When I got back to work after my long service leave earlier this year, I discovered a cookbook on my desk, courtesy of one of my Professors. This is an excellent way to come back from long service leave and I highly recommend it to any who are considering such a thing. The book was Deceptive Desserts: A Lady’s Guide to Baking Bad! (which I see is actually discounted at the Book Depository right now), and it is a rather brilliant collection of recipes for ill-advised treats – face-hugger cake, cannoli with little kitten faces, Frankenstein’s monster cake, terror-mi-su, cinnamon buns shaped to look like serpents ready to strike, cat-lady jello, and my personal favourite, screaming strawberries in vanilla mousse with chocolate tentacles.
It’s kind of like someone watched a lot of 1980s Dr Who and then read the Australian Women’s Weekly Birthday Cake Book right before bedtime, and then had nightmares.
The illustrations are truly a thing of beauty – Christine McConnell, who is a stylist and photographer as well as a baker, photographs herself in vintage costumes that coordinate with her various disturbing desserts, with the occasional cat in the background, looking appalled.
The recipes are also nicely varied – it isn’t the sort of cake book that gives you six basic recipes at the start and then focuses on how to decorate them; there are recipes for sugar cookies (decorated to look like gravestones), waffle cones, various mousses and jellies, lime meringue cakes, devil’s food cakes, donuts (disguised as fried chicken and vegetables), banana bread, caramel popcorn, peppermint brownies, and apple pie, to name a random assortment. I would note that the recipes are American and thus tend to have rather more sugar than I prefer in my cakes, but this is a minor quibble for an extremely fun and comprehensive book.
My adorable niece turned one today, so last week, I went around to my brother and sister-in-law’s place for a visit, armed with a variety of cake books. We were all in agreement that any reasonable person would want a screaming, tentacled strawberry cake, but reluctantly conceded that Elisabeth was perhaps a trifle young to truly appreciate this (though I maintain that the photos would have been *awesome*).
So we started looking at some of the other recipes. Elisabeth is very fond of bananas – she would really prefer to live on an entirely banana-based diet if she could, and we thus decided to follow the birthday girl’s preferences and make a banana cake. Christine McConnell has a whole section of recipes for fruit-flavoured cakes disguised as fruit, so we figured that this was the way to go.
I wanted to make a couple of different kinds of disguised-fruit for the cake – it adds variety, and is prettier on the plate. My initial plan was to make the caramel apple pies coated in red caramel to look like apples, but then I was completely unable to sleep on Friday night, and I decided that working with boiling caramel on four hours sleep was a bit of an OH&S risk, and abandoned that recipe. I then thought I’d make the lime meringue cakes and the orange cakes, because what if there wasn’t enough food – but by the time I had the orange cakes and banana cakes cooling I realised (uncharacteristically) that this was actually *more* than adequate to the situation, so the lime cakes will wait for another day.
The banana cake recipe was a nice, plain, standard banana bread. I swapped out the melted butter for canola oil, because I prefer my banana cakes made with oil generally, and there was enough butter in the buttercream for my needs. While the cake itself was easy, baking and decorating it was a bit of a pain. You start off by wrapping foil around half a banana, and then removing the banana and using the foil as a mould. Repeat six times. This took about six times longer than the cake itself.
The banana bread is then covered with yellow buttercream (I elected to leave this plain rather than adding banana essence), and then you make a mixture of vodka (or rum, in my case), ground cloves and black food colouring to paint on stripes. I was a little disappointed with the look of the banana cakes initially, mostly because I am awful at painting and the brush was really the wrong shape, but once I piled the cakes up to look like a bunch, the effect was really good.
For the orange cake, I departed from the recipe a bit. I reduced the sugar. I didn’t have oranges, but I had a lot of blood oranges, so I used those instead. But I know from painful experience that blood oranges can make a cake go green if you mix them with a batter that is at all alkaline (and egg whites and bicarb of soda are both alkaline), so to avoid this effect, I substituted a large amount of good, dark cocoa powder for some of the flour. Any green-ness was lost under the chocolate brown!
(Incidentally, the orange cakes were also made in foil moulds made by wrapping oranges. This took even longer than the bananas. If you are making this cake and not trying to make it look like an orange, I recommend just using muffin tins.)
The cakes were then covered in orange-flavoured and coloured buttercream, and once that had set, I brushed a mixture of milk, icing sugar, orange oil, cinnamon and cloves over the top, and added a clove for verisimilitude. It wasn’t very verisimilitudinous, but at least it looked more like *some* kind of fruit.
My niece was extremely pleased with the banana cake, and my aunt was delighted by the orange and chocolate cake, so all demographics were happy. I can’t share the banana bread here – it isn’t my recipe – but I think I’ve messed around sufficiently with the jaffa cake that it’s fair game…
Your shopping list
180g unsalted butter + 250 g for the buttercream. All of it should be nice and soft.
1 1/3 cups caster sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
zest and juice of three blood oranges
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1/2 cup cocoa (Van Houten is good and dark)
3/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp bicarb of soda
pinch of salt
4 cups of icing sugar + 1/2 cup for the glaze
orange oil to taste
2 tbsp milk + 2 tbsp for the glaze
orange food colouring
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
12 whole cloves for decoration
olive oil spray and foil, optional
Now what will you do with it?
First, decide whether you want to go all out and make actual oranges, or whether you are going the sane route and just making cupcakes. I suggest option B under most circumstances. If you go with option B, you will probably need only half of the buttercream, maybe less, and you might skip the glaze entirely, though it really is the least of your worries.
If you are going to make oranges, off you go now and make twelve half-orange moulds with your blood oranges. You will need to spray the molds with olive oil spray. Have fun! Note that blood oranges are generally much smaller than oranges – your molds should sit happily in standard muffin trays.
If you are wisely sticking to cupcakes, line a 12-cup muffin tray with muffin cups, and congratulate yourself on your wisdom. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
Zest the blood oranges, and then juice them. You will need 1/2 a cup of juice, which for me was about 2 1/2 oranges. I drank the rest.
OK, now you can go ahead and cream your softened butter with the caster sugar and orange zest until it is light and fluffy or until you are bored. Ideally, a bit of both. Add the eggs one by one, mixing in between, and beat until light and fluffy.
Pour in the buttermilk and orange juice, and beat again. The mixture might go a bit grainy and curdled at this point, but don’t panic – the flour will sort it out again.
Now add your cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda and a pinch of salt. Beat everything together until well-mixed, and then divide the mixture between your cupcake moulds / muffin cases.
Bake for 25/35 minutes until everything is well-risen and passes the toothpick test. Cool for ten minutes before turning out onto a rack.
To make the buttercream, beat the reamining butter until smooth, and then add the icing sugar, one cup at a time, beating until fluffy. Add the milk, orange food colouring (let’s be honest, we are mixing red and yellow food colouring here. Who has orange food colouring, really?), and a few drops of orange oil, then beat again until you have a pleasingly orange buttercream.
Ice the cakes. If they are cupcakes, you only need to ice the tops, which is super easy. Note that spreading icing away from you somehow magically makes it come out smoother. I have no idea why this is, but I was told it at a cake decorating course once, and it really does seem to work.
If you are making oranges, you are going to have to somehow cover the whole cake with buttercream, which is a nightmare, as the cake is soft and doesn’t have a proper crust and the buttercream will try to collect crumbs. You are going to end up with a pretty thick icing, I’m afraid. Refrigerate for ten minutes, then use wet hands to smooth the icing. Put back in the fridge to set.
If you are making the glaze, this is super-easy – just mix together the remaining icing sugar, milk, and spices, add *much more* orange colour and a little more orange oil, and stir it all together. I used a fair bit of red in this batch, to get a nice, blood-orange colour. Brush this all over the icing, and decorate with a single clove. If you are feeling super-posh, you could use the clove to affix a single mint leaf to your orange or your cupcake.
This recipe is nut-free and vegetarian (of course). A gluten-free flour mix would work well here, if need be, and might take this into low-fructose territory, as most people with fructose intolerance are OK with citrus (check first, however).
It’s quite a buttery cake, so making it dairy free would be hard unless you have access to a really good vegan butter substitute, especially for the buttercream. You might get away with Nuttelex for the cake itself, but I’d use something a bit more upmarket for the buttercream (Butter Me Up from the Half Pint Vegan Dairy, for example – their spread tastes like butter). You could then use soy milk for the milk, adding a little vinegar to it and letting it sit for five minutes for the buttermilk.
As for eggs, this is not a good recipe for most of my normal substitutes, so I might leave that for more experienced vegans to make suggestions.
Obviously, this recipe works with ordinary oranges. You might also want to vary the sugar amount – I found this was still a little sweet, even with the cocoa and the more sour orange variety.
But it really is very tasty as it stands…
Happy birthday, Elisabeth!