Sunday, 17 April 2011

The icing on the cake

It was my lovely mum in law's 60th birthday yesterday and she had a big party full of family and friends. It was great fun, and we were surprised at just how noisy a bunch of pensioners could be :)

My sister in law's mum made the official birthday cake, and very nice it was - she did a fruit cake, complete with fondant icing and marzipan and lots of cut out decorations. I have a photo on my other camera (a little compact that I never use due to it being a bit rubbish) and I'll share it when I can be bothered to get up and dig it out of my handbag!

I know that a lot of people don't like fruit cake (why though?a good fruit cake is one of the best things in the world) so I thought I'd make a couple of sponge cakes and bring them along, so nobody had to miss out on cake. I did a very traditional Victoria sandwich, with buttercream and raspberry jam, and a chocolate fudge cake, which was just a chocolate sponge with chocolate fudge icing. I'm not going to bore you with the recipes for the cakes themselves; anyone with half a brain can make a sponge cake. I do however want to share the recipes for the icing, because the icing can turn a mediocre cake into something lovely, or a fantastic cake into a disaster. I hope mine just made a good cake even better!

For both of these recipes, use a big bowl if you're using an electric hand whisk, it stops the icing sugar going all over the kitchen.

Vanilla buttercream (makes enough to fill a cake about 8-10")

100g unsalted butter, softened
150g icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp GOOD vanilla extract (no horrible vanilla essence, please)
a few tablespoons of milk

Use an electric hand whisk or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, and beat the butter until it's really soft and fluffy. Add the vanilla and icing sugar and beat it all together. Add enough milk to make the mixture soft enough to spread easily - start with about 2 tbsp and add a bit more if necessary, beating after each addition to mix it in thoroughly.

You can make up a big batch of this and keep it in the fridge for a week or so. Just take it out of the fridge an hour or two before you want it, to let it soften up enough to spread. You can also use food colouring to dye it whatever colour you fancy.

Chocolate fudge icing (makes enough to fill and cover an 8" cake quite generously)

60g good quality dark chocolate
1 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp boiling water
90g unsalted butter, softened
250g icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a pan of hot water.

In a jug, dissolve the cocoa powder in the boiling water. Add this to the melted chocolate and mix together well (it will go a bit grainy, this is normal.)

In a BIG bowl, cream the butter with an electric hand whisk. Add the icing sugar, vanilla and chocolate mixture and beat together really well for 2-3 minutes. I found I needed to add a drop of milk as my mixture was very thick.

Both of these icings would be fantastic on cupcakes too, of course. Or, if you're feeling both greedy and lazy, spread it on a digestive or rich tea biscuit!

The buttercream recipe is mine; the chocolate fudge icing is from Peyton & Byrne British Baking, a book I just acquired a few days ago and which is really, really gorgeous. The typeface reminds me of vintage London Underground posters, the design and layout is absolutely beautiful, the photos make me hungry and the recipes are mostly traditional but all very interesting. It was a £6.99 bargain from the Book People and if you're even slightly interested in baking, this is definitely a book you need to add to your collection.

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