A little while ago I was blog-hopping when I stumbled across this amazing cake at Sweetapolita's blog. The lovely Rosie's presentation skills are pretty friggin' amazing, and I hope that one day my cakes - and my photos of them - are as good as hers. All hail Sweetapolita!
Anyway, I once I clapped my peepers on this cake, it became my mission in life to make it. I don't know whether it was the challenge of the ruffles, or the fact that towered layer cakes seem to appeal to me, but I just NEEDED to make it! So I did. I put it on my 101 Things list, and I made it. So there.
I made some mistakes along the way, mostly (all) with the frosting. Let's just say that it's a good thing eggs were on a special this week...
RICH AND DARK CHOCOLATE CAKE (ex Sweetapolita - see above link for the printable, or below for my bastardised version. I multiplied the below by 1.5 for the layer cake and it made three flattish cakes)
1 3/4c plain flour
3/4c cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
1tsp baking powder
1c buttermilk, room temperature
1/2c vegetable oil
1tbsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 180oC. Butter and flour/line 3 x 8" round baking tins.
Sift dry ingredients into bowl. Dump wet ingredients into bowl and mix with electric mixer 2 mins on medium speed. It's wet and quite runny and may splash. Be warned!
Bake for 20mins then rotate pans around and bake for another 15 or so minutes (total time approx. 35 mins). Cakes are done with toothpick or skewer comes out clean. Try not to overbake. Cool in tin on wire rack for 20mins then turn out.
Note that I'm a bit of a spaz and not very precise so I ended up with 2 cakes smaller than the third one, so I split the third one. If you have more of an eye for detail you would probably actually weigh the mix, but I'm lazy. And I think I'm okay with that. But if someone ever asks me to make a layer cake for them for a special event I'll probably make more of an effort!
So then comes the icing...
SWISS MERINGUE BUTTERCREAM (again, the printable is at Sweetapolita's blog, link above. Note that I did a triple batch of this and there was some left over - maybe enough for a sedately-frosted batch of cupcakes, and apparently you can freeze it for 6-8 weeks - so don't think that a triple batch is OTT cos it's not)
5 large egg whites (30g each) <-- yes, that equals 15 egg whites if you're doing a triple batch!!!
1c + 2tbsp castor sugar
450g unsalted butter, cut into cubes (that's a more precise total of 1356g for a triple batch, or 12 sticks for Americans)
2tsp pure vanilla extract
pinch of salt (actually important - normally something I would omit, but I don't suggest doing that cos you're using unsalted butter)
Told you it was a lot of egg white!
Wipe mixer bowl and all your utensils that will touch the mix with white vinegar to cut the grease.
Add egg whites and sugar to a heatproof bowl and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly, until 140oF or until sugar has completely dissolved and egg whites are hot. (Note that this is a little under 60oC, which is how I came to use 30 egg whites, not 15, because I bollocksed up the temperature the first time around. Yes, that's officially a buttload of eggs, and a hell of a lot of egg yolk to get through. I guess custard and pastry and hollondaise sauce must be on the horizon for me!) I was skeptical that mum's old Kenwood mixer bowl from the 60's was heatproof so I did it in a stainless steel bowl and then tipped it into the mixer once the sugar was dissolved.
With the whisk attachment, whip until the mixture is thick, glossy and cool. It'll look like a thin meringue, for those who have made a pav lately.
Switch to paddle attachment and, whilst mixing on medium speed continuously, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if it curdles, keep going and it will come good).
(Also a lot of butter!!! Try not to think about what it's doing to your body and you'll enjoy the cake more...)
Add vanilla, salt and colourings (note that I used a heap of Americolour gel colouring and the colour uptake was poor. I think it has something to with the greasiness of it and the lack of intact sugar granules to attach itself to but I'm not entirely sure. Maybe I should have added the colouring at the heating stage...??? Can anyone help me with that?? Anyway, using tonnes of fuschia colouring makes it turn out a very pale, almost purplish colour. I wasn't particularly pleased with it but that's probably because I was comparing it to this image in my head of an electric pink cake!). You can also add fruit purees, extracts or other flavourings.
Keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week, leaving out at room temperature when needed and rewhipping for 5 mins. Can freeze for 6-8 weeks.
To the decorating!
Cut your cake into as many layers as you see fit, then stack them on a... okay, it would be easier if you use a proper cake turntable but I just put it on the serving plate and rotated the plate on the bench. It doesn't give you as much control but it does the job. Anyway, stick them together using buttercream and then add a crumb coat to the outside. Try not to contaminate your bowl with cake crumbs though cos it'll make the piping harder.
(Note of irony: I dressed in work-out clothes before I started to make the first batch of icing, and then when I buggered it up I obviously ran out of time to actually work out. So not only did I eat a slice of this cake, I also didn't exercise. Boo. Sure was tasty, though!)
Get a petal tip, fill a large piping bag (mine's 14") with the buttercream, and, skinny bit facing out and tip facing down, start at the bottom and go back and forth in 1"-wide rows. It'll take a few rows to get the hang of it.
I'm also not sure whether my petal tip wasn't fine enough or whether the consistency of my buttercream was wrong, but the edges on my ruffles weren't as sharp as Sweetapolitas. It may also have been because it was quite warm where I was decorating the cake. Who knows? Seriously, who knows?? Can someone tell me?
I got to a point where I marked out guides for the width of the ruffles so I could fit the last few in without making them too big or too small. I also marked out guides on the top. When you do the top, kind of start with the piping bag upright to "stick" the buttercream to the cake and then bring it down nearly level with the cake to make the ruffles.
Transporting it was fun! I was in the front seat of a car, nursing it with a teatowel on my lap in case we braked suddenly! I'm not sure how comfortable I would be having it in a box in the boot, but I guess if you had foam in there and it was all secure and you drove carefully (lots of ifs there!) it would be okay.
When it comes to slicing it, I believe you'd be better off using a hot knife. You can see the buttercream smudged over the cake a bit so if you care how pretty it is when you serve it (and you should, given how much effort you just put into it), use a hot knife. I also used a gentle sawing motion rather than a pushing one. Not sure whether that was the right thing to do but it felt right at the time!
So I did it. I stepped outside of my decorating comfort zone again, and won. Go me!
Note that you should eat this with a cup of tea. It'll make you feel less sick afterwards :)