Ever since I stumbled across Sweetapolita’s blog, I’ve been consumed with the desire to make a skyscraper of a layer cake. The kind that looks like a gleaming palace of sugar and butter; a veritable Taj Mahal of cakes.
My few attempts so far have been verging on the impressive:
(funfetti cake with meringue buttercream; devil’s food cake; Brooklyn blackout cake)
Batter behemoths these may be but they still did not quite scratch that layer cake itch that I seem to have contracted from reading American baking blogs. So, when the rainbow layer cake craze swept the blogosphere, the garish, kitschy baker in me was hopelessly bowled over at first sight.
The problem is that this isn’t the kind of cake that you just knock up without a recipient in mind. (Believe me, I am a girl who will bake for the slightest reason imaginable but even I cannot justify a five-layer cake for a whim. And greed.) Spurred on by the success of my battenburgs and with my best friend’s birthday looming, I eagerly seized upon the opportunity to make its slightly more sophisticated cousin, the ombré cake.
No, no, no! Not hombre cake. (Arf.) An ombré cake. Over to dictionary corner:
Having colors or tones that shade into each other.
So, armed with a bottle of pink food colouring and a whole day set aside in pursuit of baking excellence, I managed to sneak in a final food challenge before the year ended.
Not only does this cake have an amazing surprise factor (falling only slightly short of having a woman pop out of the cake, I feel) but it is buttery and moist. Everything that you feel a birthday cake should be, this is the living embodiment. So with promises of an empty plate and icing smeared round your mouth (like at your fifth birthday party), make this and quiver with anticipation at a true birthday surprise.
Surprise ombré cake with whipped buttercream
Adapted from Raspberri Cupcakes
Whipped buttercream is my new obsession, flown back over with me from New York this autumn. I had an ethereal experience with the Magnolia Bakery red velvet cupcakes and it has resulted in me using their recipe for whipped buttercream for everything, short of brushing my teeth. It sounds more complicated than it really is; a standard buttercream which is stabilised with a milk and flour roux. Some alchemy occurs when you add the roux to eliminate the grittiness which is present in normal buttercream. Instead you end with with puffy, cloudy drifts of shaving foam smooth icing.
For the cake:
335g plain flour
225g butter, softened
400g caster sugar
225ml whole milk
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Food colouring (liquid, gel or paste)
For the whipped buttercream icing:
350g butter, softened
500g icing sugar
A heaped tablespoon of plain flour
Preheat your oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4 and grease and line as many similar sized cake tins as you have. (I used one 20cm and one 21cm as I figured the cake would need trimming down any way, so what was a centimetre between friends?)
In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Do this for longer than you think necessary. Put a timer on for 3 minutes and using a hand blender, whizz until it looks cloudy and almost white. Then add your eggs in, one at a time and combining in fully after each one.
Ovoid segue: make sure your eggs are room temperature if possible. If you keep them in the fridge (as I used to do before I made a frivolous purchase of a ceramic chicken, called Henry) then place your eggs in a jug or bowl of hot water from the tap. A minute in hot tap water will warm them up nicely.
In a measuring jug, combine the milk and vanilla extract. In another bowl, combine the rest of your dry ingredients (flour, salt and baking powder). Alternative between adding the dry and wet ingredients until fully combined into a smooth batter. (Adding a third or quarter of each will work fine).
Divide your batter between five bowls and add your food colouring as desired. If you are going for the rainbow, don’t scrimp and go bright as you dare. For a gradient effect, start with the darkest layer first and work your way up to the lightest. Use a silicon spatula to combine to ensure that the colouring is fully and evenly distributed throughout each batch of batter. If you are compulsive like me, you will probably use scales to divide up your batter (it will work out to around 200g per batch, for five layers).
Bake each layer for 15-20 minutes, until an inserted tester or knife comes out clean. The sponge should not wobble but feel just set when lightly pressed with your finger. Leave to cool in the tin for 5-10 minutes before unmoulding onto sheets of clingfilm or baking parchment. Once cooled, wrap and chill in the fridge for ease of icing later. (As this sponge is quite moist, you will need to keep each layer wrapped separately to prevent them sticking together).
Whilst all the layers are chilling in the fridge, make the buttercream. Firstly, make your roux by combining a heaped tablespoon of plain flour and a generous glug of milk in a small pan. Whisk over a very low heat to create a smooth paste (keep adding milk if the paste becomes too solid. The roux should be of a thick custardy consistency. If it’s lumpy, don’t worry. Either push it through a sieve or pick any large lumps out). Transfer to a bowl and leave to cool. Meanwhile, cream the butter until light and fluffy and gradually add in the icing sugar (you may not use the whole 500g, so keep tasting and adding the sugar according to taste). Add the now-cooled roux and beat in well, until fully combined.
A note: you will notice that my icing was brown. This was because (middle-class food woe alert) my stupid Sainsbury’s Local only sells fairtrade golden icing sugar (STUPID). So rather than snowy white buttercream, I ended up with dreary beige buttercream. So, in honour of the Birthday Girl’s tastes, I decided to make a chocolate whipped buttercream. Once you’ve made the buttercream, add in cooled melted chocolate. I used 180g of dark coffee chocolate but I think it could have done with double that amount for a stronger taste and darker colour.
The time to assemble your masterpiece has arrived. Trim the crisp edges of all your sponges off. Place in a bowl because by now you will be peckish and will want to pick at them. Using approximately half of the buttercream, sandwich each layer together with a generous dollop of icing. Use a palatte knife to smooth and spread the buttercream right to the edge of each layer.
For a flawless finish, cover your cake in a crumb coat of icing. This is essentially a thin layer of buttercream, smoothed around the outside of your cake which is then chilled in the fridge for 15 minutes. It eliminates the possibility of any stray crumbs wandering into your frosting and ruining the effect. Decorate as you wish – I went for a border and heart using coloured sugar sprinkles. I would not be averse to multi-coloured sugar strands, raspberries, dessicated coconut or chopped nuts. I was very close to using edible glitter and still rue to decision not to create an Abba disco cake. Alas.
This cake keeps in the fridge overnight, uncovered once iced. Leave out so that it comes to room temperature before serving.