One of the best things about being on Bake Off was learning so many different baking techniques: pastries, tarts, éclairs, etc. But without fail, it’s cakes that prove the most popular and that I’m still asked to make most often. I’ve probably got more cake recipes buzzing around my head at any one time than anything else and cakes have kept me busy in the kitchen this past fortnight. So I’m going to share a few of my top tips…
I never used to be much of a cake person. I’ve always loved eating cake (who doesn’t?!), but it wasn’t something I’d really consider baking for fun, unless it was for someone’s birthday. Bread is my favourite thing to make at home. From a simple white bloomer to an intricately plaited and flavoured loaf, I can lose myself for hours in the bread process and I’m always up for experimenting with new recipes. But the more I learn about cakes, the more fun I’ve started to have.
First of all, add a nice bundt tin to your birthday or Christmas list this year. They turn an ordinary cake recipe into something that looks really special, as in the picture above. My bundt tin was a gift from the folks at Nordicware and the one above is called the ‘Jubilee‘ tin. I made this cake with a lemon sponge similar to the one from my Mother’s Day cake recipe and added fresh raspberries and a lemony icing. Once you get the hang of the dimensions of your tin, you can scale your favourite recipes up or down as needed. My bundt tin takes a 5-egg sponge so I can usually figure out how much batter I need to mix up based on the number of eggs. Just make sure you grease your bundt tin really well. When it comes to transporting my cakes, this cake box is the one I use most often – it’s sturdy and easy to carry. But as I’m often making cakes as gifts for people, I also have a ready stock of cardboard cake boxes to hand in different sizes with corresponding sized cake boards. I’m lucky to have a shop called Sugar Shack a short drive from my house and while a year ago I had no idea it was there, I’m there all the time these days! Browsing on the internet makes life pretty easy, but have a look for your local cake decorating supplier and go and have a mosey round in store for a bit of inspiration on all the things you didn’t know you needed.
This week I went up to West Yorkshire with Magnet Trade. I’ve been working with them on their Community Champions campaign. The winning charity, voted for by Magnet Trade’s customers, was a charity called Dexter’s Light. Dexter’s Light was originally set up in memory of Dexter Cook, who passed away suddenly last year, shortly after his first birthday. Dexter’s parents, Gemma and James, started the charity to raise funds for a portable sensory room and we presented them with a donation of £2,000 from the Community Champions campaign towards their work. It was lovely to meet Gemma, James and their family and friends last week and I made a cake for them too.
As the charity is all about different senses, I tried to include as many textures in the cake as possible, with the Dexter’s Light logo on the top of the cake in multi-coloured decorations (see picture above). The top cake was 6-tiered rainbow sponges and the bottom cake was a piñata cake, so the middle was hollowed out after baking and filled with Smarties. When you cut into a piñata cake, the sweets all spill out – kids love them (grown-ups too)! For the bottom cake I made multi-coloured cake pops (using my cake pop mould) and baked them into the sponges so that there were flashes of colour all the way through each slice.
The most fun in making the cake was applying the sprinkles to the sides of the top cake. This wasn’t too difficult but be warned, it makes so much mess! As you can see from the picture above, I coated the whole cake in butter cream and before it set, I pressed the sprinkles all around the side and up to the top by hand. I didn’t want any sprinkles on the top so used my trusty small offset palette knife to remove any rogue sprinkles from the top and apply a little more butter cream to make sure it was a smooth, clean surface to put the logo onto. I was a bit nervous about transporting the cakes, but I packed each of them in separate boxes and assembled the final cake on site, piping around the join between the cakes when I got there. My indispensable tool for making, transporting and assembling tiered cakes is my cake lifter.
The final cake of my week was the triple chocolate teddy bear cake above, for one of my elder daughter’s best friends. It was four layers of chocolate sponge made with cocoa powder (two big sponges cut down the middle with a cake cutting wire into four layers), a milk chocolate ganache filling between the four layers of sponge, and iced with dark chocolate butter cream. I made the ears and the snout as separate chocolate sponge cupcakes and built the shape of the bear’s head up before ‘crumb coating’ with chocolate butter cream, then covering with fur. Crumb coating means applying a thin layer of butter cream all over the surface of the cake to stick down any crumbs and give you a pretty clean canvas to decorate on top of.
I posted a picture of this cake on Twitter yesterday and a lot of people have asked how I did the bear’s fur. It’s the same technique I used on my younger daughter’s Elmo cake a few months ago. The secret is the nozzle in the picture above, which I’ve owned for ages but only recently discovered what it was for. It’s perfect for hair, fur or grass and my additional tip is that if you’re using chocolate butter cream, try to work quickly as if the chocolate sets it’ll go too hard to pipe.
If you’re in the mood for more baking tips, my latest video for Scoff is now up on You Tube. This week it’s my raspberry éclairs – a great summer recipe. I’m going to update my website this week to put all of these videos in one place, but in the meantime, here you go:
Anyway, it’s been a busy, outdoorsy weekend with the family so I’m going to settle down with a cup of tea, one of the leftover chocolate cupcakes from making the teddy bear cake and relax. Next weekend is Eurovision and we’re big fans in Casa Burr, so I’ll get my thinking cap on for some Austrian food to make to watch it with, as it’s in Austria this year. Maybe wiener schnitzel and strudel?! We’re off to Hertfordshire County Show next weekend too so plenty of opportunity to pick up some unusual ingredients as I always come back laden with food. Maybe see you there…!