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Totally Chocolaty Birthday Cake

Totally Chocolaty Birthday Cake

Four layers of chocolate sponge, sandwiched with white chocolate buttercream and smothered in chocolate ganache

Judging by how many birthday cakes I’ve been asked to make in the last few weeks, spring really does get everyone’s sap rising! Anyway, the lovely Natasha Bailie (parental types should check out her blog, the milkstand) asked me to make a cake in honour of her baby boy’s first birthday. The babies attending Max’s birthday party will be having something a little kinder to young tummies and teeth, but the grown ups are getting the big-fat-birthday-cake experience with this totally chocolaty bad boy.

The instructions for making the ganache are given last as covering the cake with this divine mixture is the last stage of the cake. However, as the ganache needs to cool before using, it’s actually a good idea to make it first, or around the same time as you make the sponge.

Totally Chocolaty Birthday Cake

For the cake:

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 50g cocoa, sifted
  • 175g self raising flour
  • half tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 1 – 2 tbsp milk

Heat the oven to 175C and grease and line 2 8″ cake tins with greaseproof paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in two of the eggs until well mixed and smooth. Add the cocoa and a bit of the flour and mix again, scraping down the sides of the bowl to make sure everything is being well incorporated. Beat in the third and fourth egg, then the remaining flour and baking powder, then the vanilla and syrup, and finally slowly add the milk, mixing until you get a soft batter that drops easily off a spoon. Divide the mixture as evenly as possible between the two prepared tins, flattening it out with a spatula. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes – the cake is done when the middle springs back when lightly pressed with your finger, a skewer comes out clean and it’s beginning to come away from the sides of the tin. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool, remove the greaseproof paper and cut in half with a large, serrated (bread) knife. You now have your four layers ready for filling and covering!

For the white chocolate buttercream:

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 400g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 200g white chocolate

If you have a free standing mixer or electric hand whisk, I’d suggest using it for this.

In a large bowl, beat together the butter, sugar and vanilla (start slowly to try and avoid covering your kitchen in icing sugar). Beat for longer than you think you need to – this way you’ll get a lovely soft, lightly whipped textured buttercream. Melt the white chocolate (either in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, or very carefully in a microwave in bursts of 20 seconds, stirring in between). Allow the chocolate to cool a little before adding to the buttercream and give it a really good beating to make sure it’s well mixed.

Place one of your layers of cake on a cake board or whatever serving plate you’re planning on using. Dollop about a third of the buttercream on and use a palatte knife to spread it out to the edges in an even layer. Add another layer of cake, taking a little time to make sure it’s on straight and pressing down lightly to secure it. Repeat the process with the buttercream and cake layers until you have all four layers of cake sandwiched together with three generous layers of buttercream.

For the chocolate ganache:

  • 300ml double cream
  • 500g milk chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • small pinch salt

Warm the cream in a medium sized saucepan until just under boiling point, a few small bubbles at the edge of the pan are fine. Turn off the heat. Add the chopped chocolate and stir into the cream with a spatula until completely smooth and no lumps of chocolate remain. Add the vanilla and a very small amount of salt (sea salt for preference over table salt) and mix well. Allow to cool completely, stirring occasionally. The mixture will become thick, but spreadable.

Dollop most of the mixture on the top of the cake, then use a spatula or large palatte knife to smooth it out to the edges and down over the sides (this video will show you how far better than I can explain it!). If you want a really shiny finish, dip your metal palatte knife in hot water, dry it on paper towel and use the hot knife to smooth the surface of the ganache.  Decorate however you wish – I melted a little white chocolate and piped the birthday boy’s name and age, but be as creative and flamboyant as you feel befits whoever the cake is for!

Max's Chocolate Birthday Cake

Chocolate makes the perfect birthday cake, whatever age!

 

I have plenty of cake recipes that would all make wonderful birthday cake, click here to check them out.

Toblerone Birthday Cake

Toblerone Birthday Cake

Toblerone Birthday Cake for a surprise party

I was asked to make a birthday cake this week, and given the brief “a nice sponge or chocolate cake, with 40 iced on top”. I’m no great artist with a piping bag so I asked what the birthday boy’s favourite sweets are, thinking I might be able to make a 40 out of them; it turned out Toblerone is his favourite, which inspired me to make this cheeky little number. I opted for a vanilla sponge as I felt chocolate sponge, buttercream and ganache may have been excessively rich; by all means if you want to go for a totally chocolate experience then you could use this cake recipe in place of the vanilla sponge.

Toblerone Cake

For the cake:

  • 225g butter, softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs
  • 225g self raising flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp milk

Heat the oven to 175C and grease and line two 8″ cake tins with greaseproof paper. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and two of the eggs and beat again until well combined. Add about half the flour and mix. Follow with the remaining two eggs, mixing again, then the last of the flour and baking powder mixing until everything is well combined and smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl if necessary. Lastly add mix in the milk so the cake batter is a soft, dropping consistency. Divide the mixture as evenly as possible between the two cake tins, smoothing into the edges with a spatula or back of a spoon. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. The cakes are done when golden, a skewer inserted comes out clean, or they spring back when lightly pressed with a finger tip. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack.

For the Toblerone ganache:

  • 300g Toblerone (or similar, non-branded chocolate bar)
  • 75g milk chocolate
  • 300ml double cream
  • small pinch salt

Chop the Toblerone and other chocolate into small pieces. Heat the cream over a medium heat in a smallish saucepan. Once the cream is just under the boil (beginning to bubble very slightly at the edges) turn the heat off and add the all the chopped chocolate and the small pinch of salt, stirring until melted and the mixture is smooth. You’ll see little white flecks, which are the nougat, but if you occasionally stir it as the mixture cools these will melt too. Leave to cool completely (this will take a few hours).

For the Toblerone buttercream:

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 250g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g Toblerone

If you have a food processor, use this to whizz up the Toblerone so it’s small crumbs; otherwise, chop as finely as possible.

In a bowl, cream together the butter and icing sugar – if you’ve got an electric hand whisk or stand mixer use it for this – beat the mixture for longer than you think you need to and you’ll get a lovely, fluffy soft buttercream. Add the vanilla and chopped Toblerone and give it all a really good mix.

To assemble the cake, place the flattest cake on a serving plate or cake board. Smother with the buttercream, using a spatula or palette knife to get it as evenly spread and as flat as possible. Place the top layer of sponge on and gently but firmly press down to secure it in place. Use a spatula to dollop the ganache on top of the cake. Use a palette knife to push the ganache to the edges of the cake then smooth it down over the sides, turning the cake as you go (here’s a video that shows you what I mean).

Toblerone Cake

Vanilla sponge smothered in rich Toblerone chocolate ganache

Decorate the cake as you wish – I always enjoy a bit of sparkle (and edible glitter doesn’t require fancy piping skills)! Add a candle. Make somebody’s birthday even more special. Serve.

A slice of Toblerone Birthday Cake

A slice of Toblerone Birthday Cake, generously filled with Toblerone buttercream and covered with Toblerone ganache

If you like using well-loved chocolate bars in baking, check out this pavlova recipe.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream Icing

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream

Naughty little treat – Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream

It’s National Cupcake Week (that’s a real thing, right?) so cupcake baking is happening all over. I used to make cupcakes a lot when I worked in a big office (no squabbling over who gets the biggest slice of whatever treat you’ve taken in), but not so much these days. There’s only one cupcake recipe on here so far, lovely Vanilla Cupcakes that have a secret jam filling; a simple classic. I’m happy to be adding another now, which also has a classic flavour combination of chocolate and peanut butter.

This recipe was born out of wanting to thank a friend for a favour. She sticks (mostly!) to a gluten-free diet, but if you didn’t need to worry about that you could just substitute the gluten-free flour for normal self-raising flour. I have to say, the cakes in this recipe are good, but they’re really a way to justify eating the buttercream, which is (though I say it myself) awesome.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Buttercream Icing

For the cupcakes:

  • 125g butter, softened
  • 50g soft dark brown sugar
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 25g cocoa powder, sifted
  • 100g gluten-free self raising flour
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp golden syrup
  • 2 tbsp milk

Heat your oven to 170C and line a muffin tray with cupcake cases. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugars until fluffy and the colour of a milky coffee. Add the eggs and beat again. Tip in the sifted cocoa and flour and mix until everything is well combined. Stir in the vanilla, syrup and milk and then spoon (or use an ice cream scoop for perfectly even portions) the batter into the prepared cases. Bake for 15-20 minutes; they’re done when a skewer inserted comes out clean and they have a little spring back when lightly pressed with a fingertip. Remove from the oven and carefully remove the cakes from the muffin tray to cool on a wire rack as soon as possible (I use a palatte knife to ease them from the tin); if you leave them to cool in the tin then they have a habit of peeling away from the paper cases.

For the buttercream:

  • 140g butter, softened
  • 280g icing sugar, sifted
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp smooth peanut butter

In a large bowl, mix the butter and icing sugar together. I find it helps to mix them with a wooden spoon to begin with as it means the icing sugar is less likely to leave your kitchen like it’s been in a blizzard. Once they’re combined, go at it with an electric whisk and then continue to beat for a good 3-5 minutes longer than you think you need to. Trust me; this will leave you with far smoother, fluffier, creamier buttercream than you thought you could achieve. Then add the vanilla and peanut butter and beat again.

When the cupcakes are completely cool, ice them with the buttercream using a palatte knife, or if you’re any good with a piping bag, give them a pretty swirl. If you feel like it, and you have some knocking around, grate a little chocolate over the top of the finished cupcakes. Feed them to your gluten-free loving friends and bask in the warm glow of their appreciation!

Vanilla Cupcakes

Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Jam filling and Buttercream icing

Vanilla Cupcakes with Raspberry Jam filling and Buttercream icing

There’s absolutely nothing new or fancy about these, just my standard vanilla cupcake recipe, but they’re a great basic to have up your sleeve (not literally, they’re better in your belly).  They’re always popular and the jam filling gives them a bit of a Victoria Sponge quality. The recipe makes 12 generously sized cupcakes, so be sure to use muffin cases rather than standard cupcake cases.

Vanilla Cupcakes with a Raspberry Jam filling

For the cupcakes:

  • 170g butter
  • 170g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs
  • 170g self raising flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbsp milk

Heat the oven to 180C and prep a 12 hole muffin tray with paper muffin cases. Cream together the butter, sugar and vanilla extract. Beat in an egg then some of the flour, then another egg and more flour, followed by the last egg and what’s left of the flour and the baking powder, mixing until everything is incorporated. Finally add the milk and give the cake batter a final mix. Divide the mix evenly between the 12 muffin cases (an ice cream scoop is really helpful if you have one – makes it easy to get the same amount in each case) and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown, a skewer comes out clean or they spring back when lightly pressed. Transfer to a wire rack to cool; it’s important to quickly take them out of the muffin tray to cool as otherwise the paper cases can peel away from the cakes.

For the filling/icing:

  • about 12 tsp raspberry jam (about 120g but it all depends on how big you make the holes)
  • 225g butter, softened
  • 500g icing sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract

Once the cupcakes are cool, hollow out centre so you’re left with a hole that goes to about half way down the cake. You can easily do this with a teaspoon, or there are cupcake ‘corers’ on the market (I have one, but only because my mum bought me one, I was quite happy with the teaspoon method so don’t rush out to buy one). Fill the holes with the jam – I find this easiest with two teaspoons, using one to scrape the jam from the other and guide it into the hole.

Put the softened butter in a bowl and sift the icing sugar on top. I’m not normally a stickler for sifting, but it does help with icing sugar as it can get a but lumpy. You need to mix the butter and icing sugar until creamy, but I wouldn’t suggest using an electric hand mixer until you’ve given them a bit of a mix with a wooden spoon first – otherwise you and your kitchen are likely to look like you’ve had an accident in a cocaine plant. Once you’ve got the butter and sugar basically combined, add the vanilla and have at it with the electric whisk. My best tip for making brilliant buttercream icing is to whisk it for longer than you think you need to. When you think it’s done, keep going for a few more minutes. If you keep whisking it becomes light, fluffy and whipped like the kind of icing you’d get in a top notch bakery or cake shop. Use a palatte knife to generously ice your cupcakes; put a big dollop on top of the jam filling and then spread it out to cover the whole of the top of the cake. Or if your any good with a piping bag you can do it that way. There are loads of tutorials online about how to ice cakes, they all explain it far better than I can here; the only way to get good at it is to practice and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a ‘rustic’ looking cupcake. I like to add a bit of edible glitter, but you might want to go for some sprinkles or just leave plain.

You could use this recipe to make smaller cupcakes if you don’t have a muffin pan or muffin cases, but be sure to reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes or so.

Vanilla Cupcakes, filled with Raspberry Jam

Vanilla Cupcakes filled with raspberry jam, prior to being topped with buttercream icing