This week’s cake took a few hours and a steady hand but hopefully some of the tips I’ll share on today’s blog will help you try piping like this yourselves.
January is normally pretty cake-free for most people but I’m always happy to buck that trend. In fact, last year I was making just as many cakes in January as this year. But as I mentioned last week, we’ve started the year off trying to be more organised at home and meal-planning ahead of time, so most of my baking has been a bit more ‘everyday’. I love a Sunday roast (massive pork joint for dinner tonight) so we’re getting into the habit of Mondays being leftover night and Tuesdays being soup (with the rest of the leftovers) and bread. It’s meant I’m testing out new bread recipes and using up the many different types of flour I have in my cupboards. This week I made the rye and wholemeal loaf above, packed full of the ends of all my seed packets (pumpkin, sesame, poppy, pine nuts) and leftover walnuts. I set it to prove in my banneton basket (I usually use this for sourdough bread), dusted with flour inside to give it the spiral effect. It was tasty, but a bit dense so I’ve been playing a little more with wholemeal recipes.
Yesterday I made the wholemeal bread above, adapting the focaccia recipe from my book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself. So many people contact me saying that they make cakes all the time but are scared of bread. My book is packed full of really easy, tried and tested bread recipes and some of the best feedback is when people send me pictures of their successful simple white loaves. I’m so pleased to see some new five-star reviews of my book online too. Yesterday’s bread was the best wholemeal I’ve ever made so I’m going to play with it a little more and will then share the recipe.
As it’s been a cold, rainy weekend and the kids have been a bit under the weather, we’ve played in the kitchen quite a lot. We prefer brown pasta in our house so we got a pasta machine for Christmas along with this very interesting book (not that we needed another cook book) to make different types of wholewheat pasta ourselves. Daughter 2 is really keen to make farfalle so that’s the challenge for 2017 (any tips welcome!) We’re going to Italy for our summer holidays this year so looking forward to more pasta experimenting to come. Last night, we made buckwheat tagliatelle (pictured above) and while it was a bit rough around the edges, it was pretty tasty for a first try.
My most time consuming bake of the week was the peacock cake pictured above. It was for my friend Priya’s birthday and was a surprise for her (hope she liked it!) She was one of my references to get me onto the Bake Off – you need two so I tapped up my most responsible friends! The cake was three layers of 10″ carrot cake sandwiched with hazelnut liqueur buttercream (I use hazelnut liqueur in so many bakes). It was then covered with ivory fondant (I usually use Renshaw) and I piped the decoration with four different colours of royal icing. It was a big, heavy cake at that size, but worth going big for a special birthday. I was working all week, so if you’re doing a cake like this, it’s fine to make the sponges over a few evenings – they keep perfectly if tightly wrapped in cling film.
Ever since my wife Sarah first tasted the carrot cake (pictured above) at the launch of his book, Bake It Great, and totally loved it, Luis‘s recipe has been my go-to carrot cake. It’s a fantastic recipe and it’s online here. The only change I make to it is to add 100g of chopped walnuts to the mix, as I usually cover this cake rather than finish it with nuts like in Luis’s recipe. I also use vegetable oil instead of corn oil, just because I always have it to hand. For a 10″ cake, I make the whole of the mix in this recipe and put it into a 10″ tin, then bake it at 180oC / fan 160oC / gas mark 4 for 50 minutes. So three sponges in this cake took nine eggs and a kilo of grated carrot!
While the cake is fantastic with buttercream and fondant, it’s even better with the proper cream cheese frosting and again, Luis’s recipe is perfect. I used his cream cheese frosting on my daughter’s first birthday cake (pictured here) last month, but folded some pureed raspberry into the mix to make it pink. The cream cheese frosting is too soft to use under fondant though, and I don’t like to use cream cheese frosting on cakes that won’t necessarily be eaten on the day or if I don’t know if the cake will be kept out. I use royal icing to pipe. I’ve recently started using the Silver Spoon royal icing sugar pictured above, as it contains dried egg white and I’ve found it mixes really easily. My top tip for mixing is to really, really beat the icing sugar (with an electric hand whisk or in a stand mixer) until it’s smooth. It’s hard to describe the right consistency – too loose and it’ll be sloppy, too stiff and you’ll kill your hands trying to pipe! The best advice is to practice on something before you start – roll out your fondant offcuts perhaps.
For the peacock cake, I didn’t use a template or draw it on paper first. I’ve got a little more confident doing cakes like this as I made a few similar style ones over Christmas. I’ve blogged some of my tips for this before, but an updated set with updated links are below:
- 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. Having experimented with a few different sizes, I think these Wilton number 3 ones are my favourite nozzles so I popped to Sugar Shack (my local baking suppliers that I can’t live without) on Friday and bought enough for all four colours used.
- Beware of cutting too big a hole in the end of your piping bags. Take your time. I usually use small, clear piping bags but I’d run out so used my big blue ones and cut them down.
- One of the things I can’t live without when making cakes is my cake turntable (pictured above and also 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).
- It’s so important to get a smooth finish on the cake to work with. Coat your sponges in buttercream or ganache and get them as smooth as possible before covering with fondant. If you get any holes or cracks in your fondant, don’t panic – you can usually cover them with icing. I’ve got lots of good cake recipes on my blog that would work well under fondant – chocolate, Lotus Biscoff, coffee and walnut, coconut, or lemon.
- I’ve mentioned it many times on my blog, but the best food colourings to use are Wilton gel colours. As you can see in the picture above, I had a small knife to hand to gently lift-off any mistakes I made when piping.
- I iced this cake freehand but it might help to make a hand-drawn sketch to guide you first. Look at Pinterest for inspiration – I scrolled through a lot of tattoo and mehndi designs for ideas. Or if you have any colouring-in books for adults, try a variation of one of those.
- This was a 10 inch cake and I used a 12 inch board. However, given the weight of the cake I should have used a 14 inch board so that it was easier to lift. I get all my boards and boxes from Sugar Shack, where they do gold cake boards too.
- I always do my baking at night as I work during the day. Also, I have a north-facing kitchen so it can be a bit dark. I have a small desk lamp which comes in handy in the kitchen when I’m doing intricate work like this – good lighting makes all the difference.
Since making the Christmas cake above I’ve had so many people send me pictures of their own Christmas cakes with snowflake piping like this. If my royal icing tips have helped, please do let me know. The best thing about life since Bake Off is getting to share what I make with so many people. The feedback on my peacock cake today has been overwhelming and has made the three hours of piping all worth it. I’ve had great feedback on my DIY blog from last week too and I’ll carry on working my way through the questions I was asked. But more cakes to make this week so until next week, Happy Baking!