I shall try to keep this post brief. I should really be doing some of my Sunday chores in the house before heading out galavanting with my daughter to a Christmas craft fayre this afternoon. But I couldn’t wait to share the details of the cake that I made for my friend’s 40th birthday party last night, even if the photos are a bit ropey.
I met this particular friend as a Glasgow Baking Club event at least a couple of years ago, and we share a common interest in baking and good food. She is an excellent and adventurous baker and first class cook who understands flavours very well. She wanted someone to make her special cake and charged her husband with the task of organising it with me. The only essential was that it was to be a fondant free zone.
Very quickly, we came up with the idea of a Pistachio Cake filled with Raspberry and Rose Italian Meringue Buttercream and decorations of Meringues and Macarons. She had also expressed a desire to have a similar cake topper to the one I had made for my mum’s 70th birthday in September, so I ordered one from Miss Cake and was delighted when it arrived.
I prepared the decorative toppings in advance. I baked Meringue Kisses using Rosie from Sweetapolita’s Meringue Dream Cake and Macarons using my faithful recipe from the lovely Ruth at The Pink Whisk (links to both recipes at the end of the post). I filled some with her recipe for Raspberry and White Chocolate and some with a White Chocolate and Pistachio Buttercream.
When it came to the cake itself I used the Small Pistachio Cakes recipe from BBC Good Food that I have used quite a few times before. I have baked small cakes with it but it also bakes nicely in a large pan (I used an 8″ for 40 minutes in the oven but have also baked it in a 7″ for 50 minutes). It is a recipe that can easily be made gluten free as it has a low flour content, which could be replaced with a gluten free flour. I baked three 8″ cakes.
I filled these with an Italian Meringue Buttercream, tinted pale pink and flavoured with one and a half teaspoons of Nielsen-Massey Rose Water, and mixed through about 200g of fresh raspberries (breaking the fruit up a little but keeping some whole or almost whole). I used Sweetapolita’s IMB recipe and I used it three times! Yip, I had to throw away two failed batches (thankfully before I’d added much butter) before I realised what I was doing wrong. The recipe calls for seven large egg whites. What I completely forgot about (even though I knew this somewhere in the recesses of my brain) is that US large eggs are the equivalent of UK medium eggs. There is a difference of about 10g per egg white, and, obviously, a difference of 70g in this recipe. No wonder the meringue mixture collapsed to liquid as soon as I started adding butter. The proportions to the sugar syrup were all wrong. Once I had worked that out, it all came together, literally, into a luscious, creamy and silky icing.
After covering and smoothing the cake I chilled it for half an hour to let the icing firm up. I brushed on the faintest amount of edible gold lustre mixed with a little Vanilla Vodka before randomly placing some Edible Gold Leaf on the sides with a soft brush. Edible Gold and Silver Leaf is available in large Sainsbury’s and Waitrose supermarkets these days, though quite pricey.
I also made a White Chocolate Ganache, which I let cool and thicken slightly before drizzling over the cake. The I got to decorating with the chopped pistachios, edible rose petals (also from Waitrose), freeze dried raspberries (one of my favourite ingredients), some gold ball sprinkles and gold sugar. After placing the topper I built up the jumble of macarons, meringues and fresh raspberries. As you can see, I also placed some of these around the side and base of the cake.
Then came the time to photograph the cake. I had finished later than planned, thanks to the meringue buttercream debacle, and almost all natural light had faded. I am really disappointed with how the cake photographed, but it has prompted me to re-read Every Nook and Cranny’s recent post about photographing in artificial light and will be purchasing the recommended Nagi Maehashi’s The Food Photography Book as soon as I get paid at the end of the month (and maybe Santa will bring me a couple of decent natural light lamps).
The main thing is that I got the cake finished and delivered to my friend in time for her party. I could have kicked myself over the wasted icing and lateness of completion, but, as always, it was a learning experience. I have touched on this before, when folk look at a picture with admiration, and can’t imagine achieving the same. What we all need to remember is that leading up to that perfect shot of the perfect cake is often years of practise, failed attempts, disasters, mistakes and “if only I’d known” moments. I often look at other people’s work and sigh inwardly, feeling despondent at my own efforts. I need to remember that it’s OK for it not to always work out. And it’s OK that I didn’t get the best photograph of it.
And, at the end of the day, it’s all about sharing food and moments with the people we care about. How many times have you baked or cooked something that didn’t quite turn out or look like the image you were aiming for, yet your kids or partner have eaten it with gratitude that you made it for them, praising it anyway and reassuring you that it’s delicious? Your family and friends don’t care if it looks like the picture in the cookbook or magazine. And they certainly don’t care if it photographed well: they just want to eat what you have made for them.
I hope that my friend had a great party with her friends and family and she enjoyed sharing the beautiful food she had prepared, wine and the cake that I contributed. I only hope she found a steady had a large knife to portion up that bad boy of cake. 😉
And that wasn’t very brief, after all!