My preference for cake is always one where the flavour shines through, where the cake is the centre piece with the decoration just adding a touch of personalisation rather than the decoration being the show stopper. However in the real world we all gasp in awe of a beautifully decorated cake. If I’m truly honest my fondant skills need a ‘little’ work so the recent trend of naked cakes suits me down to the ground. I’ve been looking for a reason to make a tiered naked cake and use some fresh edible flowers for a while now and although the season for edible flowers has only just started here in the UK my friends 50th birthday was the perfect opportunity for me to give it a whirl.
I asked lots of advice on Twitter about naked cakes and tiered cakes, I trawled YouTube for videos on tiering techniques, I ummed and aaahed over edible flower suppliers, I rashly purchased a rather pricey wooden board to display it all on and I was ready!
I settled on flowers from Maddocks Farm Organics. I found their website the easiest to understand exactly what I was ordering and they had lots of useful information on using the flowers too. They send the flowers overnight delivery so they are as fresh as possible and they arrived with me by 10am the day I needed them. I kept them fresh in their packaging in the fridge until the last minute.
For the cake itself I decided on lemon cake, its so lovely and fresh and always popular. My favourite lemon cake recipe is by John Whaite I love the filling, very light and fresh and a great alternative to traditional butter cream, but for this cake I left out the sherbet filling. The bottom cake layer I thought would be best as a buttermilk cake, its lasts better than an ordinary sponge and I felt it likely that layer may not get eaten on the night so it would keep well for an extra day or two. This layer was cooked in a 9inch deep spring form tin, using a 4 egg recipe. The next two tiers are 7 and 6 inch tins with a simple lemon sponge recipe. The middle layer has 4 1/2 eggs, no I haven’t managed to find 1/2 eggs, I made two batches of 3 egg batter and made some cupcakes with the other half of the second batch. These layers were made in ordinary sandwich tins, but I would use a deep straighter edge tin next time. The final layer used 1 egg per layer in a straight edged 6 inch tin.
When I baked the cakes I used a baking tray in the base of the oven filled with water – I put this in as the oven is heating up. I also wrap a damp clean towel round the tins. These two things combined help the cake rise evenly and it is less likely that you will need to trim the cake to get a flat top.
To construct the tiers I got plastic dowel and some thin cake boards slightly smaller than the top two layers. Firstly I need to prepare by base, I trimmed off the excess dome on the top of this layer and used this as the bottom of the cake (I forgot to wrap my tin and it rose a little more in the centre than I would have liked). I measured the half way point on the depth of the cake and marked it with a cocktail stick, then gently cut through the centre of the cake with a large bread knife to create two layers. Don’t try to cut all the way through the cake in one go but cut evenly around the edge gradually working your way into the cake.
These recipes leave a lot of zested lemons, and I was recommended to coat the cake layers in sugar syrup to keep them fresh, so I made syrup using equal quantities of lemon juice to sugar brought to the boil for a minute or two and cooled slightly. Then brush all over each layer with a pastry brush.
The filling is a fresh lemon mascarpone mixture, it needs to be whisked until quite firm and left in the fridge to firm up further before use. Don’t over fill your piping bag so that it stays cool between layers. Place a blob of the filling on the board that you want to use. I chose a cut of tree trunk stand as felt it was appropriate to the style of the cake. Place your first layer on the stand and cover with around 1cm of filling and pop on the second layer of this tier. The base of the cake when it cooks should be uppermost on this layer. Use the filling to ensure the layer is as level as possible. Keeping the layers level is key to the tiers not being too wonky and although I wasn’t entirely successful at this I can certainly see where I went wrong for future cakes. To get a nice finished edge to the filling pipe between the layers to fill any gaps and use your finger to smooth round the edges. If any excess filling goes onto the cake you can dab it with a lint free tea towel that has been dipped in hot water, it melts the fats in the filling and dissolves the sugar – more effective than wiping! Although a few blobs around the edges can be covered with your flowers later and add the the ‘natural’ charm of the cake.
To dowel you will need to create a small square of dowels in the cake, put your first piece into the cake and mark the top. Cut to length then use this piece as a guide for the other 3 pieces. Make sure they are all level and insert into the centre of the cake about 3cms square. Put a blob of filling in the centre of the dowel square and place on the thin cake board, check thats its all level and make up the next tier in the same way as the first. Repeat the dowelling and layering process for the final tier and your cake is ready for its flowers.
I kept my flowers refrigerated in the packaging until I absolutely had to finish the cake off and take its to the venue as I had read that they don’t stay so fresh once on the cake. I used the flowers to create a kind of waterfall effect down one side of the cake but also randomly dotted flowers all over the cake so it would look pretty from all angles. I tried to vary the colours and use the small primroses to fill in gaps. I spread a thin layer of the filling on the top of the cake to stick the flowers to and small blobs on the back of the flower to attached them to the base. I used 2 boxes of pansies and 1 box of wild primroses.
Finally the numbers on top were made using a sugar lolly recipe and patchwork cutter numbers. Its a fairly tricky/long winded process so I will blog how to do this another time and I did make some lovely sugar curls to use at the same time but the flowers were too beautiful on their own to add anything else so I didn’t use them.
I had to store the cake in a cold room once it was finished and the flowers did wilt a little before giving it to the birthday girl (about 3 hours) so I don’t think I would use these kind of flowers where the cake needs to be stood around for a long time before cutting, but for this occasion it was perfect.
As a little footnote I’m currently enjoying a wee slice of the base layer two days later which I have adorned with a couple of flowers left over that I had stored in their box in the fridge. The pansies in particular are still very fresh looking. They flowers have a beautifully light fragranced flavour if that makes sense and really added to the light lemon flavour of the cake .
Check out the naked cake page for some examples of other cakes I have created.