The second birthday cake

So it’s already been a year since this cake. Woah. Last year we didn’t really do a big party, but this year we thought a party would be nice – park, playground, yummy food, a good bunch of people and kids – and of course in that case there had to be a cake. And when you’re on to a good thing, why change? So I made the same cake. Well, sort of…

It was the same recipe, but I made two batches. And split each batch across two cake tins. And dyed them different shades of pink. Yep, I made one of those ombre layer cakes! Never made one before, what could go wrong? Just to add to the fun, I thought I’d also try a totally different style of decorating the cake too, because why not live life on the edge?

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Surprisingly, it turned out really well! And there were no tears (from me anyway, there were a few babies at the party who cried, but I don’t think they were crying about the cake). Like I said, I used the same recipe but made it twice. I split each batch, dyed them, and baked in 18cm round cake tins. I didn’t dye the top layer, but for the second layer I used 3/4 teaspoon pink food dye, for the third layer I used 1 1/2 teaspoons pink food dye, and for the bottom layer I used 3 teaspoons pink food dye. Then I put them in the fridge overnight before doing all the trimming and decorating in the morning.

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Once I’d trimmed the tops and the sides a bit to make them even and smooth, I layered them together with plain vanilla buttercream. (I don’t have a recipe for this, it’s just butter, icing sugar, vanilla and milk beaten in the mixer until it seems about right). I’m not the world’s greatest cake decorator, just gonna admit that right now, but I think that for my first time at this I didn’t do too bad a job. I can see how with a bit of practice it would look totally pro. And with a bit more patience I probably wouldn’t end up with crumbs all through the top layer of icing…

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The real test though was going to be cutting into it at the party. It was a pretty tall cake, so thin slices were plenty. I was so nervous about it, and then so happy when I realised how well it had worked, that I made everyone wait for their serves while I took photos. The presentation wasn’t the best, no fancy plates or props, but I was very proud of myself.

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Here’s the thing though: my daughter doesn’t really love cake. She ate about 3 bites of my piece before she’d had enough. Which is more than she would have eaten if it had been chocolate – she really doesn’t love chocolate. Strange woman. Anyway, I’m having leftovers for dinner, because she’s asleep and I think I deserve it!

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The first birthday cake

My daughter turned one last week. We took her out to brunch (mostly because we wanted to eat tasty foods) and she had avocado and banana, which she was very excited about, and we had a get-together with the grandparents that involved cute dresses, tasty lunch foods, presents, and of course there was cake. It took about 30 seconds of thought before I decided that she had to have the traditional number one cake. You know what I’m talking about – the cake shaped like a number one, covered in buttercream and smarties. It’s an Australian classic.

And for good reason. It’s simple, it’s effective, you can make the cake the day before, and everyone loves it.

I made a plain vanilla butter cake as the base, but I guess if you wanted to you could do something fancy. I don’t recommend that though, because if you have a one year old then they’re probably taking up most of your attention and sitting at your feet while you make this, begging to be picked up only to want to be put down again 30 seconds later, ad infinitum, so simple is best. My biggest tip would be: don’t overestimate your time or patience. Unless you’re making this for someone else’s kid, in which case do whatever you like. There were no tears, but there were swears, I’m not going to lie.

My second biggest tip would be: make the cake the night before. Refrigerate it and the next day it will be way easier to cut into shapes without crumbling everywhere. You can make the whole thing from a single large square cake. No need to double quantities or split it between tins or anything like that. Here’s the cutting technique I used:

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Stick the bits together with a dab of icing (there was some cake left over, if I’d had a larger cake board I’d have used all the cake but I didn’t have room):

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250g soft butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups self-raising flour, sifted
3/4 cup milk

Cream the butter with electric beaters or a stand mixer until pale, add the vanilla and sugar and cream until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating briefly after each addition. Stir in half the flour and then half the milk, then the rest of the flour and the rest of the milk.

Pour into a greased square tin (I think mine is 22cm x 22cm) lined with baking paper. Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 1 hour. Cool the cake in the tin for 5-10 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack. Wait until it’s completely cooled before icing. Or, even better, follow my tip and refrigerate overnight first.

To make the icing, beat 125g-150g butter with electric beaters or a stand mixer until pale, and then this is where I stopped measuring. I added a fair bit of icing sugar, maybe 500g, maybe a bit more. I also added a couple of tablespoons of milk – it helps make the icing a bit paler and fluffier and more spreadable. Basically with icing I just keep adding bits of things until it seems right and I have enough. Keep an eye on the texture and taste and you’ll be fine. You can add some colour to the icing if you want, but I didn’t.

Cut the cake up, and stick the bits together with a small amount of the icing. Then just go for it – buttercream all over the outside of that cake until it’s all nice and even and covered up. Make it as smooth as you can, but remember that the smarties hide a lot of mistakes.

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My daughter seemed to enjoy it, although I took the smarties off her piece so that there was no choking. She’d never had cake before, but honestly I think she would rather have had a banana. So I ate the rest of the cake myself over the next 2 days. It’s a lot of sugar. Now I jut have to decide what kind of cake to make next year!

 

A Different (from my usual) Chocolate Cake

So I realised recently that the only recipe for a full sized chocolate cake that I’ve used in ages, and in fact the only one I’ve actually written about, is the Chocolate Stout Cake. It is definitely my go-to for a chocolate cake, and it’s great for decorating, it’s a crowd-pleaser… But sometimes I just don’t feel like a super heavy and intensely rich chocolate mud cake. This week I felt like something just a little lighter.

I always get a bit nervous trying a new recipe for a full sized cake – what if you go to all that effort and then when everyone is around and you cut it and it’s terrible? Oh, the pressure! Anyway, I bit the bullet, tried a new recipe, and it worked out 🙂 Luckily, because it was taken to work for a team member’s birthday!

Originally I envisioned this cake with a fluffy chocolate buttercream icing all over it, and maybe even layered through the middle as well. But a late night and extreme tiredness got the better of me and I went with the lazy option when it came to icing and decorating. Lazy still equals delicious though, so it was all ok.

250g butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
200g dark chocolate
1 1/3 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon bicarb soda
1/2 cup milk

Melt the chocolate (I do this in the microwave, slowly so that it doesn’t burn) and set aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and beat again, then add the eggs one by one, beating between each addition. Pour in the cooled chocolate and beat well. 

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In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and bicarb soda. Beat in a third of the dry ingredients to the batter, followed by a third of the milk. Repeat until all the dry ingredients and all the milk is beaten into the batter. 

Pour the mixture into a greased and lined round springform tin (mine is a 24cm tin) and bake at 160C for about 50 minutes. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes then turn upside down onto a wire rack.

Now, if you were making a chocolate buttercream (and I still think this would be great, I mean, how can you go wrong with chocolate buttercream) you would need to cool the cake completely before making the icing and decorating the cake. But if you want to just dump a jar of Nutella on top of the cake instead and spread it around and let it ooze down the sides, then now is when you do that.

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Oh yes, that is what I did. Most of a 400g jar went on top of the cake. I saved some for eating with a spoon from the jar at another time, like right now as I’m writing this.

Nutella icing

While the cake is still warm, the Nutella goes a bit melty and spreads really nicely. Then you put it in the fridge so the Nutella doesn’t melt entirely off the cake. Or, even better, just before you put it in the fridge you also cover the top of the cake with hundred and thousands, to add a bit of fun colourfulness.

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Told you – lazy but delicious (and effective) cake decorating.

Valentine’s Day Coconut Cookies

I have so many different shapes of cookie cutter stashed away at home. I have never used any of them. I thought a pre-Valentine’s Day morning tea would be a perfect excuse to test out the heart-shaped cookie cutter!

Now, the last time I tried to make biscuits that involved rolling out dough and trying to cut out shapes was years ago and is referred to as the infamous gingerbread incident. It involved tears, screaming, throwing dough on the ground and locking myself in the bathroom. It wasn’t pretty. So this attempt had the potential to go badly…

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125g butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/4 cup self-raising flour
1/2 cup desiccated coconut

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy using an electric mixer/beater. Add the egg and beat in well. Stir in the flour and the coconut in two batches. Turn the dough out on to a floured surface and knead lightly until it all comes together and is smooth. Roll it out between two sheets of baking paper until it is about 5mm thick, then put that in the fridge for about half an hour.

Cut shapes out of the dough with whatever shape of cutter you like, lay them on paper-lined baking trays, and bake in a preheated 180C oven for about 12 minutes. While they are baking, gather the remaining dough up, re-roll it, put it back in the fridge. Basically just keep repeating the process until you’ve used as much of the dough as you can to cut out and bake the cookies. You can do whatever you like with the last scraps – I like to eat the dough raw at that point 🙂

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What I did to decorate these was to make a super basic icing from icing sugar, water, food colouring and a few drops of rosewater essence. I used a piping bag just with the end cut off to decorate, and my piping skills are far from great, but I think they ended up looking fairly cute anyway.

Valentine's Day cookies

Gluten-Free Pineapple & Coconut Cupcakes

New team at work, new birthdays, new likes/dislikes/allergies. We have a coeliac and someone who is allergic to peanuts, and while the coeliac is fine with missing out on cake (she’s used to it, poor thing) I don’t think anyone should have to miss out if they don’t have to. So here we have some gluten-free (and peanut-free) cupcakes.

pineapple Coconut Cupcakes

This is a recipe I’ve not used before, plus the added gluten-free factor meant that I was really worried these might not work out, but they seem to be pretty good! I tried making the pineapple flowers to add a bit of sparkle and they were surprisingly easy and delicious. If I were to do this again though, I’d make the pineapple flowers first and let them cool while I made the cakes.

3 cups plain gluten-free flour (or regular flour, if you like)
2 teaspoons baking powder
250g butter, softened
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
440g tin crushed pineapple, drained (reserve the juice as you may need it later)
1/2 cup desiccated coconut

Cream the butter, sugar and vanilla well. Add the eggs one at a time and beat lightly between each addition. Sift in the flour and baking powder in two batches, and fold in to the batter. Add the pineapple and the coconut and mix well. I found the batter to be really thick, so I added about 2 tablespoons of pineapple juice as well, and could probably have added more.

Spoon batter into lined cupcake tins and bake at 180C for about 25-30 minutes. Cool on wire racks. Makes 24.

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Pineapple Flowers – you will need a whole fresh pineapple for these. Cut the skin off and take out the eyes. Slice into rounds as thinly as you possibly can. Make a sugar syrup by melting 2 tablespoons of sugar into 2 tablespoons of water in a saucepan, and boiling briefly. Brush the pineapple slices with the syrup and lay on wire oven racks. Dry in an oven at 120C for about an hour. Take the pineapple off the racks and push them into mini muffin trays (or egg cartons) to shape them, and allow to cool.

I made a cream cheese icing, and decorated the cakes with toasted coconut as well as the pineapple flowers. Yum! And cute!!

pineapple cupcake

Gin & Tonic Cupcakes

It’s been far too long since these were last made, and I had a baby shower/birthday party for a gin lover to attend today, so I had the perfect excuse. They are easy, just a tweak of my usual cupcake recipe, and they may sound strange but are actually delicious.

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The tonic is in the cake, and the gin is in the icing. The flavours are subtle. I’ll be (possibly) slightly controversial with the gin snobs out there and say that it doesn’t really matter what type of gin you use, it’s only a small amount.

250g butter, at room temperature
2 cups caster sugar
4 eggs
1 cup tonic water
3 cups self-raising flour

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cream the butter and sugar, add eggs one at a time and beat briefly after each addition. Add the flour and the tonic water in 2 batches, and fold into the mixture. Spoon into lined cupcake trays and bake for about 25 minutes. Turn onto a wire rack to cool before icing.

I make a basic buttercream to ice them and add about 50ml of gin and some lime juice to taste. This time I also sprinkled some green coloured sugar on top for a bit of fun.

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Strawberries and Cream Cupcakes

Whipped up some pretty little cakes for afternoon tea at work today – my usual vanilla cupcake recipe that I’ve mentioned on here before – but I used strawberry flavour and pink colouring in the buttercream icing. I was inspired by the packet of strawberries & cream lollies that I found tucked away in our pantry!

Super easy to make, and they were well received by my colleagues…

 

If I’d had the time and ingredients to hand, I would have decorated these with some whipped cream as well, and some fresh strawberries! Also maybe swirled some strawberry jam through the batter before baking for a bit of sweet colour.