Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter may have seen me bemoaning the dark art of tidying up. I managed to throw out the recipe (scribbled on the back of an envelope) for the best vanilla sponge I’ve ever made – this lovely, soft buttermilk sponge that I want to share with you today. I am pretty annoyed with myself about it; the cake really was a triumph, and I’d love to be able to replicate it. I’ve had a go at it again since, and I’ll give you the second version of the recipe, but I’ll be mogadored if it’s as good as the elusive original.
I took inspiration for the decoration of this cake from a photo I found on Pinterest, from Sweetharts Cakes and Bakes. I loved the idea of lining up Mikado biscuits around a cake to make it into a wee fort. What better way to stop cake theft? So, I had a go at making my own version – I used my sadly lost buttermilk sponge and the white chocolate and macadamia nutella for frosting, then surrounded the cake with milk chocolate Mikado biscuits. Here are a few photos:
For the life of me I couldn’t get a good photo of the whole cake – my mojo wasn’t working that day. Still, you get the idea. The chocolate spread is delicious as icing, and sets up nice and firm to hold those biscuits in place as it cools. You will have to heat it a little to get it spreadable, but make sure it’s spreadable and not pourable; if it’s too soft it won’t hold the Mikado buttresses and they’ll fall off and then snap when you try to stick them back on. Confession: I had a second cake that fell victim to this self same problem. Here is is, poor denuded thing:
So that’s the first of my tips for making a Mikado cake: make sure your icing is nice and thick, and almost cool, before gently pressing the biscuits in around the edges. My second tip is probably even more important: don’t put the Mikado round the edges until the cake is on the serving plate or base board that you will be presenting it on. I made this second, fatal error which compounded the doom of the second cake’s biscuity fortifications. I decorated the cake on an icing turntable, left to cool overnight and then had to lift into a cake carrier and *then* on to a serving plate later. The first cake was alright, with the sticks being anchored on there firmly by the frosting, but the second one was a goner. So frustrating, and then kind of embarrassing as I presented both cakes at once, and one had patently fallen apart in the kitchen moments before…
To focus back on the positive, then, let me quickly tell you about the topping on both cakes. When I made the plain chocolate Nutella and white chocolate and macadamia Nutella, I reserved a few of the toasted nuts after the first stage. I ground these up to a coarse powder with a few bigger chunks, then made a sort of nut brittle crumble for use in cake decorating. I made it up as I went along, and the basic steps to make macadamia brittle are as follows:
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp water
- 5 macadamia nuts, coarsely ground
Heat the sugar and water in a frying pan over a medium heat, until the sugar has melted and mixed with the water. Add the ground nuts and mix thoroughly, then cook until lightly browned and very bubbly.
Be careful because this will be extremely hot and liable to leap out and burn the unwary baker.
Once browned, pour the mixture out onto greased paper or tinfoil and allow to cool. When cool, break and crumble into bits – job done!
This was such a simple idea but it really made the cake. It adds crunch and flavour, and it looks really fancy into the bargain. Depending on your definition of fancy, I suppose.
Finally, then, here is the recipe for second best every buttermilk cake. I’m going to continue to work on it. This makes one six inch, five layer cake.
- 250g plain flour
- 250g margarine
- 250g golden caster sugar
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 250ml buttermilk
- 1 tbsp vanilla essence
- 3 large eggs
Put all the ingredients in a bowl, and mix until just combined – no need to overdo it, that’s the secret to a light sponge. Maybe. I think it’s one of them, anyway.
Pour a fifth of the batter into a lined cake tin and bake at 170C for 10 – 15 minutes. If you have more than one six inch cake tin, you can bake several layers at once. I had to do them separately, which is fine but you do get sick of hearing the oven timer. It’s really important that you line the tin with a circle of greaseproof paper when you’re reusing a cake tin, to prevent sticking. Also brush the sides with butter before you pour a new load of cake mix in.
As you remove each layer, place it on a cooling rack. This is also important for keeping the sponge light – if you cool a cake in the tin or flat on a worktop, it will end up more dense as more moisture remains inside the cake. Once all five layers are done and cooled, fill and ice with your favourite homemade Nutella, then stack Mikado round the outsides.