Saturday, 19 April 2014

A perfectly OTT Easter checkerboard cake

This cake has got to be the most over the top creation on the blog. It started, innocently enough, with my daughter spotting a bag of Cadbury's pebbles in the supermarket and ended with me playing a very sticky game of Mikado with chocolate covered pretzel sticks.

But I guess it was a case of 'in for a penny, in for a pound'. My daughter had requested a 'special' Easter bake and I have wanted to bake a checkerboard cake for some time, so I thought - hey, perfect occasion for it!  She wanted Easter eggs (and chicks - but I put my foot down) all over the cake - no problem. Sometimes you have to give in and simply embrace the madness.

The checkerboard effect did not come out as well as I would have hoped - I had a bit of a baking disaster with one of the layers which leaked inside the oven. But overall I was very pleased – but not nearly as impressed as my daughter and her friends. There was a lot of high-pitched squealing once they saw the finished cake. 

I used the Cook's Illustrated perfect sponge recipe as it takes colouring very well and is one of the most perfect white cakes around. Seriously, this cake is fluffy, buttery perfection. It tastes amazing without any frosting, that's how great it is. It even won a white cake taste test bake off.

I made a vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream to sandwich the layers together, though I suspect a simple buttercream would work just as well. As for the decorations, you could replace the pebbles with chocolate buttons, cigars or mini eggs with equally squeal-worthy results. 

Supergolden bakes: Easter checkerboard cake
Supergolden bakes: Easter checkerboard cake

For the cake
Makes 3x15cm / 6in layers
220g plain flour  + 30g cornflour  sifted | 2 1/4 cups cake flour sifted
395gr/ 1 3/4 cups caster sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp table salt
170g | 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature cut into small cubes
240 ml/ 1 cup whole milk, at room temperature 
6 large egg whites at room temperature (180g | 3/4 cup)
1 tsp almond extract 
2 tsp vanilla extract 
1-2 drops green food colouring
2-3 drops purple food colouring (or pink + blue)

Swiss meringue buttercream
5 eggs whites | 150g | 5.3oz
200g  | 7 oz (caster) sugar 
230g | 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature but firm, cubed
Seeds from 1 vanilla pod

To decorate
3 bags Cadbury's pebbles
1 bag pretzel sticks
150g | 5.3oz 50% chocolate, melted 
Assortment chocolate or candy eggs in different sizes

To make the cake layers
  1. Preheat oven to 180 C /350 F.  Line the bottom with greaseproof paper, then grease and flour the cake pans, tapping out any excess flour.
  2. Pour milk, egg whites, and extracts into a measuring cup and whisk briefly to combine.
  3. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl of electric mixer and mix at very low speed to combine the ingredients. Add the butter and beat a low speed until mix resembles coarse sand. 
  4. Add 1/3 of the milk/egg liquid and beat to combine for about a minute. Repeat with remaining liquid. Scrape bottom and sides of bowl and mix again.
  5. Divide batter evenly between 3 bowls. Tint one of the bowls green using a tiny amount of food colouring (I used Americolor gel colouring). Tint the second bowl purple and leave one bowl uncoloured.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans - it will be fairly liquid. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The cakes will be coming away from sides of cake tin and be firm on top when ready. Cool completely.
To make the buttercream
  1. Put the egg whites, vanilla and sugar in a clean mixing bowl (ideally your stand mixer bowl). 
  2. Bring a small pan of water to the boil and then reduce heat so it is barely simmering. 
  3. Set your mixing bowl on top. Make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Using a hand whisk, keep mixing the eggs for about 5 minutes until the sugar dissolves.
  4. Take bowl off the heat and connect to your mixer. Whip the egg whites slowly at first, then on high speed till they thicken into a glossy stiff meringue. This may take up to 10 minutes. 
  5. Once the bowl is cool and meringue is ready, start adding the cubed butter. Add one piece at a time and whip until fully incorporated before adding another piece. Continue until you have used up all the butter.
  6. As you add the butter, the buttercream may go through stages - soupy at first, then grainy/curdled before smoothing out. Keep whipping until it comes together.
Your layers will hopefully look less messy.

To assemble the cake
  1. Use 10cm (4in) and 5cm (2in) cutters to cut out circles out of the sponges (see pic).
  2. Swap the circles so each layer is made up of one purple, one white and one green piece (use some buttercream around each cut-out to help seal them).
  3. Sandwich each layer with buttercream then frost the entire cake.
  4. Stick the pebbles on the cake - alternating to create a pattern or however you prefer. Make sure the last layer of pebbles is sticking slightly higher than top of the cake.
  5. Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and then cool slightly. Coat the pretzel sticks with the chocolate (you can use your fingers to coat them - it doesn't have to be perfect) then layer then on top of the cake (before the chocolate dries!) to create a 'nest'. 
  6. Add an assortment of eggs to decorate the nest (and glitter, sanding sugar or whatever else you fancy).

I'm entering this cake to the Easter Bake & Make Competition over at The Pink Whisk  in conjunction with Two Little Fleas. Wish me luck!

Supergolden bakes: Easter checkerboard cake
Easter checkerboard cake

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  1. Wow, the cake looks amazing. Well worth the effort by the sound of it, though.

  2. That looks amazing! I think your checkerboard effect is fabulous but I particularly like how natural the nest looks on top! I'm so glad you embraced the madness!

  3. Fabulous cake Lucy! I recently bought a checkerboard set but my first attempt didn't go very well. This has definitely inspired me to try again!

  4. The cake looks amazing and I'm sure it's very tasty too :)

  5. This is a masterpiece - you are so clover!

  6. OMG that cake is amazing, it looks so yummy! I want a slice :)