Wednesday 7 December 2011

Zebra cake unveiled

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!


Suelle said...

It looks lovely - I'm sure the birthday girl was very happy with it. You could have added some pink stripes too, for maximum girliness!

leaf (the indolent cook) said...

The idea of being responsible for someone's birthday cake is quite terrifying to me. Kudos to you for pulling it off!

Anonymous said...

That looks truly amazing! I hope the birthday girl enjoyed it.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Suelle - I don't have nearly a steady enough hand to pipe stripes! I did think about colouring the batter though.

Leafy - it was daunting, for sure.

Anon - thank you!

Mary Bergfeld said...

You did a really nice job with this. I'm sure the birthday girl was thrilled. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Brain said...

It looks gorgeous! I'm also impressed by how much planning you've put into this, I don't think I'd have the patience myself :)

hungryandfrozen said...

This cake is so beautiful. As a big fan of white chocolate I'm going to keep that icing recipe in mind - it really can be temperamental! Glad to know the cake itself is reasonably easy to do, as I've been wanting to do one like that for ages now!

ali said...

What fun! Love those pink and white curls. Well done!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Mary - thank you!

Brain - I wanted to get it right!

Laura - you will love it! It works so well!

Ali - thanks!

Arlene Delloro said...

I am very sure the little girl in question was enraptured with her cake. It looks lovely and sounds delicious. As for not propagating your politics about the whole girly-pink thing, been there, done that. I don't remember being so enamoured with the color pink when I was a girl, but every other little girl in my life considers it her "signature" color.

Bettina Douglas said...

How long did the "layering" take? That sounds like it could not be hurried.

Joanne said...

This cake looks so awesome! It would have definitely made my birthday a happy one!

Alicia Foodycat said...

Arlene - I'm a bit younger than you, and pink wasn't a big deal in my childhood either. I think I had more red and navy blue!

Mother - oh it was slow! I think it took about 15 minutes. You really have to let it spread out.

Joanne - thank you!

Barbara said...

Looks great! And I know it was much appreciated. Everyone loves something that comes from the heart.

Anne said...

I love the striped effect! The cake looks really pretty too :)

grace said...

excellent! you and i are similar in that we do a lot of research and planning. that paid off here, because your result is amazing--bravo!

Caroline said...

Wow, I'm so impressed. I always avoid cakes for occasions, especially ones that need decorating - I can do without the added pressure. Yours looks great - love the visual effect of the stripes and the decoration is lovely. I bet the birthday girl loved it! (I would have gone for blue/green too, but obviously not for the birthday girl's sake!!!)

Alicia Foodycat said...

Barbara - I hope she did like it!

Anne - thank you!

Grace - the research is part of the fun.

C - I did an idiot-proof level of decoration!

Deb in Hawaii said...

You pulled it off brilliantly--such a pretty cake and the stripes are so fun. ;-)


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