Those of you on Instagram may have spotted my epic birthday cake this year. A couple years ago, after I first started to finely-tune my pastry skills, it became fairly apparent that there wasn’t much point in purchasing cakes for birthdays and celebrations anymore. Not necessarily because I would bake one for the occasion, but because I baked so many sweet things when there wasn’t even anything to celebrate that noone even wanted to think about cake when a birthday rolled around!
But I was turning 25. And since I call myself a glutton, do I not need a cake that reflects that side of my personality?
Andy Bowdy of Hartsyard restaurant in Newtown is well known for his epic cakes. Mud cakes sandwiched with mousse, topped with edible flowers, blow-torched meringue, crumbled chocolates, freeze-dried fruits, you name it. It was a quiet afternoon at work one day and I was idly browsing through his Instagram account, when I decided that I would try and make my own version.
I drew a basic sketch and played around with ideas. The key with something of this proportion that involves a lot of separate elements, is that each of the individual elements has skills or preferably a recipe that you have tried and tested in the past. I had a foolproof Totally Unicorn Beetroot Cake recipe that I intended to use as the base cake recipe. Toppings were easy enough. I had made Salted Caramel Popcorn before, and on thinking about the use of colours I decided to add fresh strawberries, crushed chocolate-covered honeycomb bars, raw cacao nibs, and pieces of the cake left over from levelling the cake for the layers. A chocolate ganache I could make with my eyes closed.
The harder element was the mousse. I’ve made chocolate mousse before, but my mousse is quite aerated from whipped egg whites and I was uncertain as to how it would withstand the weight of the cake layers. I needed a mousse that would set more firmly, and so I did some research and found a recipe that used gelatin sheets. Be warned: the quantities of mousse that the recipe makes is enormous, so be on standby with a few ramekins to catch the remainders of the mousse to be enjoyed at another time.
So, if you really do feel like attempting this monstrosity…here you go. This recipe is not for the light-hearted, and make sure you have plenty of friends and family to split this amongst. I can guarantee that once you’ve made this, you will not want to eat too much of it yourself! It’s rich, decadent, and completely over-the-top. Make this the early evening before you want the cake.
You will need:
For the cake:
- 300g beetroot, leaves trimmed;
- Disposable rubber gloves, for peeling the above beetroot;
- 3 eggs, whisked;
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste;
- 125g butter;
- 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped;
- 200g caster sugar;
- 220g plain flour, sifted;
- 2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda;
- 100g chocolate drinking powder, sifted.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celcius. To make the beetroot puree, wrap each beetroot in foil with one teaspoon of water in each parcel. Place in a heatproof dish or on an oven tray and roast for 30-45 minutes, depending on the size of the beetroot. It’s ready when you can pierce it easily with a skewer, like a potato.
Remove the foil wrapping from the beets and cool for five minutes. Don your gloves and rub the skins off. Weigh out 250g of the beets, then chop roughly and puree in a blender. Cool for about five minutes then whisk in the eggs and vanilla until combined.
Turn the oven down to 170 degrees Celcius. Line a 20cm springform cake tin with baking paper. A springform pan is essential for the setting of the cake later.
Heat the butter in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. When melted, remove from the heat and add the chocolate. Stir or whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth, then add to the beetroot mixture and whisk until combined.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the dry ingredients briefly, then add the chocolate beetroot mixture and stir with a whisk until just combined.
Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50 minutes, OR until an inserted skewer comes out clean. Cool for five minutes in the tin before turning the cake out onto a cake rack.
Once the cake is completely cool, slice the top so that it’s flat and retain the cut-offs. Evenly slice the cake into three layers and lay the layers out.
For the Salted Caramel Popcorn:
- 1/2 cup popping corn;
- Three tablespoons of vegetable oil;
- 40g butter;
- 1/4 cup honey;
- 1/2 cup caster sugar;
- 2 teaspoons of sea salt flakes.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. To judge whether the oil is sufficiently hot you can drop a kernel of corn into the oil and it’s hot when it spins slowly, or else bend down at observe the pan at eye-level and the surface will ripple when ready. Pour in the rest of the popping corn, shake the frying pan to distribute them evenly over the base, seal with a tight-fitting lid and reduce your heat to low. As the corn begins to pop, shake the frying pan at regular intervals.
When the corn is popped, tip it into a large bowl. Disregard the unpopped corn. Prepare a large baking tray by spreading it with a sheet of baking paper.
In a small saucepan, pour in the honey, sugar and cut up the butter over it. Place it over a low heat and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. Continue to cook, without stirring, for a few minutes or until the frothy mixture begins to turn a glorious shade of dark amber. Working quickly, pour the hot caramel over the popcorn in the bowl, stirring with a large spoon to coat the popcorn.
Still working quickly, spread the caramel popcorn out on your prepared tray. Scatter the sea salt flakes over the tray and allow to cool completely before breaking it up. Seal in an airtight container in preparation for decorating. You can eat some, if you like too 😉
For the chocolate mousse:
- 400g milk chocolate, coarsely chopped;
- 200g dark chocolate, coarsley chopped;
- 4 + 1/4 cups (1.25 litres) thickened cream;
- 1 x 5g gold-strength gelatine leaf.
For the mousse, place all of the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until melted then cool slightly. Meanwhile, bring 1/4 cup of cream to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat. Soak the gelatine leaf in cold water for 3-4 minutes before squeezing out the excess water, adding it to the hot cream and stirring until dissolved.
Using an electric mixer, whisk the remaining cream to soft peaks. I can tell you now, whisking one litre of cream can take some time. Be patient. Working quickly, add the chocolate and gelatine mixture to the cream and whisk for 1-2 seconds or until the chocolate is incorporated. Ensure that you scrape it up from the bottom as the chocolate can sit at the bottom of the cold cream and solidify, leaving you with a lumpy mousse.
Now onto the delicate task of assembling the cake. This needs to be done immediately after the mousse is made to allow it to set. Put down a cake board base and the bottom layer of the cake. Cut a piece of baking paper of 20cm high x the circumference (outer edge) of the cake pan you used for the beetroot cake. Wrap this around the edge of the base layer and tape into place. This will hold the mousse in place once it’s spooned in. Gently lower over the springform-tin cylinder over all of this and clip into place.
Spoon in two large ladles of the chocolate mousse and smooth the surface to flatten evenly. Top with the second layer of the cake, then two ladles of mousse, then the last layer of cake, then top with one ladle of mousse and smooth evenly. Refrigerate overnight.
The next morning, you can gently undo the springform-side and slide it up and off, then take off the baking paper.
Now onto the fun part. The decorating!!! Feel free to use your own chocolates or sweets. I found this savoury-sweet combination worked incredibly well.
You will need:
- 1/2 cup thickened cream;
- 100g dark chocolate, chopped;
- 10g butter;
- Beetroot cake pieces, reserved from levelling the cake (above);
- Two Cadbury Crunchie Bars, smashed;
- 5-6 strawberries, some quartered, some halved;
- cacao nibs;
- Salted caramel popcorn (above).
Make the ganache by melting together the cream, dark chocolate and butter in a small saucepan until smooth and glossy. Allow it to cool to room temperature before pouring it over your cake.
Then, pile everything else on top as artistically as you like. I wanted to go for height, and so positioned some of the excess cake pieces in the middle to give it some elevation and worked around that.
Place it in the fridge to set for an hour or so to allow the ganache to harden. This prevents everything from sliding around.
I love creating; I truly do.
Enjoy your week lovelies xx