I am a glutton for punishment. After swearing off cake rods, foil covered boards and palette knives after making my parents’ silver wedding anniversary cake in June, my little sister began creeping towards her 21st and another cake challenge appeared on the baking horizon. My Mam was sneaky about it – there was some flattery involved during a mid September phone call – and I dutifully send in my request for another day’s baking holiday, rolled up my sleeves and order a hell of a lot of sugar from Tesco. Two tier cake part two: this time, it’s personal.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t requested to make a two tier cake but I do so love to push myself and so I sat one evening with a chilled glass of wine searching through my cook book library to find something to spark a fire within my cake baking soul. I don’t think it took me long before I had an idea sketched out on my ruled pad – an affair of salted caramel, dark chocolate and toasted pecans. A pure autumnal heaven.
I must say I only came across two or three major challenges whilst making this cake; I had learned my lesson in preparedness which I will share as part of this recipe, so for the most part my haphazardness wasn’t the issue. I had also learned that two different cake batters will take up valuable time, so I set about my calculator to do some bizarre maths to concoct one huge recipe that challenged my Kmix on more than one occassion. Don’t ask me how I did it – I’ve already forgotten – but my usual tactic is to use the amount of eggs as a starting point and divide and multiply from there. But my main issue was the Italian meringue frosting, and although so beautiful and fluffy, this concoction caused many a tear during construction. Luckily I worked out a few solutions should you come across the same problem.
Should you wish to tackle this cake, I’ve structured this post slightly differently than I usually do to show you parts that can be made ahead of time, where you should leave plenty time and to illustrate the lessons I learned along the way. I hope you enjoy it.
All recipes are inspired by Edd Kimber’s incredible debut book The Boy Who Bakes, but with a heavy amount of quantity adaptation and my stupidly ambitious imagination.
Two days before
For the toasted pecans
100-150g pecan halves (I did this by sight so it isn’t an exact science)
A can of gold lustre spray (I love the Dr Oetker ones)
Preheat an oven to 150oc/130oc fan and line a baking tray with parchment. Spread the nuts evenly in one layer on the tray and bake for around 5 minutes, keeping a close eye on them as they will burn easily. When the nuts smell fragrant and toasty, remove from the oven and leave to cool. Shake the lustre dust can and spray evenly from around 15cm away – if you can do this outside all the better as it can make the worktop sparkly. Leave to dry then turn each nut over and spray again. Once dry, store in an airtight container – these will last pretty well, I’d say around a week.
For the salted caramel
300g granulated sugar
250ml double cream
2 generous pinches of flaked sea salt
Pour the sugar into a pan and place over a medium heat. Slowly melt the sugar until it is liquid but don’t stir – swirl the pan if you need to. Keep an eye on the caramel once melted, as it beings to boil it will change colour and become golden, at which point remove from the heat and pour in half the cream – be careful it will bubble up. Stir then add the butter and remaining cream and place back on the heat to melt down any lumps. Add the salt then pour into a heatproof container – a jug is best for pouring. Cool to room temperature then cover with clingfilm and chill in the fridge. Salted caramel will last for about a week in the fridge.
I used three 20cm sandwich tins and two 15cm tall tins with removable bases for this cake, so if you want to be even more prepared, cut out your linings beforehand – this will save you time the next day.
One day before
Your next step is to get all those cakes baked, so grease and line each tin using your prepared paper from the night before. I would also suggest individually weighing out everything before you begin baking – it may seem an arduous task but I’ve adopted it since I started my blog and find it helps me gather my thoughts and ensure I have everything ready to go. Plus once you’ve done all your weighing you can play this tune as you bake. It’s what I did.
This is my favourite chocolate cake recipe – it is fudgy but not too dense and carries a variety of flavours with ease. At some point I’d love to swap the boiled water for freshly brewed coffee – I think it would make for an excellent combination.
For the 3 x 20cm and 2 x 15cm chocolate fudge cakes
165g good quality dark chocolate (I used 71%)
165g unsalted butter, softened
420ml boiling water
420g plain flour
4 ½ tbsp cocoa powder (I used Green and Blacks)
3 tsp bicarbonate of soda
510g soft brown sugar
1-2 tsp vanilla paste
4 ½ beaten eggs
Tip: I know the above sounds weird but it’s what my mathematical mind could come up with. To measure half an egg, weigh a beaten egg and divide by two – mine was 50g so I used 25g. Use one half in this recipe and use the other for scrambled eggs or a wash for scones.
The recipe is the same as my Ultimate Chocolate Cake so follow the link for the method, making sure to divide the batter between the three sandwich tins and adding a little more to each of the smaller tins to give the top tier a little height. The 20cm cakes should be baked first for 20 to 25 minutes then bake the 15cm cakes – they will only need about 15 to 20 minutes so keep an eye on them but don’t open the oven door until halfway through baking.
Once the cakes have cooled the final task is to make the salted caramel frosting.
For the salted caramel italian meringue buttercream
400g granulated sugar
8 egg whites
720g unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
3-4 scoops of salted caramel
Place the sugar and water in a sauce pan over a medium heat and bring to the boil. Place the egg whites in the bowl of stand mixer fixed with the whisk attachment and begin to whip on medium. Place a sugar or digital thermometer in the sugar syrup and once the mixture reaches 115oc turn up the speed on the meringue to high. Once the syrup has reached 121oc, carefully pour down the side of the bowl with the whisk still running. Once the meringue has cooled to room temperature, add in the butter piece by piece until marshmallowy and smooth. Add the caramel and whisk again, tasting and adding more if required.
To assemble the cakes, dab a 20cm cake board with a little buttercream then place one of the larger cakes on the bottom. Spread over a good dollop of buttercream and drizzle with a little salted caramel (you may need to reheat slightly to get an even drizzle) and top with another cake. Repeat the steps with the final cake then give it a good crumb coating with a palette knife. Leave somewhere coolish to firm up slightly then repeat with the smaller cakes, assembling on a slice of parchment as it will need to be lifted off and placed on the bigger cake the next day. I sliced both 15cm cakes into two for a four layer effect.
Now, I would highly recommend finishing the frosting after an hour of letting the cakes rest as this will allow them to firm up and be much easier to handle during assembly on the day. The reason being Italian meringue butter cream will harden in the fridge and become a pain to work with. However it is salvageable but again, owing to experience I would advise you not to go down this route.
Confections of a Foodie Bride has a great guide on fixing Swiss meringue buttercream which is in essence a similar idea and mine unfortunately went down the cottage cheese route. The melt-and-mix method did work but it was too thick for spreading on my cakes and wouldn’t stick. I discovered that placing small amounts in the microwave to melt for 10 seconds with a vigorous stir did the trick and became marshmallowy once again.
On the day
To assemble your cake, place the bottom tier on a cake stand and stick three cake rods in the centre measured to sit about an inch flush of the top. Carefully place the top tier on top of the rods in the middle of the cake the best you can and push down gently. If it’s a bit wonky, no matter – make the side with the biggest space the front. Touch up as necessary with some more buttercream then heat the remaining salted caramel until a good pouring consistency. Using a jug or even better a chef’s squeezy bottle, run the caramel around the circumference of the top and bottom tiers, allowing it to drip down the sides. Chop half your golden pecans and scatter on top of the caramel, nestling the whole pecans in amongst the smaller pieces.
I know this is a scarily large post, but I felt it important to address each issue as I faced it and to give a realistic timeline for creating this cake. But it is so worth the effort and made the birthday girl really smile. I’d advise picking up some tall spindly candles to really finish it off and give the cake extra height – and that final extravagant birthday flourish. Happy baking! *collapses*