You may remember I recently posted a sneak peak of this zebra cake. You see, friends had asked me to make a birthday cake for their little girl, and I'd agreed, despite not being entirely sure I had the baking chops to carry off such a project.
Then I had to make a plan. I like planning.
I've had Grace's zorse cake bookmarked for months, because I loved the delicate stripes, but I knew that a cinnamon-flavoured cake was really not going to cut it for a bowling party of seven year olds. It had to be chocolate. Not too chocolatey of course - these may be modern middle-class kiddies but in my (limited) experience of children they are mostly about the icing and a dark, sophisticated chocolate cake would be wasted.
I turned to a brains trust of experienced bakers, and was recommended the Be-Ro Milk Chocolate Cake recipe. Now, Be-Ro produced the world's first self-raising flour. As far as I can tell, saying you are using a Be-Ro recipe gives the same sort of this-is-my-grannie's-recipe reassurance that the Edmond's cookbook gives kiwis or the Commonsense Cookery Book gives Australians. So despite the unusual technique (rubbing the fat into the flour, then adding the liquids) I knew I was in safe hands if I followed the recipe. Of course, I wanted to make it a zebra cake, so I wasn't going to follow the recipe, hence the need for the trial run, to see how my batter worked when divided.
As I'd decided to make a 10" cake, I also had to scale up the recipe - I made 1 1/2 times the batter. If I'd wanted to cut it in half to layer it, I would have doubled the recipe.
So I followed the recipe, using butter instead of margarine and omitting the cocoa until after I had divided the batter in half, then I thoroughly beat the sifted cocoa into one half. And I ignored the bit about not using a loose-bottomed cake tin. It's really a very thick batter, I don't know why they were worried about it running out!
I alternated portions of the batters, allowing each one to spread out naturally from the centre, and pouring the next carefully onto the middle of the preceding circle. Then I baked it at a slightly lower temperature, for slightly longer, testing a couple of times with a toothpick until it came out clean.
During my planning phase I'd done a LOT of reading about cake decorating. Most of which I confess made me want to run away screaming because it was so much more complicated than I wanted to attempt. There were a couple of cracking tips though:
a) put strips of baking parchment on your cake board just under the cake, so you keep it clean while decorating and don't have to try to move a decorated cake onto the board.
b) apply a "crumb coat" - this is a thin layer of jam or syrup (or booze if you aren't cooking for seven year olds) that you brush onto the cake. It adds flavour, moisture, and seals any loose crumbs to the surface of the cake so you get a clean surface to ice.
I used warmed, sieved strawberry jam, because some of the decorations I used were strawberry flavoured.
As well as knowing that the cake had to be chocolate, I knew it had to involve the colour pink. I am not a fan of the pink-for-girls thing and left to myself I would probably have taken a stand and decorated in pale blue or bright green to show what I think of gendered colours, but she's seven, she loves pink and she is not a puppet of my politics.
I thought about doing a white chocolate ganache, but white chocolate can be a bit temperamental and also tends to look quite yellow. I came upon this recipe, for a white chocolate buttercream, and thought that would be exactly the thing. I wanted an icing thick enough to completely conceal the stripy insides, so it would be a surprise when it was cut. I just did a straight swap of American to Australian cups, because I couldn't be bothered with the conversion, and used 200g white chocolate because that is how big the block was. I also didn't add any extra vanilla; I only had vanilla bean paste and the last thing a little girl needs is black-speckled frosting.
I urge you to try this frosting. It is absolutely delicious and extremely well-behaved. I think it will be my go-to icing forever more - I was thinking about how good it would be with coffee or some lemon zest added.
After that, it was pretty straight-forward. I smeared the frosting on liberally with a palette knife, then put some in a freezer bag and snipped off the corner, piping a rampart around the top edge of the cake, then adding little rosettes. Strawberry and white chocolate curls, pink sugar pearls, pink and white sugar flowers and a liberal dusting of edible glitter finished it off.
You know what? I was thrilled with how it turned out. It looks home made, not mass-produced, and very importantly, it tasted really good. The cake had a good, moist texture and lovely chocolate flavour (I used good quality cocoa). I don't see myself doing this sort of thing often, but I did enjoy the challenge!