Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Birthday Cake Book – Fiona Cairns

I’m still feeling a little despondent, a state not helped by the weather today – what I was hoping for was a basically dry day because the plan was to go to Burghley for the last day of the horse trials. The plan was followed but somewhat dampened by a torrential downpour (we should probably have changed our minds before paying up to get in) with the result that we were both grumpy but never at just the same time so a cycle of mild bad temper was instigated. This wasn’t improved in my case when we got back to Leicester to find it dry and sunny. The Scottish one very sensibly dropped me off at my flat and fled back to the country to dry out in his own good time, meanwhile I got to spend some quality time with ‘The Birthday Cake Book’ which arrived on Friday but was too heavy haul around all weekend.

I’m finding it hard to settle on reading anything at the moment. The book I have on the go is good and I want to finish it but I can’t seem to keep my attention on it. Which is another reason I love cook books – and books with pictures generally I suppose. ‘The Birthday Cake Book’ actually distracted me from crap on television (and a half hearted intention to do laundry and write letters, but almost anything else would have sidetracked me from those jobs) which is a big step forward and gave me something lovely and escapist to think about which I appreciate too.

I really liked Bake and Decorate which had some great and do-able looking cake decorating exercises and did rather wonder what this follow up would be like. ‘Bake and Decorate’ seemed to have it covered – the answer is that ‘The Birthday Cake Book’ steps everything up a level. Truthfully I think I might be a little bit out of my league here, I’m just not sure that I have the patience for some of the projects, or perhaps even more importantly the audience – so it’s a very good thing that each one come with a candle rating which indicates if something is easy, requires some effort, or is challenging. The other thing that I think is particularly brilliant about both Fiona Cairns books is that the cakes look obviously home made in the pictures. There are small flaws that are reassuring to look at because the overall effect is still stunning and it encourages me to believe that I could achieve these things.

Going back to the idea of an audience, these are cakes with a wow factor; painted Russian dolls made from sponge with a lime and vodka syrup filling, a crystal skull which puts Damien Hirst’s diamond effort to shame, and a bucket and spade cake complete with crushed biscuit sand and chocolate sea shells all really stand out. Also ‘The Birthday Cake Book’ is likely to feature heavily as a present for baking friends over the next few months especially if I think they may be persuaded to make me one of the following: a Blackberry, Lavender, Rose, and white chocolate cake, a butterscotch cake which has amazing hazelnuts on it (they’ve had a sort of toffee apple treatment but also been allowed to drip so they’re all wispy and incredible looking), and a perfect heart shaped affair with eau de nil icing, a bunch of fresh violets on it and some nifty ribbon to hide any messy bits around the sides. That last one is also the cake I most want to attempt myself, I’ve never used sugar paste so have no idea how easy it is to get that flawless looking finish (it has a two candles for some effort required rating) but I love it.

Inspired by all the pictures I made my first Sachertorte tonight. Fiona Cairns gives a flourless recipe but I wanted something a little more traditional so made the Fortnum and Mason version (sort of, Fiona replaces flour with almonds, I used a bit of both). There’s an episode in a Molly Keane book where someone makes a Sachertorte and it’s desperately complicated as well as involving a profligate number of eggs. My recipe turned out to create a profligate amount of washing up as I used 3 bowls just for the cake, never mind icing it – after which the half dozen eggs required were a mere bagatelle. Happily it turns out that it’s just my sort of thing; richly chocolaty without being very sweet and with a slightly decadent feel to it. The ganache threatened to split (was actually a claggy mess) but was rescued by a thorough beating with an electric whisk and now I can go to bed feeling like something other than a soaking came out of today.


  1. Oh what a lovely post! I am waiting until I have baked some things from it to write down my thoughts. I have banoffee muffins baking though, my adaption of her banoffee pie cake. I shan't make them into dice though!

    I can't believe you haven't sugarpasted! It's really not too hard, you just need a decent rolling pin and a bit of courgae

    I made exactly that sachertorte back in Februiary and must have made about that amount of washing up too - such a faff!

  2. These look amazing oh my god mmm. I got in the habit of baking every time I go home to my parents - make them them fatty instead of me :-D Ventured into some traditional red velvet cake it was gorgeous.

    We were off to Burghley but got sidetracked by a BBQ in the rain..I'm not sure is worse! Cheaper though...

  3. Verity, looking forward to seeing what you bake. I want to sugerpaste but need an excuse/audience to get me organised. How difficult is it to colour the paste?
    the Sachertorte is great despite the washing up, very pleased wit it.

    Relish, love red velvet cake but it doesn't love me - I find a little goes a long way. I think I need more people to bake for.

  4. Yes - you definitely need an audience! It's fairly easy to colour the paste, although time consuming, and you need to make sure to use paste colourin rather than liquid colouring. I'd practise with white first maybe, or a readymade colour. Look at one of Lindy Smith's books if you want some good instructions on how to do it....

  5. This book looks divine! And I am SO impressed you made a sachertorte! I remember my mum making my sister and I very cute and very large elephant cakes for our birthdays:)

  6. Chasing Bawa, I have a great memory of my mum making a cake that looked like a pumpkin for a Halloween party, and apparently her chocolate cake is legend in the house of one old school friend(my sister and I can't remember it though) we just thought she was so cool for making cakes that looked so good. Your elephant cakes sound brilliant :)

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