It’s been a while since I last made a layer cake, I didn’t even make one for my birthday (I had ice cream instead), the reason for this is that they are so big and there is mostly just the two of us to eat it. Therefore I will take advantage of any occasion where there is a gathering of people large enough to make one; a couple of weeks ago there was just such an occasion – a barbecue for a friends birthday so of course I made a cake.
I had had the idea for this cake in mind for a while, there were several tubs of gold sprinkles left over after making a pirate themed cake for a friend’s birthday (a cascade of gold painted chocolate coins, glittery candy ‘gems’ and sprinkles ‘treasure’ all topped with a chocolate pirate flag (and a liberal dose of rum)) and smothering a cake with them seemed like the best idea to use them up. I had originally planned to dye the chocolate buttercream black so that it was a black and gold cake, but when it came to making it, what I thought was super black food colouring in the cupboard turned out to just be regular black. I used it anyway hoping it would be strong enough – it wasn’t. So do bear in mind that the buttercream will be a lighter shade of brown than pictured unless you add black gel colouring, and if you do want to get it black black then you really must use ‘super black’ or ‘extra black’ gel food colouring (Sugarflair and Wilton both make it). To help the black colouring along, if you are able to get hold of black cocoa powder then use that in the buttercream (the kind used to make Oreo’s which is sadly impossible to find in the UK, if you have managed to find some please do let me know where!).
The cake itself is an American style white cake – a soft, moist vanilla cake made with only egg whites and a low proportion of butter so that it has a very pale crumb. I used the reverse creaming method to make the cake – where the dry ingredients are mixed with the butter so that the flour is coated in fat before gradually whisking in the wet ingredients. This method results in a velvety, melt-in-the-mouth cake as coating the flour in fat inhibits the development of the gluten in the flour so the crumb stays soft. I dyed the inside of the cake turquoise just because I felt like playing with food colouring and white cake is perfect for dyeing; you can of course use any colour you like, or simply leave the cake white, which would be a striking contrast to the outside of the cake as it is.
I used a variety of different sprinkle shapes, all gold, but this decorating style would work with pretty much any type of sprinkles I think. I started by mixing all of my sprinkles together in a bowl and placed my assembled and smoothly iced cake on a plate on top of a revolving turntable (not necessary but very helpful!). I scattered lots of sprinkles over the top of the cake then picked up handfuls of sprinkles and pressed them around the top of the sides of the cake, lots fall down around the bottom onto the plate but that doesn’t matter, I think it looks quite good with piles of sprinkles around the base of the cake. I then filled in any gaps by hand, strategically placed sprinkles where I felt they were needed and finished by throwing some sprinkles at the cake to make the effect more random (this resulted in me absolutely covering my kitchen in sprinkles but it was effective!). To make it easier to stick the sprinkles to the cake you need the buttercream to be the right consistency – too soft and it will just smudge, too firm and the sprinkles wont stick; ideally you want it to be firm-ish but still feel a bit ‘tacky’; I simply placed the frosted cake in the fridge for ten minutes and it was just right.
- 250g (2 cups + 1tbsp) plain flour
- 20g (scant ¼ cup) cornflour
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 320g (1 + ½ cups + 2tbsp) caster sugar
- 120g (1/2 cup) butter, slightly softened
- 250ml (1 cup) whole milk
- 1½ tsp vanilla extract
- ¾ tsp lemon juice
- 5 egg whites
- about ½ tsp gel food colouring (optional)
- 250g (9oz) dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), chopped
- 450g (1 + ¾ cups + 2tbsp) softened butter
- 315g (3 cups + 2tbsp) icing (powdered) sugar, sifted
- 100g (3/4 cup + 2tbsp) cocoa powder, sifted (use black cocoa if you can find it, or Dutch process if not)
- 150ml (1/2 + ⅛ cup) full fat sour cream
- 80ml (1/3 cup) warm water
- 1½ tsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- black gel food colouring (optional)
- 3-4 tubs gold sprinkles
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease and line three 15cm/6in round cake tins.
- Into the bowl of an electric mixer, sift together the flour, cornflour and baking powder, stir in the salt and sugar. Add the butter and beat on a low speed until all the butter has been combined, the mixture should have a fine crumbly, sandy texture.
- In a medium measuring jug, whisk together half of the milk, the vanilla extract and lemon juice. In a separate jug, whisk together the egg whites and other half of the milk.
- Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and gradually add the vanilla milk mixture and beat for a couple of minutes until well combined.
- Gradually add the egg white mixture a little at a time; beat for a couple of minutes, stopping to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl occasionally. The mixture may look a little curdled, don't worry. Mix in the food colouring if using, add gradually until the desired shade is reached.
- Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and bake for about 30 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Place the tins on a wire rack and leave the cakes to cool completely in the tins - they are delicate when warm so may crumble if you turn them out too early.
- To make the buttercream, melt the chocolate, either in a bain marie or in short bursts in the microwave then set aside to cool a little.
- Beat the butter with an electric mixer for a couple of minutes until light and fluffy. Sift in the icing sugar and cocoa powder, add the sour cream, water, vanilla extract and salt and beat for a couple of minutes until smooth. Beat in the melted chocolate then add the black food colouring if using.
- If the buttercream is too soft, cover and place the bowl in the fridge for about half an hour until it has firmed up a bit.
- Carefully remove the cakes from their tins and peel off the baking parchment. Place one of the cake layers on a serving platter/cake stand and spread over a generous dollop of the buttercream, top with another cake layer and more buttercream. Place the final cake layer on upsidedown so that the top is flat.
- Cover the whole cake in a thin layer of the buttercream and place in the fridge for 15 minutes or so until the buttercream is firm. Cover the whole cake with another, thick layer of buttercream, using a scraper to get it as smooth as possible and the top flat. Place the cake in the fridge until the buttercream has firmed up a little but is still tacky.
- Mix together the sprinkles in a bowl, scatter some all over the top of the cake then press more around the top of the sides by putting some in your hand and pressing them against the cake then filling in any gaps. You can also throw some sprinkles at the cake so that the pattern looks more random and natural.