The first time I decorated a birthday cake I was so proud of it; In my beginners eyes I’d done an amazing job. I couldn’t quite believe just how well I’d done. Now when I see that cake, I cringe.
It wasn’t terrible. Honestly, it could have been so much worse. I’d done some research and it tasted fine, but it was absolutely riddled with mistakes.
I’d dived in head first and decided to make a two tiered cake.
I didn’t dowel it.
I repeat; I ADDED NO SUPPORT TO THIS CAKE. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. I’m not even sure there was a board beneath the top cake, argh! Luckily it didn’t cave in on itself, but that may be down to my next mistake.
The cakes lacked depth. I used a bog standard cake tin that was maybe an inch tall. I thought this was how it was done and that there would be plenty of height. Even when the cake was done I didn’t see a problem with how tall it was. You can see that the side of the bottom tier is entirely covered by the width of a ribbon. The height of those two tiers put together is probably the height of an average single tier of any cake I make now. Oh dear.
The next thing I did wrong with this cake was the decoration. This was in the days way before I’d discovered Tylo Powder (which will have a blog post all of it’s own soon!) so the decorations were much chunkier than I’d like now, and dangerously easier to break. They were also just dotted about willy nilly; they’d have looked much better in a posy pick. You can’t really tell in the picture, but they were also covered in icing sugar that I’d used to make sure they didn’t stick to my work surface (BIG NO NO). It completely dried the fondant out.
My biggest mistake though, was the recipe. It was your basic Victoria Sponge mix. It baked fine, it tasted fine, but a Victoria Sponge just isn’t durable enough for this type of cake decorating. I mean, it is possible to decorate it with fondant and things, but it’s so light and fluffy that it’s so much more likely to end in disaster. It’s not great at taking the weight of the fondant, it’s much more likely to fall apart, it’s terrible for getting a nice smooth finish and it’s absolutely atrocious for carving!
But here was a problem; In my experience, when I asked people what type of cake they wanted, they would almost always answer with “a Victoria Sponge” (the second most popular answer was “just a birthday cake”). And of course, I soon discovered, a Victoria Sponge just didn’t cut it.
So I set to devising my own recipe; it had to taste like a Victoria Sponge, but it had to be firmer. After a lot of trial and error, I finally made my perfect birthday cake. I have made a lot of them since then, and they’ve always gone down a treat- so simple too! It’s basically a Victoria Sponge with plain flour added to the mix and this creates a nice amount of density. It bakes well, carves well, freezes well and tastes great. It’s also really versatile so you can flavour it however you like- in the recipe below I use vanilla, but that can be switched up any way you want. For chocolate cake I just replace some plain flour with cocoa.
Annoyingly the only photo I have of this cake before decoration is this one:
Anyway, here is the recipe! This is the amount for 2 x 8inch round cake tins.
Natalie's Birthday Cake Recipe
- 300g Self Raising Flour
- 150g Plain Flour
- 300g Caster Sugar
- 300g Butter
- 5 Medium Eggs
- Tsp Vanilla Extract
- Pre-heat the oven to Gas mark 3/160°C/325°F. Grease cake tins and line with baking parchment.
- Add the butter and sugar to a large bowl and cream it until it becomes lighter in colour, and smoother and fluffier in texture.
- Sift the flours together in a separate bowl and set aside.
- Add the eggs one at a time to the creamed butter and sugar mix, with a spoonful of flour to help prevent curdling. Slowly mix until all the eggs are incorporated, then add the vanilla extract and mix for a few more seconds.
- Add the remaining flour and mix it by hand with a spatula or large spoon until it all comes together; don’t overmix.
- Divide the mixture between the two tins and pop them into the oven. Check on them after an hour; if they are golden in colour and spring back when pressed on they should be ready. Double check by inserting a knife or skewer into the center, if it comes out clean the cake is done. If they’re not yet baked, check on them every 10-15 minutes.
- Take out of the oven and leave to cool for 15-20 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.
- Once cooled completely wrap it up or store it in an airtight container. Leave it for 12 hours before cutting into it.
(here’s the finished product of the above cake just because!)
- Allow all of the ingredients to reach room temperature; this is very important. If you need your butter to warm up in a hurry, you can pop it in the microwave on a VERY LOW setting for 10 seconds at a time or (and this one sounds crazy but trust me on it) put your butter in a bowl and cover it with some warm (not hot!) water. Give it a few minutes then drain it off, your butter should be ready. Remember, you want your butter to be softened, not melted.
- Sit your eggs in some hot (not boiling) water for about 5 minutes before you use them.
- Add a bowl of boiling water to the bottom of your oven. I don’t know the science, but I think it keeps the oven nice and moist. Works for me!
- When you add the cake mix to your tins, make a hole in the middle; you literally want to see the bottom of the tin. This helps make the cake raise flatter and there’s much less waste when you cut off the dome.
- Give your cake-mix-filled cake tins a good few taps on the counter before popping them into the oven- this helps release any big air bubbles that might be trapped in the mix.
And that’s it I think! If you do try this recipe please let me know what you think of it, I’d love to see some cakey creations!
Happy baking :)