HAPPY BIRTHDAY HANA!!!!

Today is my Sister’s 28th Birthday, so last weekend she was home to celebrate with the family. I’ve mentioned a keenness to develop my confidence in baking before now, so while she was out on a birthday shopping trip with my Mum I set to work making her a birthday cake to be proud of!

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The Chequered Neapolitan birthday cake consists of 3 sponges- one chocolate, one strawberry and one vanilla. It’s brilliant because it actually looks 1000 times more complicated than it really is, so results in you (the baker) receiving far more praise than you really deserve. I wanted to make this for her, as I have a vague child-hood memory of us seeing two-flavour version of this being made on How To (or was it The Handy Men?) when we were little, and then my Mum baking it after sufficient nagging.

You’ve seen me make the strawberry sponge before, back when I was at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, but this time I developed the recipe ever so slightly by adding a tablespoon of powdered Strawberry Milkshake mix… You know, for extra strawberry oomph!

So. Here’s how it’s all done.

Ingredients

For the Vanilla

  • 125g of self raising flour
  • 125g of caster sugar
  • 125g of unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 vanilla pod

For the Chocolate

  • 125g of self raising flour
  • 125g of caster sugar
  • 125g of unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • A hefty couple of scoops of coco powder

For the Strawberry

  • 125g of self raising flour
  • 125g of caster sugar
  • 125g of unsalted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 punnet of strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon of strawberry milk mix

For the Icing

There’s two lots:

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 500g of icing sugar
  • 1 vanilla pod
  • A little water

&

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 500g of icing sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of coco powder
  • A little water

And finally

  • A big bar of dark chocolate
  • Extra strawberries for decoration

And here’s how to do it

Vanilla…

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. Once smooth, beat in the two eggs with vigor.

3. Sift in the flour and stir in gently.

4. Add the seeds of your vanilla pod or buy into the same clever product as I.

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Cost around £5.60 and 1 teaspoon = 1 pod! Brilliant.

5. Pour the mix into a greased, line sandwich tin (the one I used measures 20cm x 4.5cm) and bake for 25 minutes. To check if it’s cooked, poke in a knife. If it comes out clean, job done!

 Chocolate…

Repeat the steps as above, but when you sift in the flour sift in 2 tablespoons of coco powder with it. Obviously, leave out the vanilla.

Strawberry…

1. Cut the tops off each of your strawberries and place in a blender along with a tablespoon of strawberry milkshake mix. Blend to a lumpless goop.

2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar. Once smooth, beat in the two eggs with vigor.

3. Sift in the flour and stir in gently.

4. Gently fold your strawberry goop into the cake mix.

You want to extra grease your cake tin for this one, as the mixture can become quite sticky when cooked! I very much recommend you use greaseproof paper AND butter!

5. BAKE THE STRAWBERRY SPONGE FOR 45-60 MINUTES.

Remember, if you only have one sandwich tin to bake 3 sponges in you must clean it, dry it and re-grease it between each sponge.

Now all your cakes are out the oven and on the cooling rack it’s time to prepare the icing!

1. Cut your butter into cubes, throw in a mixing bowl and cream until soft. Then gradually sprinkle in your icing sugar about 100g at a time and stir in until dissolved into the butter. When making the chocolate icing, add the coco powder with the first 250g of icing sugar. When making the vanilla icing, add the pod at the end.

2. If the mix is proving too stiff or lumpy add a little water- just a teaspoon at a time- and stir until softer. You want the consistency of creamy, smooth mashed potato.

3. Once complete, set to one side. It should be fine, so long as no pesky brother-in-law gets his fingers in it.

Now for the fun.

1. Once all your sponges are cool, it’s time to reform them so they become chequered for slices! So fetch a bowl (smaller in diameter than your sponge) a cup (smaller in diameter than your bowl) and a shot glass (which I would like to think is smaller in diameter than your cup).

cake circles

2. Place the bowl upside down on one sponge, as close to the centre as possible, and gently cut around it. Cut all the way through, then gently lift the ring of sponge you’ve made and place to one side. Now remove the bowl, and repeat the same process with the cup and finally the shot glass. You should now have 3 sponge rings and a sponge middle. Repeat this with all three of your sponges.

3. Now decide on a pattern! I went with chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. Slot the sponges together in this pattern and stick with the pattern vigilantly! So, for example, if you just slotted chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, then the start of your next sponge should go vanilla, strawberry, chocolate, vanilla and then your final sponge should be strawberry, chocolate, vanilla, strawberry!

So, complete one sponge puzzle. Then spread with your choice of icing. Then top that with another completed sponge puzzle. Then spread with the other icing. AND THEN top that with your final completed sponge puzzle.

cake fill

 Good.

Now for the part that’s actually, so far as I’m concerned, challenging and intimidating.

1. Place the sponge on whichever plate you intend to keep it on and fetch the icing bag you got 4 years ago but have never used (surely I’m not the only one?). Apply the nozzle designated specially for cake borders (yes, apparently that’s a thing that someone’s invented) and half fill the icing bag with your vanilla icing (so you have room to twist the top of the bag closed). Now gently pipe a vertical line from the bottom to the top of the cake border and repeat this pattern all the way around, leaving a 1cm gap between each line.

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2. Once you have gone all the way around change the nozzle for a nice small star shaped one that more or less matches the size of your border nozzle. Starting from one of the border strips, do a pretty spiral on the top of your cake all the way to the centre. Begin moving the spiral inward as you get 180 degrees around the sponge, as shown in the picture below.

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3. Now, clean out your icing bag and fill with chocolate. Do with the chocolate exactly as you have done with the vanilla, with the start of your chocolate spiral beginning from the opposite side as your vanilla spiral. Lovely!

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4. Leave the cake in a cool place for 15 minutes or so to ensure the icing is set at least enough for the next step.

5. We’re nearly there! Melt your dark chocolate down in a bowl. Swirl a big, juicy strawberry around inside it and place it to one side. Then, pour the melted chocolate over the top of your cake and poke the strawberry into the middle.

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6. Finally, decorate the sides with strawberries and return to the cool place until it’s time to serve!

At last I was done in the kitchen, and not a moment too soon- Present opening time was about to commence! This was followed, of course, by a lovely dinner cooked by our Mum- her outstanding Paella complete with a special crab claw treat!

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Then, following a few dark-and-stormy-coconuts and various other after dinner drinks, cake time arrived.

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Forever young, she lit up with a child-like excitement!

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I think I did, not only my sister proud, but my Mum too.

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I must say… all in all.. I was quite pleased!

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The following day, we went for a pub lunch with the Grandparents for Part Two of the Birthday Celebrations. My lovely sister was so happy with her cake, she took it to our Grandparent’s house following the lunch to share with them. The day after that, I got this text.

text

What a cutey!

So, with today OFFICIALLY being the day, let me close with saying
HAPPY BIRTHDAY HANA!
Hope you have the marvellous fun-filled weekend you deserve.

Love you lots xxxxx

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