Settling down with a cup of tea this evening after another busy weekend. I made this mandala cake for a 7th birthday party today and I think it’s my most popular cake yet (certainly on my Instagram!) Some tips on how to make your own on this week’s blog.
This morning, my wife Sarah, the kids and I headed east to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in Stratford for the RBC Race for the Kids, for Great Ormond Street. We had so much fun at this event in June last year (see here), so were keen to do it again with our newest addition, as Sarah was pregnant with our youngest daughter at the run last year. It’s a fantastic day out where you see buggies, scooters, tricycles, wheelchairs and dogs all zooming (or pootling) along together. If you’re into running – but even if you’re not – you should think about doing this with the kids next year. It’s a five kilometre course, followed by a family fun day with loads of activities. We’re keen to get our daughters enthusiastic about running as it’s something we can all enjoy taking part in. There’s an enormous sense of achievement for them to earn their finishers’ medals and they had loads of fun this morning.
I try and do whatever I can to support Great Ormond Street and raise awareness for their fantastic work. After the race today, the kids and I decorated some cakes for the Great Ormond Street ‘Bake It Better’ campaign. I’ve loved being involved in ‘Bake It Better’, as it’s meant I’ve met some of the wonderful staff and brave patients at the hospital. This year’s ‘Bake It Better’ campaign will launch later this year (for more info, see here) and take place in October. If there’s one thing I’ve found over the past few years, particularly through supporting Great Ormond Street, it’s the simple fact that cake makes people really happy! My cakes are definitely the most popular things I post on Instagram and the bakes people request from me most often. I’ve been thinking about food and happiness a lot recently, as there’s been so much debate within the food industry about ‘clean eating’, ‘wellness’ and following strict or restrictive diets or substituting ingredients. I think this excellent article by former Bake Off-er Ruby Tandoh articulates it so much better than I ever could but I really support her take on this. At the time of writing tonight’s blog post, Ruby’s article has had about 1.5k retweets on Twitter, so it’s definitely resonating with a lot of people out there too. For me, food (all food) makes me really happy and it’s a big focus of my life. I’m active but I try not to talk about ‘earning’ food through exercise or to use food as treats or bribes as a parent. It’s important to me that my kids grow up with healthy attitudes to what they eat and I think that cooking together regularly helps with that.
The mandala cake I made this weekend was for my eldest daughter’s best friend. The look on my children’s faces when they see their own birthday cakes is really special to me and I’m so glad that this cake made the birthday girl (above) and her friends and family so happy too. It definitely makes the time spent making it worthwhile.
Now, I’m not a professional cake maker. This is why in my recipe book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself, I wrote every recipe for fellow home bakers, including levels of difficulty so you can gauge what to attempt according to your own skills and work your way up through the book. I have to say, this mandala cake was probably a ‘level 3’ or a ‘showstopper’ recipe as it was quite time consuming but I’ll share a few tips for how I made it:
- Icing couplers are crucial for cakes like this. These are the plastic bits at the end of the piping bags above, which mean you can change the icing nozzles on the ends without needing a new piping bag.
- If you’re going to attempt a cake like this or one with lots of icing, buy enough nozzles. I found Wilton size 2 round tips the best for this cake so I bought enough for each colour. However, the smaller the nozzle, the tougher on your hands it is to pipe.
- Beware of cutting too big a hole in the end of your piping bags. I had two almost-disasters making this cake when the bags burst, but thankfully I rescued it in time! Take your time.
- One of the things I can’t live without when making cakes is my cake turntable (as you can see in this Instagram clip here). These don’t cost much money but will save you so much time and mean you’re likely to be able to ice cakes more easily, especially if you have an offset spatula or dough scraper (my other two must-have cake tools).
- I’ve mentioned it many times on my blog, but the best food colourings to use are Wilton gel colours. I iced the mandala pattern with buttercream rather than glace icing, which I found easier to work with as I could gently remove the icing if I made a mistake.
- I always find hand-drawn sketches good to guide me if I’m making something quite detailed. I had as much fun doodling the mandala design on paper as I did icing it. My middle daughter is now enjoying having it to colour in!
- I made three 8 inch sponges for this cake, with 2 eggs per cake tin. I think this cake had the right proportions and I usually prefer to make three layers rather than two, even though it takes longer when I only have two tins the same size.
- Personally, I find edible gold spray paint easier to work with than lustre dusts.
- I usually use 11 inch cake boards if I’m making 8 inch cakes. Sugar Shack is my local go-to place for cake boards and boxes.
- Think about the inside of the cake too. This was a rose and raspberry cake, with a pink sponge and turquoise buttercream between the layers, which looked quite striking against the gold fondant. I didn’t get any pictures of the inside unfortunately, but as with my middle daughter’s birthday cake a few months ago, it’s fun to make the inside of the cake just as attractive.
Anyway, with foresight that I’m pretty chuffed about, I actually made four sponges for this cake rather than three, so I have a spare layer of this cake at home for me to enjoy now. So I’m signing off for this week to put my feet up and enjoy a slice with a gallon of tea. See you next week – Happy Baking!