Tuesday, February 12, 2013

In the Night Garden Cake

Yes, another novelty cake. I'm on a bit of a mission to show people that it isn't that hard to make a cake that's impressive looking! Although if anyone's got any tips of photographing cakes I'd love to hear them as I just don't seem to be able to get them to look good on film, as it were.

I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about the type of cake you have inside all that icing.  For most of my novelty cakes I use a simple Madiera recipe because it is easy to carve, you can freeze it, and you can colour it.  However I'm not a huge fan of how it tastes so whenever possible I try and use something else.  My favourites are carrot cake and chocolate courgette cake, which I know sound rank when you think too much about it, but they are actually lovely.

For this cake I wanted something quite tall, as I wanted to decorate the sides.  The problem with stacking up cakes is that if you go with a standard sponge recipe you end up trying to cut them to make them flatter or fit together better.  So here I will give you a recipe for a chocolate cake that gives you a lovely tall, flat-topped cake with no carving.  What could be better.

This recipe makes 3 cakes to stack on top of each other, and comes from the Practical Encyclopedia of Baking by Martha Day which I highly recommend. I've had it for years and it has some excellent fail-safe recipes in and lots of pictures.

Best-Ever Chocolate Sandwich

4oz unsalted butter
4oz plain flour
2 oz cocoa powder
1tsp baking powder
pinch salt
6 eggs
8oz caster sugar
2tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to Gas /350degF/180degC. Line the base of three 20cm sandwich tins with greaseproof paper, grease and dust with flour.
Melt the butter.
Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder together three times.
Place the eggs and sugar in a large heatproof bowl and set over a pan of hot water.  Use an electric mixer to beat until the mixture doubles in volume and is thick enough to leave a ribbon train when you lift the beaters out.  It takes about 10-12 minutes. Then whisk in the vanilla.
Sift in the dry ingredients in three batches, folding carefully in.
Fold in the melted butter.
Divide the mixture evenly between the tins.  If you find it hard to judge this, use a cocktail stick to measure how thick each one is and adjust accordingly.
Bake until the sides of the cake pull away from the sides of the tin.  About 25 minutes.
Turn them out as soon as you can onto a rack.
I've mentioned before how much I hate regal icing.  The fact is it's really easy to make 3D models of things with it though, and for some reason the kids will gobble it up, so for now I use butter icing as much as possible and regal icing as little as possible. I this case I used chocolate butter icing for in-between the sandwiches and maple syrup butter icing for the outside (coloured green).  Maple syrup butter icing is SO GOOD on carrot cake, by the way.

If you are making characters or 3D things to go on top of a cake it's best to do them in advance and let them sit around for a few days to harden up.  Otherwise they will sag and get fatter and fatter.  If you are sticking them on top of a cake I advise using a cocktail stick to keep them secure. So these In the Night Garden characters were copied from here.  You can see they are caricatures of the originals and instantly recognisable but much easier to model.  It's just play-dough people.  I used Wilton colours again, as they are the best in my opinion.  In each case make the tummy, then the legs, then the head and finally the arms. Stick all the bits together using a paintbrush and water.  They need to harden up lying down for a couple of days.

The flowers on the outside were made using regal icing and these cutters from Lakeland.  I really like these type of cutters and they have a spring mechanism to push the cutting out.

Finally, I've piped some flowers on in yellow butter icing.  This masks the bottom of the cake where it joins the board.  I also went a bit mad on the top of the cake because I like piping.  It's fun!

...and that's the whole point really.  Making these things is good fun.  Don't let yourself get stressed out by it, just try and enjoy it.  I made the figures while watching TV during the week before, and put the cake together in a couple of hours the night before the party.  Go on, have a go and enjoy it!

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