Sunday, 9 October 2011

Vanilla Sponge Cake with Double Cream Buttercream and Raspberries

One of the saddest things about growing up - says this 26 year old - is that people seem to care less about birthdays. For most in our parents' generation, except for the big landmark years, the attitude to birthdays seems to be "stuff and nonsense, fuss over nothing, pish and pff". Well, that just won't do. 

I feel very strongly about birthdays and, specifically, about birthday cakes. To clarify, I simply feel that every single birthday boy or girl, no matter how old or busy, deserves to have a cake baked for them on their birthday. It's the one day a year when everyone is allowed, nay encouraged, to think that the world revolves around them and quite frankly, a shop-bought cake is never going to cut it. This time of year sees the birthdays of one of my parents and both of my parents-in-law, and as far as I'm concerned that means lots of baking. This was the first of the three, and the requested flavour was a vanilla, victoria-style sponge cake like our wedding cake. And her wish was my command.

As all my own cookbooks are in storage (sniff!), I turned to my mum for help and she provided the recipe (that's why it's all in ounces). The cakes in question were pretty standard sponges, but the icing was a bit of an experiment. While I normally love using white chocolate buttercream to pair with berries, this time I wanted something a lot lighter to follow what I knew would be a pretty gargantuan Sunday lunch.

I followed one of my mum's recent experiments and whipped some double cream into a plain vanilla buttercream, producing a light, smooth icing that nestled into the raspberries beautifully. It also stayed soft and creamy for hours, rather than hardening into a sugared crust like buttercream sometimes does. With jam, fresh raspberries and a few curls of white chocolate, this added up to a delightfully fresh, delicate, lady-like cake. Perfect for the birthday girl! 

Vanilla Sponge Cake with Double Cream Buttercream and Raspberries
Serves 12 people generously

- 8 ounces of unsalted butter, softened
- 8 ounces of caster sugar (vanilla sugar if you've got it)
- 4 eggs
- a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
- 8 ounces of self-raising flour, sifted
- a teaspoon of baking powder

For the icing (basic ratio found on the internet, hence the switch to metric)
- 175g soft unsalted butter
- 300g icing sugar, sifted
- half a teaspoon of vanilla bean paste
- about 100ml of double cream (that's a guess, I just kept pouring some in and whipping it until it had the sort of consistency I wanted)

- raspberry or strawberry jam
- 2 packs of raspberries, washed
- some curls of white chocolate (Jamie Oliver shows you how to do this in 30 Minute Meals, but grated would also be fine)

Start off by lining two 9 inch cake tins with baking parchment, and preheat the oven to 180C.

Cream together the butter and sugar in a big bowl until light and fluffy (kudos if you do this by hand, I used electric beaters. I LONG for a Kitchen Aid). Then add the vanilla and, one by one, the eggs, beating well after each addition. If the mix looks like it's going to curdle, add a spoonful of flour, but to be honest curdling doesn't seem to affect the finished cake at all so I don't know why we always fret. Once the eggs are all beaten in, add the flour and baking powder and use a spatula or metal spoon to fold them in. My mix came out quite stiff so I added a couple of splashes of milk to get it to a smooth dropping consistency.

Divide the mix between the two cake tins, smoothing and levelling the tops, then bake for 30-35 minutes or until risen, gold and springy. Cool them on a wire rack.

To make the icing, beat the butter until very soft then add the icing sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth and combined. Pour in the cream and beat well - it should be light and fluffy.

To assemble the cake, I plonked one cake upside down on a cake stand, slathered it with jam, then about half of the icing, then about a third of the raspberries (going right round the edge, which will be visible, then just a few in the middle). Carefully place the other cake on top, trying not to press down too much - you want the oozing squish to come when you cut into the cake, not now.

Smooth the rest of the icing over the top of the cake, not worrying too much about getting a perfect finish because you're going to cover it in raspberries anyway. Scatter a few curls of white chocolate over the raspberries, then just add candles and an out-of-key rendition of Happy Birthday.

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