I couldn't help but eavesdrop on recent conversation between Mr NQN and his brother. Mr NQN had his brother on speakerphone so I couldn't avoid the conversation really. It was conducted at a leisurely pace with pauses and stops filled with sibling or familial comfort.
Mr NQN: So... yeah no yeah...
The Assman: Yeah...
Mr NQN: So yeah... when you going kiteing next?
The Assman: Yeah umm I dunno...
Mr NQN: Yeah...
Whereas a recent conversation with my friend and I was a completely different matter. It happened at a frantic warp speed and was conducted at a jerky staccato pace with several outbursts and exclaims.
Me: What did you eat today?
Friend: Don't hate me but I tried one of those croissants at that bakery that we were meant to go...
Me: Oh you didn't wait for me!
Friend: I know, but I ate one for you! I have to tell you all about it too...
Me: OK ok so how was it? Was it as buttery and as amazing as you dreamed of? And were they like pastries in Paris? Tell me e v e r y t h i n g...
The cake without legs
No wonder Mr NQN likes his moments of silence. I could talk myself hoarse on the subject of food while he is a man of very few words and dare I say the disparate levels of conversation observed might be the perfect example of the gender divide. One area that we both agreed upon however was this cake. Certainly it was girly, there's no doubt about it but like the can-can it has a broader gender appeal. For the can-can, there are the physical demands of the dance but there is also the slight erotic appeal of skirts flipping skywards-probably moreso when it was invented in the 1820's. Dancers used to wear contrasting black stockings and some were so adept at the can-can that they could dance near a patron and with a well placed and timed kick, knock off their hat.
When I first saw this ruffle cake from the queen of ideas Martha Stewart I was instantly smitten. She uses a lemon cake in the centre and creates an effect with a two toned icing. The first thing I thought of were those voluminous layers of skirts with the can-can dance and remembering the Alice in Wonderland class at Planet Cake last year I decided to do a can-can cake in a celebratory strawberries and champagne flavour inspired by cooklikeachampion.
I made this cake for my friend The Second Wife who had a quiet birthday the last week-by that I mean she should have had a street parade and a public holiday in her glorious honour, in my humble opinion. Fittingly, she's also the one that gave me the Eiffel tower print in the background for Christmas. The possibilities for this cake, with or without legs are endless. They may fall more towards more the female gender with a hen's night being the first option that comes to mind after a birthday. Or they can go for the male side should you be baking a cake for a buck's night where a Barbie popping out of the top might be an idea.
The cake flavour itself is certainly no afterthought-the strawberries and champagne were a deliberately celebratory choice. The cake itself is a very soft and quite dense cake as you need density to hold up all of that icing. It is filled with real, fresh baked in strawberries as well as being sandwiched together by the champagne buttercream and fresh strawberry slices. And speaking of the buttercream, the syrupy champagne reduction is a gorgeously lightly tangy addition to a regular buttercream icing. You could of course use Swiss meringue buttercream but I wanted something just a little bit easier. You see I'm a bit lazy that way...
Oh and in some exciting news, a few days ago I was interviewed on the radio in Ireland on Tom Dunne's Newstalk show. He was a lot of fun to be interviewed by and we talked about bacon jam, cheeseburger soup and the more unusual items on the blog. You can listen to it here on part 1, Thursday31st of March and my interview starts at 22:55 minutes and goes for about 7 minutes. And please excuse my excessive giggling-I do that when I'm nervous! Listening back to your own voice is something that I try best to avoid and is only bettered in terrifyingness by looking back on video of yourself-eek!
So tell me Dear Reader, are you a very chatty or quiet person on the phone?
The Strawberries & Champagne Can-Can Cake
Degree of difficulty: high and requires overnight drying of parts
Time: 30 minutes to make legs (dries overnight), 50-60 minutes for cake, 1 hour to make and pipe icing onto cake
For the legs:
- 100grams or so of white fondant
- a little pink and a little brown colouring gel
- black colouring powder mixed with a tablespoon of vodka
- a paintbrush
Step 1 - You will need to make the legs first so that they can dry overnight and harden so that they can stand upside down. Knead the white fondant until soft and pliable and then add a tiny amount of pink and brown gel. I did this the evening before while watching tv and I knew when I had hit skin tone when my husband started to look at the sausage of fondant in my hand with alarm. Yep it looked like a penis. Jackpot!
Step 2 - Roll out two sausages of fondant in a slender shape-these will be legs. Pinch the ends to make feet and allow to dry on a piece of parchment overnight. Turn over the legs carefully during the drying process so that all sides dry.
Step 3 - When dry, mix the black colouring powder with the vodka and paint shoes on the feet. Voila, you have legs!
For fresh strawberry cake 10cms/4 inches in diameter, double or triple if necessary if you want a larger cake:
- 90g/3 ozs butter at room temperature plus extra for greasing
- 2/3 cup caster or superfine sugar
- 1 cup plain all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons cornflour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- pinch of salt
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 1/3 cup buttermilk
- 1/3 cup pureed fresh (or frozen but thawed) strawberries plus 2 extra strawberries to put in the middle of the cake
Step 4 - Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line two 10cms round cake tins with baking paper (use a non stick spray or butter to adhere the paper).
Step 5 - In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium high for 4 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add sugar. Add eggs one at a time ensuring to incorporate the eggs completely after each addition. Then put the mixer on the slowest speed and alternately add flour, strawberry puree and buttermilk starting and ending with flour. It may look slightly curdled but that is fine.
Step 6 - Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Cool completely. Cut off the tops of the cakes so that you get a completely even surface. The cake is delicious so the cut off bits are the cook's treat ;) You will end up sandwiching the two halves with the cut surfaces facing each other as shown.
For simple champagne buttercream:
- 1 cup champagne or prosecco (I used Prosecco-it would be a waste of champagne unless you happen to be replete with the stuff-lucky you if you are!)
- 225g/1 cup butter
- 8 cups of icing sugar, sifted
- a little rose pink colouring gel
- You will also need a petal tip
Step 7 - Firstly reduce the champagne to 2 tablespoons of syrup. Watch it as it can burn or cook off very quickly once it reaches a certain stage. You should get a thick syrup that looks like a light caramel. Cool completely.
Step 8 - In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter on medium high until smooth for 2 minutes. Add the champagne syrup and half of the icing sugar on slow speed and once it has combined beat it on high for 4 minutes. Add the remaining icing sugar and beat for an additional 3-4 minutes until it becomes very smooth.
Step 9 - To assemble the cake. Spread both halves with a some buttercream and take the two extra strawberries and slice them up and place them on top of the buttercream and sandwich together. Then using an offset palette knife spread a thin layer of buttercream on top and on the sides of the cake. This is to give the ruffle icing something to adhere to. Refrigerate.
Step 10 - Fit a piping bag (a ziplock bag won't do for this icing) with a petal tip. Now the best way for me to show you the technique is point you to sweet and saucy's video here because it explained everything very well. Also I was at home alone when I did this so I couldn't quite aim the camera and do the icing at the same time. Follow her instructions and trust me, this works a dream! Even for the uncoordinated like me!
Step 11 - Poke two holes in the top-I used the thick end of chopsticks and I made sure that the holes were the right size to fit the legs in-you don't want to use the legs to push or dig a hole as they are delicate. Gently push them into the cake and your can-can cake is done!