Like a lot of people I have always loved baking. Making ‘cartoon’ cakes as kids, fairy cakes with wings and glace cherries, cornflake cakes… (although the time I tried to make them on my own aged 7 and almost set the kitchen on fire is another story). But I’m not a huge lover of the eating part. Not so much a ‘health’ thing (give me a cheese plate and I’ll demolish the lot in about 10 seconds flat), just that I’m more of a starter/ mains kinda girl. However I do love making them, like really love making them.
The idea of ‘baking yourself better’ came about after a friend mentioned that Mary Berry had said this after losing her son William. Of course I am sure it wasn’t just baking that enabled Mrs Berry to come to terms with her sons death, likewise I don’t think a million cakes will mean I ever stop thinking about Archie, or that I am ‘ok’ with what has happened but I totally see what she means. And after a little delve into the world wide web, it seems like we’re not the only ones. There are hospitals that are looking into ‘cooking therapy’, a charity called ‘The Depressed Cake Shop’ who run pop-up cake stalls selling only grey cakes to raise mental health awareness and lots more baking-mental health related features and facts. The famous novelist Marian Keyes also credits baking to getting her through tougher times. In her book ‘Saved by Cakes’ she writes: “Baking hasn’t cured me. But it gets me through … To be perfectly blunt about it, my choice sometimes is: I can kill myself or I can make a dozen cupcakes. Right, so I’ll do the cupcakes and I can kill myself tomorrow.”
Ok so I am not depressed but I am grieving, and even though there is a difference, it is still dark. In the early, bleak days you were lucky if I showered. Now? I bake cakes. Nothing new you’re thinking, you’ve just told us how you have always loved to bake! But it is different now, it is appealing to me on another level. I take such time and pleasure in the calmness of baking, the methodical process, the concentration (you can’t rush these things); it is now an hour or two (or more) of brain respite. Some people love yoga, meditation, but I don’t. I just can’t switch off my mind for 90 minutes (surely more reason to stick with it but hey ho…), especially not now when everyday, every hour feels like an emotional roller coaster. Give me a cake to make however and I am there. In the zone and focused, and there is a little peace.
Last week was a ‘quiet’ week (not too many visitors, appointments, etc etc) and Pete had mentioned a long standing colleague of his was leaving. Before I knew it I was offering to make her a cake. Knowing this lady has a real penchant for all things pink, meant I was able to go all out and make a 4 layer pink ombre cake with some pretty OTT finishes – a style I’d been wanting to play around with for a while (inspired by the incredible Aussie baker Katherine Sabbath). And it helped, it was a project to focus on, and I came away feeling like I had achieved something – something I haven’t felt for a while. And best of all she loved it.
4-layer Vanilla Ombre Cake
Serves… a lot! Around 16-20
- 350g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 350g caster sugar
- 6 large free range eggs
- 350g self raising flour, sifted
- a tablespoon of good quality vanilla extract
- a splash of milk
- pink and red gel food colouring (not the liquid ones you get in the supermarket, they won’t be concentrated enough
Preheat your oven to 170/ gas mark 3. Grease and line the bottom of 2 x 9″ round springform cake tins.
In a freestanding mixer, or by hand, cream together the butter and caster sugar until very pale and light. One by one beat in the eggs, and with the last egg fold in a little of the flour. Using a large metal spoon fold in the flour gently, taking care not to over mix as you’ll beat in the food dye and don’t want a tough sponge. Mix in the vanilla and a splash of milk if your batter is thick.
Divide your cake mix into 4 bowls – you can weigh the mixture to ensure it is even and precise if you like or do it by eye. I find it easier to start with the palest colour, so in this case using just a little of the pink food dye and beat it in to get your palest sponge. Then, with the next batch do the same but add a little more to get a stronger shade of pink. For the third sponge I incorporated a little red food dye with the pink to get a darker shade still, and by the 4th mixture I used half red and half pink. Mix the dyes into the batters so that it is completely mixed in and there are no streaks. Bake two of them in the prepared tins for around 18 – 20 minutes or until cooked through and only a little golden. (I always check my cakes with a skewer). Leave the sponges to cool in the tins for 5 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. Careful clean the tins, as they will still be warm, then dry and re-grease and line. Cook the last 2 sponges, following the same process.
When all the cakes are completely cool, wrap them in cling film and refrigerate for a couple of hours. It will be easier to decorate them if they are chilled.
Makes enough to fill, crumb coat and frost the cake
- 400g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 800g icing sugar
- Splash of milk
- Vanilla bean paste
Beat the butter in a freestanding mixer until very pale and fluffy. Turn off your machine, add half of the icing sugar and gradually beat in, starting on slow and gradually getting faster. After a minutes, turn off the machine and repeat with the remaining icing sugar. Beat until you have a pale, almost white buttercream. Add a splash of milk and the vanilla bean paste and beat in.
Start by securing your darkest sponge layer to your chosen board. Just spoon on a little buttercream, spread out a little (not too much or it won’t stick properly) and ‘stick’ your base sponge to the board. Sandwich the remaining sponges in colour order (dark to light), with a buttercream layer. I place a spoonful in the middle of the sponge and using a spatula work the buttercream towards the edge of the cake. Once your sponges are all in place, use minimal amount of buttercream to ‘crumb coat’ the cake. Essentially you just need to apply enough buttercream to collect any stray crumbs off of the cakes, so that when you go on to decorate it, it looks perfect.
Place the cake in the fridge for at least 30 – 45 minutes to set the buttercream, before decorating it with your final layer of buttercream. Starting with a generous amount on the top, moving in circular motions until you have a perfect smooth finish. (You can use a cake turntable if you have one!) Then do the same with the sides. Pop back in the fridge, ready for finishing.
With my cake I made a chocolate glaze which I gently poured over and dripped down the sides. To make this I used:
- 200g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
- 75g butter, chopped into chunks
- a tablespoon of groundnut oil
Place all the ingredients in a heatproof bowl. Pop over a pan of barely simmering water, be careful that the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Stir occasionally until all melted and mixed together, then remove from the pan and leave to cool for 10 – 15 minutes. You don’t want the chocolate to set but you also don’t want to melt the buttercream! When it is ready gently pour onto the top of your chilled cake and using a palate knife ease it to the edges so that it gently runs down the side. Leave to one side to set for at least 30 minutes before finishing.
I finished my cake with a load of pink girlie goodies – roses and rose petals, little marshmallows and edible silver stars, little white and pink edible pearls and shards of a marbled white chocolate and pink bark I made specially. Oh and some edible glitter, of course.