Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Alexander's Marvellous Marble Cake

I love to bake, and cakes are one of my specialities, but decorating them isn’t. I’m fine with a bit of buttercream or ganache and some sprinkles or candies, but the idea of going much further than that makes me break out into a cold sweat. So when my son suggested a few months ago that I make the cake for the big 18th birthday party I was torn between feeling flattered and feeling terrified. Aside from the issue of the decoration, although I’ve made plenty of cakes in my time, I have never made one designed to serve so many people.

We all have our favourite cakes, and in our house it is traditional to serve the person’s favourite for their birthday. My husband has Mocha Cake, my favourite is Devil’s Food and our son adores Marble Cake.

As you can see from this photo of my traditional-sized marble cake, it really is pretty with its lovely chocolatey stripes. Now I know cake is far from a healthy dish, but I believe that a cake made with love using wholesome ingredients is good for both body and soul. Anyway, I always use wholesome organic milk, free range (pastured) eggs, farm fresh butter and flour from a mill I trust when I bake. But how to change the recipe from the traditional two layer cake above into a much larger cake? Well, I had to experiment. Thankfully I had some very helpful guinea pigs quality testers. Several cakes later, we decided the best choice was a large deep square cake - both for reasons of practicality (it’s easier to cut and serve a square cake) and frosting (straight edges are much easier to frost than round ones.). It got to the stage where it was impossible to make the cake any bigger without going up in terms of layers (which I did not want to do as it would complicate things too much), so as everyone seems to love my cupcakes I decided to make some of those too in order to have enough cake to go round. The recipes for the cupcakes I served are coming soon in another post.

In terms of decoration, I found a wonderful website called Just Toppers where Sarah Hunt sells fantastic cake toppers made to order from photographs. Her mini version of Alexander standing in front of a silver ‘18’ turned my simply frosted cake into something very special indeed. Everyone commented on it!

Without further ado, here is the recipe for the cake I served at our wonderful sons’ 18th birthday party. It cut into 24 rectangular pieces and although I thought everyone would go for the cupcakes first, the cake disappeared in a heartbeat and those who hadn’t got to the table quickly enough were forced to have cupcakes instead - which happily they didn’t seem to mind :)

You need a loose bottomed square pan for this cake, measuring about 10 inches square (27 cm) and at least 3 inches (8 cm) deep. I lined the bottom of the pan with greaseproof (parchment) paper and greased the sides with a little butter.

It’s best if the ingredients are not fridge cold when you start, although I don’t go so far as saying they should be at room temperature. I just leave the eggs, milk and butter out for about an hour before I make the cake. (By the way I know 3 cups sounds like an awful lot of sugar, but this is a really big cake!) To make this cake on a smaller scale in its traditional two layer format, please click here.

1½ cups butter, softened
3 cups caster sugar
8 eggs, beaten
3 teaspoons vanilla
6 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
5 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups milk plus a couple of tablespoons extra for thinning the chocolate mixture
2 tablespoons cocoa powder (NOT drinking chocolate)

Preheat the oven to 350 to 375 (170 to 180).  I preheat my fan oven to 160. The temperature depends on how fierce your oven is. This cake needs a warm oven to rise nicely but it takes quite a while to cook so you don’t want the heat too high or it will burn.

Break the eggs into a large bowl and beat lightly. Set aside.

Sift together the flour, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar. It’s best to use an electric mixer for this unless you have very strong arms!

Add the eggs to the creamed mixture all at once and beat lightly. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.

Add the flour mixture alternately with the 2 cups of milk, beating lightly to combine after each addition. Depending on how big and powerful your electric mixer is you may need to use a wooden spoon for this part, although if it will take the weight of the batter an electric mixer gives a better texture. I use a wooden spoon to add the ingredients alternately, and then I use the mixer again just to smooth out the batter.

Remove about three-quarters of a cup of batter from the bowl and set aside. Pour the remaining batter into the prepared cake tin.

Sift the cocoa into the remaining batter and blend in. Add enough milk to give the batter the same consistency as the batter already in the cake tin. (I usually need about 2 to 3 tablespoons.)

Now drop large spoonfuls of the chocolate batter on top of the plain cake. I put one spoonful about an inch in from each corner of the cake, and one in the middle.  Using a knife with a wide blade (an icing knife works well for this), gently run through the batter from one side of the pan to the other to give a swirled effect.

Bake the cake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a skewer, toothpick or piece of dried spaghetti inserted in the centre comes out clean. Keep an eye on the top of the cake so that it doesn’t get too brown. You can always turn the heat back a bit, or carefully place some aluminum foil over the top of the cake pan   for a little while. (Don’t touch the cake though, and don’t leave it on there for too long or the cake will be soggy.) 

Let the cake cool for about 15 minutes before removing it from the pan and cooling on a wire rack. Allow to cool completely before frosting with your favourite frosting. I always use vanilla buttercream frosting because it is Alex’s favourite, but you can use chocolate frosting if you prefer.

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