How to make a half-decent birthday cake if you’re a rubbish baker like me


Oh boy.  I have been thinking about Smoosh’s birthday cake for weeks now, trying decide what on earth to make.  I decided to make instead of buy for once but I am utterly rubbish at cake-decorating so it had to be something easy.

I debated doing the awesome rainbow cake smothered in Smarties, then thought about doing the chocolate finger cake but in the end decided to go with a big number 1.  It’s the easiest number to make and, well, why not, eh?

So I went with Swiss rolls, cut to shape and slathered in frosting.  Simple in concept but, did I mention what a rubbish decorate I am?!

First things first: recipes.  I used a strawberry and mascarpone Swiss roll recipe from the BBC website and a frosting recipe which I adapted from this recipe at Can You Stay for Dinner?  I have copied the recipes below for ease of reference.

For the strawberry filling:

  • 1 packet strawberries, hulled and sliced, plus extra to decorate
  • 1 packet raspberries
  • splash orange juice

For the sponge

  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 80g/3oz caster sugar, plus extra for finishing
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp warm water
  • 80g/3oz plain flour
  • pinch salt

For the mascarpone cream

  • 250g/9oz mascarpone
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

For the whipped frosting

  • 1 1/2 cup milk
  • 7 tablespoons flour
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 250g butter, at room temperature
  • 2 cups caster sugar
  • 1/2 tub whipping cream
  • 1/2 tub double cream

First I made the sponges.  I doubled the recipe above to make two as I didn’t have a big enough baking tray to make a long enough roll so I made two and butchered one.

Preheat the oven to 190C and line a baking tray with baking paper.  Beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until they resemble a mousse (about 10 minutes), fold in the water and then sift and fold in the flour and salt. Be gentle with it so as not to knock too much air out of it.  Smear it over the baking tray and bake for 10 minutes or until it is just coming away from the edges of the tin.  Turn it out and leave it to cool. (If you’re me, do this twice).

Whizz up most of the berries in a blender with the orange juice and set aside for later.  I left mine overnight.

Mix up the mascarpone ingredients and smear over the cooled cake(s) – there was enough for two from the original recipe.  Drizzle the berry mix over the top.

Very carefully roll into a tube.  This was the bit I was most worried about but, even after the cakes had sat overnight, they didn’t crack and actually rolled pretty nicely.  If I say so myself.

Having assembled both of my rolls, I hacked one to pieces until I had something that resembled a ’1′.  I got the angle a bit wrong but I filled it in with extra slivers so it didn’t matter too much.  Plus the family got a little treat of the offcuts, but shhh!

Now for the frosting.  I have used the recipe on ‘can you stay for dinner’ before and it was amazing!  I would never have thought to use flour in a frosting but it’s very light and airy (not unlike whipped cream) and I thought it would go well with this cake as there is a fair amount of creaminess inside it.

So you’re essentially making a roux and adding it to buttercream.  Mix the flour into the milk and cook until thickened.  Leave it to cool completely, meanwhile, whisk the butter and sugar together until it’s white and fluffy.  When the roux is completely cool, whisk the two together for a few minutes until completely incorporated.

Now I decided to go an extra step into decadence and firstly add more buttercream than their recipe calls for, but also add actual cream to the mix.  So I whipped the whipping- and double cream together until stiff and just folded it all into the frosting mix.  Nom.

A little tip here – if you’re going to leave this overnight in the fridge, it will be rock hard when you come to use it the next day.  *ahem* Just saying…

So, back to the cake.  Now it’s a ‘simple’ case of smearing your frosting over the top.  This was harder than anticipated as, every time I used my spatula, I ended up taking the top layer of cake up as well (apparently it formed a little crust or something), but eventually I got it to lie even.

Then decorate.  This should be the ‘fun’ bit (and indeed I stocked up on loads of cool-looking decorations like mini marshmallows, hundreds and thousands, glitter, silver spray etc) but I didn’t want to just dump them all on top and make it a big mess so I went with colouring some frosting red (well it was meant to be red but it came out more ‘raspberry’. Not necessarily a bad thing, given the filling) and piping around the edge of the ’1′ to seal it.  I don’t have a proper cake board so I just covered a lazy Susan in tin foil and made do.

Then I added a few ‘bows’ and an ‘Amy’ and stuck on a few pre-made sugar roses and some red glitter.  I’ll add some of the left over berries at the last minute tomorrow.

And voila!  That frosting recipe will likely leave you with a fair bit left over (I reckon I could have iced a half dozen cupcakes with what I didn’t use!) so feel free to go a little easy on my amounts there but I’m pretty proud of my lil’ old cake.  I think Smoosh enjoyed it :)


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