Easy Living Magazine are currently running a ‘cake-off’ competition in which they are inviting readers to ‘get creative’ with one of their simple cake recipes. They offer a choice of jazzing up their Simple Vanilla Cake or Simple Chocolate Cake. I plumped for the former, as I think there’s more scope for flavour matches – and also I like the fact that it’s not iced, unlike the choccy one. I don’t tend to enter competitions but I thought I would give this a go, mainly because cake baking and especially decorating is an area I want to improve on.
My cake baking is normally quite granny-fied – delicious but definitely not adventurous or very decadent (in a Date, walnut and sultana loaf type way!) – and never very decorative. But I am a decorative, artistic type of person, so I thought I’d give it a go. I intend (note the non-committal stance of the word intend) to enter more than just this one recipe, as I have numerous more interesting ideas in my noggin, but for my first go I wanted to do something classic but easy that looked pretty. I don’t really think it’s a contender to win, but I do think it’s worth sharing with you as, really, it isn’t much bother to make and I’m really pleased with the results.
As I say, Easy Living provide the cake recipe, which is a teaspoon of vanilla extract away from being your basic Victoria Sponge. The frosting is a twist on a posh recipe which came from a book my lovely Nana sent me recently, Prue Leith’s Cookery School. It’s a proper cookery book from which you can learn classic techniques. Great for dipping into when you need ideas and inspiration as I did for this. I simply added strawberry jam to their scary sounding but actually very easy Creme Au Beurre Meringue (buttercream meringue in English) and then decorated rather haphazardly with strawberries. The resulting frosted cake, once chilled, is quite firm and great to cut neatly if you’re not a dab hand with a knife, like me!
Serves: about 8-10 people
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
For the Simple Vanilla Cake:
175g margarine or softened butter
175g caster sugar
3 large eggs
175g self-raising flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the strawberry meringue buttercream:
2 egg whites
110g icing sugar
170g unsalted butter, at room temperature (fairly soft)
1 tablespoon of good quality strawberry jam (I used Bonne Maman Strawberry Conserve)
A small punnet of strawberries, I hulled and chopped mine into 2 or 4 if they were big
- Preheat your oven to 180C. You need an 18cm round cake tin ideally with a loose bottom. Grease it a little with butter and then line the base with a circle of baking paper.
- To make the cake, I used my newly acquired electric whisk to beat all the ingredients together for about a minute, but of course you could use a trusty hand whisk. This creates a thick batter. Be careful not to over mix, just do it until mixed which won’t take long. Spoon the mixture into your tin. Bake for 40 – 50 minutes.
- Take it out of the tin after sitting to cool off for 5 minutes and let it cool fully on a cake rack. Once cooled, I levelled mine out with a bread knife as it was a bit wonky.
- For the icing, put the egg whites and the icing sugar in a bowl, and sit the bowl on top of a simmering pan of water, much like if you were melting chocolate. Whisk until the mixture can hold it’s own shape, and can make firm, whippy peaks. This took me about 5 minutes with an electric whisk, it will obviously take longer with a hand whisk. Put it aside and let it cool a little for 5 minutes. In another bowl whisk your soft butter to soften it further, and then add your meringue mix fairly gradually. Again, don’t overmix it. Add your jam and give another quick whizz.
- When your cake is completely cooled, use a spatula or spoon to smooth the icing on, there’ll be plenty left over for spoon licking, as this amount gives a generous frosting to cake ratio (that’s a good thing!).
- I hulled and then chopped my strawberries into 2 or 4 depending on the size, and starting at the outside, made a circular pattern of sorts, then filled in the gaps at the end with any extras. It is by no means neat or exact but I think it looked pretty anyway. I dusted with icing sugar and then chilled for a hour before digging in.