When I first began dipping my toes, or should I say hands, into the world of layer cakes, I was met with terms such as swiss meringue buttercream, offset spatulas, florists wire and crumb coating to name but a few. All of which seemed a little daunting to this novice celebration cake creator. But, like with everything that was presented to me during those years of running my cafe, I took it on with gusto and had an eagerness to learn how to create these impressive edible delights that took centre stage at many of life's celebrations.
It was the generous knowledge that was shared within the celebration cake making community that gave me the confidence to really give this thing a go. Without the many tips and tricks that I picked up along the way, I imagine that it would have been a lot more difficult to work things out for myself.
So now I find myself, after many years of learning, practising and refining my own skills, that I am now able to give back by sharing the knowledge, the tips and the tricks that I myself have stored away in my cake decorators toolbox.
The beauty with this line of work, whether it be for business or for pleasure, or both for that matter, is that you constantly learn new things along the way. However, it is being able to witness the joy on the faces of each one of the cake recipients that really make taking the time to create a cake like this worth every second. For me, this is the greatest pleasure.
My hope is that these recipes below, as well as my tutorial on Instagram (link below), arm you with the confidence to have a go at creating your own celebration cake. Because as the wise Julia Child once said, "A party without cake is just a meeting." Imagine being the one who was responsible for turning that meeting into a party.
This recipe is an adaptation of a Gin and Lemon cake from Little & Friday which is an adaptation of English food writer Jane Grigson's Gin and Lemon cake.
Limoncello syrup cake
makes 2 x 20cm cakes to make one 2 layer celebration cake
250g unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
zest of 6 lemons
2 cups plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups almond meal
1 cup greek yoghurt
for the syrup
1/4 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup lemon juice
6 tbsp limoncello
Swiss meringue buttercream
1 1/4 cups caster sugar
450g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
This will make more than what you will need, which isn't a bad thing. You can use it to flavour ice cream, serve with shortbread, fill madeleines or friands, or simply eat by the spoonful. It keeps for about 3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.
125g unsalted butter
1 cup caster sugar
zest of 3 lemons
1 cup lemon juice
220g caster sugar
1/2 cup water
120g macadamias, coarsely chopped
Fresh flowers of your choice to decorate
*both can be found in haberdashery/craft stores
Let's start at the very beginning...
Preheat your oven to 160c (fan-forced). Grease two 20cm round cake tins with butter and line the base and sides with baking paper then set aside.
Beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. I beat mine for a good 8 minutes or so. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat until well combined before adding the next.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and sift the flour and baking powder over the top of the wet mixture, followed by a pinch of salt. Add the almond meal and fold everything together until just combined. Add the yoghurt and mix ever so gently to combine.
divide the mixture evenly between the two cake tins and smooth out the tops. Place into the preheated oven and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until they feel slightly firm on top or a skewer or cake tester inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Meanwhile, you can make the syrup. Heat the sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.
When the cakes are ready, make a few little holes in the top using a skewer and then pour the hot syrup over the cakes. Allow to cool in the tins and then cover and place into the fridge, still in the cake tins, to soak up all those lovely sticky, syrupy juices overnight.
Now let's begin the lemon curd!
Place all of the ingredients (except the eggs) into a heatproof bowl (I like to use my stainless steel mixing bowl for this as then I can just transfer directly to my stand mixer)
Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until melted and the sugar has completely dissolved. The easiest way to test this is to rub a small amount of the mixture between your thumb and index finger. If it still feels grainy then continue to cook.
Remove the bowl from the simmering water, wiping the bottom of the bowl free from any water. Place a sieve over a medium-sized bowl to strain the mixture leaving the zest behind. Beat the eggs in the bowl of the stand mixer until combined, pouring in the lemon mixture in a slow steady stream.
Place the bowl back over the pot of simmering water and turn the heat down to low. Whisking every now and then until thickened. This usually takes me about half an hour. Once you are happy with the thickness, remove it from the heat and pour it into an airtight container. Allow to cool and then pop into the fridge.
And now it's time for the praline...
Line a large baking tray with baking paper, I find that if I scrunch the paper up in my hands and then smooth it out that it sits better on the tray. So do this if you like. Set the tray aside and have a thick tea towel or oven gloves at the ready.
Place the sugar and water into a small saucepan over high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and then allow to bubble, without stirring. Once the bubbles start to become slower in rising on the surface the liquid will start to change colour. What you are looking for here, is a light amber colour which means it is time to pour in the macadamias. Swirl the pan around to mix everything together and then continue to cook until it has reached a deep caramel colour.
Immediately pour onto the prepared baking tray and then using a tea towel or oven gloves tilt the pan side to side to spread the mixture around resulting in a thin layer of glossy, nut studded glass. Allow to cool and then when hardened, break into shards and store in an airtight container. I find it best to layer the shards between sheets of baking paper so they don't stick to one another. They will happily chill out in the freezer for as long as you like.
It not only makes a lovely addition for filling cakes but you can also use it for jazzing up desserts, scattering over scoops of ice cream or simply enjoying it just as it is.
Ok, now it is the following day. It is time to make the swiss meringue buttercream...
Pour the sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer followed by the egg whites ( you can reserve the yolks for making pasta, frittatas, omelettes, cakes, and pastry. now place the bowl over the top of a saucepan of simmering water, it doesn't have to be full of water, you don't want the water touching the bowl.
If you have an electric whisk, now is a good time to use it. If like me you are without one then you can use the good ol' trusty hand beaters for this.
Beat (or whisk) the sugar and egg whites over the pot of simmering water until it looks like a fluffy white cloud with soft peaks. transfer to the stand mixer, with the whisk attachment in place. Whisk on medium-high speed for at least 10 minutes to cool the mixture down.
Turn the speed to medium and add the butter bit by bit, add the vanilla and turn the speed up again, and continue to whisk until it's thick and glossy. It can sometimes start to become a bit curdled looking, if this happens, don't panic! Just continue to whisk and it will eventually become glossy. You may also need to scrape down the sides using a spatula.
Remove from the mixer and gently stir with a spatula to make sure everything is combined well.
You are now ready to assemble!
Remove the cakes from their tins. I find it helps to run a butter knife around the edges to loosen them a little and then invert. Slice the tops of each one to flatten the surface. These make wonderful kitchen snacks! And then set aside.
place a smear of swiss meringue buttercream (SMB) in the middle of a cake plate or cake board and then secure your cake base to this, just pushing down ever so slightly to "glue" the two together. Using an offset spatula, take a generous amount of SMB and smooth over the top of the cake. Create a ridgeline around the edge by pushing the buttercream out to the sides as you turn the cake around (a cake turntable works wonders here, but if you don't have one simply place it onto a sheet of baking paper so it is easier to turn on the bench) This ridgeline will act as a barrier to keep the lemon curd from running out of the middle.
Using a teaspoon, dollop about a 1/4 to a 1/3 of a cup of lemon curd on top in the middle and then smooth out to the ridgeline. roughly chop 2 or 3 shards of praline and scatter them over the top of the curd.
Flip the second cake over, so that the base is now facing upwards and place it on top of the base cake, pushing down lightly to make it level.
Scoop a generous amount of SMB on top of the cake and spread out to the edge, then using your offset spatula, fill in the middle (join) of the cakes before covering the sides with buttercream. You can create a textured finish like the cake here, or if you prefer a smoother finish you can do that too.
Neaten up the sides and the top and now your cake is ready to "dress" with a flourish of flowers. You can find a full tutorial on how to fill, cover and decorate a cake with fresh flowers over on my Instagram page. I hope you find it helpful and that it inspires you to give it a go.