One wedding, lots of cake

My beloved’s nephew and godson is getting married this week and we’re going to the UK for the wedding. Since the date clashes with the Vuelta a Espana, which is visiting some of my favourite locations in Spain, there’s every chance I would’ve skipped the wedding except I was tasked with making the cake.

The nephew’s long-term partner is a graphic artist and the two of them had very definite ideas of what they wanted the cake to look like. I initially received loads of photos from them (above), probably from Pinterest, of US style, mile high, sponge wedding cakes until I gently pointed out some of the challenges with their suggestions. Finally, they agreed on a single tier, traditional fruit cake. I’ve never made a wedding cake before though I have over the years made hundreds of iced and marzipaned fruit cakes,  I’ve just never made one quite this large. To put it in context, it’s six-times the size of one of my Christmas cakes.

The bridal couple decided that, as not everyone likes fruit cake – though I’ve yet to find anyone who doesn’t like mine – they’d only have a single-tiered cake, 25cm square (serves 90 fingers), along with plenty of iced cup cakes for their 120 guests. Thankfully someone else is making the cupcakes.

Of course, I did my research and found out how much bakers charge for organic iced fruit cakes of this size. To be honest, I think I’m still in shock. Needless to say, this will be their wedding gift. I also discussed the shape of the cake with the caterers who expressed a preference for a square cake, much easier to cut, even though round cakes are easier to decorate.

I will be flying with the cake which has its own carrying case, so it’s fortunate that they didn’t want any elaborate iced decorations. After plenty of trial and error on my part (pictured above), practising on the Christmas cakes, the pair decided they’d prefer a lightly grey marbled finish, not dissimilar to that of their wedding invite. Fortunately, I cracked this effect on the trial cake I made earlier in the year. You know me, planning and preparation are key to success!

It took me ages to ensure that the trial cake was properly mixed. I couldn’t use my mixer, it was too small. Once I’d creamed the butter and sugar and added the eggs, the remaining mixing was done by hand. After it was baked, I allowed the cake to rest, before commencing its decoration. Fortunately, I still had plenty of fondant icing left over from Christmas which I’d been practicing with to try and achieve the desired overall pattern.

It took quite some time to roll out and measure both the marzipan and icing. It was much easier once I’d acquired some spacers! These more easily enable you to roll out both to a similar overall thickness. At least the marzipan is affixed to the cake in panels using apricot jam, whereas the fondant icing has to be in one giant, continuous piece. I must’ve spent over 45 minutes rolling it out.

 

The trial cake threw up a major issue. While the thickness of the icing and marzipan passed muster, we realised that we’d never attempted to cut any of my cakes into 4″ fingers, just great fat wodges. It was far too moist to easily cut into fingers. I now appreciate why wedding cake is always so dry, it cuts much more easily. Fearing the wrath of the caterers, I decided that I’d probably have to cook the cake for longer and dial back on the copious amounts of rum!

The actual wedding cake was made in mid-August, having soaked the dried fruit for two weeks beforehand in much less rum than usual. I cooked it for seven hours in a low oven and in a much lined and insulated tin. When I turned the cake out of its tin, I inverted it so as to have a perfectly flat top to decorate. I then had to wait for a coolish morning to firstly afix the marzipan. It had been so humid, I feared the marzipan would be too sticky to roll out. I then had to leave it a coupe of days for the marzipan to dry before applying the final coating. Fortunately, I had plenty of icing just in case……..

Unfortunately, my first attempt at icing the cake suffered from elephant’s foot. Which is a technical term to explain hairline cracking. I read everything I could find on the internet but there was no way to fix it. So, I took all the icing and marzipan off, and started again! This, thankfully was much more successful.

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9D9BBF77-839C-4AAE-AD37-6F4707CEEE99And here it is! It’s a bit of a whopper. I decorated the bottom of the cake with some bright green ribbon provided by the bride and the cake topper is a lego bride and groom (pictured above). Fotunately, the cake made it safely through customs and onto the UK bound plane without incident.

Halloween horrors!

Horror of horrors,  an unexpected visitor and I had a bare cupboard.

Never knowingly under catered is my leitmotif. So how embarrassed was I when one of my friend’s sons popped in unannounced and found the cookie jar bare? I was mortified! He’s a bit of a cookie monster and when I visit his parents usually take him a batch of these cookies.

When I make a batch of cookies, I typically pop a few raw ones in the  freezer specifically to cover unexpected visitors. That way, within 20 minutes, the place smells of warm cookies and I have something delightful for my guest(s). If not cookies, I’ll have a few slices of cake in the freezer I can rapidly defrost or some fudgy brownies which are delicious straight from the freezer.

I tend to batch bake. That’s because it’s just as easy to make ten cakes as it is to make one. My repertoire tends to be biased towards my customer base, elite and professional athletes, many of whom eschew cakes made from refined products. Through much testing, I’ve developed a range of cakes which meet with the approval of their dieticians and team chefs who aren’t above sneaking a piece for themselves.

Cannondale’s chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!

Many of our friends much prefer healthy home-baked goodies and I try to comply. Of course, I now can’t eat products containing refined sugar, white flour and diary which has pushed me to experiment though many vegan cake recipes often include products such as vegan butter which for me is also verboten. However, and happily, there are plenty of alternatives so my baking continues apace, just not so much recently.

This is partly as a result with the ongoing issues with my fridge-freezer which are now resolved but, as a result, the default cookie jar is empty. Also, it’s been far too warm this summer to spend hours baking in the kitchen and now I have to lay down some stocks. Because of my love of baking, I hardly ever buy biscuits or cakes. So not only was the freezer bare but the cupboard was too. My poor visitor was doubly disappointed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. It was Halloween so surely I had laid in stocks for the trick or treaters? I don’t do Halloween nor is it really celebrated in France where kids are neither encouraged nor allowed to eat loads of sweets or snacks, except maybe a bit of top quality dark chocolate. I usually have some dark chocolate in the cupboard for my baking but my beloved has eaten it all. See, the cupboard’s truly were bare.

Nor do I celebrate Guy Fawkes night. I’ve never been over fond of fireworks and I’m now more than happy to watch displays from a distance on my balcony during the various festivities and national holidays in France. I know I’m giving the impression that I’m a bit of a kill joy but nothing could be further from the truth, though I do accept that my popularity may have slipped a notch on account of the empty cookie jar.

I’m attempting to rectify matters and have already started on my Xmas cakes. I like to soak the organic dried fruit in honey and rum for three weeks prior to baking the cakes which I find then remain really moist. I make Xmas cakes for family and friends most years but this year they’re assuming greater significance as I’ll be using them, specifically their decoration, as a dry run for a wedding cake I’ll be making next year. This is a bit of a departure for me and I’ve been watching loads of videos on YouTube which explain the various techniques for decorating with sugar paste.

The marbled effect I’m attempting does mean that the cakes won’t look particularly festive but, on the plus side, they’ll have marzipan and icing on the top and all four sides – I generally only decorate the tops. I’m going to use different colourways, within the bridal couple’s defined palette, on each cake so that they can select which one they prefer. It’s been an interesting project thus far and I had no idea that wedding cakes were so expensive! Needless to say it’ll be our wedding present to them.

The Musette: Christmas cake

We’re rushing headlong into the Festive season and it’s time to get stirring dried fruit for all manner of festive foods. In the past I’ve made Christmas cakes, puddings and even mince pies as gifts but in recent years have restricted myself to just the cakes. Now I’m not overly fond of fruit cake, specifically Christmas cake. I find all too often that it’s dry with a burnt, bitter after-taste – even the most expensive versions. However my family and husband all love it so, a few years ago, with the prospect of them spending the festive season with us in France, I decided to try to come up with a cake we’d all enjoy.

Firstly I eliminated a number of ingredients found in the more traditional recipes, such as candied peel, glace cherries, treacle, grated apple, currants, spices and nuts. Mine was only going to be made with dried fruit which I had macerated for two weeks in dark rum and honey to make it really plumptious. I cooked the cake in a shallow baking tray so that it didn’t need to bake for days hours in the oven. I then topped it with home-made marzipan and soft royal icing. It was a triumph and now my family claim Christmas isn’t complete without a couple of my cakes.

I also make them all year-round, without the marzipan and icing, as the high dried fruit content makes it an ideal snack during or after a ride. The cakes have found favour with many in the pro peloton.

Ingredients

  • 2kg (4lb) dried fruit, mix according to taste but should include prunes, dates, figs, apricots, cranberries, sour cherries and raisins (see Sheree’s handy hints for my particular mix)
  • 500ml (2 cups) dark rum
  • 200ml (¾ cup) runny honey
  • 340g (3 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 8 large organic eggs, approx. 45g (1⅔oz), without shell
  • 150g (1 cup) golden caster (super-fine) sugar
  • 320g (2⅔ cups) strong wholemeal bread flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt

Method

1. Chop all the dried fruit into small pieces and place in a large glass mixing bowl. Add the honey and half of the rum. Fold to combine and evenly distribute. Cover with cling-film (plastic wrap) and allow to macerate for at least two weeks at room temperature. Stir on a daily basis and add the rest of the rum as and when necessary.

Glistening fruit macerated in rum
Glistening fruit macerated in rum

2. Preheat the oven to 140°C/120°C fan/gas mark 1 (275°F/260°F fan). Generously butter and flour the base and sides of a baking tin. I typically use two disposable tin-foil ones measuring 18cm x 23cm x 5cm (6” x 9” x 2″) – they’re great for storing the cakes – which I line with a greaseproof paper.

3. In another large bowl, beat the soft butter and sugar together with (preferably) an electric mixer until pale and fluffy – at least five minutes.

4. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. To prevent the batter curdling, add a tablespoon of flour to the batter with each egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as often as necessary. Add the rest of the sifted flour and mix gently with a spatula until everything is combined.

Ready for the fruit
Ready for the fruit

5. Now gently add the dried fruit in batches and mix to ensure an even distribution of fruit.

Ready for the cake tins
Ready for the cake tins

6. Divide the cake batter between the tins and level the tops with an offset spatula. Put the tins into the oven on a baking tray and cook for approximately two hours. Times will vary depending on the dimensions of your baking tins and your oven, so check regularly. The cake is ready when a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Cool completely in the tin on a wire rack. The cakes can be stored in their tins, in an airtight container, at room temperature for up to two months.

Sheree’s handy hints

1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.

2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cakes in the oven, put the timer on for 20 minutes less than they should take to cook and then check regularly.

3. If the cakes start to colour too much, cover them with an aluminium foil tent.

4. Typically my dried fruit mix is as follows:

  • 500g big juicy golden raisins
  • 500g pitted Agen prunes
  • 125g dried apricots
  • 250g dried cranberries
  • 125g dried sour cherries
  • 250g dried figs
  • 250g pitted medjool dates

But feel free to experiment, replace some of the fruit with others which are more to your taste or even substitute some with chopped nuts.

5. If you don’t want to use dark rum, brandy works equally well or, if you prefer to leave out the alcohol, then soak the fruit overnight in warm tea, orange or apple juice. However, without the preservative effect of alcohol, the cake will not keep for as long.

6. I usually leave the cakes for at least a week before I cover them with home-made marzipan and then another day before decorating with soft home-made royal icing. I often only cover the tops of the cakes, leaving the sides bare – you can have too much of a good thing!

Here are my recipes for marzipan and royal icing:

Ingredients

  • 250g (2½ cups) sifted icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 250g (2½ cups) blanched almonds
  • 2 egg whites (approx 30g/1oz)
  • ½ tsp fine sea salt

Method

1. Using a blender or food processor finely chop the almonds.  Then add the sifted icing sugar, egg whites and salt and blend to incorporate. It should be the consistency of sticky pastry dough. Cover with cling film (plastic wrap) and leave overnight in the fridge to firm up.

2. Gently heat 2 tbsp of apricot jam in a saucepan with 1 tbsp of water. Sieve and leave to cool before painting the top  and sides with the jam. This will help the marzipan to adhere to the cake.

3. Take two-thirds of the marzipan and roll out between two sheets of greaseproof paper (parchment wrap) so that it’s large enough to cover the top of the cake and is about 5 cm thick. You can use the base of the cake tin to cut out the correct shape.

4. Then use the remaining third to roll out a strip of marzipan that is the same height as the cake. Lay the circular/square/rectangular piece of marzipan on top of the cake, and then take the long strip and wrap it round the sides. Pinch the seams together and then, before icing, allow the marzipan to dry by letting the cake sit in a cool spot for 24 hours wrapped in a clean tea towel.

5. Once the marzipan has dried, ice either with home-made royal icing or ready to roll icing. If you’re short of time and you’re going to eat the cake within a couple of days, you can simply decorate the cake with an abundance of glace fruits and/or nuts.

Almost ready!
Almost ready!

 

Ingredients

  • 2 egg whites (30g/1oz total)
  • 500g (5 cups) sifted icing (confectioner’s) sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Method

1. Beat the egg whites lightly and add enough icing sugar to make icing that will hold its shape. Add sufficient lemon juice to get desired consistency. I prefer a soft icing rather than a teeth-jarringly stiff one.

2.Brush the marzipan with a bit of water and spread on the royal icing. I tend to go for a lazy snow peak effect with a palette knife and then decorate with small Christmas baubles or figurines.

Now where did I put Santa and Rudolph?
Now where shall  I put Santa and Rudolph?

3. I usually finish the cake off with a wide ribbon and place it in a decorative tin ready for the big day.