Saturday, 4 January 2014

Further adventures in cake

Another birthday cake, this time for the joint first birthday party of our NCT group, which we call "winter babies". It needed to be free of both chocolate and nuts, so I went for just a sponge cake and nice decoration.

As it had to serve up to 16, I made two 4-egg sponges (4 eggs, 225g each of caster sugar, softened butter and self raising flour, done with the creaming method) with a hint of orange zest in the mix. Top tip - I found that you can get zest off the spiky side of the grater (the only way to get it fine enough, but it retains a lot) with a cube of refrigerated butter. Just press it on and lift off to take the zest with it.

I made the cakes in my two 20cm tins, although they are different designs and at 175°C (fan) one cooked in 35 minutes while the other took 40. I lined the tins with greaseproof paper but would have been better to either do it more carefully or grease and flour them, as the paper left indentations in the cakes so they weren't perfectly round. I had a choice between trimming them or filling in any major holes with icing, and chose the latter! I don't have a turntable so trying to get them even vaguely round would have been a nightmare.

To sandwich and first-coat them I made buttercream with 75g soft butter and 175g icing sugar plus a teaspoon of milk and some lemon zest, beaten until light. That was just enough for a decent layer in the middle, and a crumb/smoothing coat around the outside. I also put some lemon curd in the middle, but this was a bit of a bad move as it lubricated the cakes and let the top one slide about. Next time I'd use jam if anything, or maybe just stick to buttercream.

I'm not sure I would have known to first coat (crumb coat?) the cakes with buttercream if I hadn't done some research. This video was helpful - I can't say I'm aware of "international cake decorating expert Pat Lock" but she sounds like a no-nonsense sort of lady and the steps were easy to follow. I fudged together a turntable of sorts by placing a round cake board on top of a shiny cake tin base, sandwiched the cakes together and then lightly slathered them in buttercream. (Can you slather lightly? I digress...).

The big step into the unknown for me was the fondant icing (hence the video). I was armed with a packet of Sainsbury's ready to roll white icing, plus black, and some leftover blobs of royal blue and other colours kindly donated by one of the other mums. I kneaded the white (1kg) with the blue (a generous walnut size, maybe) and worked it until it was just slightly marbled as I thought that looked good. It was softer to work with than I imagined, so no Paul Hollywood-esque muscles were developed during this stage. Then I rolled it out on a silicone pastry mat dusted with icing sugar, to the requisite size as determined by Pat's string method (i.e. diameter of icing = 2 x height + diameter of cake). This took it to about pound coin thickness. The icing was huge - wider than my rolling pin, only just fitting on the mat. It meant I couldn't do "roll and turn" to keep it from sticking, and I just had to trust the icing sugar would do its job (thankfully it did), and then when it came to transferring the icing to the cake, I had to use my hands as the rolling pin just was not long enough. With the icing being quite soft, it did sag over my fingers a bit and I had to work quickly to pass it from mat to cake and get it centred.

The hard part was getting it down the sides of the cake to the bottom without wrinkles. Despite the video instruction, I didn't quite manage it, but just called the wrinkly part the back, and put a wide ribbon around the bottom to hide any more errors (thanks again, Pat!). The top was good, which was the main thing. There was some minor cracking in the fondant but it didn't seem to go right through, and wasn't too noticeable. I don't have a cake icing smoother thingy so just did the best I could with icing sugar dusted fingers.

Decoration was the fun bit :) I'd already mocked it up in powerpoint, using the drawing tools to trace over a penguin I found online (edited a bit - can't leave anything alone!) so that I could separate out what I needed to cut out of black icing, white icing, etc. Printing it at the right size gave me templates to use when cutting. I found a font I liked for the lettering (Boyz R Gross - sorry, boy babies!) and another one for snowflakes (WWFlakes), but then I spotted rice paper snowflakes from eBay. Quicker, nicer looking than I could do, and very cheap. Deal!

The lettering was done with glitter writing icing in purple, and the snowflakes were affixed with the same stuff in white. Yes, at 10pm on a Friday I was in my kitchen, kneeling before the worksurface, attaching tiny rice paper snowflakes to a cake using tweezers. This is the life.


So, that's it. My first solo adventure in cake decorating. Fun stuff! Given that I have leftover blue icing and snowflakes, I know what Small's birthday cake will probably look like :)

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