Dhaka, Bangladesh
Rainbow tower and glazed chocolate mousse

Rainbow tower and glazed chocolate mousse

I recently had an argument with my four-year-old niece. I had asked her what sort of birthday cake she would like me to make her. She turned to me, face contorted with a mixture of shock and rage, and wailed "I don't want your cake! I want Tesco cake." Eventually, after some tears, the little despot relented. "A rainbow cake that's the castle from Frozen," she began. "In the shape of a love heart." "Rainbow cake" was what I chose to remember, correctly assuming that she would forget about the rest by the time the big day arrived. Rainbow cakes were popular a few years ago, but the amount of food colouring required - with ingredients such as silicon dioxide and propylene glycol - didn't quite fit the wholesome vibe I was imaging (I once came across a US brand with the ominous warning "May cause ADHD"). I briefly toyed with the idea of using natural colours instead. Powdered freeze-dried strawberry for red, matcha tea for green. Blue proved to be my downfall, though. The best I could find was a recipe that involved boiling red cabbage with bicarbonate of soda to yield a blue soup. Given the homemade cake meltdown (I know, ridiculous), I thought a cabbage cake a step too far. My guilt at feeding her E numbers was somewhat mitigated by the realisation that there is probably no more suitable time to be eating luridly, Technicolor cake than your fifth birthday party. A child's birthday cake is an exercise in nostalgia: layers of sponge, jam and buttercream. However, buttercream - a beaten mix of sugar and butter - is often a sickly sweet letdown destined to be pushed to side of an otherwise good cake. The version I'm using here is a big improvement. Known by many different names (roux buttercream, thrifty buttercream and, the most descriptive, depression-era buttercream), it comprises a cooked mixture of flour and milk, which is then beaten into the butter and sugar. The result is a milder icing that is smoother on the palate and without grittiness. A warning, however: there are quite a few stages to this cake and it takes a while to make. If you're a stressed-out parent with little time to spare, then do what my sister does and "delegate" the task to a family member. The second cake was supposed to be an adult birthday cake yet, on reflection, most of the adults I know would be overjoyed to get the rainbow cake. Where the rainbow cake is colourful fun, the other is a dark and luxurious chocolate mousse cake, covered with ganache and then a shiny mirror glaze. The ganache and mirror glaze are completely optional but aren't difficult to do and the effect is so impressive that it's worth the extra effort. It would work well as a birthday cake if you have more sophisticated friends than I do but, otherwise, it's a perfect dessert. Just be sure to serve it cold. Rainbow meringue tower (Makes one tall 8in cake that should be enough for at least 20 children) For the sponge (makes 6 sponge layers) 450g unsalted butter (at room temperature) 450g caster sugar 9 medium eggs 3 tsp vanilla extract 450g self-raising flour Gel paste food colouring in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple For the buttercream 4 tbsp plain flour 280ml whole milk, plus up to 4 tbsp 375g unsalted butter (at room temperature) 375g icing sugar (fondant, if possible) 3 tsp vanilla extract For the meringues 6 medium egg whites (at room temperature) tsp cream of tartar 300g caster sugar Food colouring To assemble 200g strawberry jam Preheat the oven to 180C fan/gas mark 6. Grease two 8in sandwich tins with butter and line the bases with greaseproof paper. Using a standing or handheld mixer, beat together 150g each of the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Then add three of the eggs followed by the vanilla and finally the flour. Set aside half the mixture into a separate bowl with some red food colouring. Colour the remaining half orange. Pour each mixture into separate cake tins, level out the surface, and bake for 12-14 minutes until a skewer placed in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cakes to cool then remove from their tins. Repeat the process for the remaining 4 tiers. To make the buttercream, whisk the flour with 280ml milk using a balloon whisk, until completely smooth. Then stir gently in a saucepan over a medium heat for a few minutes until it thickens into a paste. Pour into a bowl, cover with cling film and pop it in the fridge until completely cooled. Meanwhile beat together the butter and icing sugar until pale and fluffy, then add in the vanilla and cooled flour paste. The mixture will look unpleasantly curdled at first. Keep going and it should start to look like buttercream again. Add a little more milk to loosen it if necessary. For the meringues, use an electric whisk to whip up the egg whites with the cream of tartar until frothy, then gradually add in the sugar while continuing to whisk until it is all incorporated and it reaches the firm peak stage. Take a tablespoon of the meringue, mix it with one of the food colours and then paint a stripe down the inside of a piping bag. Repeat for the other five colours then split the remaining meringue mix between the six piping bags. Pipe blobs of meringue just bigger than a 10p piece on to baking sheets lined with parchment paper (not greaseproof - they will stick). Bake for 1 hour at 100C fan/gas mark then remove and allow to cool. Now to assemble the cake: spread a layer of buttercream over the purple sponge followed by 1/6th of the jam. Top with the blue sponge and continue until you have a rainbow tower. Coat the sides and top of the cake with buttercream and stick the mini meringues all over the cake. Glazed chocolate mousse cake (Serves 12) For the cake 225g unsalted butter 350g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) 200ml double cream 6 medium eggs 230g caster sugar For the ganache 150g dark chocolate 150ml double cream For the dark chocolate mirror glaze 8 sheets leaf gelatin 200ml double cream 200ml water 250g caster sugar 100g cocoa Fresh berries to decorate First, line a 9in cake tin with greaseproof paper. Then cover the outside with a double layer of aluminium foil being careful not to poke any holes in it (lest you end up with chocolate soup instead of cake). In a saucepan over a low heat, melt together the butter, chocolate and cream, stirring often to prevent the chocolate from overheating. Set aside to cool as soon as everything has melted. Using an electric whisk, beat the eggs and sugar together until pale, frothy and increased in volume. This will take several minutes. Once the chocolate mixture has cooled and is no longer hot to touch, gently fold it into the eggs, being careful not to lose too much of the air. Pour into the prepared tin then place in a large roasting tray with tall sides. Place the whole thing on the oven shelf then pour in enough boiling water to come up to at least halfway up the side of the cake tin. Bake for 1 hour at 120C fan/gas mark then remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Chill in the fridge before carefully removing the cake from the tin. To make the ganache, melt the chocolate with the cream in a saucepan over a low heat. Cool in the fridge and, once thickened, spread it over the top and sides of the cake. Take care to make as smooth a finish as possible as any imperfections will transfer through to the mirror glaze. Pop the cake in the freezer to chill. To make the mirror glaze, place the leaves of gelatin in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. In a pan, whisk together the cream, water, sugar and cocoa with a balloon whisk until completely smooth. Then stir gently with a spatula and bring to the boil. Continue to boil for a minute then remove from the heat. Once the mix is cool enough to touch, stir in the drained gelatin. It should melt quickly. If not, then you may need to gently warm the mix while stirring. Allow it to cool to about 30C. Place the frozen cake over a wire rack and tray and pour over the glaze (you can catch and reuse any fallen glaze). Place it in the fridge to firm up then decorate with fresh fruit before serving.

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