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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Brown butter bourbon blondies

I’ve never been big on Valentine’s Day, it always seems like a commercialised mess of over-priced wilted roses and unrealistic expectations. What I do like though is demonstrations of love and affection any day of year, and handmade or personalised gifts. And cakery. So why not combine those things, and time them right for Valentine’s Day, just because?

Here’s another thing I’ve never been big on: blondies. I think because I always just thought of them associated with white chocolate, which I really don’t like. Chocolate is great, white chocolate is not the real thing – so therefore brownies are awesome, blondies are weird and too sugary. So why I had a sudden hankering to make them is beyond me, but I’m kinda glad I did. Realised they don’t actually have to have white chocolate in them! Who knew? (probably most people…) What they do have in them is still a lot of sugar, sure, but also a lot of butter. Here’s what I absolutely love: butter.

So anyway, in line with the Valentine’s Day theme, I thought that I’d make them flavoured with my husband’s favourite drink (bourbon), cut them out in heart shapes, and then pack them up for his lunch. And then I could take the leftover bits to work and make my colleagues love me too…

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In the end the recipe I used was a kind of amalgamation of a bunch of different recipes, and also what I had in the pantry. Here’s what I’d do differently next time: use all brown sugar (I only used 1/4 brown sugar and 3/4 raw sugar, because that’s what I had. It worked fine but the brown sugar would make it more caramel-y I think) so that’s how I’ve written the recipe.

250g butter
2 cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla essence
120ml bourbon
2 eggs
2 cups plain flour

First thing is to brown the butter. Melt it in a saucepan over low heat, until it is just bubbling. Keep it going, swirling the saucepan around regularly so that it doesn’t stick, until it starts to go dark golden. At this point take it well off the heat because it will continue to darken, and swirl it around a bit more to cool it down because it can tip over into burning point pretty quickly. Then just let it cool down for about 10 minutes.

In the meantime preheat the oven to 180C and grease and line an 8×12 inch tray with baking paper.

Put the brown butter and the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer and beat for a few minutes, then add the vanilla and bourbon, beat for another minute or so, add the eggs and then beat again for another minute or two. Add the flour and beat lightly until just smooth, then pour into the tray. Bake for 20-25 minutes until just golden brown on top. Leave to cool in tin for about 15 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack. Leave to cool completely before slicing – they will be chewy in the middle and crunchy on the edges.

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You can either just cut into squares like usual, or use cookie cutters to cut out fancy shapes. Delicious on their own but also excellent as a dessert with vanilla ice cream!

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Lamingtons

Confession: I’ve never been a massive fan of lamingtons. I feel a bit un-Australian saying that, but I’ve always felt they were nothing special. Despite that, I decided that I still needed to try making them! And what better time to make lamingtons than Australia Day?

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I knew that the cake should be a light and basic type of cake, and also one that cuts up well rather than crumbling everywhere, so I decided to go with the vanilla butter cake that I used for my daughter’s first birthday cake. It’s super easy, it works, it tastes good. You make it the night before and keep it in the fridge and it cuts up even better. I cut the square cake into 20 pieces (5×4) and they wouldn’t want to be any bigger – could probably even cut the square cake into 5×5 and they’d be perfect.

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Because one of my issues with lamingtons is that they can be dry and a bit boring, I added a layer of jam in the middle of each one. I had actually made my own strawberry jam the previous weekend, so I used that, but you could use anything really. Raspberry would be good, but a layer of extra chocolate would also be pretty decadent.

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Which brings me to the part that I had no idea about, not being a lamington connoisseur, and that was whether the chocolate that the cake is covered in was icing or ganache. I looked up a few recipes but some were ganache and some were icing, and I remained confused, so I made both! They were both very simple: ganache was melted dark chocolate and cream, and the icing was icing sugar, cocoa and milk. I didn’t measure the ingredients for either of them, I just mixed until the consistencies seemed right.

I hadn’t thought about how messy it would be to actually assemble the lamingtons, and I tried to keep it to a minimum but it’s really hard to not get desiccated coconut and chocolate everywhere! First I cut up all the cake, then spread all the jam and sandwiched the pieces back together so they were ready to go. Then I made the ganache and the icing, set up a big dish of desiccated coconut, and set to work!

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I learned that even though the ganache/icing part might look pretty messy, once you roll the whole thing in coconut it looks totally fine. The assembly did take longer and was more fiddly than I expected, but the end result looked and tasted really good. Most people who tried them seemed to like the ganache the most, and I tend to agree – while the icing ones were loved by those with a super sweet tooth, the ganache helped make an already very sweet treat just a little bit less sugary. And they weren’t dry at all!

Vanilla/Vanilla Bridal Tea Cupcakes

A colleague is about to get married, and just before she finished work for a few weeks her team decided to throw her a bridal morning tea. They asked me to supply some cupcakes if possible, and of course I agreed! So last week we all brought in a plate of food and turned one of the conference rooms into a girly, high tea style, bridal party room.

I wanted to make something ‘pretty’ and appropriate, but I was limited by the time and ingredients that I had available, so I decided on vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream but with a girly decorative twist. I’ve started experimenting with the piped buttercream icing, and I’m learning how to make the cakes look somewhat like roses! (added chocolate heart shapes and silver cachous for extra pretty)

The cakes themselves were very easy:

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

Preheat oven to 180C. Cream butter, add sugar and vanilla, cream again. Add eggs one at a time, beating briefly after each addition. Mix in half the flour. Add the rest of the flour and the milk, and mix until just combined. Fill cupcake tray sections about 2/3 full. Bake for about 20-25 minutes.

Standard vanilla buttercream icing was used, and the secret to the ‘roses’ is to pipe in a circular pattern starting from the middle moving outwards.

They went down a treat!