One of my favourite people at work are leaving. When she announced her departure my first question after the heartbroken expression left my face was "So what kind of leaving cake do you want?".
She had shown my friend pictures of cakes she had seen on Instagram and to my friend and asked her if she thought I could make them. This said friend of course told me the sorts of things she had been shown. I became rather nervous. I knew I couldn't disappoint!
Even though this woman is the head of our department and many many many rungs above me, she is still one of the most approachable people I have ever met. You could ask her any question and not be afraid she would turn you away or think your question was stupid. Our mutual love of all things delicious and sweet also gives us a good common ground. I think all managers and people in positions of power could take a page or two out of her book. This is why I will miss her presence greatly and why she is worth so much effort in the cake department.
In the build up the to the farewell morning tea where I shall debut this cake I have been anxious to get some practice in. I have been Youtubing, googling and scrolling down endless Instagram feeds for inspiration.
The problem with making cakes is that you need people to eat them. My flatmates and I will get through maybe about a third of a cake max before we lose interest or fear our sugar intake has exceeded the yearly maximum to eat too much more. I got invited to a friend's 25th birthday gathering and leapt at the opportunity to celebrate with cake!
She was excited when I asked her if I could bring a cake. She was speechless when I brought it round. The sheer joy on her face and the bouncing and the delight reminded me why I love baking cakes for people so much. Exceeding their expectations and filling them with joy is what drives me to make them.
I wanted to make something colourful that fitted my friend's shining personality. I scoured the internet for ideas and took a very focused trip to the supermarket where I tried visualising different candy bars and biscuits on top of the cake.
I ended up using meringues of different textures that I made by hand, macarons, wafer biscuits, hundreds and thousands biscuits, mini chupa chups, pastel coloured sugar pearls, candy coated mini eggs, edible glitter and sprinkles. Lots of sprinkles.
The end result looked like a unicorn that had been reincarnated as a cake.
A lot of my friends go on about how they could never make something like this. To that I say bull shit. All you need is a little practice, some basic skill knowledge and patience. Lots of patience. Make sure your cakes are fully cool before even starting. I tend to make mine the night before to ensure this. When you crumb coat, make sure you leave it to set in the fridge for a good half an hour to 45 minutes. Walk away. Just leave. Do some laundry. Have a shower. Clean something. Just let the icing set before continuing. Also make sure your individual cake layers are EVEN before stacking. Get the cakes at eye level, spin them round to double check and take a large serrated knife to any slopes or uneveness. Don't be afraid to take a nice big mound of domed cake off.
Makes 15cm tall, 15cm wide, 3 layers worth of cake
For the cake
2 large eggs
2 cups of sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
Juice of 1 small lemon
2 cups flour
1 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cups very strong black coffee (or 1/2 cup of water with two teaspoons of instant coffee powder dissolved into it)
For the buttercream
250g butter, softened
800g icing sugar
1-2 teaspoons vanilla
3-4 tablespoons milk
For the meringues
2 egg whites (about 70g - make sure you weigh them)
Approx 140g castor sugar (ie double the weight of the egg whites)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
Food colouring (gel preferably)
For the ganache
113g dark chocolate (70%), blitzed into crumbs in a food processor
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees and line three 15cm cake tins. Grease the sides of the tins and dust with flour.
Squeeze the lemon juice into a jug with the milk and leave for five minutes to curdle. Using an electric mixer or an electric hand beater beat together the eggs, sugar and vanilla until pale then beat in the oil followed by the curdled milk. Sieve in the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt into the bowl and gently mix in. Lastly mix in the coffee and beat until the batter is smooth.
Divide the batter between the three tins (about 500-550g per tin) then bake for 35-45 minutes. Use a skewer to check if cooked, the skewer should come out with a few moist crumbs stuck to it when the cake is perfectly cooked. Remove from the oven and leave to cook for 20 minutes until turning out of the tins and leaving to cool completely. Wrap in gladwrap and leave overnight if need be. Level the cakes so the tops are totally flat and even by slicing excess off with a serrated knife.
Reduce the temperature of the oven to 100 degrees. To make the meringues make sure your mixer and bowl are totally free from grease before starting. Run half a lemon around your bowl and over your whisk attachments before starting just to be sure. Beat the egg whites until foamy and slightly stiff then add in the sugar spoonful at a time. Once all the sugar has been added beat on high for five minutes until a thick and glossy meringue forms. Dip your finger in the meringue and rub it between your fingers, if you feel sugar grains continue to beat for a few more minutes until they dissolve then beat in the vanilla.
Divide the mixture and colour as your wish. If using liquid food colouring be sure not to add too many drops. Transfer to a piping bag with a star or round tip nozzle and pipe kisses onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Hold the piping bag about 2cm above the baking tray, apply a steady pressure until you get the size you want, remove the pressure and pull the bag up from the piped meringue, forming the kiss flick.
Bake the meringues in the low oven for 40 minutes. The meringues should be able to be easily pulled off the baking tray without leaving a footprint. Turn the oven off with the meringues still in there and leave them to dry out in there overnight. The next day, remove from the oven and store in an airtight plastic container.
To make the buttercream, beat the butter and vanilla until pale and slightly fluffy. Sieve in half of the icing sugar and mix until smooth and fluffy. Add a little of the milk if it needs loosening. Sieve in the remaining icing sugar and repeat. Add enough of the milk so that the icing is light, fluffy and easily spreadable. Colour as required.
To assemble, place a small spoonful of icing onto a cake board. Place cake layer number one onto the board. Spread a good dollop of icing over the top, making sure the icing overhangs the edges. Place the next layer on and repeat. Place the final layer on then proceed to cover the top and sides in a complete but thin layer of icing, smoothing over any cracks and keeping the crumbs in. Leave to set in the fridge for 30-45 minutes. Smooth over the remaining buttercream to form the top coat of. I used a small ruler to smooth the sides to form that seamless finish. It helps having a turntable to do this on. Keep smoothing until satisfied. At this point you can press sprinkles onto the base edge of the cake.
To make the ganache, place your chocolate crumbs in a heat proof bowl then heat the cream in a large mug in the microwave for about 45-60 seconds or in a saucepan until it is too hot to dip your finger in it. Pour the cream over the crumbs and leave to sit for a minute before stirring together to create a runny and smooth ganache. Stir until all the chocolate has melted. Leave to cool slightly so that it is about body temperature. Spoon onto the top of the cake and gently spread towards the edges. Nudge it gently until it starts dripping down the sides and encourage the drips by spreading more ganache towards the drip.
Before the chocolate sets start add the decorations. Start by placing your largest items such as a meringue or macarons. Work your way around the cake by adding things like biscuits which have been trimmed to different heights, Fill in gaps with baby meringues and small coloured eggs. Just keep adding until you think you've got the look you want. Insert any lollipops in at slightly different heights to add extra dimension. Finish with the pearl sprinkles and some edible glitter.
Leave the chocolate to set before taking to this cake with a nice sharp cooks knife!