It all started with a slightly frantic phone call from the mother in law. We’d organised together, a celebratory weekend for my sister-in-law, well, organised everything except the cake apparently. And having only realised this the Monday before the event, it was too late to even do a dry run.
So, in a blind panic, I am trawling through “cake images for special birthdays” online – literally, I wish I was joking! Anyway, on page 12 or so, a picture of a beautiful tall chocolate cake with drippy, oozy, chocolaty ganache caught my eye. The mere sight of it made my mouth water. It was decorated to such a high standard that the thought of recreating it almost made me shudder. So, I did what any insane chef would do and decided that was exactly what I was going to replicate in a mere four-day time period!
The end result wasn’t spectacular (skills wise) by any means but then again, I was completely exhilarated nonetheless because it was my first ever attempt, it all stayed in place and no one grimaced at the sight or taste of it! Yay for me!
If you want to learn from my mistakes, I’ve added a few tips below too!
So, what’ll you need?
Step 1 of 4:
Basic sponge cakes, I did four in total, two vanilla sponges and two chocolate sponges
200g Organic Self Raising Flour
200g Organic Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
200g Caster Sugar
3 medium Eggs
½ tsp Vanilla Essence
150g Organic Self Raising Flour
200g Organic Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
200g Caster sugar
50g Cocoa Powder
3 medium Eggs
½ tsp Chocolate Essence (Optional)
Method: (Same method for both sponges)
Preheat the oven to 180°C (160° for fan assisted). Grease and line two 8inch (20cm) circular sandwich tins.
Using either an electric whisk or a stand mixer, slowly mix all the ingredients together until smooth and creamy – about 3 to 4 minutes.
Pour evenly into the sandwich tins and bake in the centre of the preheated oven for about 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack.
Tip: I like to beat the butter first to really soften it before adding the rest of the ingredients.
Tip: Allow the cakes to cool in the tin for the first 10 minutes before removing the baking tin and baking paper.
Once the sponges are completely cool, using either a levelling gadget or a serrated knife, level off the tops of each of the cakes. Be sure to keep the knife parallel to the surface you are working on.
Sponges all done – pat yourself on the back!
Step 2 of 4:
You have four sponges and the outside to line with buttercream so don’t cheap out on the quantity!
750g Unsalted Butter (room temperature)
1.5kg Fondant Icing Sugar
2 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
2-4tbsp Organic Whole Milk
3 plastic straws, optional
*I used plain buttercream for the first coat and chocolate buttercream for the outside*
Tip: It is really important that the butter is at the right temperature. It should be pliant when you stick a ladle to test it but should hold its shape and not be too runny. If it is too runny, stick it in the fridge for a few minutes, if it is too firm, leave it out for a bit longer or stick it in the microwave and check on it in 10 second intervals.
Using an electric whisk or a stand mixer, whisk the first 350g of butter for a good minute, now add 700g of the fondant sugar and keep whisking for about 5 minutes until completely smooth. Whisk on a low setting, fondant icing will fly all around the place! Add a little milk to loosen it if needed. I usually only add a teaspoon at a time. Whisk some more. Set aside.
Now whisk the remaining butter, sugar and cocoa powder together for 5 minutes. Add milk to loosen if needed and whisk some more. Set aside.
Use a turntable if you have one because it makes life (and applying buttercream) a lot easier and more manageable.
Place a cake board of your choice on top of the turntable. Spread a little of the buttercream on to the cake board and place your first layer of sponge carefully on the centre.
Spoon a generous portion of the buttercream on to the top of the first layer, even it with an angled palette knife until it is level.
Add the next layer. I alternated one vanilla sponge and one chocolate sponge. After each layer, spoon buttercream on to it and level off.
Tip: Once all the layers were stacked, I inserted three plastic straws in various points so that the cake would hold its shape. You don’t need to do this but it definitely gave me peace of mind that it wasn’t going to lose its shape!
Apply the “crumb coat” – this is where you apply buttercream to the sides of the cake to make the stacks look like one enormous layer. It is called the crumb coat because it is more than likely that some of the cake crumbs will stick to the buttercream and it will not be smooth to look at, don’t worry, we’ll soon fix that!
Once you have completely covered the cake in buttercream (sides and top), leave it in a fridge for a half hour to set.
Once you remove it from the fridge, the buttercream should not be sticky when touched, but firm.
You are now ready to coat it with the chocolate buttercream. This is the outer layer so you are looking for this to be much thicker than the crumb coat. Apply generously (2cm or so thickness) to the outside and on top of the cake, smoothing as you go with a palette knife. You can also use a “buttercream scraper” which works brilliantly.
Leave in a fridge for another half hour.
Tip: My mother in law’s house is a cold house in general and as I was layering the cake, the buttercream was solidifying despite my best efforts, so please work in a room that is neither too hot, nor too cold, a bit like a goldilocks room! If all else fails, like me, keep a microwave right next to you to keep your sanity as well as soften the buttercream.
While the buttercream is firming up in the fridge it is time for Step 3!
Step 3 of 4:
The Chocolate Ganache
150g Organic Dark Chocolate (finely chopped)
200g Double Cream
Some people like to heat the cream on the hob, I tend to avoid this if possible because I am easily distracted, and cream is liable to split! So my preferred method is to pour the double cream into a pyrex jug and stick it in the microwave for 45-50 seconds (please beware timings may change according to your microwave power)
Pour the heated cream over the chopped chocolate. Using a metal spoon, keep stirring (doing small steady circles) the middle of the bowl. As you are stirring the middle, you will start to see a vortex of chocolate ganache start to appear.
Keep stirring until the ganache is completely mixed and smooth. Set aside for 10 minutes to cool down.
Tip: Your ganache needs to be a little runny so that it can drip over the side of the cake so keep an eye on it, so it doesn’t solidify!
Step 4 of 4:
Feel free to let loose your creative side and use whatever floats your boat. I’ve gone for:
A handful of strawberries (I dipped a couple in the ganache and let them dry)
A small pack of Maltesers
A few Ferrero Rocher chocolates
Finely Chopped Organic Dark Chocolate
Once the outer layer of buttercream has set, your cake is ready for decoration. On the top of the cake pour the ganache gently and use a palette knife to spread it evenly over the cake, teasing the ganache slightly over the edge in a few points. It will naturally form a drip and sometimes stop halfway as it solidifies. Be sure to create some longer drips, you can do this by simply spooning a bit more of the ganache on to the shorter drip and it will elongate on its own.
Where the cake meets the cake board, use the Maltesers, the Ferrero Rocher and chocolate covered strawberries to make a sort of a border.
Sprinkle generously the chopped dark chocolate pieces on top of the ganache layer and assemble the other bits of chocolate and strawberries as you wish.
Let it set for an hour or so. Take a few pictures for evidence, cut out a MAHOOSIVE slice and enjoy with a cuppa!