Flying saucer birthday cake

Flying saucer birthday cake

As you might expect, I always bake a cake when my boyfriend’s birthday rolls round. This year, I wanted to put my newly acquired cake decorating skills (such as they are!) to the test and make something a little creative. After coming up with ideas including a Batman cake, Moomin cake, bee cake and snake cake, I settled on something a little more obscure – a cake based on a ship and aliens from a classic arcade game.

Unfortunately, my carefully laid plans went very wrong when I discovered that the extremely hot weather we had earlier in the week had resulted in my Mexican paste pretty much dissolving, so I couldn’t for the life of me cut out the shapes I needed to assemble the spaceship cake topper. After several attempts with various combinations of Mexican paste and sugarpaste, I abandoned the idea altogether and went for a simpler cake, still with a space theme.

So, let’s rewind a bit to the actual making of the cake itself. I wanted to make a Victoria sponge, but my usual port of call for this recipe wasn’t suitable because the cake needed to be heavy enough to take the weight of the sugarpaste icing I originally wanted to put on it. So instead, I made a round madeira cake. It was ridiculously easy to make (especially with an electric whisk handy!) and came out perfectly. I did, however, add some vanilla extract as I felt the recipe really needed it.

Round madeira cake

When it had cooled, I sliced off the domed part to create a flat top, then turned it upside down on to a cake board and sliced it into two layers. Next, I spread a layer of buttercream on the bottom cake and topped it with some strawberry jam before placing the other half of the cake on top. Then, I spread more buttercream all over the top and sides of the cake (I went on to add the sugarpaste layer and unsuccessfully cut out the shapes for the spaceship at this point, then took the sugarpaste off and added extra buttercream when I changed my mind).

Next, I sprinkled some edible silver balls and sugar stars all over the top and wedged five flying saucer sweets into the buttercream with the intention of making it look like the UFOs were flying through space. And that was pretty much it – much quicker than my original plan!

The cake went down extremely well with my boyfriend and the friends we shared it with while tackling the real ale rail trail from Manchester to Dewsbury and back. I thought it was delicious (even if I do say so myself!) and I’ll definitely make the madeira cake again. Whether I’ll attempt to apply my cake decorating skills again, though, is a different matter!

Photo courtesy of Mrs’icks via Flickr

The recipe

For the madeira cake:

  • 250g butter, softened
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 185g plain flour, sifted
  • 60g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract

For the filling and decorations:

  • 200g butter, softened
  • 280g icing sugar, sifted
  • 0.5 tsp vanilla extract
  • 170g good quality strawberry jam (I used half a jar of Hartley’s Best)
  • Edible silver balls
  • Sugar stars
  • Flying saucer sherbet sweets

1. Preheat the oven to Gas 2-3/160C/315F. Grease a 20cm round cake tin and line the base.

2. Beat the butter and sugar until well mixed, fluffy and light. Beat in the eggs one at a time.

3. Fold in both the flours and stir in the milk and vanilla extract.

4. Transfer the mix to the tin and smooth the top. Bake for 1 hr 25 mins or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

5. Leave to cool for 5 mins in the tin, then turn out on to a wire rack and cool completely (if you don’t, the filling will melt!). You can refrigerate the cake for up to 2 weeks or freeze for 2 months at this point.

6. Make the buttercream by beating the butter until it’s creamy and smooth, then beating in the icing sugar a little at a time. Mix in the vanilla extract.

7. Slice off the domed top of the cake and turn it upside down on a cake board. Slice it horizontally through the middle to create two layers.

8. Spread about one-third of the buttercream on the bottom cake layer and dollop the jam on top (try not to spread the buttercream and jam near the edge of the cake – it’ll all move outwards when you put the other cake layer on top).

9. Place the other half of the cake on top and press down gently. If the cake looks lopsided at this point, add more buttercream in the middle where it’s sloping down to make it look level.

10. Spread the remaining buttercream all over the top and sides. It’s okay if it’s not completely smooth!

11. Sprinkle the top liberally with silver balls and sugar stars. Wedge a few of the flying saucer sweets sideways into the buttercream to make it look as if they’re flying through the stars. You can either put the cake in the fridge for a couple of hours to make the buttercream set, or leave it out for more gooey icing.

Diamond jubilee cake

This week’s cake decorating class required us to bring in a cake to cover with sugarpaste and decorate with a diamond jubilee theme. I made the raspberry and almond madeira cake I baked for my birthday the other week – Victoria sponge would have been my first choice, but my tutor said it would probably be too soft to take the weight of the icing.

I had to trim the top of my cake because it was a bit bumpy. The surface needed to be as smooth as possible to ensure the sugarpaste can lie flat. I then spread the top and sides of the cake with buttercream to help the icing stick to it. Next came the tricky bit – rolling out the icing and covering the cake with it. I managed to roll it out to the right size, but had a bit of trouble smoothing it out once it was on the cake, so I ended up with a few uneven bits that you might be able to see in the picture above.

Then came the hardest part of all (for me, anyway) – piping the lettering on to the cake. We practiced this last week, but I quickly discovered that I’m not very good at it. As I went away for a few days towards the end of last week, I hadn’t had time to practice at home, so this ended up being my second ever attempt at piping lettering. It ended up okay; the ‘Diamond’ was a bit wobbly, but I’d got better by the time I started on the ‘Jubilee’. Still, it could have been a bit neater!

Next, I affixed a crown I made from coloured Mexican paste last week to the cake with royal icing, then made a long sugarpaste ‘sausage’ to go around the base of the cake and textured it with a crimper all the way round. Then I made the bunting, which took the form of a smaller sausage and red and blue triangles attached to the cake with a dab of water (I can’t remember whether the triangles were sugarpaste or Mexican paste, but considering how easy it was to cut into the cake the next day, I think they were sugarpaste).

The whole thing took two hours, plus baking and the time spent the previous week on making the crown. I was quite proud of my effort, although I think it could have gone better (and quicker – again, I was way behind everyone else!). I’d like to practice piping lettering and covering cakes with sugarpaste more, so hopefully I’ll have some time to do so soon.

The cake seemed to go down well at a jubilee lunch I organised at work the next day, although there was quite a lot left over because other people had brought lots of cake themselves! Still, that was no bad thing, as I could take it home and enjoy what was left myself!

First bake: raspberry and almond madeira cake

Raspberry and almond madeira cake

I usually bake a plain madeira cake for my birthday, but as it was the big 30 yesterday, I decided to push the boat out with BBC Good Food’s raspberry and almond madeira cake. This is a really easy cake to make, and it’s amazing how little time and effort can go into something rather spectacular.

Raspberry and almond madeira cake, pre-baking

Raspberry and almond madeira cake, pre-baking

The recipe is slightly unusual (for me, anyway) in that it takes a mixture of plain and self-raising flour, rather than plain flour and baking powder. It’s a good way to go about things, though, as this makes for the perfect texture – fairly dense but not heavy, if that makes sense! I was quite intrigued by the addition of orange zest, as well – the mix tasted very orangey, but the finished cake didn’t. The zest simply added an extra bit of tanginess to go with the sharp raspberries and balance out the almonds, sugar and vanilla.

Raspberry and almond madeira cake

The cake was done after 1 and a quarter hours, as specified in the recipe, although it didn’t firm up until it was cooled – as I discovered when I nearly broke it when trying to get it out of the tin! Taste-wise, it’s wonderful. You seem to get different combinations of the raspberry, almond, orange and vanilla flavours with each bite, making for a rather exciting eating experience (sort of like an unpredictable raspberry bakewell). Fruit aside, the cake itself is definitely the ideal madeira cake and very moreish.

Overall, this was a great idea for my birthday cake and I’m very pleased with the results!

Raspberry and almond madeira cake

The recipe

Taken from BBC Good Food 1o1 Cakes & Bakes.

Re-bake: madeira cake

Madeira cake

Madeira cake is my all-time favourite cake. If I could only eat one cake for the rest of my life, this would be it. This might surprise those of you who know of my passion for chocolate, but I’m firmly of the belief that the classics are classics for a reason – and you don’t get much more classic than a madeira cake!

I baked this last night as a Mother’s Day treat for my mum. Conveniently, this is also her favourite cake, so I get the pleasure of baking it several times a year for Mother’s Day and her birthday (and for my own birthday, too!). I’ve only ever tried one recipe for madeira cake (from Baking by Martha Day), and it’s always worked brilliantly – and yesterday was no exception.

It’s really quick and easy to prepare – the recipe calls for an electric mixer, but I’ve always made the batter manually with no problems. What elevates this recipe above other recipes that I’ve seen is the combination of vanilla extract and lemon zest, which really turns the cake into something utterly delicious (I rarely see madeira cake recipes that call for lemon). The texture is perfect – the crumb is very fine, yet lovely and moist. The cake rises wonderfully during baking and you know it’s turned out perfectly when you get that straight ‘slash’ in the middle on the top.

Madeira cake batter

Madeira cake batter

I’ve been using this recipe for a few years now and it’s never failed (apart from when I made it for my birthday last year after downing a large celebratory vodka and coke – there was slight, er, browning, shall we say) – so if you’re looking for an easy madeira cake recipe that delivers brilliant results, this is the one!

On a side note, you might notice that the pics in this post are of a better quality than usual. My brother very handily acquired a Sony SLR camera this week, so I appropriated it to take photos of the finished cake (I used my phone as normal for the batter pic, as I didn’t want to get the mix all over the lovely new camera!). Hopefully you can get a good idea of the loveliness of the cake from the SLR images.

Madeira cake