There is nothing that says celebration like a tall and beautifully decorated cake. Often becoming a talking point and an ice-breaker in social situation, it also makes for a lovely scene as the kids hover around the table, ‘piaffing’ like horses as their patience quivers and a finger surreptitiously dives into the icing before a grown-up shoos them away. I find that it gathers friends and family around it whilst bringing promises of chattering, laughter and maybe even singing at the end of a tasty meal.
With its colourful yet muted decoration, its orange-blossom butter-cream filling and the light as a feather Italian meringue icing, this elegant yet fun Easter celebration cake seems to make another promise: the long awaited arrival of Spring.
All the components of this cake are easy to put together, and although it might be a little time consuming (maybe), it is definitely not difficult for I chose each component so it would be easy.
Orange blossom is a flavour that my paternal grandmother used a lot when I was little. She used to add it to lift many plain batters, such as those for crepes or doughnut type bakes. This is because it has the ability to lighten up any desserts with its wonderful fragrance.
I decided to use a tweaked version of the chocolate brownies from the civilisedcavemancooking.com (I only tweaked it a little bit…sorry, can’t help it) as they have a firm texture (but not dense or clayey) and can therefore withstand a tall structure.
The Italian meringue icing is just because I love it and because it is easy to spread and work with.
Lastly, the flavours and decoration came from my mood at the time – yep, dangerous tactic, imagine if the mood had been for peppers and anchovies…
* This cake can be made nut free by using a seed butter instead of a nut butter. I often use Sunflower seed butter which makes for a firmer texture than say macademia nut butter (see below for the simple brownie version). The day I made the Easter cake, I used a combination of many nut and seed butters to get to the quantity I needed (and empty my larder which nobody dares to go into but me), hence the mix of colours on the pictures – it is that forgiving a cake.
* It may sound complicated to make a butter-cream and a meringue but the meringue butter-cream is made by adding butter to the Italian meringue (which in turn, is very easy to make). So I make the meringue first, take some out for the icing and in the same bowl, carry on whisking with the flavouring and butter.
For the cakes:
Seed or nut butter – 480g
eggs – 3
Honey – 100g
Dark cocoa powder – 50 to 60g
Bicarbonate of soda – 1tsp
Dark chocolate – melted, 75g
Small bananas – ripe, 3
For the icing/buttercream:
Egg whites – 3 at room temperature (some even warm them up a little)
Honey – 60ml
Cream of tartar – 1/4 tsp (optional)
Butter – 75g at room temperature
Orange zest – of 1 orange (I used a blood orange)
Orange blossom extract – 1 and 1/2 tsp
Make the cakes:
Pre-heat the oven to 160°C.
1 – Grease and line three 18cm round cake tins or as many as you have. You can always cook the cakes one after the other in the same tin.
2 – In a bowl, mix the nut/seed butter and the eggs with a spoon until well blended. Add the honey and stir well.
3 – Stir in the salt, bicarbonate of soda and the cocoa powder. Fold in the melted chocolate.
4 – In a separate plate, peel and mash the bananas with a fork. When they are well mashed, mix them into the chocolate batter.
5 – Pour into the baking tins, one third of the batter in each tin.
6 – Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Let the cakes cool on a rack or in their tins until needed. Just wait until the cakes have cooled before taking the lining paper off, otherwise they will not be firm enough and they could break.
Make the Italian meringue and buttercream:
1 – Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar (or lemon juice) until stiff.
2 – Bring the honey to a simmer, take off the hob. Whilst the machine is still whipping, pour the warm honey slowly into the meringue. Carry on whipping until the bowl is cold – it can take up to 10 minutes.
3 – Keep 2/3 of this Italian meringue to one side and reserve.
4 – Zest the orange finely (or not in my case) and add it to the 1/3 of Italian meringue left in the machine along with the orange blossom extract.
5 – Whip the meringue and whilst running on medium to high, add the butter, a chunk at a time, and beat until blended well. It will look odd and as if it separates but keep going, it will come right in the end, even if it takes a few minutes.
Assemble the cake:
Place one of the brownies in your serving dish. Spread half of the orange butter-cream over its top. Add another brownie above it; spread that one with the other half of the butter cream. Place the third brownie on top.
With a palette knife, cover the whole cake with the Italian meringue that you put to one side.
Decorating the cake:
Sprinkle the zest of a lime over the area where you wish to place the nest.
Position the chicks to create a scene.
Add some bee pollen with the help of a teaspoon to look as if the chicks are eating grain (yes, I can see the irony….).
* This cake can be made with many different flavour combinations just by changing the flavour of the butter-cream and/or the one of the Italian meringue. Flavours that work well include coffee and walnuts, mango purée in the butter-cream and lime zest in the meringue.
* The brave can make a striking purple/pink cake, by mixing acai berries powder in the meringue and using raspberries in the butter-cream – just cook the fruit and pass it through a sieve and fold into a basic butter-cream. Decorate with roses/flowers.
* The shape can also be changed by baking the cakes in square tins or in small tins to make small individual cakes.
Baking only one of the cakes above in a square tin makes a wonderful brownie (thanks to Civilised Caveman) and is my eldest’s favourite chocolate cake. For this, we find that the macademia nut butter works best for a soft and almost gooey texture. Just use a third of the ingredients listed above: 160g nut butter, 1 egg, 1 banana, a squeeze of honey, 1/4 tsp baking powder, 20g cocoa powder, 20g of melted chocolate and a pinch of salt.
No butter-cream, no icing, just straight – I can feel an ice cream recipe coming on…