Tag Archives: birthday cake

Year of the Cake Part Twenty Eight – Why I Hate Vegan Margarine

I have a new nemesis. It’s vegan margarine. It was responsible for two cake fails last week, which I had to stress over to get right again. Oddly, I made *three* cakes using the vegan marg, and only had two fail, so in the right recipe it’s fine. The unfailed cake was a banana and whisky number, of which more later. The fail I want to share right now is that of the coconut-almond cake I made for Team Mairead. I mentioned this cake in my previous post, here, but in case you’re just tuning in, Team Mairead were running the 10k for cancer research yesterday, in Edinburgh. My lovely colleague Miss R is my link to the team, and I wanted to give her a cake to share out after the run. I always find that cake is such a motivator, in a kind of carrot and stick way. Should you want to contribute any money to cancer research, you can do so here (or in many other places, but that link is *right there*). We’ll start with a picture of the completed cake, which you can’t tell had, at one time, been a thing that required me to eat a packet of chocolate chips through stress. And greed, admittedly.

I decided to go with the same cake as I made for the G man’s birthday, with some alterations. The original recipe is here, and my version was this:

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) vegan margarine, plus more for greasing pan
  • 1/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • Heat oven to 170C. Butter a 10-inch cake tin.
  • Using a hand held mixer, combine the margarine, the sugar and two extracts, until mixture is very smooth.
  • With mixer running, break eggs in to the bowl, one at a time. Stop processor and sprinkle cake flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt evenly over batter. Process again until mixture is smooth, making sure there are no lumps in batter.
  • Pour mixture into prepared baking pan. Bake until surface is golden brown and a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Remove from oven, and allow to cool in pan until slightly warm.

Unfortunately, my method also included these steps:

  • Notice that the edges of the cake haven’t risen at all, while the centre has formed a round dome so the overall appearance is much like one of those rubber toys you used to get, the ones that you turned inside out and then waited until they righted themselves with a pop and sprang fifty, sixty, a hundred feet into the air. A good look for a bell curve graph, a bad look for a cake.
  • Attempt to remove cake from tin once it was cooled, and find that it has stuck. A lot.
  • Curse. Rain down a thousand curses upon vegan margarine.

I haven’t had a cake stick badly to a pan in such a long time, and I must say that I didn’t relish the experience. I did, of course, get the cake out after much hacking and scraping – you can see the results in this picture. This is a photo of the cake once it had been torn from the cake tin, to which it was clinging like Sigourney Weaver with her massively strong forearms in all the Alien films where something gets blown out into space but she survives by hanging on, then turned upside down to give a flatter top. I wish I’d taken a photo of the dome side. It really was far too ridiculous a shape for a cake to be. You can see that not only were the edges ripped, but the cake was torn closer to the centre, too. I had wasted six eggs on this. I wasn’t best pleased. However, once rational thought returned, I figured that the only thing to do would be to make a second cake to the same recipe, but reduce the amounts and use real butter, so as to give a second layer, then sandwich the two together with some delicious icing and hope for the best. I used real butter so that the cake would rise this time and not stick to the pan. I don’t know why vegan margarine would stop a cake from rising – or perhaps it was just being stuck to the pan that stopped the rising, and if I’d used oil or real butter it would have been OK. I only used the vegan stuff because that’s what I had in the fridge, until (Zeus be praised) I discovered the block of butter hiding behind something else. It wasn’t a dietary requirement, so there was no issue with me using real butter for the second half, or in the icing. Wouldn’t want anyone thinking I was secretly feeding butter to vegans. As hobbies go, that’s not one I’ve considered taking up. Until this moment…

The second half came out much better. It certainly couldn’t have been much worse, at any rate. Here is a photo of the two side by side, for comparison. I halved the recipe above, though only had two eggs so had to make do, but used butter in the recipe and to grease the tin. I also floured the cake tin to be extra safe, although it is an almost brand new, good quality tin that should be stick-resistant on its own. You can see from this picture how the second cake was hardly thinner than the first, despite being half the volume when it went into the oven. The second cake was, in fact, perfect. I said to the first cake ‘WHY CAN’T YOU BE MORE LIKE YOUR BROTHER?’. The cake said nothing back. I think it was going through a difficult time and having trouble communicating its feelings of resentment, inadequacy and shyness. Either that or it was just a cake. Really though, look at them. Ruddy vegan margarine.

Even though I now had two halves of a cake, I still had to layer them, and the bottom layer was still going to be extremely raggedy. I put the good half on top of the bad half and took a sharp knife round the edge – some of the cake still tore away, as it seemed to have an odd texture, too. A bit springier than a normal sponge, possibly because of all the eggs. They were roughly evenly-sized though, and that would do; I have decided to disguise the cake’s failings as best I could with two kinds of icing, a butter, cream cheese and coconut filling and a fondant covering. Plus I had the photo to put on top, too, though the top wasn’t really my concern. I made the filling to my own recipe, which is posted here, near the bottom of the post. I covered the good  half of cake with the frosting, because I knew it would throw ou less crumbs and was less likely to break or tear as I spread the frosting on it, then I inverted it and squished the halves together. What a mess. I leaned quite heavily on the top layer, to get more of the frosting peeking out the edges, and went round with a spatula to smooth the edges over as best I could. It ended up looking a bit better than this picture, but far from perfect. The cake was also lopsided, as I’d turned the damaged half back over so that the dome was in the middle, to give a flat base. So far, so terrible. The worst thing for me was that I was going to be giving this cake to people I’d never met, and I wanted it to look and taste great after their huge 10K effort. I was also going to be putting someone’s face on it, and who wants their face on a lopsided cake, I ask you? The answer to that is I don’t know. I simply don’t know.

I evened the cake up as best I could, then, with tactical application and removal of the frosting. I then made a very simple and very unstable fondant icing, by adding water to icing sugar until it formed a ball that I could pick up and knead. I rolled this out onto waxed paper which had been greased with coconut oil, then turned over on to the top of the cake. I could stretch it out a little to cover the edges, but too much pressure caused the icing to split. I then remembered a nice piece of white ribbon that I had handy, and I wrapped this round the side of the cake to hide the uneven-ness of the icing. I also had a silver cake board to hand that I could rest the cake on, which also improved its appearance. The final step was adding the photo, which I ordered last week from www.edibleprints.co.uk. I would highly recommend this site for all your edible photo needs; the customer service was friendly and extremely efficient, and the photo was sent out on the evening of ordering it. Really great and, as you can see, a fun and unusual addition to your standard cake. It *does* mean cutting into your own or your friend’s face, though. I once had a photo cake of myself – it was for my 21st birthday party, and the photo was of me as a tiny kid dressed up as a clown. In fact… Here it is! I think this is the only photo of myself I’ve ever really loved. There are some of me as an adult that I think are alright, or good even, but this one is so cute it’s not even funny. This outfit belonged to a doll that my sister had, that’s how small I was. I was barely taller than that radiator, look! Anyway, I’m kind of a fan of the edible photo, though I won’t be ordering one for every cake. You can get little ones for cupcakes, too, and it doesn’t have to be a photo, it can be a cartoon or something else. Lots of potential for fun there, I’m mulling over a few ideas already.

I read over the instructions for applying the photo to the cake before attempting it, because I only had one shot to get it right and it’s quite a fragile item, really. The tips I used were 1) to put the photo in the freezer for two minutes to make it easier to peel off the backing strip and 2) to brush some icing round the edges of the photo so that it would stick to the cake. I made sure that the fondant icing was dry, too, as moisture destroys the photo paper. Using those two hints, it was absolutely plain sailing all the way, and applying the photo was the easiest part of the whole process by a long shot.

That’s it then! A failed cake turned into a win, and apparently everyone who tried some enjoyed it, so I’m glad of that. I just have to remember not to use vegan margarine unless I have to, and then to use oil and on the cake tin to allow the cake to rise and to come away from the tin in the end. Either that or serve the cake still in the tin, and call it a tincake. It’s like a cupcake, only bigger. And more tinny.

Year of the Cake Part Twenty Four: The Birthday Double

Well, where to begin? I suppose with relieving my camera of the dozens of photos it’s been holding on to over the last few weeks; I did that before coming here to start this post, and found myself quite overwhelmed by the number of photos and the task of sorting through them to delete the rubbish ones and name the decent ones so I can find and share them as I go along. I was surprised as well by the number of different occasions I had been cooking and baking for – though now that I think about it, it’s mainly just been one occasion dragged out to last forever, in the best tradition of these things. It was Miss J’s birthday, so we had dinner at home with the folks (Chinese food, as previously mentioned) and a little cake to share between us, then there was our girls night which required a minor batch of baking, but not a proper cake, and then there was the big party night, for which you might say I ‘pulled out all the stops’, except that I didn’t, really. The thing is, I don’t have that many stops in the first place so it’s difficult for me to know what is enough, what is too much, and what is the Goldilocks amount. I made a four-tier, three flavoured cake, with three different flavours of buttercream and hand-made fondant icing. Too much? Not content with this, I also did a batch of cheddar-jalapeno cornbread muffins and a batch of cheese pretzel bites. Sadly, the whole cake and most of the other snacks came back home with us, to be eaten the day after the party as part of a day of group binge eating. Interestingly, I suffered more mightily for that day of snacking than I had for the consumption of an unspecified (and unrecorded) boozes at the party itself.

I think maybe I’ll do one post on the birthday cakes, then one on the birthday savoury goods. We’ll see how far the subject of the cakes takes me, I suppose. Let’s kick off with a nice picture:

I tried to make a red velvet cake, but had to half the recipe (which can be found here) and that definitely affected things a lot. For one thing, the icing didn’t develop a removable skin so much as turn into a mostly solid mass in the pot – but it tasted good for all that, kind of like the stuff you get in the middle of a swiss roll. The cake itself was on the dry side, and quite crumbly when I took it out of the oven, though the icing glued it together nicely and it sliced well once finished. It was also not really red, per se – once again, I think that this is down to the dubious quality of food dye I’m using. Still though, it was a nice dark chocolate colour at least in parts, and it did taste good and was polished off without too much hesitation, so musn’t grumble.

Here is a picture of the inside – you can see the odd way that the colour took, in that the edges of each layer are chocolate-coloured but the inside is a sort of peculiar burgandy. Burgandy velvet cake doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Plus the texture wasn’t really velvety, so it’d be a burgandy… I’m struggling to find ‘le mot juste’. Burgandy cake cake just about covers it. I am also annoyed about the uneven-ness of the icing inside but I guess that’s a matter of practise. It’s too thick on that top layer, though, there’s no denying it. Well, I *could* deny it, but it’d be the wrong thing to do. One of these days I’ll get round to picking up some good gel food dye and then I’ll make red velvet cake so beautifully red that it’ll stop traffic, and I’ll have to make a sign that says ‘keep going, it’s not a red light, it’s just a cake, and no you can’t have any’.

So that was the first cake, and straightforward it was too, though not the ‘quick something’ I’d initially planned on making, as I baked the three layers separately in just one pan, meaning the baking time was tripled. Originally the G man was going to buy a cake, but I felt too guilty. This is an interesting (for a given value of the word interesting) development I’ve noticed of late; I feel obliged to cook and bake for people, even though I’m sure nobody would expect me to… For a given value of ‘sure’… Still, since I love to be in the kitchen, and love to eat home cooking and baking, it’s mostly a win-win situation. It has lead to some busy kitchen times of late, and some late nights, and a lot of clean-up time that I could have done without. Am considering a table-top dishwasher to help with this, and also to help me meet the environmental health criteria for supplying the public with much-needed cakes, bakes and other treats. Two birds with one stone, and all that.

So, from one three-layered burgandy cake cake to a four-tiered, three flavoured number. I asked Miss J what kinds of cake she liked, and black forest came up. Now, I’m also a great fan of the black forest cake, but I know that not everyone is. I also knew that some people who would be at the birthday party can’t have gluten, so I wanted to try and accommodate them. These things led to me wanting to make a ‘deconstructed’ version of black forest gateau, and I wanted to fondant ice it so I could further develop my fondant icing skills. I knew it would take a lot of work but it was part of my present, and besides anything I was excited about trying something this involved. I made a Plan. Oh yes, Plan with a capital P. I decided that the biggest layer would be chocolate and cherry, with cherry jam and the same vanilla icing that I’d used for the red velvet cake. I also wanted to cover the cake with buttercream before applying the fondant, but I decided that a dark chocolate buttercream was a better option than the vanilla because it would be less cloying; I know fondant can be too sweet in itself so I didn’t want to add to that. I also landed on the idea of making a version of the chocolate coffee bourbon cake that I cut up to make Boozy Brownies before, swapping cherry brandy for the bourbon (and decaf coffee for regular as Miss J can’t go the proper stuff, it allegedly makes her crazy, though how she measures the difference I’m not sure…). I thought that this would be easer than making a sponge then drizzling with the cherry booze, as I’d done last time I made black forest gateau. I was extremely happy with the result; it stayed really moist and flavoursome, although I did have to leave some of the fondant icing off – it was too much after a whole day of eating snack food, my face couldn’t stand any more sugar.

For the gluten free layer, which was to be the next biggest, I decided to make almost the same recipe as the white chocolate and raspberry heart-shaped rainbow cake I’d made for another Miss J’s birthday, but change the flour for rice flour and xanthan gum, and use cherries instead of raspberries to make a soft buttercream icing. I also used cherry jam to fill this one – if cherries weren’t so gosh-darned cotton-pickin’ expensive I’d have had a go at making this myself, too (you see what I mean about not really knowing when to stop? I felt like I was cheating, using shop-bought jam. How odd.). One undesirable effect of the cherries in the buttercream was that after resting a few days between being made and sliced, the cake turned an odd colour, as you can almost see right in the centre of the cake in this picture.  There was a definite blue-ness about the sponge where a particularly large bit of cherry had been spared by the hand blender. I’ve just realise that hand blender sounds like a machine for blending hands, rather than one held by hands. I mean, of course, a hand-held blender, or whisk. Ew. Moving on from that, the white chocolate and cherry cake was good but, I felt, dry by the time it was served. I’d made it on Thursday for eating on Saturday, but it was Sunday night before it was sliced, and with it being wheat-free it was far more inclined to dry out that the other cakes. It still tasted fine, though, and again I don’t think anyone turned it down even two days later; there’s no accounting for taste. The outside of the cake was covered in cherry buttercream before being topped with fondant.

The next layer was just a plain, old-fashioned chocolate cake. I used a recipe form a book for this one, though I’d probably have been better off freestyling it as the recipe has so much sugar in it, on top of the melted chocolate, that the finished cake was really solid throughout and not soft and rich as I’d been hoping for. This cake was filled with chocolate and vanilla buttercreams, covered with chocolate buttercream and, of course, finished with fondant icing. As you can see, the vanilla filling pooled somewhat in the centre – this is because the cake sank when it came out of the oven, so it was difficult to spread the icing out flat when there was a great yawning chasm in the middle, eating up all the icing like an over-zealous toddler who will inevitably feel sick and cry later on. Of all three flavours of cake, this one gave me by far the most trouble, which was unexpected to say the least. It would probably have made more sense to make it to the same recipe as the black forest layer but without the cherry brandy, now that I think about it. That’s hindsight for you, always ruddy smug.It’s not the prettiest cake, this one. It’s got a hint of the car crash about it. That should be cake-crash, probably. If this cake was a person it’d be the kind of person you wouldn’t pick a fight with, that’s for sure. It’d probably have an eyepatch and a mean look in its one remaining eye.

The tiny top layer was another black forest one, and the picture up there is of the tiny layer as the big, base layer was somewhat squashed, having had the weight of all the other layers on it for ages. Poor, long-suffering cake. It was a kindness to eat it, really, and put it out of its misery. The fondant icing over all the layers went better than it had on the G man’s dino cake, but still was far from perfect. I think it’s just difficult to do – I also think I need to get an icing smoother, and pay more attention to the shape of the cakes before the fondant goes on. In this case at least one was a bit lopsided, because my oven is hotter on one side than the other, so I should have trimmed it down before applying the buttercream and then fondant. I stuck with the coconut oil and waxed paper technique, which served me well this time as it had last time. A couple of things I did differently this time were to let the buttercream covering set overnight before applying the fondant, which did help to get a more even surface and removed some of the risk of getting smudges of chocolate icing mixed up with the fondant. I also elevated the cake I was working on while I covered it, making it easier to gently stretch out the covering and trim it off at the base. I just did this by putting each cake on its own base board (made of cardboard and tinfoil) then setting it on top of two soup cans while I worked on it. Top tip I found online somewhere, and I’m sorry not to remember where. Still, though, the finish isn’t that smooth. There as still an issue with the recipe for rolled fondant icing – I used this one, though I did mess it up a bit so it wasn’t exact. It turned out fairly well, considering that was the case. I switched about half of the liquid glucose for golden syrup, which gave a nice ivory colour to the icing. It was certainly pretty pliable and easy to work with. Still though, best keep it out of a really hot kitchen, as I found out the hard way (hence the ribbon applied to the bottom of the cake, there. It’s hiding some sins. Sins, I tell you!

It’s still nowhere near professional quality, I’m sad to report, but the flavour is OK and it gave a nice uniformity of colour to all the different layers. I made a royal icing (recipe here) to pipe over the joins between the cakes, too, adding a little cocoa powder to give the colour I wanted. I kind of rushed the piping, so it wasn’t as even as I’d have liked; I’m never happy, me. Here’s a close up of the cake topper, with which I *am* happy, at least. It’s made of those great craft components, cardboard, tinfoil, toothpicks, silver ribbon and gold paint, with the addition of some pretty stars I picked up a long while ago; if I remember rightly they were part of a necklace, which shows that it’s worth picking up cheap, plastic jewellery for crafting purposes if not for a night on the town.

Bit of an epic post – I’ve been saving it up, evidently. I’ve been missing my blog, it feels nice to be back, though it was difficult to get started today. I’ll aim for at least one other post this week but I have material for two or three, possibly, and more photos to share, too. Is that a collective cheer I hear? I dare say it is.

Year of the Cake Part Twenty One: Emergency Cake

I’ll admit it: I need cake. If I have to go too long without a cake fix, I get irritable, tearful, blow hot and cold, start licking pictures in magazines and generally don’t function well in day-to-day life. This week has been bordering on and, in fact, rampaging into the lands of the ridiculous. I’ve made ‘emergency cake’ three times, on an after dinner whim. The trouble is, the more that you do this kind of thing, the more it becomes normal. It’s also catching – the last emergency cake was made by the G man, last night. It was a most delicious banana loaf, which we couldn’t resist even long enough for it to cool, and devoured in softly crumbling, hot slices, slathered with guilty pleasure shop-bought chocolate spread.

Sorry, I went a bit Nigella then… The recipe is here and it seems to be foolproof. Not that the G man is a fool. I’ve added this bit after he stopped reading the start of the post over my shoulder, this’ll show me if he ever goes back and reads the rest… Heh heh heh… It’s really, really good banana loaf – moist, lightly spiced and if, like the G man, you add a sprinkling of muscovado sugar to the top you also get a lovely crunch to it. Good thinking, that man.

Next week will have to be better behaved if I’m to maintain anything like a healthy weight and healthy levels of cake addiction. There will be a ‘congratulations you’ve had a new baby’ cake on Monday, which I have some possibly too-great plans for, and after that I’ll just have to keep it together and go cold turkey on the cake front. It’s funny that, even though I’ve been baking to some degree since I was in the Brownies when I was about seven, there is only one occasion (before this week) that I can remember making something just because I wanted it. On that occasion it was chocolate truffles, and I just had an overwhelming urge for them. The way I have made chocolates so far is exceedingly easy and involves no more than microwaving chocolate, stirring in some booze then rolling into shape and chilling, so it seemed worth the effort. I”m interested in learning new and exciting chocolate skills, and I have plenty of recipes, but the simplicity of booze-infused chocolate spheres is a bit of a winner. Yes, spheres. Thanks, South Park.

The first emergency cakes were chocolate orange muffins, and came after I’d made a big batch of chocolate orange cupcakes with chocolate buttercream icing to celebrate a work birthday. The chocolate-orange balance was so perfect, and the recipe so straightforward, that I found myself deciding to make some more on Tuesday night, after a big feast of chili, nachos and cheddar-jalapeno cornbread. You may be wondering why I chose to alter the colour levels in the picture on the left, as it’s left the guacamole looking a bit grey. Unfortunately, that is the actual colour that the guacamole was. I forgot to put the avocado stone in with the finished result to keep the colour fresh, although I would offer in my defence that the avocado itself was possibly a little over-ripe. I bought it in a two-pack, and the other one was a lost cause altogether. Not sure if I can pass the buck for the colour of the guacamole on to the fruit itself – I’m doing my best though. Stupid avocados… It tasted fine, for the record, although not up to my usual standard since I made it with sour cream and not yogurt, and also made it in a bit of a hurry. Still, not a bad effort. I love nachos; it’s that mix of textures thing. The crunchy, sometimes slightly singed tortilla chips, the melty cheese, the crunchy jalapenos and tomatoes and then the soft, cold sour cream and guacamole on top of it all. Mmmmmmmm… Texture…

To get back to the cake, I would hughly recommend the chocolate orange cakes. That was a typo, but I’m leaving it in because it represents the fact that I wanted to say I’d highly recommend them andI’d give them a huge recommendation. Funny old thing, the brain/keyboard interface. I’d especially hughly recommend the chocolate buttercream, which is the best and possibly simplest chocolate buttercream recipe I’ve found, and one I intend to fashion into the centre of future chocolate truffles. It sets solid when chilled, but leave it at room temperature and it really melts in the mouth. That’s kind of an over-rated term of praise, given that a lot of things will melt in the mouth due to the laws of physics, but it’s an apt phrase nonetheless. I also fashioned a tiny birthday cake for the birthday girl herself, using the same recipe and just adding some white chocolate stars and writing icing for decoration.

I did have a comedy cake moment on Tuesday, when one made a bid for either freedom or just freedom of expression, by extending itself outwith the confines of the paper case and reaching for the edge of the muffin tray. It wasn’t pretty. It had to be destroyed (read: eaten) for its own good. Its career in the field of interpretive dance would never have taken off, it’s only have ended up being a dissatisfied waitress with pineapple earrings.


The next emergency cake was a lot more attractive to look at – on Wednesday I made chocolate fondant puddings. I attempted them, at least – I couldn’t quite get them out of the ramekins so they ended up staying in the oven an extra couple of minutes, so that they wouldn’t just crack into a million pieces in the bowl. It’s a Ramsay recipe, and it’s here if you want to try it. Easy to make and really hit the ‘I need emergency cake’ spot. I used amaretto instead of Tia Maria, I think your favourite liqueur will work just fine, unless you count Jagermeister as a liqueur. If you do, let me be the one to tell you that you’re kidding yourself.

Even though the puddings weren’t fondant as they should have been, they were very soft on the inside – very *nearly* fondant, really. There was a suggestion of fondant-ness around the bottom. This has been one heck of a post for unintentionally rude sentences. As ever, they tasted all that much nicer for being eaten with my adorable heart-shaped spoons.

So, the three episodes of emergency baking are behind me. I intend to keep it that way – I can’t go about baking every time I fancy a cake. Well, in reality I *can* if I want to, but it’s really not good for me; I fancy a cake a lot of the time. Still, its been a fun week…

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