Making birthday cakes is fun, unless it all goes terribly wrong.
Friday, 17 February, 2017
Cakes again - because I’m about to embark on the first this year birthday cake project.
I like birthday cakes. I like making up new combinations, chocolate base this, mascarpone frosting that, genoise, viennoise, Delia’s sponge, red velvet, angel food or devil’s advocate. The nice thing is, basically anything goes as the birthday boy or girl is usually an excited and forgiving beast - even if the candles on top had to come from more than four packets.
Okay - not entirely anything goes as I do have my ups and downs with gateaux. I once spent half the night producing chocolate roses and boy, were they stunning. No record on these pages sadly as clearly it was a once in a lifetime stunt and I never managed to repeat the performance.
Another time I aimed at cake multi-layered and shortcrusty, filled with whipped cream - something like this could have been my inspiration. But it wasn’t to be - why I just didn’t follow that recipe is beyond me. My layers disintegrated when I looked at them, they were so brittle, so I didn’t get anywhere near the filling stage. Ah well - I saved about 5 litres of double cream.
My super-flop was a meringue layer torte, ambitious and suitably complicated. Trouble was I never had much luck with full size meringues. My oven at the time was a little capricious (serious understatement) and it didn’t like baking things evenly: it insisted on having its middle not quite as hot as the sides. So after a longish spell in the oven the edges of my meringue were turning nasty brown and the middle was still raw. Running out of time, in desperation I thought I might try and finish it off in a microwave! Genius, no? No - and don’t try it at home. The meringue erupted quite violently, Vesuvius-style, then rapidly went completely black and the stink couldn’t be rid of for hours. A quick trip to the supermarket with my tail between my legs ended the endeavours.
Then there was the attempt to make less sickly-sweet buttercream which ended up with a buttered sponge cake (buttercream IS sickly sweet by definition, you idiot). There were several curdling episodes: The One Where White Chocolate Boiled, The One With Lemon Killing Whipped Cream, The One With Unintended Cheesecake… There was the lesson on how Maltesers crushed into butter maketh not delicious frosting. There was the failed crème pâtissière. And resorting to jam and squirty cream in utmost desperation.
It really is all because I am ambitious and detest the cakes with all form and no substance. The type you see in posh supermarket’s patisserie department or on social media. The shapes are stunning, the decoration takes your breath away, and the icing takes all shapes and forms so you can hardly believe it’s at all edible. And rightly so - it isn’t.
Those things are made of the nastiest, stodgy sponge because it cuts well. The filling needn’t be tasty - it must be pliable. The amount of food colouring in the frosting makes pot noodles seem a part of clean eating. Barbie dolls, footballs, Thomas the Tank Engine are old news: Instagram shows you an abdominal surgery, a stack of shirts and a sewing machine-shaped cakes. And don’t try to Google baby shower cakes if you want to stay sane…
A pretty cake is a sight to behold - food should look attractive (though we all love porridge), but it should not be just a pretty face. And why exempt the cakes from the expectations we have to all other food, look good but taste nice first of all?
Beats me. I’m probably just envious after all.