I made this cake for my Nan’s 75th birthday.. as is probably evident from the photo. It’s a simple madeira cake, filled with jam, topped with a crumb coat of buttercream and covered with fondant. Contrary to popular belief, the only difference between a madeira cake and a Victoria sponge cake is the amount of flour used. A madeira cake has a little more flour which makes it sturdier and perfect for tiered cakes for example wedding cakes. The higher quantity of flour also means that Madeira cake keeps a little better than a basic sponge, once again, making it perfect for celebration cakes where you might need to bake them the day before decorated and then actually present them to the person the day after that. So if in doubt, Madeira cake!
But this isn’t all about what’s under the fondant icing, let’s talk about what’s on top of it. When I made this birthday cake, I was looking for something simple (that I wouldn’t mess up under pressure… birthday cake pressure is very real people!), but also something elegant. It just so happens that my Nan’s name is Rose, so roses were an obvious decoration choice, and I liked the idea of using flowers to write the number ’75’ not just basic icing, which everybody does. The great thing about this cake decoration is it’s adaptable, obviously the roses could be used to write out any number, or even a name, I personally think this would make a great Mother’s Day cake, you could also go for different flowers, or change it up completely and use stars or hearts.
I’ll start this recipe with the basic Madeira cake, and include my process for decorating the cake like the picture above below. If you like this recipe, have any ideas for how you could modify this simple decoration idea for all ages, or even better if you actually use this recipe.. please let me know in the comments!
- 175g unsalted butter
- 175g caster sugar
- 3 eggs
- 2-3 tablespoons of milk
- 250g self-raising flour, sifted
PRHEAT OVEN TO 180˚C
- Grease and line 2 x 18cm cake tins
- In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar, until pale and fluffy
- Beat in the eggs one at a time (Top tip: add a tablespoon of flour with the last egg to prevent curdling)
- Sift the flour into the bowl, and fold it into the mixture
- Add enough milk to the mixture so it falls slowly from the spoon, do this slowly, remember, you can always add more… you can’t take it away!
- Divide the mixture between your tins
- Bake for 30-40 minutes
Decorating your cake
Now for the fun part. First of all, allow your cake to cool completely. Whilst your cake is cooling make a simple butter cream, you’ll need enough to lightly cover the cake, and also fill the cake (if that’s the filling you’re going for of course). My general rule of thumb with butter cream is twice the amount of icing sugar to butter. For this cake I’d go for around 140g of butter, and 280g of icing sugar with just a dash of vanilla extract, but you may need to use your judgement.
Once the cakes are cooled, carefully cut off any rounded tops with a sharp bread knife, this ensures that you get a perfectly flat cake. Once this is done, pick the flattest surface and use this as the top of your cake.
Next fill your cake, in the birthday cake pictured I used both jam and buttercream, because I’m a sugar fiend and one filling just wasn’t enough. If you’re anything like me, spread jam over the top of one cake, and buttercream over the other before sandwiching the two together.. ensuring your preselected ‘top’ is still at the top!
After filling the cake you’ll want to ‘crumb coat’ it with butter cream. Crumb coating is evenly spreading a very thin amount of buttercream all over the cake. This helps seal all the crumbs into the cake and gives the fondant something to stick to. There are lots of useful tutorials across the internet on how to do this, this is a particularly good youtube video by Howcast. (If you don’t have a spinning plate thing, or a massive spatula, don’t worry… this cake is going to be covered by fondant anyway, just make sure the buttercream is even and the cake doesn’t get damaged in the process)
Once your cake has been crumb coated, you can top it with fondant. Here I’m ashamed to admit I used shop bought, vegetarian fondant, for time reasons. Roll out your fondant into a large circle and using a rolling pin to hold it, carefully drape it over your cake. Starting at the top and working down towards the sides, push out any air bubbles or creases in the fondant using a cake smoother, or other similar flat surfaced utensil. Cut away the excess icing with a knife, and set aside, you’ll need this for making roses later (sorry, no eating the left overs just yet).
Making the roses… After separating the fondant into three, I used gel food colouring to colour the fondant so I had white, pink and red icing to work with. This youtube video, is really helpful if you want to learn how to make fondant roses and there’s not fancy icing tool in sight!
To decorate, first decide what you’re going to put on your cake and where. Before piping the ’75’ in royal icing, I used toothpicks to lightly indent the top of the fondant and then used that as a guide for the icing. I then iced each part of the number a bit at a time, then whilst the icing was still wet I placed the roses where I wanted them, I also used pink and white sugar ‘pearls’ to fill in the space in-between the roses. Once the ’75’ was finished, I blobbed royal icing at the top of the cake, and placed the 3 larger roses, finishing with little royal icing ‘leaves’. To do the leaves I used a piping tip with a little groove in the middle, starting at the base of the leaf I applied a lot of pressure and gentle released, gently moving the tip of the piping bag away from and towards the cake until the tip of the leaf was formed.
Finally, finish your cake with an appropriately coloured ribbon… you could even ice the cake board with a ‘happy birthday’ if you’re feeling bold.
That’s it, a fairly simple, very adaptable celebration cake recipe that everyone will enjoy!