Let’s just start by saying that yes, it’s sweet. Outrageously sweet. Ridiculously sweet. For my palate, it’s pretty much too sweet. But having said that… it’s astonishing how well the flavours go together, because I really wouldn’t think you could combine the flavours of spearmint leaf lollies, jaffas, banana lollies, freckles, redskins and musk sticks and get anything other than a stomach ache.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. We should really start by travelling back in time to that episode a month or two back when Bernard Chu of Lux Bite (a patisserie that I *clearly* need to visit) brought his Lolly Bag Cake in to MasterChef for the contestants to make.
Take a moment to look at that recipe. It is, as you will see, quite insane. It runs for four pages in small print, and the ingredients list is a mad mix of cheap lollies from my childhood and the sort of specialist and / or gourmet ingredients that one can only buy at cooking schools or specialist shops.
Oh, and there are one or two supermarket items in there, too.
Now, I’ve been watching MasterChef since it started five years ago, and I’ve always been both fascinated and puzzled by the elaborate desserts featured in the pressure tests. I’m fascinated because I love the idea of making something with so many different components in it, but bemused because the contestants always express such terror of these desserts.
Yet, they have a recipe, and all the ingredients and the equipment they could need. Admittedly, they don’t have much time, and the recipes are intensely complicated, but they aren’t actually all that difficult, at least to my eye. This is doubly confounding because the same contestants who complain most about these recipes are entirely relaxed when dealing with seafood, boning chickens, or inventing a wide array of savoury dishes that I frankly find far more fiendish. Give me a recipe for a complicated dessert any day.
Having said that, I’ve never actually put my money where my mouth is with regard to these opinions, mostly because the specialist ingredients are such a pest to get hold of, so when the Melbourne Food Ingredient Depot posted the very next day that they were selling ready-made packs of the harder to find ingredients at a discount, it was clearly a Sign and a challenge. I bought a pack immediately…
…And then it sat in my pantry for a month, waiting for me to find the time to actually attempt this recipe. Actually, it wasn’t so much time as freezer space – when you have to set four of the eight layers in the freezer and one in the fridge, and the layers are 33 cm square, space quickly becomes an issue. Also, of course, the fact that the cake needs to be kept in the freezer until the last minute, and the equally relevant fact that I’d rather not invite large numbers of people around to eat in the Kitchen of the Apocalypse (i.e., what my kitchen would look like after serious baking experiments) meant that I needed to choose my occasion wisely.
So when two friends of ours decided to celebrate their joint birthday this Saturday – two friends of ours who live a mere five minutes away by car – the opportunity was irresistible. What better cake for a birthday party than one constructed entirely of lollies? It was on.
And then at the last minute, I remembered I was meant to be spending all Saturday afternoon at a baby shower. Could this cake actually be done in a home kitchen in one morning? Perhaps in another kitchen it could be, but probably not in mine.
The first challenge this recipe presents is one of equipment and of space. In theory, one requires 7 x 33cm square silpat trays with 1 cm sides, a stand mixer with several different attachments, a blow torch, a candy thermometer, a blender, a stick blender and a thermomix. Of these items, I have the blenders and an unreliable candy thermometer. I do, however, have a very good KitchenAid hand mixer and two cookie sheets with 1 cm sides. They are not 33 cm square, but they are 38 by 27cm, which gives them a surface area that is only slightly smaller. It was clear that I would have to get each layer or set of two layers firmly set and able to sit without the support of a tray before I could start the next, however.
In terms of freezer space, I was able to clear enough that I could sit one tray flat on the upper rack, another one precariously perched on top of other frozen goodies on the lower rack and, for fillings that were not too heavy, I could also precariously balance two tins on the edges of one tray and stack another tray on top of that. So I could potentially have two things freezing in trays and one frozen thing out of its tray but in baking paper on the lower level if I had to.
This wasn’t quite enough but it was a start. I therefore looked at the recipe again and planned my attack: if I started with the banana syrup and the two jocondes (which do not need freezing, yes!), I could make the freckles layer once the first joconde was out of its tray and assemble joconde, syrup, freckles layer, and set these in the freezer overnight.
I started with the banana syrup, since I figured it would be almost impossible to fail at, and I wanted to boost my courage before starting! This is basically done by dissolving banana lollies in water over a medium heat until you have a ludicrously yellow syrup.
I set it aside to cool while I made the joconde. The joconde is essentially a fairly flat sponge cake with almond meal through it. Whether you find this intimidating or not is really your call, but I will say that trying to measure out precisely 340 g of eggs is a pest. One ends up trying to fish out part of a yolk. And then measuring out precisely 200 g of egg whites is even worse, because my whites were quite fresh and had no intention of being halved or divided by any other fraction!
I am a bit intimidated by sponge cakes, so I felt the need to repeatedly inform Andrew that the joconde was the foundation of the whole recipe, and if I didn’t get it right, I could be going home! Andrew tried to explain that I was already at home, but I think he was missing the point. On purpose.
Well, I won’t be going home this time, because the jocondes turned out quite respectably, so I painted one with chocolate and put it in the freezer to set while I had fun with the freckles crunch, which was hands-down the best thing about this recipe. It has chocolate! And hazelnut paste! And hundreds and thousands! And feuilletine! And popping candy! (I’ve never had popping candy and it is my new favourite thing ever.) Best of all, all you have to do is melt the chocolate and hazelnut paste together, mix in everything else and freeze it.
Of course, freezing it did mean balancing the tray precariously on the aforementioned tins above the chocolate sponge, which was a little scary.
While I was waiting for that to set, I figured I might as well start melting down spearmint lollies to make mint paste for the buttercream. I have to say, the buttercream recipe can best be described as needlessly baroque, but there you have it. After blending the half-melted lollies, I wound up with a pale green, strangely elastic mint paste. Somewhat disturbing.
The crunch was still not set, so I decided to make the jaffa ganache, too. This is another fairly simple recipe – a standard ganache with bonus mandarin concentrate and a gelatin leaf to give it more hold-together-ish-ness. Easy.
Then I put the joconde onto a board, spread the banana syrup onto the non-chocolatey side, warmed the surface of my freckle crunch with a hairdryer (who needs a blowtorch?) to help it stick, and flipped it down onto the joconde, which had shrunk away from the sides of the tray a bit, but that was OK. Incidentally, one spends a lot of time with this cake flipping very large and unwieldy layers squarely on top of each other, and it is *terrifying*.
At this point, I put the first two layers of the cake into the fridge, washed up, and called it a night, with three layers, one syrup and the paste done, and approximately an hour and a half down.
Yesterday morning, I got up somewhat early, and got to work on the mint buttercream, the next layer up from the freckles. The mint buttercream, I will tell you now, is a *pain*. You essentially make a custard (starting by whisking the now solid and chewing-gum-like spearmint paste into the eggs – I really should have melted it down, and had to resort to chopping it up), into which you eventually beat insane quantities of butter and some egg-whites.
At this point, you have a faintly green paste that tastes of butter, though the truly imaginative mind might detect a hint of mint in the background. One is then supposed to add eucalyptus oil and green colouring. I didn’t have eucalyptus oil, and instead went with peppermint oil, because really, while a subtle mint taste is good, I did want *some* sense that the mint was present!
I now had a freezer problem, because the buttercream was too heavy to sit on the tins as a top layer without tipping the tins into the lower layer of buttercream, and the jaffa ganache was already occupying the other freezer space on the lower shelf. After several demonstrations of this unfortunate fact, I pulled out one lot of buttercream and flipped the ganache on top of it, so that the buttercream could set already attached to its next layer. (This cunning plan also avoids hairdryer time later on!)
This whole process somehow managed to take me an hour and a half, though I may have lost some time somewhere – I wasn’t really awake at that point.
I then started boiling down the musk sticks for the marshmallow.
This was fun. You boil the musk sticks with water, and sugar until they form a hot pink syrup, which you then boil to 103°C, or approximately this, since my thermometer was in a mood and I had to guess. Bright pink bubbles are awesome!
Then you pour this over softened gelatine, and beat it all for what the recipe claimed would be ’15 – 20 minutes until pale, light and very fluffy’. Or, as one might more technically describe it ’30+ minutes, until your mixer starts smelling worryingly like burned rubber, and you decide that this is fluffy enough’.
At about the burned rubber mark, I got a bit scared, and left it for a few minutes while I tried my nerves by flipping the ganache and mint layers onto my freckle layer (once again using my trusty hair-dryer for purposes never considered by the manufacturer). It then got another layer of joconde. By now, it was beginning to look pretty good in my freezer.
Then I went and beat up the marshmallow some more until I thought better of it, and set it in the fridge – thankfully! – to set.
I cleaned up again, and boiled down redskins and measured out other ingredients for the glaze, which ended up a little mottled, because my stick blender wasn’t very happy about any of this business.
And then I quickly spread the joconde with more banana syrup (which had solidified to jelly over night, making the effect more jam-like), and performed the nerve-wracking task of flipping the very soft, wobbly, marshmallow over the top.
The last layer was the second tray of mint buttercream, and then it was off with me to a baby shower for the rest of the afternoon.
The final stage for this cake is trimming it down, double-glazing it with the redskin ganache, and making red sugar spirals to go on top.
Trimming it down worked OK, but would have worked better if everything I touch didn’t turn out crooked. But then I had to shift the whole cake onto a rack for the glaze. This turned out to be less horrifying than expected because of the nice, solid layer of chocolate under the joconde. I’d been wondering what that was for, and now I know…
I heated the ganache and gave it a first layer of glaze, which I was convinced would melt everything into a puddle but actually didn’t, and returned it to the freezer while I made the spirals.
You may have noticed that there are no spirals on this cake. There is a reason for that. I heated the isomalt to 180°C or thereabouts, added the red colouring, and tried to knead it all with my two layers of gloves and a heat-proof spatula. And then I tried wrapping it around things like a rolling pin, or making curls of it, or doing anything with it, but firstly, this is not my area of expertise, and secondly, it stuck like fury to anything it touched, especially my gloves, so I didn’t get too far.
The results were not impressive, unless you are impressed by the fact that 24 hours and much scrubbing later, my hands are still red despite my wearing two layers of rubber gloves. That was some heavy-duty food colouring.
I gave up on this whole business as a bad deal, and pulled the cake out for its second glaze. Then, of course, I had to shift it off the tray, and this was not at all easy, because by now, I was dealing with a less flat surface (the rack) and very sticky sides (the cake).
Some repair work had to be done. And some decorating, of course…
And from there, it was pretty much straight to the party, to share with thirty or so daring individuals who were not afraid of sugar. And a six-year-old, who had her slice of the cake and then proceeded to run very fast up and down the corridor for about fifteen minutes…
We managed to get through about half the cake. I left a quarter of it with the household, and took a quarter home with me, to share at today’s baby visit, and possibly to improve the horror of six consecutive interviews at work tomorrow.
And so to bed. Though after all that sugar – and seriously, just smelling it all day was making me hyper – sleeping is easier said than done…
~~~~~~~~~~~~~One year ago: Cake Preview Two years ago: In which I am famous, and also have yummy cheese