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Creative Cakes

The Fine Art Of Baking A Cake crack

As Spring enters the kitchen, top cake maker Fiona Cairns talks us through the fine art of baking a cake.

The chef who’s first recipe book, Bake & Decorate: Tea Time Luxury, admits that she only really began baking after she got married. “I really couldn’t cook so I went on a three-month cookery course, and I loved it from then on. I was particularly good at piping, I remember.” “I did graphics at art college originally, so putting patterns and colours on a cake very precisely, came naturally.” Without a doubt, it is the design and beauty - as well as the taste – of Fiona’s cakes which have become her hallmark.

Here are a few of Fiona’s recipes to try...

Sweet shop cake
(Serves 8)

For the cake (family chocolate cake with fudge icing):
175g unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the tin
100g 50-60% cocoa solids
Chocolate, finely chopped
200g plain flour
1tsp baking powder
1tsp bicarbonate of soda
100g ground almonds
275g dark muscovado sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
3 eggs, lightly beaten
150ml buttermilk

For the fudge icing:
90g 50-60% cocoa solids
Chocolate, broken into pieces
40g unsalted butter, softened and diced
1tbsp golden syrup
2tbsp dark muscovado sugar
150ml double cream

For decoration:
1kg white sugarpaste (rolled out icing)
Selection of sweets (I used 2 candy canes; 1 sugar mouse, 2 sweetie bracelets and 1 necklace; 1 small packet of sugar hearts; 6 striped marshmallows; 3-4 flying saucers; 40-50 jelly beans)
60g bag white royal icing

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4. Butter 2 x 20cm round sandwich tins, each 4.5cm deep, and line the bases with baking parchment. Place the chocolate in a bowl and pour over 120ml just-boiled water. Stir until melted, then set aside to cool. In a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda, then stir in the ground almonds. In the bowl of an electric mixer (or in a bowl with a electric hand whisk), cream together the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy (this will take a good 5 minutes). Add the vanilla extract to the eggs. With the whisk running, very slowly add the egg mixture to the butter and sugar, adding 1 tbsp of the flour during the process to prevent curdling, then add the melted chocolate and the buttermilk. Fold in the remaining flour very gently and divide the mixture between the tins. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until firm to the touch.Leave for a minute or two in the tins before turning out on to a wire rack. Remove the papers and leave until absolutely cold. To make the icing, melt the chocolate and butter in a bowl suspended over gently simmering water. Make sure the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Remove the bowl from the heat, then stir in the syrup and sugar and, lastly, gradually pour in the cream until all is well blended and smooth. Allow to cool completely, then whisk until it thickens. Spread half on the base of one cake. Sandwich the two cakes, bases together, then spread the remaining icing on top. To decorate, place the cake on a clean board. Lightly dust a work top with icing sugar (dust your rolling pin, too) and roll out the sugarpaste into a circle no thinner than 5mm and slightly larger than the diameter of the cake and sides. Lift the sugarpaste with your hands or loosely wrap it around the rolling pin, place it over the cake and gently smooth around the sides, covering the cake. Do not stretch the sugarpaste and work as quickly as you can, as it will dry out fairly quickly. Cut away any excess and seal it in a polythene food bag at room temperature for future use (providing it doesn’t have fudge icing on it). Smooth the top and sides all over with the palms of your hands; any lumps, bumps or blemishes can hopefully be removed now. Cut away any excess sugarpaste. Arrange the sweets randomly over the surface of the cake, with the jelly beans around the base, sticking them all on with the royal icing.

A summer garden
(Serves 8)

For the cake (white chocolate and cardamom rosewater sponge):

130g unsalted butter, softened,
plus more for the tin
20 green cardamom pods
170g self-raising flour
100g white chocolate, chopped
130g white caster sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1tsp vanilla extract

For the ganache:
100g white chocolate, finely chopped
100ml double cream
2tsp rosewater
For the glace icing:
150g icing sugar, sifted

For decoration:
100g shelled unsalted pistachios
200g Swiss white chocolate, finely chopped
200ml double cream
3tsp rosewater
250g fresh raspberries
40-50 whole edible flowers (I used cornflowers, pinks, nasturtiums, marigolds, borage and very small sunflowers)

Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas mark 4. I make this cake in a heart-shaped tin measuring 23cm at its widest point and 6.5cm deep, but otherwise use a 20cm diameter, 7.5cm deep, round tin. Butter the tin very well, then line with baking parchment. Deseed the cardamom pods: split them with the point of a knife, empty out the little seeds and grind them to a powder in a pestle and mortar. There may be a few pieces of husk mixed in, so sift the cardamom powder together with the flour to remove them. Place the chocolate in a food processor with half the sugar. Process until as fine as possible. Take 2 tbsp hot water - not boiling water or the chocolate will seize - and leave it until you can just dip in your finger. Dribble it into the chocolate, processing until most has melted.Add the remaining sugar and the butter, cut into knobs, and process well. Add the eggs, flour and vanilla and mix again. Don’t worry if there are tiny pieces of chocolate left in the batter. Pour into the tin and bake for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Rest in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out on to a wire rack, removing the papers. Leave until absolutely cold.Meanwhile, make the ganache. Place the chocolate in a bowl and, in a pan, bring the cream and rosewater to the boil. Pour the cream over the chocolate, leave it for a few seconds, then gently stir until smooth. Leave until cold, chill slightly, then whisk until it thickens. Split the cake in half and invert so the flat base forms the top. Fill with the ganache, then with the raspberries and top with the second layer of cake. Place the icing sugar in a small bowl and add 1_-2tbsp water until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour it over the cake and allow to drizzle down the sides. Preheat the oven to 170C/Gas mark 3. Scatter the pistachios on to a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 5-10 minutes, shaking once and watching carefully to make sure they don’t burn, then remove and chop. Press the roasted pistachios all around the side of the cake and, when ready to serve, decorate the top with the edible flowers tightly packed together.