My son’s class is having a bake-off in aid of a cancer charity, and he has begged me to take part.
This is problematic. I don’t do pretty cake. I do tasty cake – I’ve shown you the brownie and the ginger cake; I also like making lemon drizzle or rice crispie cake (of which more later) or Victoria sponge or rocky road or millionaire’s shortbread. I like making these because I like eating them. I do the kind of cake that makes people say “Well, you can tell it’s home made. Is there any more?”
Occasionally I am called upon to make a cake in a Shape. Children have birthdays and ask for cakes with knights and dragons, or jungle animals, or a tv character. And we sigh, and remember that it’s an honour and a compliment to be asked … and stay up until stupid o’clock swearing we’ll never touch fondant again.
However, there are some workarounds. Pictured is an example of a “jungle animals” cake as requested by my then-3-year-old. No fondant modelling, just liberal buttercream to cover up the architecture. A number three is relatively easily carved out of two round cakes – practise first using any paper you can find, cut into circles the size of your tins, then use that as a template and use a bread knife to cut the excess away.
Redundant cake. Oh dear.
It was also remarkably easy to slice because it was effectively a big long thin shape. Don’t try to be clever – slice a party cake into a grid, or for small parties send a chunk home so everyone gets some.
Or forget shaping altogether and go for a very few easy models and a bit of imagination. A few Lego men go a long way, as do fondant ants. Oh the ants.
Since then, though, I’ve learned the trick for Making A Shape Cake: don’t use cake. Use rice krispie cake, greased foodsafe gloves (or greased sandwich bags but that’s more fiddly) and mould while it’s still warm.
Two bags of dairy toffees, unwrapped (the most laborious part of the make)
One bag of marshmallows
Box of puffed rice cereal
Melt the toffees in a large bowl – I used a microwave on one-minute blasts. When they are nearly melted, add the marshmallows and a knob of butter and heat again until all melted.
Quickly mix together, then fold in the rice cereal around 100g at a time, until the toffee mixture is well distributed.
Put on your plastic gloves (or sandwich bags) and rub on a further knob of butter as though you’re applying hand cream. Liberally, all over. Then take handfuls of the mixture and mould into the shape you need. Work quickly and smoothly, and leave to set.
This makes good rock, walls, clouds, etc. You can fondant or ice over the top if you are just using it architecturally, but you need to let it cool first.
My birthday cake? Listen: I have three sons. My next birthday cake is going to be a classic Barbie doll with a ball dress made of sponge and badly-piped buttercream, because I’m not sure I’ll get to make one otherwise. And it’s going to be a bit wonky, but it’s going to be tasty cake, too.