A true beauty of a cake. Strewn carelessly with fresh raspberries and woody green pistachios, it looks so elegant. So sophisticated. So celebratory.
However, appearances can be deceiving. Oh yes. The finished product effortlessly hides the quasi-trauma that went into its creation. You would never guess that underneath its glossy white chocolate folds, layers of scarlet raspberry jam and pale vanilla sponge, lies the shuddering shadow of a baking-scarred cook. Never has a cake made me want to tear off my batter-spattered apron and pull out my flour-dusted hair so much. Where do I start…
It seemed straightforward. Nothing I haven’t done before. A cake. Icing. Ganache. Stack it up. Make it look pretty. What could possibly go wrong? EVERYTHING. ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. I started off by spraying the cake mixture dramatically up the walls and over myself at the hands of an extremely out of control electric whisk, effectively teaching me never to relinquish my trusty wooden mixing spoon to a shiny whizzing machine. Minus some mixture, the cake stayed on course and made it into the oven. Phew. Then..the ganache…oh the ganache. The fiendish combination of white chocolate and cream. It took, hmm, about five hours to thicken. Even then it was dribbly and drippy. So I decided to throw caution to the wind and just pour it all over the cake anyway. Miraculously, some actually managed to stick and the dribble is, ahem, ‘artistic’.
Then, the filling. It was supposed to be a simple ripple of pillowy whipped cream, homemade raspberry jam and more fresh tart raspberries. Ran out of cream, so in stepped crème fraîche. For some reason I cannot fathom, I decided to break up all the raspberries and whip them into the crème fraîche. CATASTROPHIC. It didn’t whip – bizarrely it became more liquid the more I whipped – a mockery of perseverance. At this point, I was in a state of frenzied panic, murmuring incoherently to myself whilst brandishing a whisk that was gradually becoming more like a weapon, “Continue to whip, stop whipping?? Add something? Icing sugar! Add icing sugar! Balls, it’s not thickening…MORE icing sugar! Gosh, it’s a bit sweet, cough, splutter, cough, urgh…STOP icing sugar…” Give up. In front of me I had the most disgusting pale puce sickly slop. This finished me off. I had to go and have a lie down.
Luckily, the simple solutions are always the best. Filled with a slick of unadulterated (unwhipped) crème fraîche and a generous layer of raspberry jam, the cake was well on the road to recovery. A ruby raspberry scatter here and a emerald pistachio scatter there and the haunting memories were fading fast. And the birthday girl never knew the truth….
White Chocolate, Raspberry and Pistachio Birthday Cake (panic-free version)
For the cake:
- 225g butter
- 225g caster sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 225g self-raising flour
- 1 scant tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line 3 x 18cm/7in cake tins with baking paper. To make the cake, you can either use the all-in-one method by putting all the ingredients in a food processor (or mixing with an electric whisk) and whizzing them up. Or you can use the old-fashioned method of a wooden spoon, a mixing bowl, and a bit of hard graft (recommended method after my mechanical disaster). For this method, cream together the butter and sugar until the mixture is paler in colour. Sift the flour and baking powder into another bowl. Then, add the eggs, one at a time, alternating with the flour (to stop the mixture curdling), until both eggs and flour are all incorporated and you have a smooth batter. Mix in the vanilla extract. Then, add enough milk, no more than a few tablespoons, to reach a dropping consistency i.e. the mixture should drop easily of the spoon. Divide the mixture equally between the three tins and bake for approximately 18-20 minutes – keep an eye on them as the sponge is quite thin and it may take a different amount of time depending on the oven. They are ready when a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool for 5 minutes then turn out onto wire rack to cool completely.
For the ganache:
- 300g white chocolate, chopped
- 300ml double cream
Heat the double cream in a saucepan until just boiling, then remove from the heat. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate and stir until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Put in the fridge until it thickens (it may take a while but it will thicken!)
For the filling:
- 300ml double cream
- 3 tbsps raspberry jam
- 1 punnet fresh raspberries
Whip the cream until it holds its shape but is still a bit floppy – always err on the side of the under whipped – there’s nothing you can do if you over-whip the cream! Swirl in the raspberry jam.
- 1 punnet fresh raspberries
- A handful of fresh pistachios
Take one of the sponge layers and place it bottom side-up on a plate, so that the flat side is facing upwards. Spread with a thick layer of the raspberry-cream mixture and then top with a handful of fresh raspberries. Place another layer of sponge on top and squidge down a bit to make it level. Repeat the process with the raspberry-cream mixture and the fresh raspberries. Top with the final layer of sponge. Cover the top and sides of the three-layered cake with the white chocolate ganache (as neatly as you can which is very hard and messy!). Decorate the cake with some more fresh raspberries and chopped fresh pistachios. Chill to set if you have the patience, or dive straight in if you can’t wait. You will probably have both cream mixture and white chocolate ganache left over, but that’s no bad thing. Attack with spoon.