Everyone who knows anything about me, knows that I love to bake. Few things give me greater satisfaction, than creating something that looks, smells and tastes fabulous, particularly when they’ve been baked using so-called special foods.
These days, there is an alternative for everything. There’s even a new vegan version of canned condensed milk (which I’ve yet to try) so the possibilities for people with allergies, intolerances or electively limited diets are, nowadays, endless.
Reasons to bake
Living in Manchester, just 10 minutes down the road from one of my sisters, with whom we formed a childcare bubble when bubbles still mattered (she has 5 children – 3 of whom are pre-teen so it seemed a logical thing for us to do) has given me access to a superstar sous chef too. So, when said sister and one of her children happened to have their shared birthday, it seemed apt that I would bake the cake this year. Why should she always bake a cake which she would supposedly share with her little diva of a son?
Needless to say, Maite – of Just : Talk interviewing fame – was very excited to conspire over secret after-school baking plans. She was even more excited when I showed her the uber-colourful baked delight I had in mind. Never having attempted a layered cake, or even a single coloured cake and certainly never having braved a piñata cake prior to that day, I decided a joint birthday cake warranted extra effort. Plus the fact that anyone who knows the nephew in question, will understand the flamboyancy of my choice.
As always, I spent a lot of time trawling recipe books and websites to find a vegan recipe I liked the look of enough to adapt and tweak to my own tastes. This one, inspired by BOSH’s fabulous recipe, was super easy to make and lots of fun. I decided to bake it during the day, as it needs to cool totally before you can even start decorating, then save the assembly and adornment to do with my gorgeous assistant.
It is a time consuming cake because of all the layers and different steps, but it is well worth it. The wow when it gets cut into is brilliant. For the younger generation, it is most definitely instagrammable. Most importantly, it tastes delicious – even my non sweet toothed brother-in-law rated it a winner. It is light, moist and very, very moreish so be warned – it won’t last long.
FOR THE CAKE:
4 ½ cups white spelt flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 ½ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp cornflour
1 ½ tsp bicarbinate of soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup vegetable / sunflower oil
2 ½ cups plant milk (I use soy)
3 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 ½ tbsp vanilla extract
Food colourings as needed – I use PME concentrated gels as they are highly pigmented, certified kosher and 100% vegan
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM:
These quantities make vast amounts of icing! I ended up with lots over in my fridge, but I have yet to make the exact right amount of icing, and I would always rather have more than less. You can use it up on overflow cupcakes. Or just frost between the layers more liberally.
2 ½ cups vegan margarine – using half a block marge like Stork, Trex or Tomor and half soft tub like flora vegan works really well and produces very light, fluffy, creamy icing which holds its shape when piped.
5 ½ cups icing sugar
1 tbsp vanilla extract
FOR THE GANACHE:
½ cup virgin coconut oil (melted)
½ cup light agave syrup
½ cup cocoa powder – or you can be really indulgent like me, and use a vegan hot chocolate powder. My favourite for this is the Whittards vegan salted caramel stuff. It’s delish.
- Preheat your oven to 180° and set your cake tins out ready. I use these silicone ones from Amazon. Spritz with spray oil to help with speedy removal when they come out.
- Pour plant milk into a bowl. Whisk the vinegar into it and let it sit for a few minutes.
- Sift all the dry ingredients – flour, caster sugar, cornflour, raising agents and salt – into a large mixing bowl.
- Put the mixer on low to give a gentle mix.
- Add all wet ingredients – oil, vanilla and plant milk – into the mixing bowl.
- Turn the mixer on and beat steadily until everything combines to create a smooth batter. It will be fairly loose. Try not to overmix as it will become tough. Take care to scrape around the edges and bottom of the bowl to ensure there are no pockets of unmixed flour in the batter.
- Set a number of small bowls out on your worktop. I make 7 or 8 layers, but 6 is equally impressive.
- Using a soup ladle, put an equal amount of batter into each of the bowls.
- Using a small spoon or a chopstick, add food colouring to each of the bowls of batter. Be sure to add a tiny bit at a time, especially if using the PME gels. You can add more colouring, but you can’t take it away.
- Pour the mixture into the cake tins. I bake them 2 at a time so they can go on the same shelf in the oven to ensure an even bake. Make sure you tap each tin gently when the mix is in. This will ensure there are no bubbles in the batter and will hopefully make your cakes as level as possible.
- Place into the oven, middle shelf, for around 25 minutes. Keep a close eye on them though, as exact times may vary slightly.
- Remove and place on cooling racks while the next 2 bake. Wipe out the tins and pour in the next colours of batter until all the cakes are baked and cooling.
- Now make the buttercream. I like to leave both margarines out of the fridge for around 20 minutes before mixing, but this isn’t essential. Place both into the mixer bowl and beat vigorously, with the paddle attachment, until smooth.
- Then add the icing sugar and vanilla extract and continue to beat gently. You should have a thick, smooth, lump-free mixture. If needed, add a touch more icing sugar. Alternatively, if the margarine you have chosen has a lower liquid content and the icing seems too stiff, add a tiny drop of plant milk. You have to judge this by eye (and taste!)
Now comes the really fun part!
- Choose what order you want to stack your cakes in. Take the bottom cake and rest it on a board. Take a cookie cutter – I use these ones from Lakeland. The specific size you use is up to you, but you want to leave plenty of cake round the outside, whilst giving yourself enough space for sweets. I use one size bigger for the bottom cake than for the rest, to allow more sweets to gather in the base. Using the third smallest cutter in the set, rest on the centre of the bottom cake and press the middle piece out. This should come away when you lift the cutter out. Pop the middle out onto another board to make your own miniature layered cake or just to nibble later.
- Dab a few dots of buttercream on your cake board and position the bottom cake, using this to hold it still.
- Now repeat step 15, with the cutter one size up, for each of the remaining cakes – EXCEPT THE TOP CAKE. Leave the top cake whole.
- Spread buttercream as sparingly or as liberally as you like between each layer and stack them neatly on top of one another.
- Mix up your sweet treasure for the centre. I used a mixture of Jelly Tots, Skittles and Sour Skittles, all of which are 100% vegan. I also threw in some vegan stars and rainbow confetti for added impact when it’s cut.
- Spoon this into the centre hole, pushing them down to make sure it is jam-packed with surprises.
- Place the lid on the top, cementing it into position with a generous layer of buttercream.
- Now smooth your buttercream all round the outside of the cake. Initially, you might end up with some crumbs incorporated into the frosting. That’s okay. Once there is a full layer on the cake, pop it in the freezer to harden. Give it around 15 minutes to chill, then take it out and smooth more buttercream over the base layer to give you the coverage you want.
- Put it back into the freezer while you make the ganache.
- Put the coconut milk into a small mixing bowl and place in the microwave. Heat on full for 30 seconds at a time, until it is completely melted.
- Add the agave and beat with a spoon until smooth.
- Add the cocoa or hot chocolate powder and beat smooth. I like to reheat in the microwave for about 20 seconds, to ensure the hot chocolate powder is fully dissolved.
- Mix vigorously with a wooden spoon until it is totally silky smooth.
- Take the cake out of the freezer. Starting at the centre, pour the ganache over the cake, steering it so the drips run down the sides the way you want them to. Don’t overdo it with this as it is very rich.
- While the ganache is still glossy, sprinkle confetti or sparkles over the top to add extra ‘wow’ then step back and admire your creation.
- Keep the cake chilled until you plan to serve it.
For added WOW!
Not to mention, extra fun, with the cut-outs from the centre of each layer, you can even make a miniature replica of the main cake. Use an apple corer with care to cut out the centre. Fill the tiny hole with a handful of the smallest sweets, and throw in a few sprinkles for extra magic. Then ice the outside the way you did the layers of the main cake. We decided ganache would be a bit much for such a teeny cake, but that was just our preference.
You should have seen the birthday boy’s face when we put a candle in the miniature and brought it out as though that was all he was getting. Actually, he was perfectly happy until we told him it was to be shared with his mummy.