Monday, 29 July 2013

Honey, Apple And Peach Crumble Bars

Another refined sugar free dessert for you readers. I'm too good to you. This recipe is adapted from a Fairtrade Foundation recipe - crumbly banana squares. Like most of my other posts, I've given the original recipe a few twists and tweaks. You can find the original recipe quite easily by searching for 'crumbly banana squares' on google. That recipe is great but mine, if I do say so myself, is sublime. The crumbly wonderfulness of these honey, apple and peach bars was purely an accident. All set to enjoy a week away with the family, I realised there was quite a large amount of fruit left in our fruit bowl that needed to be eaten before we left home. I wanted something quick and easy, that would use a lot of fruit and wouldn't be too unhealthy. And then 'ah-ha!' turn those crumbly banana squares into an apple crumble equivalent!

The bars are made by pressing a crumble topping-style oaty mixture into a pan, spreading a thick layer of fruit filling on top, and then covering with a sprinkle of extra oaty, honey-y goodness. The pressed down crumble layer bakes into a sort of part-cake, part-biscuit, flapjacky kind of base, making the finished bar sturdy enough to hold in your hands. The apple and peach layer gives enough natural sweetness that the bars don't require any refined sugar, (though I would recommend a finishing dust of icing sugar, mainly for aesthetics) and the top crumble layer bakes just like a normal crumble, partly crisping on top and partly soaking up some of the apple and peach flavour from underneath.

the base mixture should be a sort of cookie dough consistency...
...that can be easily pressed into your tin.
I appreciate that my instructions for the fruit filling below may seem rather odd. As the apples in my fruit bowl were pink ladies (eating apples) they were already quite sweet and not the obvious choice for stewing. Normal eating apples are difficult to stew in the way that you stew cooking apples. They don't soften very easily using this method and can take an age and a lot of care to reach the desired apple sauce consistency. I've found that eating apples can be 'stewed' quite quickly and successfully by cutting them into small chunks, boiling, then draining and mashing. The natural sweetness of the fruit means you don't need to add pounds and pounds of sugar to make them edible, making it a healthier alternative to regular apple crumble fillings. It sounds weird but it really works, trust me! Especially with the peaches that break down and help make the apples extra puree-like, whilst at the same time giving a wonderfully fresh and sweet hint of a peach flavour. If you want to forego the apple filling, feel free to stick to the original suggestion, and go with bananas. 3-6 (depending on how much you like bananas!) mashed with a splash of vanilla and spread over the base is great. If you're using bananas, try adding in a handful or two of sultanas to the crumble mixture withe flour!

boiling apples? no, I'm not mad.
perseverance! have faith!
I'm sure you could partner the wonderful crumble biscuity base/topping with almost any fruit (pear, berries, rhubarb - let your imagination run wild! Just make sure your filling isn't too liquidy, or the base and topping won't cook properly) but filled with a delicious eating apple & peach combo, these bars taste like the best apple crumble you've ever had, and you can even hold them in your hand, making them perfect on-the-go treats. Wonderful.

keeping the skins on the peaches give a wonderful texture surprise
the crumble topping should be drier, more of a 'traditional' crumble

Honey, Apple, And Peach Crumble Bars
Makes 12 Slices

175ml honey (you can use 175g of sugar, but if you have honey, why would you? Make these refined sugar free!)
175g margarine or butter
250g porridge oats
6tbsp self raising flour
4-6 eating apples, such as pink lady, depending on how thick you want your fruit layer to be
3 ripe peaches (the riper the peaches, the sweeter the filling will be)
splash of vanilla extract
icing sugar, to dust (optional)

1. Preheat oven to gas 5. Blend the honey, margarine/butter, 200g oats, and 3tbsp flour together in a mixer, a hand mixer should be able to deal with this if you don't have a stand mixer, or you can do this by hand by rubbing the ingredients together with your fingertips, though this will be quite a bit messier! You're looking for a very stiff cookie dough consistency - something that will hold together well, and that is too wet to be a 'traditional' crumble topping.
2. Line and grease a baking tin, I used a 9x9 square, but you could use a smaller or larger tin, the size of the pan will determine how thick your bars are. Firmly press two thirds of the dough-like mixture into the pan, packing it right down. Level off with your hands or a spoon.
3. Add remaining 50g of oats and 3tbsp of flour to the rest of the crumble dough mixture and blend with a mixer. The dry ingredients should transform the 'dough' into a drier, more crumbly mixture, that you can actually use as a crumble topping. If your mixture is too dry, however, add a few squeezes of honey, a little at a time until you reach the desired consistency. Set aside while you prepare the filling.
4. Core, peel, ad chop your apples into small chunks. Place chunks into a saucepan and cover with water, then bring to the boil and simmer until very soft, at least 5 minutes. When soft, drain the apple chunks and mash with a potato masher until you get an applesauce consistency - mostly paste with some apple chunks still remaining. If your apples are soft enough mashing them should be quite easy. Return to the heat and add the three peaches that have been stoned and cut into 8-12 pieces each. Stir these into the apples on a medium heat until the mixture bubbles and they begin to break down. Add vanilla. Mash a little more to coax the peaches into a chunky paste.
5. Pour filling over prepared base. Sprinkle with crumble topping, distributing in an even layer. Bake for approx. 30 minutes until a deep golden brown on top. Cool in tin for 15 minutes, then remove cake in baking paper and set on a cooling rack to cool a bit more. These could be enjoyed (with a spoon!) as a dessert with custard, cream or ice cream, or even by themselves when warm, or you can leave them to cool, sprinkle them with icing sugar if you want and cut into bars or pieces. They firm up a bit when they cool and can be easily handled.

Store in an airtight container for a few days. Though they don't need it, these will last longer in the fridge.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Crusty White Loaf


I've mentioned in previous posts that I've never really had much luck with breads and doughs. They would never seem to rise and, after returning hopefully to the mixing bowl after a vigorous ten minutes of kneading and a few hours of waiting, more than often I would be disappointed to find a stubborn little ball of dough that had refused to rise, and would yield tiny little 'rock' loaves of bread. That was the case. Until I found this recipe.

I don't know what it is about this recipe (well, actually, I think it's the double quantity of yeast) that makes the bread so fluffy and light. This dough has risen excellently for me every single time I've made it, and after playing around with some salt/sugar measurements in the last few batches, I think we've found our winner. This loaf was dubbed 'the best bread you've made so far' by my mother, quite a compliment, as none of the others had been bad, some just more successful than others.

This, alas, is not a recipe completely of my own design. I've adapted this from the King of bread himself - Paul Hollywood's 'crusty white bloomer' recipe. The first time I made his recipe, I found the resulting bread to be quite salty. I found this unusual as normally my taste buds have a problem with homemade bread being not salty enough, and having that 'yeasty' flavour, which isn't very nice. Considering shop bought breads also contain a lot of salt, and taste fine, I couldn't work why the salt was bothering me. Anyway, I decided to experiment with different amounts to see what different results I would get. I tried no salt at all, half quantities of salt, mixtures of salt and sugar, and all sugar. I learned after many loaves that, yes, salt is critical.

before second rising
As the family chef I see it in our best interests to not add any extra salt to anything unless I absolutely can't avoid it. This is one of those times. For example, to me, the addition of salt to the Easy Flour Tortillas recipe is just unnecessary, and I really don't miss the salt, but in this bread, an amount substantial enough to feed the yeast is required. Don't get me wrong, you only need a teaspoon, it's not as if I'm telling you to add tablespoons of the stuff, but I like to cut salty corners whenever I can. So this annoyed me for a bit, until I realised that one teaspoon of salt across a whole loaf as part of a very low salt diet wasn't going to kill us. So, to counteract the somewhat salty flavour of the loaf, today, I added one teaspoon of sugar. Oh. My. Goodness. Buttery, light, fluffy, super crusty, crunchy, not-too-salty-not-too-sweet delicious bread that was gone in a mere few hours, it was that good. Fully deserving of the 'best loaf ever' comment.

A few things I would say about this dough: 1. Use butter if you can. The original recipe used butter, and for a good reason, you don't need that much, but boy does it make a difference to margarine. It gives a wonderful buttery flavour that you can taste right through the loaf and makes it extra delicious. 2: Don't put your dough in an 'extra warm' place to rise. Room temperature is just fine, do not be tempted to stick your dough in an airing cupboard, please! The temperatures in there will be too hot and will harm the yeast. Place the covered bowl of dough in the warmest room in your house, and, even in winter, it will rise, I promise. 3. You can choose how you want to shape your loaf. I like the round slashed bloomer loaf style, but feel free to experiment. I've never tried making this recipe into rolls, but I'm sure they would be successful. I've experimented before with a proper loaf tin, but had difficulty removing the bread once baked, so I find it easier to stick to the foolproof baking sheet.

Crusty White Bread
Makes 1 Large Loaf

500g strong white bread flour
2 packets easy bake yeast (14g)
1tsp salt
1tsp sugar
40g butter (salted or unsalted, your choice)
approx 300ml lukewarm water (about body temp.) you may need more or less, depending on the consistency of your dough.

1. Place the flour into large mixing bowl. Add the butter, breaking it up into small chunks so it will be easier to incorporate. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl, and the salt and sugar on the other. If they are added together too soon, apparently the salt/sugar will kill the yeast, listen to Mr Hollywood, children, he knows what he's talking about.
2. Stir the dry ingredients with your hands, rubbing in the butter a little. Add about half of the water and mix again with your hands, continue to add water until a dough forms. According to Paul 'you want a dough that is well combined and soft, but not sticky or soggy'.
3. Tip out your dough onto a very lightly floured surface. Avoid using too much extra flour, as it will change the consistency of your dough to the worse. If you're having big problems with the dough sticking while kneading (which I have never had with this recipe) spread a small amount of olive oil on your counter top, and knead the dough on top of this instead, which will not alter your finished dough.
4. Knead until smooth and elastic. You should be able to gently pull a piece of dough and it will spring back. Most recipes say this takes about 8-10 minutes but with this recipe, it takes much less, about 5-7, but see what works for you.
5. Tip the kneaded dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Leave in a warm (but not hot!) spot until doubled in size, about an hour max. For me, this also happens a lot quicker, about half and hour, but that may just be the temperature of my house at this time of year.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl and knock the air out of it. This is simply kneading the dough a few times to remove any huge air bubble, about 10 times should do the trick. With your hands tuck the edges of the dough underneath the ball to form a nice smooth shape. Continue to shape like this until you have the shape that you want. Place the shaped dough on a baking tray scattered well with flour (to prevent sticking) and cover again with a damp tea towel, leaving to rise in the warm spot until doubled in size again. While this is happening preheat your oven to gas mark 6.
7. Once the dough has doubled in size, scatter the top lightly with flour and run it over the dough for an even coating. Slash the dough with a serrated knife a few times using long strokes and cuts no more than 1cm deep, these will expand with cooking.
8. Place the loaf onto the middle shelf of your oven (this is important as otherwise the bread will hit the top of the oven when baking and burn, trust me, I know!) Place a roasting tin filled with 2cm deep of cold water in the bottom of the oven, the steam released when the bread cooks helps give it a wonderful crust.
9. Bake for 25-40 minutes, depending on your oven. The bread should be a deep golden brown on top, and should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Leave to cool on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before serving.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Wedding Cake Saga - Part 7 - Final Thoughts

Overall, this cake making couldn't have gone better for a first attempt. Everything went smoothly, including the slicing and serving of the cake to my more than willing family (who were also sent home with HUGE pieces of each tier). The outside shots are from our al fresco Sunday lunch this afternoon (it'd be a shame to waste the sunshine, after all!) and I got very excited about the vintage tea cups and saucers my mum dusted off and the not-so-vintage Cath Kidston cake stand I got for my 18th. I thought the whole thing was very Pinterest.

Notes to myself for next time, and for anyone else who's thinking of undertaking the mammoth (but extremely fun and rewarding) task of making a wedding cake:

1. Don't underestimate the quantity of ingredients you need. The first chocolate layer I baked came out much thinner than the others. The second time I made a chocolate layer I added an extra egg and the same weight as the egg's worth of flour, butter and sugar. It came out perfect.
2. Don't overfill your layers, or, don't spread the fillings right to the very edge, even if they're quite sturdy, but especially if they're soft. I tended to spread the fillings right to the edge because I didn't want the edge pieces to be dry, especially because the layers were so thick. But when the cakes have the pressure of the above tiers on them they get squished down and the icing expands. This wasn't so much of a problem because of the rough texture of the final coat of buttercream, and certainly wasn't noticeable straight after the cake had been made, but the next day (today) I could see a slightly thicker band of icing around the middle of the first and second tiers. That said, don't skimp on the layer of filling. I sandwiched the chocolate tier with Baileys buttercream and before it was stacked this layer of filling was about and inch thick. After a day or two, and the pressure of the above tiers when stacked, some of the filling seeped into the cake, and got pushed to the edges, meaning when the cake was sliced the amount of filling was perfect. Be generous with your fillings, they'll help stop your cake from drying out, but don't spread them too close to the edge.
3. Two days is plenty of time to make, fill and ice the cake. The cakes will just carry on getting drier from the day they are made. That said, all the layers were still lovely and moist today, 2 days after baking. To ensure maximum deliciousness, though, only bake 2 days ahead. Don't bother with freezing, there's too much potential for soggy cakes in my opinion.
4. Buy nice flowers from a florist. Although they were lovely, the Asda roses were looking a bit worse for wear after less than 24 of being cut from their stems. The lighter pink mystery flowers were still as good as new though...maybe some flowers just last better than others. Obviously, for the real thing I'll arrange the flowers on the day, preferably when I get to the reception to make sure they last as well as possible. I wrapped the ends in foil to prevent the flowers marring the flavour of the parts of the cake that they were stuck in. This seemed to work well. Interestingly, I only did this for the lighter pink flowers, not the roses, perhaps that's why they lasted so much better. Experiment with keeping the flowers watered while on the cake.
5. See if you and your cake can withstand the heat. Practise in summer. I now know that my cakes and icings will withstand hot July temperatures, but it's well worth testing this yourself, there'd be nothing worse than your icing sliding all around your cake when on display!
6. The cakes cut and serve wonderfully. Don't know what all the drama and stress was about (mum).
7. It's easier than you think! It may be a bit time consuming and tiring, but if you love baking and getting arty, and have a tiny bit of skill (and pounds of buttercream to cover mistakes) the results, reactions and praise is so, so worth it. Jump at the chance, how often to amateur bakers get to make such giant and exciting creations? It'll probably be another year before I make another wedding cake, but I'd recommend it to anyone.
8. DIY weddding cakes are literally HUNDREDS of pounds cheaper than buying them from professional bakers. You could get charged anywhere from £250 - £650 for a cake of the size I made, depending on where you live and what you want on it. I spent £35. Max. Granted, the results won't be quite as pristine as those from a pro bakery, but they'll be pretty damn good if you give your cake a 'lil bit o' love and attention. And 'rustic' is so in right now (seriously, just search Pinterest). No contest in my eyes.

Cue the mandatory photo montage...

so painful to watch...

look how flat that is!!

More photos of the cake itself, including close ups of icing and piping in Part 6 - Finishing Touches.

The Wedding Cake Saga - Part 6 - Finishing Touches

This post will just be lots of pictures of the finished cake. I'm quite happy with how it turned out. There were no major disasters, and the cake is still standing today! I decorated the cake with a bunch of flowers I bought for £5 from Asda. I actually love the combination of colours from the roses and the other flowers (I've forgotten their name!) and the baby's breath, which I think is much nicer than just having one solid block of colour. Decorating the cake was the best bit. Piping the bead border too a bit of practise, but is easy once you get the hang of it (squeeze, stop, pull, squeeze, stop, pull!). The flowers really brought the whole cake together, and made it really look like a wedding cake. Overall I'm really pleased with the results!!

Part 7, final thoughts.

The Wedding Cake Saga - Part 5 - Stacking

I didn't take any photos of this stage, mainly because I was too worried about messing up the alignment of the tiers, and/or breaking the cakes when moving them around. This was probably the most stressful and nerve wracking part of the whole process.

First, I inserted Wilton wooden dowels into the bottom and middle tiers, 5 in a circle, and two in the center of both tiers, about 2 inches from the edge. I paced the rims of the next tier's cake tins down on the bottom and middle tiers to give a guideline of where the cakes were going to rest and where I needed to place the dowel rods (the dowels should be about 1'' from the edge of the outside of the tier above). Inserting the dowels into the first and second tiers should be done before you stack the cakes. Because there were so many, marking and trimming the dowels was a long and quite boring process, but I wanted to do it properly because a sound structure is one of, if not the most important part of your wedding cake. You don't want tiers sliding off in the middle of your reception, after all.

I had no real method to stacking the tiers. I just used the impressions of the cake tins as a guide line, which helped a lot actually, and sort of dropped the next tier on top from a very low height. This was quite messy because of the thick layer of buttercream on the cakes, so I had to do some clearing up with a spatula. I wasn't to concerned about getting the joins between the tiers perfect, because I piped a border of beads in the same buttercream on afterwards. Many wedding cake makers stick a large wooden dowel through the top tier and down through the whole cake once it's finished to secure all the tiers together, but as this cake isn't being transported anywhere, I didn't really see the need for that. I'll definitely be doing that on the real cake though, I'm not going to be taking any chances.

 Next post will be pictures of the finished cake!

The Wedding Cake Saga - Part 4 - Icing

Because I was determined that I wasn't going to be covering this cake in fondant, I knew I would have to make massive quantities of Swiss meringue buttercream (SMB from now on) to finish the cakes. SMB is a lot less sweet than American style buttercream. It's made by pasteurising egg whites and sugar over boiling water (not as scary as it sounds), then whipping them up to firm peaks and then gradually whipping in chunks of butter. It has the texture and consistency of a firm whipped cream. It's easy to spread onto cakes (and scrape off any mistakes!!) and is a pleasure to work with as long as you don't get any crumbs in it (being almost pure white, these are very noticeable, especially on dark cakes!).

whipping, whipping, whipping...

I'd only ever made small (well, 'normal') quantities of SMB before. I calculated roughly that I would need 12 egg whites, and being that a general rule of thumb is 50g of sugar per egg white, that I needed 600g of sugar. Because I had no use for the yolks, I decided to freeze them, I hear they freeze rather well, and I had heard of an ingenious tip of freezing them in individual ice cube trays so they are already portioned out. One egg yolk fit perfectly in each cube. To use them after freezing you defrost them in the fridge, give them a bit of a stir and use them as you normally would, but for more information I'm sure you'll find what you're looking for in a quick google search.

for some reason this was oddly satisfying!

I was worried once I'd made the SMB that it wouldn't be enough, I had to crumb coat and ice three large cakes. The amount I had made didn't look like that much in the bowl (despite the fact that I had to whip it in two parts because it was giving my kitchenaid great stress, see above photo!) and I thought about making more, but we were running out of eggs (me having used 34 for the icing and cakes combined) so I thought I'd see how it went. I needn't have worried. I ended up with quite a bit left over. I wouldn't make less than this next time, simply because I liked the 'wiggle room' and security of having such a large quantity at hand, knowing I wasn't going to run out towards the end. You can easily scale this recipe down for a normal cake, using 50g of sugar per egg white. A 2-3 egg white mixture will give you plenty for a normal 8-10'' cake, and a 1 egg white mixture is perfect for filling and covering a 6'' sponge.

Swiss Meringue Buttercream
Enough to generously ice a three tiered cake with some leftovers

12 egg whites
600g granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
approx. 750g of butter (I used a combination of butter and Trex - a vegetable shortening - this gave me a much brighter white than I would have gotten with just butter while still keeping a good taste, and made the buttercream more stable)

1. Mix your egg whites, sugar and salt in a metal bowl.
2. Place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl isn't touching the water directly.
3. Cook the mixture over the gentle heat slowly, stirring constantly until when you rub a bit of the mixture between your two fingers you can't feel the sugar grains. What you're doing here is dissolving the sugar in the egg whites, but at the same time pasteurising the whites so they're safe to use. Make sure the heat isn't too high and that you keep on stirring the mixture slowly, otherwise you'll end up with scrambled egg whites!
4. As soon as all the sugar has dissolved, remove the bowl from the heat, tip mixture into a clean bowl and whisk with an electric or stand mixer until cool (as I made such a large amount it would have taken ages for the mixture to cool, so I stopped when firm peaks were achieved) at this stage the mixture will have fluffed up a lot and look like meringue mixture does before it's cooled, you should also be able to turn the bowl upside down without any mixture falling out like you can with real meringue mixture! It was at this point that I had to separate my mixture into two batches because my mixer was struggling.
5. Gradually add chunks of butter/shortening while the mixture is beating. The egg white mixture will change consistency pretty quickly. It will go softer, and maybe even 'soupy' (luckily this didn't happen to me this time but it has happened before! If this happens put your butter/shortening and your egg white mixture into the fridge for about 15 minutes, as the icing has got too warm. Cold ingredients will help it firm up much more quickly) but persevere and keep adding butter/shortening until you get something that holds its shape very well on the beaters of your mixer. At this stage you can also add any flavourings and or colours (gel or paste food colourings will give the most vibrant results if using). If you're using them, I recommend that they be clear 'extracts' and not highly coloured (if not using additional colours), as this will ruin your perfect buttercream, unless you're going for a coloured look, of course.

Actually icing all the tiers was both a great pain and great fun. First came the crumb coat, to seal in any stray crumbs ready for the next and final layer of buttercream. The crumb coat is really just a scrape of SMB, so this was pretty easy. I didn't have to worry about catching crumbs - this was the point. After all the cakes were 'dirty iced' it seemed like the cake was starting to come together as a whole, and look slightly more professional that just another home made sponge. After I finished the crumb coats I had to give the cakes a bit of time to set up in the fridge as they never would have set at room temperature (even though, mercifully, the temperature has been a few degrees cooler than yesterday, I don't think neither the cakes, nor I would have withstood 28/29 degrees again!) which was a bit of a problem as the cakes were quite big (and especially quite tall). After several minutes and moving of lots of shelves I cleared a space big enough for the baking tray I had put the cakes on.

After the cakes had chilled I had to ice them properly. I was so nervous about getting crumbs in the final coat all the cakes have a layer of buttercream about half an inch thick. Nothing wrong with that, though. I'd rather them be like that and be crumb free than have specks of cake flecked through the icing that I couldn't do anything about (especially on the chocolate tier - that was the hardest and the most nerve wracking!) I found that the easiest pattern to do on the sides of the cakes was to drag the spatula very gently around the cake while spinning it on the lazy susan, so your spatula stays in the same place and you spin the cake with your other hand. Be sure to press very lightly, you only want to make a slight impression in the icing, too far and you'll pick up loads of crumbs and your hard work will be ruined. The horizontal pattern also made it really easy to go back and cover up any mistakes, stray crumbs were covered with just another swipe of buttercream. I was really pleased with how the tiers turned out, actually, I think the pattern looks a lot trickier than it was.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

The Wedding Cake Saga - Part 3 - Filling

This was one of my favourite parts of the whole process. As I had three different cake flavours, I needed three different fillings. Making large quantities of these and using them to fill massive cakes was a blast and I felt pro spreading the fillings around with my big icing spatula and spinning the cakes on a makeshift cake turntable (an old lazy susan).

I've already posted a 'recipe' for the Baileys buttercream I made for the chocolate tier. I also made a white chocolate buttercream for the vanilla tier which I partnered with a spread of home made berry jam. The white chocolate really helped solidify the middle tier (especially when it had been in the fridge) which made me hopeful that the stacking of the cakes would go off without a hitch and without any bulges or cracks. As with the Baileys recipe, my quantities were very vague. I learned from this project that you should always start with less butter than you think you need - once you start adding icing sugar that seemingly small amount of butter will fluff up into quite an impressive amount. You can always add more butter later if you want to increase the volume of your buttercream further, but if you start with too much you'll end up with piles and piles of the stuff that you have no use for. That said, buttercream freezes incredibly well, and is as good as new when thawed and given a quick re-whip.

White Chocolate Buttercream
To generously fill a 10'' sponge

I must have started with maybe a quarter of a packet of butter
About 3/4?! of a box of icing sugar
The beans of a vanilla pod
75g of melted white chocolate (you could add more if you want, I was just trialing)

1. Blend softened butter until smooth, gradually add sifted icing sugar, a couple of spoonfuls at a time.
2. Drizzle in melted chocolate, add vanilla beans if using, you could also use vanilla extract. The chocolate will thin the buttercream a but, but remember, if you're refrigerating the icing at any point, the chocolate will make it set near solid so I'd advise thinning a bit more than you think you need to with milk.

Will keep well in the fridge for a few weeks or will freeze in a container for a few months.

I love the raspberry ripple effect!
The last (lemon) tier was filled with a buttercream that had been spiked with a few tablespoons of homemade lemon curd (maybe I'll do a recipe at some point!) This was just the standard butter/icing sugar combo, with the curd, which thinned the filling quite a bit so you'll need extra icing sugar for this one. I also added a bit of lemon zest to give a stronger lemon flavour.

I had some issues with getting the tiers level after they had been filled. I tried squashing them down, but the fillings were so robust (especially on the bottom tier) that this proved quite difficult, and even started to crack the chocolate cake.

I was also worried that when the tiers were stacked they'd buckle under the weight of the cakes on top, especially since the fillings of the top two tiers were not as sturdy as the Baileys buttercream filling of the bottom tier. Luckily, a brief stint in the fridge cleared these concerns up.

Next step - Icing!

The Wedding Cake Saga - Part 2 - Baking

Yesterday was the great cake bake. Seven hours it took me in total. SEVEN.

That works out at just over an hour per cake, which was pretty accurate. Because the pans were so deep the cakes took aggges to cook through. I was worried this might mean the crusts would darken too much, but when they were leveled off everything was fine.

We had no major disasters. The last 6'' lemon sponge was a bit touch and go when I pulled it out of the oven after an hour and it was still completely raw in the middle. No idea how that happened. But it seems fine now.
this cake batter won't be self leveling, but will keep wonderfully moist for days
I also misjudged the amount of eggs I'd need for the largest tier. The first time I used 4 eggs, but this only yielded a cake about 2'' thick, whereas the others were at least 3''. So the second time I used 5 eggs, and that worked out really well.

you're looking for a very thick batter
Overall, I was really pleased with how it went - I had the right amount of ingredients, and although it was very hot work (the kitchen was 28 degrees WITHOUT the oven on), and very tiring (lots of standing around mixing, waiting and whisking) the results were well worth it. But the proof will be in the eating...

The cake recipe I used is a tried and true one I've been using for every cake I've made for the last two years or so. It's super simple and easy to remember. I thought this would be perfect for a test run wedding cake, I wouldn't be faffing aournd with three separate cake recipes that I didn't know exactly how they'd turn out. My recipe is simple, a form of old styley pound cake recipes; equal measures of eggs, (weigh these first!) butter, sugar and flour, plus a sprinkling of baking powder for luck. It can be made into a chocolate cake mix easily by the addition of a few scoops of cocoa powder. The hardest part of baking the cakes was working out haw many eggs, and so the quantities of the rest of ingredients, that I would need. I made an educated guess of 2 eggs per layer of the 6'' top tier, 3 per layer of the 10'', and 4 per layer of chocolate (though, as I mentioned above I should have used 5 instead). All tiers worked out perfectly after the slight chocolate layer issue, and were a really good thickness. So I guess it works out roughly at about one egg needed for each three square inches of cake you need, the cake tins being 3'' deep (3'' by 3'' x 2 eggs = 6'' pan to fill etc.)

Wedding Cake Sponges

eggs (2 for each 6''x3'' layer, so 4 in total for a top 6'' tier, 3 for each 10'' layer, 5 for each 12'' layer.)
butter, softened
a teaspoon of baking powder
flavours; cocoa, vanilla essence, almond, lemon zest etc.

1. Weigh your eggs, this will vary depending on the weight of each of your eggs, and will even give you slightly different measurements for layers of the same cake. A very rough guideline is that one egg weighs 70g, but you should always check this!
2. Weigh out your butter, flour and sugar, in equal quantities to the eggs. Cream the butter and sugar well until pale and creamy. Turn your mixer to slow and add in the eggs, one at a time, giving time to incorporate them into the butter and sugar mix.
3. Spoon in your flour and baking powder, (and cocoa powder if using, enough to give a rich chocolate batter, about 3-5 tbsp) a few spoons at a time, alternating with a splash of milk. Milk measures aren't exact, but you're looking for a thick batter that isn't going to be self leveling when poured into the cake pan.
4. Spoon batter into prepared cake tins. Bake at gas mark 3 until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, timings depend on the size of your layers and the exact temp. of your oven, but can vary between 1-1.5 hours. The lower than usual temperature helps prevent excessive drying of the crusts of the cakes, and stops them getting too dark too quickly.
5. Turn out cakes onto wire racks to cool. To get flat surfaces so I wouldn't have to trim too much off the tops (I didn't want to waste all that perfectly good cake!) I turned the cakes upside down on the cooling racks, put the corresponding cake tins on top of them, and put cans of beans inside the tins. The pressure helped to flatten uneven layers, and the small amount of steam trapped by the pans helped keep the cakes really moist. If you're worried about your cakes turning out wet, though, and I can't see any reason why they should! you can just turn the layers upside down and the weight of the cake itself will help flatten any uneven tops.

Once cool, wrap your cakes in cling film and put in a cupboard until you're ready to fill and ice them.

Click here to see part 3, filling!