One of my all-time favourite photos comes from a book of cakes. But it’s not just any old food photograph. This is a picture of my big brother as a toddler – all beaming smiles and golden curls – sitting in front of a giant drum-shaped birthday cake, two batons clutched in his hands. The photo was taken for a book written by one of my mum’s friends, Cakes for Kids, and provides the perfect snapshot of what baking and birthday cakes are – in my mind – all about; the pleasure of creating something to share with others, something that will bring joy long after plates are licked clean and memories are all that remain. The look of glee on my brother’s face says it all. Continue reading
I don’t know about you, but my baking goes through phases. While chocolate is a fairly reliable constant in my recipe repertoire, I love to try new flavours and textures; once I’ve discovered an ingredient or technique, I like to explore all the different possibilities it might hold. Dulce de leche was a recent find – once I realised how easy it is to make yourself I was adding it to everything from pecan and banoffee pies to ice cream sundaes, cookies and even brownies (recipe here).
A couple of weeks ago I posted a recipe for Gianduja ice cream chocolate chip cookie sandwiches. It was the first recipe I’ve made with my brand new ice cream maker (another slight obsession), and got me seriously excited about hazelnuts as an ingredient for the first time. Although I’ve been a lifelong fan of Nutella, I hadn’t really considered the flavours of a simple roasted hazelnut outside the context of this chocolatey, sugary spread. Continue reading
And I will. For my 21st birthday, due to the sheer number of guests, we decided against attempting an industrial-sized bake-off and instead commissioned a confection of epic proportions from Konditor and Cook. Based on their classic Curly Whirly cake recipe, this was a chocolate lover’s dream with a touch of kitsch; a huge, rich base layered and smothered with a blanket of sugar-sweet vanilla bean cream cheese frosting, piped with balloons and sprinkled with edible glitter. Amazing. Since then, the recipe has featured on the Guardian website, and a well-thumbed print-out now lives tucked inside one of the books on my kitchen shelf.
Fast forward a couple of years and last weekend we headed up north to celebrate Carniverous Boyfriend’s little twin brother and sister’s birthday. I’d offered to bake the cake, but with a minimum of three hours’ Friday afternoon fun on the M1 ahead of us, and a stuffy boot for storage, I didn’t fancy the chances of survival for a cream cheese frosting. Buttercream is a hardier option, remaining stable as it does at ambient temperatures, so I opted for this as my icing, adding a little white chocolate for flavour.
The cake itself is a more classic take on a birthday sponge than the Curly Whirly recipe, with a beautifully light, moist crumb. The chocolatey flavour comes entirely from cocoa powder, not chocolate, which adds a rich, earthy roundness and the sugar is golden, which increases the depth of flavour. It’s also a one-bowl-wonder which means next to no washing up, and you can have the whole thing mixed, cooked and cooled in less time than it takes to say ‘Marks & Spencer caterpillar cake’. I decorated this version with little star shapes cut out of rolled royal icing and stuck together with edible glue, but if you’re in a hurry a few chocolate curls or a dusting of cocoa powder would be more than enough.
Best served straight-up in thick wedges, this cake should feed twelve hungry guests with ease.
Do you have a go-to birthday cake recipe or do you like to experiment? Can’t live without chocolate, addicted to Victoria sponge or crazy for carrot cake? I’d love to know your favourite recipes.
Simple chocolate cake with white chocolate frosting (adapted from Mich Turner‘s Cake Masterclass):
For the cake:
(all ingredients should be room temperature)
200g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
85g cocoa powder
140g self-raising flour
200g golden caster sugar
4 medium free range eggs, lightly beaten
2 tbsp milk
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (or 160 if fan assisted). Grease and line 2 x 20cm loose bottomed cake tins.
Put all the ingredients in a large, clean bowl and whisk with a hand-held electric whisk for 8-10 mins until light and airy.
Divide the mixture between the two cake tins and bake 20-25 mins, until the cake has shrunk away from the sides of the tin and is springy to touch, and a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. When cooked, remove from the oven and cool in tins before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.
For the frosting:
175g unsalted butter, softened
300g icing sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
100g white chocolate, melted and cooled
Royal icing cut into star shapes to decorate (optional)
Beat the butter in a mixing bowl with an electric whisk for 1 minute. Add the icing sugar and beat slowly until blended, then on full speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla seeds and white chocolate until smooth and glossy.
Spread approx. 1/3 of the frosting over one cooled cake, top with the second cake and cover in frosting. You can pop it in the fridge to set further, then serve as is, or decorate with royal icing stars or flowers.
It’s my friend’s birthday this week and I wanted to make something suitably delicious and gifty to mark the occasion. Celebrations would be taking place in a bar after work which slightly dictated the format my baking could take; I wanted something fairly dainty so people could stand and chat without having to manage too many stray sticky crumbs, but also something with strong enough flavours to still pack a punch several vodkas into the evening.
A couple of weeks ago a certain young couple tied the knot amidst a media frenzy. As they prepared for the big day (I imgine thanking a higher being for their respective soon-to-be enlarged bank account and expanded gene pool), the nation (and beyond) became obsessed with every detail of the wedding; who would be attending, what they’d be wearing, the flowers, the food, the drink and, of course, that dress.
The hot topic closest to my little loaf heart, however, was who would be making the cake. This honour fell to the fabulous Fiona Cairns, who produced a suitably stunning creation, but, not being a huge fruit cake fan, what really caught my eye was Prince William’s chocolate biscuit groom’s cake. Apparently this simple slab of unbaked chocolate, butter and biscuits is a childhood favourite of William’s. Not hugely regal or royal - I love the thought of dignitaries from around the world munching on what is essentially a glorified Rice Krispie cake – but totally delicious and a funny insight into a slightly more human side of the Windsor family.
Chocolate biscuit, or refrigerator, cake is a firm favourite in my family, and has been since childhood (nope, I’m not secretly a member of the royal family, although we clearly share a similarly sophisticated palate when it comes to cake. . .). My mum used to make it for birthdays in a bunny-shaped mould, presenting the giant chocolate rabbit shape on a bed of green jelly grass. The height of six year old sophistication. Over the years our biscuit cake has matured and we now serve it in thin, rich slices, laced with dried fruit and booze as an alternative to Christmas cake. But at heart it’s still a birthday treat, so when my aunt asked me to bake a cake for my cousin’s 21st, we knew it had to be chocolate biscuit.
Making a cake for fifty people is no mean feat. This concoction required a kilo of chocolate, a tin of golden syrup, enough slabs of butter to block your arteries just by looking at them, a vast packet of digestives (McVities take note, apparently Will’s cake was made with Rich Tea biscuits. Schoolboy error.) and a whole box of eggs. Chocolate biscuit cake, while incredible to eat, is hardly very elegant, so I also whizzed up butter, sugar and cocoa to create a thick buttercream frosting to mask the lumpy bumpy bits – totally unnecessary but actually rather delicious to have that contrast between the cool, crunchy cake and soft, creamy icing. I topped the whole thing off with some beautiful homemade chocolate roses (actually really easy, read my earlier post for instructions here) and was pretty happy with the final result. It certainly got polished off pretty quick by the hungry crowds.
A cake fit for a King? Who knows, it might just make the grade.
Chocolate biscuit cake for 50
(For a more manageable recipe simply divide each quantity by 5)
375g golden syrup
1kg dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
500g digestive biscuits
Grease and line two large cake tins (I used one 20″ and one 22″ square) and set aside.
Melt together the butter and golden syrup in a large pan. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie, then mix throughly with the butter and syrup mixture. Pasteurise the eggs by beating slowly and continuously into the hot chocolate mixture.
Put the biscuits in a large plastic bag and beat with a rolling pin until broken into a mixture of powder and larger chunks. Do the same with the walnuts then add to the chocolate mixture and stir until fully incorporated. You could also add raisins or other dried fruit at this stage if you wish, along with a splash of rum or other alcohol.
Press the mixture into the prepared tins and chill in the fridge for a minimum of 5 hours.
500g icing sugar
200g butter, softened
2 tsp vanilla extract
Dash of milk
4 tbsp cocoa powder
Blitz the sugar and butter in a blender. Add vanilla extract and enough milk until a thick, creamy frosting is formed. Transfer approximately 1/4 of the mixture into a small bowl and pop in the fridge (this is for the paler piping you can see in the pic). Add the cocoa powder to the remaining mixture and blitz until fully incorporated.
Remove the cakes from the fridge. Transfer the larger cake onto a plate or cake board and layer the next one on top, securing together with a small amount of icing. Cover the cakes in a smooth layer of chocolate buttercream, then pipe the plain vanilla frosting round the edges. Decorate with chocolate roses, then return to the fridge and chill. Remove from the fridge around 40 mins before you want to serve to allow the flavours to really come through.
Did you know? When googling Will’s groom’s cake I read that while a classic wedding cake is served to the guests at the wedding reception, the groom’s cake is meant to be sliced up, placed into packages and given to them as favours when they leave. Single women at the wedding would take their pieces of cake home and sleep with it under their pillows in hopes of dreaming of their future husbands… (!) Bizarre advice and not something I’d recommend. Chocolate biscuit cake is meant for eating and will likely result in a hugely sticky mess if left under your pillow (although on reflection it would provide a pretty good midnight feast…)