More cakes – everyone loves cake, right? Plus there’s the pleasing pattern of having posts on savoury things followed by posts on sweet things. It might only be pleasing to me, but whose blog is this anyway? Today’s post is about two cakes, and the recipe is a combination of elements from both. The first cake was the first one of 2010 and for my mum’s birthday at the start of January. The second was also made in January, for a friend who allegedly has never had a cake made for her before. I was appalled by this, and will make a point of saying thank you to my mum for all the cakes she made me when I was a kid.
I used to get Smarties cakes when I was little, with my age written on the icing in Smarties (not that I would buy Smarties now, and other chocolate is not only available but preferable). They were a great tradition, but I also remember that I once got a Mr Man cake – I think it was Mr Nonsense. He had a hat and shoes on anyway. I don’t think that I was much more than six or seven that year, but I remember how cool the cake was. My sister also made me an awesome lizard shaped cake one year – that was just a few years ago, somewhere in my early twenties. I love lizards, I’m pretty sure they’re my spirit guides. Look at this guy:
That is a photo of a real lizard, taken by and belonging to my gentleman friend. Look at the colours on him! The lizard, not my gentleman friend. Anyway, my lizard shaped (shaped like a lizard, not by a lizard) birthday cake was carrot cake, which nobody makes or has ever made as well as J. In fact, she also made me a super delicious black forest brownie sort of cake one year. I guess it’s safe to say that, as a family, we like cake.
So, cake one. This is a champagne (ok, pink prosecco) cake, with champagne (prosecco) and ginger icing and handmade fondant icing decorations. I was really pleased with how it looked, and the flavour of the icing. However, the cake itself was someone else’s recipe, and contained no egg yolk and relatively little fat – I usually use light margarine to bake cake, even though the side of the box says you can’t. I’m here to tell you, you can. Of course, it’s not the same as butter, and it doesn’t work for biscuits or for really rich cakes, but for a light sponge it’s definitely an acceptable substitute. So the recipe was good as I do like to count the calories, but did give a drier cake. It was quite light and bubbly, due to the egg whites being whisked up on their own and folded in to the recipe last, immediately before decanting to the tin and baking. Although it was drier than I would have liked, it was not crumbly and held together well when sliced. It also didn’t cause me too much of a nightmare by way of crumbs getting in the icing.
I’d like to clarify that the last sentence was an example of colourful language. Crumbs in the icing is one thing I’ve never had a nightmare about. I did once wake myself up saying ‘No Kathleen, don’t make me eat the shortbread…’. Just a glimpse into my mind, there.
The second cake. This is a champagne (all *right*, asti) and strawberry cake, with champagne (shh) and strawberry icing. I was much happier with the cake itself, but the icing was thinner and so didn’t give as good coverage, and didn’t have the unusual flavour of the icing with ginger in it. I wanted to keep the decoration quite simple, and in keeping with the idea of using champagne, so the cocktail glass seemed like a good idea that would be easy to do. Shame about the squinty writing, I’ll have to practise. This cake recipe, which I put together myself, had egg yolk and a bit more by way of fat (still light margarine, but more of it). Like the first one, I whisked the egg whites to stiff peaks and then gently folded in to the rest of the mix to give a very light, bubbly cake. Unfortunately I think I under baked it, as when it came out of the oven it sank like an imperfect souffle. Aesthetically I wasn’t bothered by this as I was turning it upside down to decorate anyway, to give a perfectly flat top (good tip, eh?). When the cake was sliced, it was very, very moist in the centre – I saw this as a flaw but everyone who tasted it really enjoyed it, and a couple of people specifically said they liked the moistness, so I suppose it’s swings and roundabouts, innit? I like the addition of strawberries as well to add sweetness and texture.
Given that I wasn’t 100% happy with either cake, I present to you a recipe for an amalgamation – Champagne Cocktail Cake. I haven’t made this recipe so can’t vouch that it’ll work out but I’m fairly confident in it. It’s an educated guess(ipe). Baking time and temperature is the area I’m least confident in, so if you have other thoughts on it go with your own instinct.
- 6oz margarine or butter
- 6oz plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 4oz sugar
- one cup of pink prosecco – I don’t really think it’s worth splashing out on real champagne to bake with, the flavour comes through but not strongly enough to be worth spending a lot on. By all means buy a bottle to drink with the cake though
- 2 egg yolks
- one 400g (ish) tin of strawberries. I know, tinned fruit, but it works really well in a cake
- 2 egg whites
- pinch of salt
I’m a big fan of the all in one method. That is, put all the ingredients in a bowl, get a wooden spoon and GO! It’s quicker and easier, and it’s worked for me many a time. For this cake…
- Grease and flour one six-inch cake tin and heat the oven to 200C
- Mix the margarine, flour, baking powder, sugar and egg yolks together all at once
- Add the cup of prosecco – it’s important to note that I have actual cup measures and didn’t use a tea cup, mug, tankard, thimble or any other kind of drinking vessel. I seem to remember that a cup is about a third of a mini 25cl bottle. Have a look at how the mix is before you add it, and remember that it will get thinner with the addition of the egg whites. Ideally you won’t add anything after the egg whites go in to maintain the lightness that they should add. A good rule of thumb that I remember from home economics is that a cake mix should be of a dropping consistency when you lift a spoonful out of the bowl
- Add the strawberries from the tin but NOT the syrup they’re in. You can squish them in your hands before adding, or just bash them with the wooden spoon once they’re in the mix. Stir through really well so that there are still lumps of fruit, but they’re not too big. If you like, you can also add a few drops of red food colouring to enhance the colour of the mix now that the strawberries are in it, but even without any artificial dye the cake is a pretty pink colour
- In a separate, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and the pinch of salt. You can do this by hand but usually I use my hand blender because it’s so much quicker. Whisk them until they form stiff peaks that stay in place when you lift the blender or whisk out
- Stir in one spoonful of the egg whites to the cake mix. This will lighten the mixture and make it easier to fold in the rest of the egg whites so they will keep as much air in them as possible
- Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites until just combined
- Spoon into prepared tin and put in the oven for about half an hour. When the cake is ready you should be able to insert a cake tester, skewer, melamine chopstick (that’s what I use) or other similar thing into the middle and remove it again without any cake mix sticking to it. If I’ve increased the baking time correctly the top should be and stay risen – if you want a flat top to decorate or if you’re making a couple of cakes and tiering them, turn the cake upside down when you take it out of the oven. If it is too rounded and doesn’t sit right, squash it down with a chopping board and maybe a couple of cans for weight. Or you can cut the rounded bit off and eat it
While the cake is cooling, make the icing:
- One deep bowl of icing sugar – not a mixing bowl, or a family serving bowl, one that you would eat out of. I’m going to guess 350g? You can always make more
- Half to one cup of pink prosecco
- Two or three tablespoons of syrup from a jar of preserved ginger in syrup. Syrup only, none of the actual ginger
It took me ages to learn how to do icing properly and it’s still not a forte of mine, but I find that using syrup really helps to keep it thick and glossy.
- Add two tablespoons of the syrup to the icing sugar and mix thoroughly. It does smell a bit medicinal to my nose, but somehow good and spicy at the same time. It’s difficult to describe a smell.
- Add enough prosecco to make a thick paste. The icing should be thick but stirrable, to allow it to cover the cake well and to set properly. Have a look, and a taste. Another good tip is that the icing is a bit stiff and difficult to work it, heating it briefly in the microwave should help withouto temporarily thin it
- Add more ginger syrup or prosecco as you see fit, or if it’s gone too thin add more icing sugar and stir like crazy until smooth again
- Tip about three quarters of the icing on to the top of the cake, and smooth over with a knife, allowing it to run over the edges for now. Have a little bowl of recently boiled water to hand, as having the knife hot, clean and slightly wet helps to spread the icing evenly. It can also be used to wash off any crumbs that get caught up in the icing and threaten to spoil the finish. Smooth the icing across the top of the cake but don’t spread it too thinly, remember that there is more in the bowl and that you can always make more
- Using the knife, take small amount of the icing that remains in the bowl and spread onto the side of the cake. Smooth out using the knife dipped in hot water if you need to. I find it easiest to do a very small section at a time and, at the end, step back to get the bigger picture. This way means that you’re not trying to control too much icing at once
For the cakes above, I iced the top and sides as smoothly as I could to give a crisp, clean result. For a more rustic look you can just ice the top and let some run down the sides as it likes – this might be nice to show off the colour of the cake mix if you’ve added food dye. If you want to, you can make extra icing and do two coats, which gives you an extra thick and crunchy covering and can help it to look smoother, too. For the fondant icing decorations in the first picture, I bought a pack of ready made fondant icing (I’m such a cheat!) and dyed it with food colouring. To do this, I mixed several drops each of red and purple in a small bowl and then added to a lump of the fondant icing which was inside a plastic food bag. This meant that I could knead the icing with the colouring without permanently staining my hands. The flowers were then shaped by hand, so I did get a little dye on me, but it washed off or you could buy gloves to wear while you do this. To make each flower, I rolled a little ball of icing and flattened into a circle, about the size of my thumbnail. Then I made five evenly spaced slits round the edge of the circle, extending about 3mm in towards the centre. I then pinched the icing between the slits downwards so it left a little rounded petal shape and softened off the top edge if it needed it. I put them on the cake, adding a silver sugar ball in the middle once they were fixed on. To fix them on you can either apply them while the icing is still wet, or you can reserve a bit of icing and use little dabs of it as glue.
I like to make an iced cake at least one day before the event to let the icing harden – I leave the cake covered or in a box and in a cool place overnight. In the morning I tidy up the excess icing from round the bottom and put on to a clean plate or baseboard. Another bonus of the heart-shaped casserole dish is that is came in a good-sized box for cake carrying, and now I have the box from the original and the box from the new one. It’s not as fancy or as protective as a proper cake carrier but it does the trick.