The plan was to celebrate Roger over the whole week-end in his new house. However, he was one of the many that got flooded and evacuated even, bang on his birthday. Lundulph's Mum had asked me to make a cake and Lundulph and I'd worked out what to do and I'd made a big shopping list and so on, when all this happened and the celebration was cancelled.
However, the decision was made to move the celebration to my parents-in-law's house. So I spent Valentine's day baking the cake. Now, Roger is a huge fan of squash, so we decided that the cake should be in the shape of a squash racquet.
The first thing was to make a template, thus after searching for images on the internet, I taped two pieces of A4 paper together, the short side of one with the long side of the other. I then folded this along its entire length and drew half of a racquet and cut it out, thus achieving symmetry. Lundulph inspected it and approved.
Next, decide on the cake recipe. I flicked through my cook books and decided the Caramel Layer Cake from my book "Great British Bake Off Showstoppers". I made a double dose of the sponge and a single dose of the filling.
Sponge (single dose)
300 g plain flour
4 tsp baking powder
0.25 tsp salt
300 g caster sugar
250 g unsalted butter at room temperature
4 tbsp buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
Filling (single dose)
225 g unsalted butter
450 g soft dark sugar
175 ml double cream
300 g icing sugar
0.25 tsp salt
100 g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C and line 2 Swiss roll trays with baking paper, about 34 x 23 cm in size.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar in a bowl.
- Cut up the butter in pieces and add to the bowl.
- In a separate bowl, lightly whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and vanilla extract, then add to the bowl with other ingredients.
- Beat everything with an electric whisk on low speed until well combined and smooth.
- Distribute equally between the two baking sheets and bake one at a time for 23 minutes. Check readiness with a skewer, it should come out clean.
- Allow to cool a couple of minutes in the baking tray, then turn out onto a cooling rack covered with baking paper and leave to cool down completely. Repeat with the second tray.
- Mix a second batch and bake in the same way.
- Once everything has cooled down, use the template to cut out three racquet shapes. You'll need to do some puzzling to get whole shapes.
- Now make the filling by gently heating together 175 g of the butter, the soft dark sugar and the double cream. Once the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes, while stirring.
- Transfer to a heat-proof deep bowl and gradually beat in the icing sugar with an electric whisk.
- Once the icing sugar is in, add the salt, then break up the chocolate and stir it in. Keep whisking until the mixture is barely warm, then beat in the remaining butter.
- Lay out one of the sponge racquets on a suitable tray and spoon some of the filling over it. Smooth over with a knife so that the whole sponge is covered and about 5 mm thick.
- Place the next sponge racquet and cover with filling in the same manner, then place the third sponge racquet on top and leave for about an hour to set.
For the decorations, I needed some sort of white icing, but given the amount of sugar that has gone into the cake already, I was reluctant to use fondant icing to cover the cake as well. Instead I opted for ready made frosting with the hope that it wouldn't be as sweet. There were two types in the shop and I wasn't sure what the difference was, so I bought two tubs of each.
The "Vanilla icing" one seemed a bit paler than the other one. It also tasted a bit yoghurt-y. Frankly, I didn't like the taste of either of them, but then they're not supposed to be eaten on their own. I decided to go with the "Vanilla buttercream style icing" and covered the cake. It was a bit crumbly and I wasn't able to get it as smooth as I would have liked. I had half a tub left from the icing, which I kept for repairs, once we got to Lundulph's parents' place.
Next, I used black fondant icing for the handle. I rolled a piece as thinly as I could between to layers of cling film, then cut into 3 cm wide strips, long enough to go across the bottom of the racquet handle. Also make a rectangle to go at the bottom of the handle. Here is the end result:
I'm quite pleased that the cling film gave a leather-like pattern on the icing, I hadn't expected that at all. The next thing to do was the logo of the brand that Roger uses - this one. I rolled out more of the black icing and carefully cut out the first letter of the brand. I then used the tiny digit cookie cutters that Lundulph bought for Falbala's hidden design cake to punch out Roger's age in the bottom of the logo letter. Finally, I rolled out two circles to cover the two squash balls that would accompany the racquet cake. They would be vegan, so that my niece Lou can have them and join in the celebrations. My original plan was to make the squash balls in layers, with ice chocolate with roasted hazelnuts in the middle and caramelised popcorn on top of that, finally covered with black icing. However, I ran out of time. Thus, I skipped the popcorn and made the balls entirely from ice chocolate. I didn't shape them very well, though.
The final part to do on the cake was the strings on the racquet. Lundulph said they were very important and it struck me - hazelnuts dipped in caramel and with a caramel spike. I saw these ages ago and have been wanting to try them out. First working out how many hazelnuts I'd need...
At this point Lundulph was home, so I stopped working on the cake and focused on our Valentine's dinner.
The next day, Lundulph and I drove over to his parents. Because of the size of the cake, I had to sit in the back and about two-thirds into the drive, I had to ask Lundulph to pull over, because I was very car sick. Still, we made it and with the cake mostly intact - the icing had cracked where each layer parts met and this only because the cake drum was actually two that I'd taped together. I'd planned ahead and had brought the remaining icing, so repairs were easy.
Once my stomach and head had settled, I completed the decorations. Some preparations are required. First a tooth pick or a cocktail stick needs to be carefully inserted into a hazel nut. Then a heavy chopping board or book should be placed on the work surface, so that the edge of the board/book and surface are aligned. Next, a piece of paper should be placed on the floor right under the board/book. This will catch caramel drips. A couple of pieces of baking paper should be placed nearby on the work surface. Here the ready items can be laid out. A heat mat should also be within reach, to place the saucepan with the caramel and a large bowl with very cold water should also be ready. Clearing the kitchen of other people will of course help as well.
I melted about 300 g of granulated sugar to caramel stage in a thick-bottomed saucepan. I didn't have a sugar thermometer, but it seems that the trick is to use white sugar. Once it goes pale yellow, like honey, it's reached the right temperature for caramel. Using a wooden spoon, I kept stirring the sugar until all had melted and reached the beautiful golden colour. Then a quick dip (about 10 seconds) into a large bowl of cold water to stop the cooking process and it was ready to start dipping the hazel nuts. I had to work fairly quickly and it's not easy the first time, but it's not difficult at all. Dip so each nut is completely and generously covered, then push the toothpick under the chopping board or book and allow the caramel to drip onto the paper on the floor.
I needed to do about 30 of these and I put them too close together under the chopping board, so the spikes sort of tangled up a bit, but were long enough to work for the cake. The caramel set fairly quickly as well. This is not a problem - just re-heat to make it runny again. However, this will make it a little darker. I even did a second re-heat, before it went too dark and bitter. But it was enough to get all the hazel nuts done. After a couple of minutes, the hazels should be cool enough to handle. Using the kitchen scissors, I cut the spikes at the length I needed, took out the tooth picks and placed on the baking paper I'd prepared. I scraped out as much as I could of the burnt caramel, then cleaned the saucepan by filling it with water and bringing to the boil. This dissolved the caramel stuck to the saucepan and could easily be poured out in the drain. I had to repeat three times. Then I made a further batch of caramel, and with less sugar. This also allowed me to try my hand at caramel baskets.
For this I brushed the back of a ladle with some vegetable oil, then using the wooden spoon, I scooped some of the caramel and let drizzle over the back of the ladle, criss-crossing to form the basket structure. Because the ladle was metal, it took a little longer for the caramel to set, but once it had, I carefully slid off the ready basket. If making more than one, it's important to brush vegetable oil before each, otherwise it may stick to the ladle and break when attempting to remove it.
Finally, I noticed that the spike tangle under the hazels had actually become like a nest of spun sugar. I didn't have any use for it this time, but it's good to know. The cake itself was a great success and we ate quite a big part of it on the day. But for me, it was very sweet and dry, so not one of my favourites. I should have moistened the sponge layers a little. However, given its size, this was a good thing, there's no way I could get it into the fridge and a moist cake doesn't really keep in room temperature. I need to work on how to spread icing and make it smoother, though. I did a second run of caramel with my nieces, so they got to try making hazel nuts with caramel spikes as well as caramel baskets and we also found out what happens if you use a saucepan with a thin bottom - some of the sugar burns badly and some doesn't melt. Also using small amounts of sugar and keeping an eye on the caramel reduces the waste. I remember reading somewhere that adding water and glucose gives more control over caramel work, I need to do more research for this. Besides, I'd bought 500 g of hazelnuts and I barely used 100 g, so I have plenty to practice with.