this, I also did a batch of cheddar-jalapeno cornbread muffins and a batch of cheese pretzel bites. Sadly, the whole cake and most of the other snacks came back home with us, to be eaten the day after the party as part of a day of group binge eating. Interestingly, I suffered more mightily for that day of snacking than I had for the consumption of an unspecified (and unrecorded) boozes at the party itself.

I think maybe I’ll do one post on the birthday cakes, then one on the birthday savoury goods. We’ll see how far the subject of the cakes takes me, I suppose. Let’s kick off with a nice picture:

I tried to make a red velvet cake, but had to half the recipe (which can be found here) and that definitely affected things a lot. For one thing, the icing didn’t develop a removable skin so much as turn into a mostly solid mass in the pot – but it tasted good for all that, kind of like the stuff you get in the middle of a swiss roll. The cake itself was on the dry side, and quite crumbly when I took it out of the oven, though the icing glued it together nicely and it sliced well once finished. It was also not really red, per se – once again, I think that this is down to the dubious quality of food dye I’m using. Still though, it was a nice dark chocolate colour at least in parts, and it did taste good and was polished off without too much hesitation, so musn’t grumble.

Here is a picture of the inside – you can see the odd way that the colour took, in that the edges of each layer are chocolate-coloured but the inside is a sort of peculiar burgandy. Burgandy velvet cake doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Plus the texture wasn’t really velvety, so it’d be a burgandy… I’m struggling to find ‘le mot juste’. Burgandy cake cake just about covers it. I am also annoyed about the uneven-ness of the icing inside but I guess that’s a matter of practise. It’s too thick on that top layer, though, there’s no denying it. Well, I *could* deny it, but it’d be the wrong thing to do. One of these days I’ll get round to picking up some good gel food dye and then I’ll make red velvet cake so beautifully red that it’ll stop traffic, and I’ll have to make a sign that says ‘keep going, it’s not a red light, it’s just a cake, and no you can’t have any’.

So that was the first cake, and straightforward it was too, though not the ‘quick something’ I’d initially planned on making, as I baked the three layers separately in just one pan, meaning the baking time was tripled. Originally the G man was going to buy a cake, but I felt too guilty. This is an interesting (for a given value of the word interesting) development I’ve noticed of late; I feel obliged to cook and bake for people, even though I’m sure nobody would expect me to… For a given value of ‘sure’… Still, since I love to be in the kitchen, and love to eat home cooking and baking, it’s mostly a win-win situation. It has lead to some busy kitchen times of late, and some late nights, and a lot of clean-up time that I could have done without. Am considering a table-top dishwasher to help with this, and also to help me meet the environmental health criteria for supplying the public with much-needed cakes, bakes and other treats. Two birds with one stone, and all that.

So, from one three-layered burgandy cake cake to a four-tiered, three flavoured number. I asked Miss J what kinds of cake she liked, and black forest came up. Now, I’m also a great fan of the black forest cake, but I know that not everyone is. I also knew that some people who would be at the birthday party can’t have gluten, so I wanted to try and accommodate them. These things led to me wanting to make a ‘deconstructed’ version of black forest gateau, and I wanted to fondant ice it so I could further develop my fondant icing skills. I knew it would take a lot of work but it was part of my present, and besides anything I was excited about trying something this involved. I made a Plan. Oh yes, Plan with a capital P. I decided that the biggest layer would be chocolate and cherry, with cherry jam and the same vanilla icing that I’d used for the red velvet cake. I also wanted to cover the cake with buttercream before applying the fondant, but I decided that a dark chocolate buttercream was a better option than the vanilla because it would be less cloying; I know fondant can be too sweet in itself so I didn’t want to add to that. I also landed on the idea of making a version of the chocolate coffee bourbon cake that I cut up to make Boozy Brownies before, swapping cherry brandy for the bourbon (and decaf coffee for regular as Miss J can’t go the proper stuff, it allegedly makes her crazy, though how she measures the difference I’m not sure…). I thought that this would be easer than making a sponge then drizzling with the cherry booze, as I’d done last time I made black forest gateau. I was extremely happy with the result; it stayed really moist and flavoursome, although I did have to leave some of the fondant icing off – it was too much after a whole day of eating snack food, my face couldn’t stand any more sugar.

For the gluten free layer, which was to be the next biggest, I decided to make almost the same recipe as the white chocolate and raspberry heart-shaped rainbow cake I’d made for another Miss J’s birthday, but change the flour for rice flour and xanthan gum, and use cherries instead of raspberries to make a soft buttercream icing. I also used cherry jam to fill this one – if cherries weren’t so gosh-darned cotton-pickin’ expensive I’d have had a go at making this myself, too (you see what I mean about not really knowing when to stop? I felt like I was cheating, using shop-bought jam. How odd.). One undesirable effect of the cherries in the buttercream was that after resting a few days between being made and sliced, the cake turned an odd colour, as you can almost see right in the centre of the cake in this picture.  There was a definite blue-ness about the sponge where a particularly large bit of cherry had been spared by the hand blender. I’ve just realise that hand blender sounds like a machine for blending hands, rather than one held by hands. I mean, of course, a hand-held blender, or whisk. Ew. Moving on from that, the white chocolate and cherry cake was good but, I felt, dry by the time it was served. I’d made it on Thursday for eating on Saturday, but it was Sunday night before it was sliced, and with it being wheat-free it was far more inclined to dry out that the other cakes. It still tasted fine, though, and again I don’t think anyone turned it down even two days later; there’s no accounting for taste. The outside of the cake was covered in cherry buttercream before being topped with fondant.

The next layer was just a plain, old-fashioned chocolate cake. I used a recipe form a book for this one, though I’d probably have been better off freestyling it as the recipe has so much sugar in it, on top of the melted chocolate, that the finished cake was really solid throughout and not soft and rich as I’d been hoping for. This cake was filled with chocolate and vanilla buttercreams, covered with chocolate buttercream and, of course, finished with fondant icing. As you can see, the vanilla filling pooled somewhat in the centre – this is because the cake sank when it came out of the oven, so it was difficult to spread the icing out flat when there was a great yawning chasm in the middle, eating up all the icing like an over-zealous toddler who will inevitably feel sick and cry later on. Of all three flavours of cake, this one gave me by far the most trouble, which was unexpected to say the least. It would probably have made more sense to make it to the same recipe as the black forest layer but without the cherry brandy, now that I think about it. That’s hindsight for you, always ruddy smug.It’s not the prettiest cake, this one. It’s got a hint of the car crash about it. That should be cake-crash, probably. If this cake was a person it’d be the kind of person you wouldn’t pick a fight with, that’s for sure. It’d probably have an eyepatch and a mean look in its one remaining eye.

The tiny top layer was another black forest one, and the picture up there is of the tiny layer as the big, base layer was somewhat squashed, having had the weight of all the other layers on it for ages. Poor, long-suffering cake. It was a kindness to eat it, really, and put it out of its misery. The fondant icing over all the layers went better than it had on the G man’s dino cake, but still was far from perfect. I think it’s just difficult to do – I also think I need to get an icing smoother, and pay more attention to the shape of the cakes before the fondant goes on. In this case at least one was a bit lopsided, because my oven is hotter on one side than the other, so I should have trimmed it down before applying the buttercream and then fondant. I stuck with the coconut oil and waxed paper technique, which served me well this time as it had last time. A couple of things I did differently this time were to let the buttercream covering set overnight before applying the fondant, which did help to get a more even surface and removed some of the risk of getting smudges of chocolate icing mixed up with the fondant. I also elevated the cake I was working on while I covered it, making it easier to gently stretch out the covering and trim it off at the base. I just did this by putting each cake on its own base board (made of cardboard and tinfoil) then setting it on top of two soup cans while I worked on it. Top tip I found online somewhere, and I’m sorry not to remember where. Still, though, the finish isn’t that smooth. There as still an issue with the recipe for rolled fondant icing – I used this one, though I did mess it up a bit so it wasn’t exact. It turned out fairly well, considering that was the case. I switched about half of the liquid glucose for golden syrup, which gave a nice ivory colour to the icing. It was certainly pretty pliable and easy to work with. Still though, best keep it out of a really hot kitchen, as I found out the hard way (hence the ribbon applied to the bottom of the cake, there. It’s hiding some sins. Sins, I tell you!

It’s still nowhere near professional quality, I’m sad to report, but the flavour is OK and it gave a nice uniformity of colour to all the different layers. I made a royal icing (recipe here) to pipe over the joins between the cakes, too, adding a little cocoa powder to give the colour I wanted. I kind of rushed the piping, so it wasn’t as even as I’d have liked; I’m never happy, me. Here’s a close up of the cake topper, with which I *am* happy, at least. It’s made of those great craft components, cardboard, tinfoil, toothpicks, silver ribbon and gold paint, with the addition of some pretty stars I picked up a long while ago; if I remember rightly they were part of a necklace, which shows that it’s worth picking up cheap, plastic jewellery for crafting purposes if not for a night on the town.

Bit of an epic post – I’ve been saving it up, evidently. I’ve been missing my blog, it feels nice to be back, though it was difficult to get started today. I’ll aim for at least one other post this week but I have material for two or three, possibly, and more photos to share, too. Is that a collective cheer I hear? I dare say it is.

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About Rock Salt

Seasoning while rocking out since 1983.

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