Saturday, April 14

incredibly pink vanilla jam layer cake

Women can be bitchy. It’s a shame, really. Being the fairer of the sexes—being traditionally more compassionate, more empathetic, more warm and nurturing—you would think bitchiness would somehow be pushed aside. It’s a shame, but it happens. (Most) women hold themselves to high standards and expect the same in other women. It means we’re often prone to criticising other ladies harshly for no real reason. We’re critical of what they wear or how they behave publicly. Does it stem from envy? I dress purely for myself, but sure, I’ve had serious shoe or outfit envy from time to time.

I also like to think I blog for myself. I love sharing recipes, particularly those that have impressed the people I share the results with (shoutouts to my wonderful co-workers and family). It’s lovely to meet new people, or to hear positive things from people who have tried your recipes or those who are simply happy to read entries. I suppose I find the act of blogging somewhat therapeutic? But essentially, I am doing this for me. But oh my, I’ve had serious blogging envy this Easter.

Butter Hearts Sugar had a simple but an insanely cute idea using those hilarious yellow chickens that are everywhere at this time of year. Sprinklebakes made the most delightful bird’s nests made from royal icing. And I know it was last year, but raspberri cupcakes’ bunny macarons will live on in my memory each year until I’m old and grey. Or at the very least, until I master them myself. I’ve toted on about the cuteness of Easter, and so many clever bloggers have really taken advantage of this. My heart has ached with cute-overload. And I love you, fellow bloggers, but oh, how I have cursed your cleverness over the past few days.

So, this time last week I was wanted to make a cake for Easter Sunday. Some huge and impractical thing that I would never be able to keep at home, but would instead palm off to my small family. At first I felt the urge to make a ruffle cake, but then I realised it’s simply because I seem to live with this urge on a daily basis. I settled for this six-layer thing, which I think, is almost as pretty to look at. Whilst this cake isn’t overtly Eastery, I’m still cashing in on pastel colours.

For cake:
Recipe from Sweetapolita
340 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 2/3 cups granulated sugar
9 egg whites, at room temperature, lightly whisked
4 1/2 cups plain flour
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For filling:
300 gms good quality (or even better, homemade) raspberry jam

For the strawberry buttercream:
250 gms unsalted butter, at room temperature
700 gms pure icing sugar, sifted
2 tbsps strawberry essence (I use the Queen variety)
2 tbsps mls pouring cream

pink food colouring (I use Wilton gel)

Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly butter three 20cm round cake pans and line the base with baking paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, which should take about five minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the egg whites gradually, mixing until fully incorporated.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl. Mix vanilla extract and vanilla paste into the buttermilk. Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed butter mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated.

Divide the batter into thirds—I do this by weighing each to ensure they’re as even as possible. Lightly colour one third with a very small amount of pink food colouring. Colour another third so it’s a deeper shade of pink, and leave the last third plain. Pour each into a prepared tin, smooth with small offset palette knife, and bake for about 30 minutes, rotating once after 20 minutes. Cakes are done with lightly golden and when a skewer inserted into the middle of each cake comes out clean.

Allow cakes to cool in their tins for ten minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

For the buttercream, beat the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on a high speed until pale and creamy. Add the cream and strawberry essence, and beat on high for a few minutes until smooth and fluffy.

Divide the mixture into thirds and, like the cake batter before it, tint two thirds with lighter and darker shades of pink, matching as close as possible to the intensity of the cakes.

When cakes are completely cooled, split each in half horizontally. Place a dark pink layer on a cake board, spread generously with raspberry jam. Repeat with last dark pink layer, two light pink layers, and two plain layers.

With a small offset palette knife, spread the whole cake with a thin layer of uncoloured buttercream to act as a crumb coat. This doesn’t have to be neat! Chill for thirty minutes.

To decorate the cake as pictured, I found it easiest to start from the surface of the cake, spreading a generous layer of uncoloured buttercream across top and down about a third of the height of the cake. Spread the light pink around the middle, and the darker pink around the base. I was so tempted to smooth out the layers and run a hot knife over the whole cake, but I kind of fell in love with its imperfections. I’m sure it would look lovely either way.

I feel like I have to say something about this beautiful cake recipe, too. Since reading about Sweetapolita’s quest for her perfect vanilla cake, I tried this recipe and whilst I baulked at the nine egg whites, I would never go back. This has now become my go-to vanilla cake recipe, and the size of the three cakes it produces really gives a layer cake the perfect height I am forever craving, without being obscenely towering. So stock up on eggs, and give this a try. It’s simple and delicious, and moist without being dense and heavy. Perfect, quite honestly.

Recommended baking soundtrack: M. Ward - A Wasteland Companion.

Tuesday, April 3

easter bunny cupcakes

Forgive me: I am not in the least bit religious. At all. But Easter is my version of baking heaven. Sure, Christmas is great, with Santa and things of a sparkly nature, but what could be better than pastel colours, baby animals, flowers and an abundance of chocolate?! And despite living in the Southern hemisphere, starting to feel the evenings cool and watching the leaves turn brown instead of green, I am still forever compelled to make something cute and Spring-inspired. Usually, I would have had something planned weeks in advance, but this year, Easter has really snuck up on me. Realising that it's now less than a week away has left me feeling like I've missed out on so many adorable baking opportunities. So over the weekend, I was desperately trying to think of something cute and not too time consuming to make, and I just… couldn't. I don't know came over me, quite honestly. I was utterly uninspired.

After hours of being frustrated, intermittedly killing time looking at pretty dresses online and stopping for multiple tea breaks, I decided to decorate cupcakes using a grass tip, which I've been dying to do for a while now. Now, I don't even remember the last time I made cupcakes… so in order to make them as cute as possible, I burrowed miniature fondant bunnies into the grass-topped cakes, leaving their cute little bottoms exposed. I then realised my Easter cake last year also featured a rabbit's bottom, and who can blame me?! There are few things are cuter than a rabbit's backside.

Of course I wanted to make carrot cupcakes to go with anything rabbit related, despite the overwhelming urge to do something painfully chocolatey. And these cakes are oh so easy! They're light and fluffy and simply wonderful, and only use one bowl. It's been way too long since I've had carrot cake. Feel free to add walnuts or pecans if that's your thing, but I'm a carrot cake purist. No nuts allowed.

Ingredients (makes 16)
For cakes:
250 mls vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
215 gms caster sugar
2 cups coarsely grated carrot (approximately two large or three small carrots)
150 gms self raising flour
125 gms almond meal
1 tsp ground cinnamon

For cream cheese frosting:
125 gms cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla bean paste (or good extract)
2 cups icing sugar
a touch of green food colouring

For decorations:
About 400 gms fondant
Pink, orange and green food colourings

Firstly, make the decorations. These are really easy, albeit a little time consuming. I made enough rabbits for half of the cakes, topping the remaining with little carrots. The rabbit bottoms were about 4cm in diameter, and the tales about 1cm across. In retrospect, I would have done some bunny ears to poke out of cake tops, too.

For the cakes, preheat your oven to 180C and two standard 12 capacity cupcakes tins with cupcake liners.

Whisk together the oil, eggs and vanilla. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until combined. Divide mixture evenly amongst prepared cases-- approximately two tablespoons of mixture per case works out perfectly. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool completely.

To make the cream cheese frosting, beat the cream cheese and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer until smooth. Add the sifted icing sugar, and beat at a high speed until add a good piping consistency, adding more icing sugar if necessary. Add green food colouring very sparingly-- a little goes a long way-- and with a piping bag fitted with a grass tip, cover each cakewith tufts of grass.

Top cakes with a burrowing bunny, or a couple of carrots.

As I was decorating, I longed for some oreo crumbs to make the carrot-topped cakes look more like small garden beds. This concept would also be adorable on a large cake, too, with bunny bottoms and ears sticking in and out of burrows on the surface of the cake. Oh, cake regret! I suppose there's still four days until Easter Sunday...

Recommended baking soundtrack: Shearwater - Animal Joy.