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.

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.

pineapple flowers

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.

Last Minute Colourful Cupcakes

I received a last minute request from my hairdressers this week for 2 dozen cupcakes and I love those guys so I couldn’t say no! They were really easy going about it too, didn’t care what flavour I made, just that there should be a bit of colour. Because I didn’t have a lot of time (I needed to make these on a Friday night but I was also going out for dinner and drinks beforehand) I decided to keep it simple. I made these vanilla/vanilla cupcakes because I knew they would work, and to make them colourful I used bold coloured cupcake liners and decorated them with 100’s & 1000’s.

I discovered a great way to do the decoration without spilling the 100’s & 1000’s everywhere was to keep it all contained in a plastic box. Ice the cakes, put them in the box, tip the sprinkles over the top, let them sit for a minute, shake off the excess*. Easy, pretty, tasty!

*Tip: I learned from experience when shaking off the excess sprinkles, be really careful not to let go of the cupcake or it falls and completely squidges the icing and you have to start all over again, and that’s a bit annoying.

Gift Wrapped Cake

While I think I’m still not a fan of working with fondant for cake decorating, I have to admit it can look good. This weekend I did the Chocolate Stout cake (which is a great solid base for any serious cake decorating, and it tastes delicious as well) and decorated it to look like a wrapped gift. It’s a simple but effective design, and I love the bright colours!

I did this as a consignment for colleagues who were going to put a toy on top of the cake in place of a bow, so I didn’t need to completely finish that aspect of the decorating. Turned out pretty well really!