Cakery Bakery: Cinnamon roll cake

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I finished work on Friday. Not forever, but for long enough. Oh, it was like being let out of school before the long summer holiday, only with several hundred added Braxton Hicks. I bought a newborn car seat, in celebration (by heck do I know how to live). And then I made a cake.

It felt like a conquered mountain in itself, this cake. Baking is rather difficult at present, with a) Henry trying to get his tongue into the egg whites and b) all of this foetus to carry around. And I am generally obsessed with cinnamon rolls, but without a breadmaker can never be bothered to go through with them. Well, have a look at this: cinnamon roll cake, from The Girl Who Ate Everything (still working my way through her website. Still in love). It’s like a giant cinnamon roll, but without any dough palaver. Why didn’t anyone think of this before?

It didn’t go entirely smoothly, I admit. It started well: the cake mix is one of those wonderful throw-everything-in-a-bowl-and-press-go types, which always makes me happy. I used my free-standing mixer, but a handheld electric one would work just as well. That part is over and in a baking tin before you can say LITTLE BOY, PLEASE MOVE YOUR FACE AWAY FROM THAT EGG.

Then you prepare what the recipe calls topping, but is more like filling: cinnamon, soft butter, brown sugar and pecans all mixed together. My butter wasn’t quite soft enough, so I prepared the pecans separately, thinking it might be easier to whisk without them (it was). The instructions said to put tablespoonfuls of the filling on top of the cake mix, then use a knife to ‘marble’ it in. Well. My filling spoonfuls sat on top of the cake mix like daubs of cold peanut butter, and clearly weren’t going to marble anywhere at all. I ended up mashing them in any old how. It was messy, and left my cake looking like it had a bad case of acne (especially once I put the pecans on top), but we forged on.

Marbling [mashing]. Before and after.

Marbling [mashing]. Before and after.

Then came the real trouble. In the oven for 25-30 minutes, said the recipe. Which I did. I took the cake out, poked in a knife, and was utterly horrified when a lava-flow of grease came flooding out. I realised it was the butter/sugar solution, partying away on the inside. Who on earth would want to eat a grease cake?! I put it back in for another ten minutes. No grease this time, but lots of raw cake mix. Another ten minutes. And another ten. Thirty-five minutes after the recipe said it would be done, it was done. I wasn’t at all sure it would be edible, by this point.

Thank goodness for cream cheese frosting. The recipe gives instructions for a glaze that looks like a thin form of icing. But cinnamon rolls need cream cheese frosting, yes? It just feels right. I used this recipe, halved. It’s the sort of thing I can happily eat from the bowl, with a spatula. I would eat it on toast. I would probably lick it off a wall, to be honest, but for the time being it was jolly lovely on the cake.

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The verdict, then:

Deliciousness: Do you know, after all that, it was wonderful. Extremely fluffy, gloriously messy and crumbly. I don’t know why it took half an hour longer in the oven than it should’ve done, but it didn’t suffer for it. The filling makes sandy little cinnamon blobs in the middle of every slice, and the frosting and pecans together are lovely.

Complexity: If I can work out the correct oven time, it’s a cinch: measure, mix, dump in a tin. So much easier than proper cinnamon rolls. Now I have an ominous feeling.

Washing-up pile: Two bowls and some cutlery. Nice and easy (not – um – that I actually did the clearing up. Thanks, kitchen wonders!).

Casualties: Here is a life lesson – you don’t want to wipe a ladleful of sugar/butter/cinnamon out of a toddler’s face and hair. Ever. That stuff clings.

Oh gosh, it's not going to come off. Is it?

This was the moment I realised it wasn’t going to come off.

The recipe for cinnamon roll cake is here, and the frosting I used is at the bottom of the page here. Go go go!

Cakery Bakery: the Whisk Kid’s Rainbow Cake

If there’s one thing I’ve learned when it comes to baking, it’s that you should never bake something for the first time if it absolutely has to go right. Well, you can, if you want. And if you’re an instinctive, super-confident baker you could probably do it and have it go marvellously. Not me, though. I need to do some reconnaissance. When I fly by the seat of my pants, I inevitably burn my pants.

Thus it was that I decided to spend some time this week making a rainbow cake (one of my possibilities for Henry’s birthday in a couple of weeks). I wanted to see whether it really would look as good as it did on TV, or whether that was just a bit of Martha magic. And it’s by far the most complicated, lengthy cake I’ve ever attempted, so I didn’t want to try it for the first time while also trying to hang streamers.

I used the recipe here for the cake. It’s a simple enough sponge – though it only includes egg whites, rather than the whole egg – to the extent that you could probably substitute a packet mix if you were sure of your quantities.

First, find some identical cake tins. It really helps if you have as many of the same size as possible, but they have to be identical. I had two (argh). Grease the whole tin very thoroughly and line the bottom with baking paper. If you find this task as hideously annoying as I do, here’s the best way I’ve found to do it: cut a square of roughly the right size, and press it into the bottom of the greased tin. Score around the edges with your fingernail, and take out the paper. You should still be able to see where you scored, and cut it to exactly the right shape.

As far as the cake mix goes, you combine dry ingredients in a smaller bowl, then cream butter and sugar in the largest bowl you’ve got. Weigh your large bowl before you put anything in it. I’ll explain later, honest. The recipe asks for a freestanding mixer with paddle attachment (of course it does), but in the absence of this swanky equipment I just used my handheld electric mixer. It worked fine. Once the butter and sugar are combined, add the egg whites in slowly, mixing all the time, then the dry ingredients and milk. Your arm will really be aching by this point, but keep on – everyone loves an over-developed bicep.

Then comes the fun part. Divide the mixure into six equal parts. The easiest way to do this is to weigh it out (that’s why you weighed your bowl earlier, so you can subtract it from the total weight with the mixture). Put each mix into a separate bowl, and add food colouring to each one.

Now, a note on food colouring (I told you this was an odyssey). The only colouring you can get in any decent-sized UK supermarket is the liquid stuff in bottles. Since this was just a test, I got it, but it wasn’t ideal. It’s much paler than the gel or paste, and seriously liquifies your cake mix. For proper, bright cake colours, you need something like this, which you can find in specialist cooking shops or online. I’ll pick some up if I end up doing this for Henry. You can never go wrong with food colouring in the house.

Where are we now? Right, cake baking. Each one goes in for about 10-15 minutes (depending on how watery the food colouring made your cake mix). If you’ve only got two tins, like me, you have to wait until each one has cooled, hammer it out of the tin, cut more baking paper, get out more grease, and do the whole thing over again. It took f o r e v e r. We even broke for lunch. But eventually, all six layers were done, and I could get out my cake stand. Woo!

Now for the icing. Martha recommends buttercream icing, but I hate icing. Cream cheese frosting, on the other hand, is a whole other kettle of obesity. I followed my sister-in-law, who’s done something similar, and adapted this recipe by substituting some of the cream cheese with butter. The quantities in the Not So Humble recipe should give you enough to ice between the layers and then all around the cake.

I was also supposed to slice the top off each cake layer before putting it down. But I’m a big chickeny chicken, and have never dared do this yet. So I had a little mushroom-shaped cake instead of one with a flat top. Since by this point I had forgotten my own name and what the sky looked like, I didn’t mind.

In the end, I only used five of my six layers. Partly because I ran out of icing, and partly because the mossy green looked the most unpleasant. I spread frosting between each layer, then spread a very thin layer all over the cake, to stop crumbs getting caught in the icing on top. Following instructions, I put it in the fridge to set for thirty minutes, along with the rest of my icing.

[Break for exhausted slump on sofa.]

Finally! The last layer of icing, some brightly coloured chocolate beads, and some fridge time. When it comes to icing, my personal motto is ‘If In Doubt, Cover With Something Glittery’. I used a plastic spatula for the first layering and then a metal knife to go over it, but it still wasn’t terribly swanky. Until the chocolate beads! You see what happened there?!

Cutting into it was the most exciting thing ever. The food colouring is definitely not quite right: the red is orange, and the blue is smurf-coloured, for some reason known only to Dr Oetker. But the sponge is soft and damp, and the cream cheese is to die for.

The verdict, then:

Deliciousness: Yummmm. Be warned: with a cake this tall, it’s impossible to cut small slices. I’ve only had one, and I feel a bit sick. In the best tradition of birthday cakes, of course.

Complexity: This was a long, long job. The frosting went surprisingly well and I didn’t have any cake disasters, but ohhh, my aching self once it was all done. I loved it, though. Martha, you little baking wizard, you.

Washing-up pile: I honestly haven’t dared count. I used all my mixing bowls, two cake tins, six colouring bowls, both electric whisks and almost every utensil in the house. Is this the point to confess that Timothy usually does my baking washing-up, and he’s not here? Ug. (He also does almost all of the eating, so I think it’s a fair trade.)

Casualties: my Wednesday. Which will never be seen again.