I changed jobs about three months ago, and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with my working conditions. I’ve got a stupidly large desk in front of a window adjacent to a tree where various native birds have turf wars with crows, presumably for nesting spots, I find the work I’m doing is actually engaging, and my team is full of bright, fun people. Who are obsessed with cake.
Whenever anyone asks, it’s a reflex action for me to deny having any particular skill in baking. It’s not that I can’t bake, I just feel that I’m more of a cook than a baker. To me, baking feels like a science, all about precise measurement and timing, whereas cooking involves creativity and a certain amount of flair. I’ve never been very good at following precise instructions. But as you’ll see, I’m getting better at it.
One afternoon a couple of weeks ago, my boss playfully suggested that she had a new project for me. I thought she was going to ask me to re-write some content for a website or something, but instead she held up the current issue of Delicious magazine and said with a huge smile on her face, “I think you should make this.”
I’m fairly sure she was just joking, but always up for a challenge, I decided to call her bluff. Thus I embarked on a two day process that pretty much rivalled the burger cake in terms of difficulty.
First of all, the cake wasn’t a single cake at all. It was a tower of four cakes, each of which were made up of two tiers: a shell of dacquoise and a ‘filling’ of a cake with buttermilk and shredded coconut. Then there was the fact that the measurements weren’t so much in cups and tablespoons, but in grams and millilitres; that made me a little anxious.
So let’s get to the making of. First up was beating the dacquoise, which is basically a meringue with almond meal folded through it.
It ends up pretty thick, so to get an even covering of each of the four cake pans, you have to pipe it in. As you’ll see, I got better at this piping thing as I went along.
Then came the ‘cradle cake’, which was more meringue, with plain flour, butter, buttermilk, baking powder and shredded coconut.
Again, this was piped into the cake tin, and I guess its called the cradle cake because it’s cradled by the dacquoise.
They go into the oven for 50 minutes, and then cool in the tins. At this point, I went out to the last roller derby bout of the year, had my face painted, got a little boozy, and then stopped off for laksa on the way home.
So by the time I got home, the cakes were well and truly cool. Then the sandwiching began. Cake, whipped cream, sliced mango, more whipped cream, then cake. Repeat.
This then gets covered in cling wrap, and sits in the fridge overnight. The next morning, it’s time to make it look pretty. Which is a process of piping – yes, more piping – meringue around the cake stack. Now for some reason, the instructions called for the sugar to be boiled into a hot syrup before it’s added to the egg whites. I’m not sure exactly why that is – I’m sure there will be more experienced bakers out there who know – but my best guess is that it forms a harder crust when you brulee it and then let it cool.
Oh yeah, there’s bruleeing involved. Which is awesome, because I’ve been a bit of a pyromaniac since I was a kid. Big thanks to Agnes of Off the Spork for the loan of her blowtorch for this step. I was almost going to use this cake as an excuse to buy one for myself like that time when I organised a margarita night as an excuse to buy a blender, but inexplicably, this time I showed some uncharacteristic restraint.
At this point, I started to get a little excited. I thought, “Hey wow! I might actually pull this off!” Of course, there was going to be the issue of transporting the cake to work, and because I didn’t own a cake container large enough to fit the completed cake, I decided to top it once I got into the office. I was a little nervous as I boarded first the train, and then a bus to get to work. Turns out I didn’t really need to worry, because the height of the cake meant it was perfectly wedged in the container, preventing it from moving.
First, I topped the cake with what I believe Nigella would call ‘lashings’ of whipped cream, then arranged thin slices of mango on top of that.
Add some halved blueberries to that…
And some little teensy young mint leaves. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any jasmine flowers, which the recipe called for, so this was my voila! moment.
All in all, I think I did pretty well.
So here’s what the cake looked like inside. It was an interesting cake; the dacquoise adds a nice chewy texture, and the coconut and mango are a pretty no-brainer flavour combination. The mint and blueberries gave a nice lift to the flavour too, but overall, I still felt the cake was a little too sweet. I think perhaps it would have been better if the mangoes had been less ripe, and a little more tart. Also, the cake came out a little dry. I think I’d add more cream if I were ever to attempt this again.
Finally, thanks to my workmate Eric for taking a proper photo with a proper camera of the cake. 😉