Baking a cake to suit your own tastes is surprisingly easy, but most people just don’t have the confidence to give it a go and add their favourite flavours. In this series, I will give you the basic steps you need to make a cake with the opportunity to change it to make it perfect for you! Once you have your basic sponge, the next thing you need is some nice, tasty icing to go on top. Here are four basic icings that are easy to make and to add a little flavour to.
Buttercream icing is super easy to make, simply whisk together butter with twice as much icing sugar, then add a touch of any flavouring or colouring you like. That could be flavour extracts, food colouring, cocoa powder, citrus rind or any number of other things to suit your own tastes. You could even split the mix in half to have two different types, flavours or colours on the same cake. My best advice is to make sure the butter is soft when you whisk it (at least at room temperature) and that you cover the top of the bowl with a tea towel, otherwise it will take forever to mix and the room with be covered in icing sugar! Then simply pipe or spoon the icing onto your cakes.
Royal Icing can give a nice, even, glossy coating, but tends to be better for biscuits than cakes. To make royal icing, mix together two egg whites with a teaspoon of your flavouring (such as lemon juice) and then slowly add icing sugar whilst whisking until you get firm peaks. You’ll probably need around 375g of icing sugar, but it is best to add the icing sugar slowly, and then compensate with more sugar or water until you get the right consistency. This is also great for splitting the mix and making two different colours or flavours, such that you can create nice patterns.
Fondant icing is really useful! It is ideal for giving a clean blanket cover to a cake, simply by rolling it flat, placing it over the cake and trimming the excess. Equally, it can be used for moulding your own shapes. You can make fondant by placing 250g of white marshmallows into a microwave-proof bowl with a tablespoon of water, and microwaving for 1-2 minutes on full power, until the marshmallows puff up and start to melt. Then begin to stir the mix and add a couple of drops of food colouring (now is the time to split the mix if you are making various colours). Then stir in icing sugar until you get a stiff dough; you will probably need about twice as much icing sugar as marshmallow. Then knead the dough on a surface that is well dusted with icing sugar, until the mix is no longer sticky. Then wrap it up in clingfilm and leave it overnight, and allow it to return to room temperature before using it the next day.
Chocolate Ganache is by far my favourite icing! It is very rich, very tasty, super easy to make and blankets any mistakes you may have made in the baking with an impressive mirror glaze. Using as many millilitres of cream as grams of dark chocolate, heat the cream to near boiling, and then pour it over the chocolate before stirring the mix together. Then having placed strips of greaseproof paper around the base of the cake, pour the ganache over the top so that it dribbles down and covers the sides. Then, once the ganache has set a little, remove the greaseproof paper, leaving a clean finish. I often then like to grate white chocolate on top for a fancy finish.
The difficult thing with icing, I find, is getting the quantities right: I’ve followed recipes and had twice as much as I need, and used half measures and not had enough. So I usually try to use intuition, and here I’ve generally avoided using precise measurements, leaving that for you to gauge. But practise makes perfect, and they are easy icings to make more of if you don’t make enough, so give them a go and try adding new flavours to suit your own tastes!
Now that the sponge is sorted and the icing is in order, you have the beginnings of a great cake, but what if you want to take it even further? Keep an eye out for the next article, where I will be looking at fillings for layer cakes!
Images taken by Josh Caldicott