This cake started as a modest Sunday baking project and somehow ended up the triple-layer behemoth you see before you. Not sure what happened, except I had all these ideas in my head and somehow saw fit to try them out all at once. On a Sunday, with the kids around, during the hectic lunch hour rush. Not very smart. You do need a bit of time to make this cake, but trust me it is well worth it!
The initial idea was for a simple coffee cake, intended as an (early) Valentine for my husband. The original recipe was on a yellowed page torn from a magazine many years ago and tweaked to suit.
Then I had this idea for a praline buttercream since it goes fabulously with the coffee flavour. I had a bottle of Tia Maria knocking around, hey, why not add that? Making the praline led to reading about making caramel, which in turn morphed into the ‘crown’ on top of the cake (inspired by Sprinklebakes). And the 7 minute marshmallow frosting? That came about because the cake ended up being much bigger than anticipated and I run out of buttercream. It all makes some kind of twisted logic.
Crown of Love cake
100g | 3.5oz walnut halves, roasted
100g | 3.5oz golden caster sugar
Squeeze of lemon
225g | 8oz golden (caster) sugar
225g | 8oz self-raising flour
2 tsp baking powder
75g | 2.6oz roasted walnuts, ground finely
225 | 8oz unsalted butter at room temperature
pinch of salt
3 large eggs
3 tbsp Tia Maria
3-4 tbsp milk
60g | 2oz sugar
60ml | 4 tbsp Tia Maria
1 tsp Camp coffee syrup (or very strong coffee, cooled)
Swiss meringue buttercream
5 large egg whites
200g | 7oz caster sugar
2–3 tbsp Tia Maria
1 tbsp Camp coffee syrup
8 tbsp finely ground praline (or to taste)
200-225g | 7-8oz unsalted butter cubed, at room temperature
7 minute frosting
4 large egg whites
150g | 5.3oz sugar
1/2 tbsp vanilla paste
200g | 7oz caster sugar
60ml | 1/4 cup water
60g | 2oz light corn syrup
red or pink paste food colouring
To make the praline: lightly oil a baking tray. Roast the walnut halves in the oven on low heat for a few minutes. Watch they don’t burn! Put the sugar and squeeze of lemon in a heavy pot. Stir on medium heat for about 5 minutes until it melts and turns a light golden colour. Add the walnuts and stir until they are completely covered. When the caramel turns amber, pour the praline into the prepared baking tray. Let it cool completely, then break it into pieces. Process half of the praline to a fine powder in a food processor. You will have some extra left over, (unless, ahem, you eat it all while preparing the cake) that can be used as decoration instead of the caramel crown.
Sidebar: how awesome is praline? Anyone with a pot, sugar and nuts can make it in under 10m and it tastes a-ma-zing. Everyone is always impressed by praline, so lets all pretend it is very hard and complicated, shall we?
To make the cake: preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and line 3x20cm/8in cake tins. Think this would work in 2x23cm/9in tins, but you would get a 2-tier cake. Cream the butter and sugar together till pale and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time and mix well with each addition. Add the Tia Maria together with a tablespoon of flour and mix to combine. Sift remaining flour, salt and baking powder together, add the ground walnuts and mix to combine. Fold the flour mix into the batter together with the milk using a rubber spatula. Mix until completely smooth. Pour into the prepared tins and level – do not overfill. Bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30m. Test with a skewer – it should come out clean. The cakes should be well risen and coming away from the edges of the tin.
While they are cooling, make the coffee syrup – add all the ingredients into a small pot and boil rapidly on medium heat for a couple of minutes until sugar melts. Brush the syrup over the cakes while they are still a bit warm. If the cakes need to be levelled, cool completely first, level with a knife and then brush with the syrup.
To make the Swiss Meringue buttercream, please refer to this method. I made mine in a hurry and had to stop mid-whisking to put my toddler down for a nap. The buttercream would have none of that, so it curdled, horribly. It looked absolutely awful and I was about to bin it when I remembered the following tip. Put a small amount of buttercream into a bowl and microwave for 10-15 sec. It will melt. Slowly pour it back into the mixing bowl while whisking vigorously. With any luck, the curdled mess will turn back into smooth buttercream (and it did – phew!). Add the flavourings and praline at the end and mix to combine.
To make the 7-minute frosting simply follow the Swiss meringue method (heat egg whites and sugar over a bain marie for 5 minutes, whisking by hand till sugar dissolves. Then whisk at high speed in a stand mixer for 5-7m until you have a glossy, stiff meringue. Add the vanilla paste and mix). The frosting is almost marshmallow-like in texture and taste.
For everyone wandering what on earth I did with the leftover 9 yolks (!) I circumvented that problem by using Two Chicks liquid egg whites.
To make the red caramel, put all the ingredients into a heavy pot and heat until sugar boils and registers 160C on a candy thermometer (about 5-7m). Take off the heat and plunge bottom of pot in cold water to stop the caramel from cooking further (do not get water mixed in). Add small amount of food colouring and mix together. To make the crown, turn a small bowl upside down and cover the dome with baking paper. When the caramel has cooled a little, drizzle over the bowl using a spoon. Use the same method to make little heart (or any other) shapes over baking paper. (If the caramel hardens, heat gently to melt). Do not lick the spoon – unless you want 3rd degree burns. Let the caramel harden, then break off the bowl (sadly, it does not come off in one piece).
To assemble the cake, put one sponge on a cake board and spread generously with the buttercream. Continue with the other two layers and cover entire cake in thin layer of buttercream. Put in the fridge for 20m. Finally, spread the 7-minute frosting over entire cake, smoothing with a palette knife. Arrange the caramel into shape of a crown and place a small caramel heart at the centre. Keeps at room temperature for a couple of days – in fact flavour improves on 2nd day.
Note: the caramel decorations need to taken off the cake before you slice it. They don’t last very long – humidity makes the caramel soft and they will slide off the cake. You can, of course, eat the caramel, but be aware the shards can be very sharp!