Friday, 21 October 2011

Neapolitan marble cake - a touch retro!

This week has been National Baking Week so we've all been baking, haven't we? Well, I have. I made an apple crumble on Monday for dessert and even though I do say so myself, it was gorgeous. And then, I had my first Clandestine Cake Club experience. Click on the link if you want to know more, but basically, people bake cakes (sometimes fitting a theme) and turn up at a venue - sometimes people's houses, sometimes a local coffee shop - with their cake and possibly a guest, drink coffee or tea and eat cake. What is not to like, I ask you?

My local club met in a local coffee shop that recently opened. The theme was Déja Vu (in honour of the name of the coffee shop) - cakes that remind you of something or a particular time. My initial instinct was to go for coffee cake, because that is the one cake my mother used to make. However, someone had already beaten me to it so I had to think a bit harder.

I remember this cake from my childhood but no-one else seemed to know about it. We've all seen marble cake, I'm sure, but I distinctly remember a marble cake the same lurid colours as Neapolitan ice cream - strawberry pink, chocolate brown and creamy vanilla. It might have been something we were given as dessert when I had school lunches, but I can't be sure. When I set out to find this recipe, I could find only Australian recipes, with measures in cups and I like to weigh my ingredients for baking. So I kind of did my own. It's quite simple, based on an all in one sponge recipe and then split into three sections to be coloured or flavoured before mixing and marbling. I practised this cake last week and discovered two things -  one, that I needed more food colouring for the pink part so that the effect was more noticeable, and two, that this cake is best made in the daylight so you can judge the colours. Still, because of the way that cooking works with the colour in, the baked cake didn't look that fancy, so I decided to add marbled glace icing which is basically the same as before.

I only have a 23cm/9in springform baking tin so you need quite a bit of cake mix to fill the tin. It certainly helps to have more than one layer of cake mix placed in the tin to make the marbling more effective. Scale down the recipe if you want a smaller cake and have a smaller tin, remembering you need 55g/2oz of sugar, butter and self-raising flour for every large egg you use, and you need about 1tsp baking powder adding for about every 3 eggs you use.

Just let me mention what I use for vanilla flavouring. You can use vanilla extract or essence if you like but I always keep a used vanilla pod in a plastic tub filled with caster sugar so that I always have vanilla sugar to hand for use in nearly all my baking. It lasts forever!

Oh, and expect a lot of washing up. Kids love this because there are 3 times as many bowls to lick clean but boy, does it generate mess!

Neapolitan Marble Cake
Quantities to fill a 23cm/9in tin, cuts into about 12-16 slices at least

For the cake
5 large eggs
280g/10oz vanilla sugar (or plain caster sugar, adding 1tsp vanilla extract or essence)
280g/10oz soft butter
280g/10oz self-raising flour
1-2tsp cocoa powder
strawberry flavouring
red or pink food colouring

For the icing
150g icing sugar
1 tsp cocoa powder
strawberry flavouring
red or pink food colouring

1. Preheat your oven to 170 C/340F/Gas 3-4. (Go for the lower gas mark if you know your oven errs on the hot side!) Line the base of your tin with baking parchment and grease the sides. Break the eggs into a bowl and prick the yolks. Add the sugar, butter and flour, and mix with an electric hand whisk for a few minutes until the mixture is smooth and full of air. It will look smooth but slightly gritty, a little like a vanilla milkshake made from ice-cream.

2. Divide the mixture into three bowls fairly evenly. You don't need to weigh them but check visually they are similar amounts. Put one bowl to one side. Sift the cocoa powder into the second and stir/fold the powder gently into the mix. (This mixture may become quite dry; in which case, add the tiniest of splashes of milk to loosen it back to the same consistency as the other two bowls). To the third, add a few drops of strawberry flavouring and a few drops of the food colouring. Do this gradually as you can always add more but you can't take away. The mixture needs to look quite bright pink to get the best visual effect as the colour will fade slightly on baking.

3. Now the fun bit. Get three teaspoons and drop dollops of the three cake mixtures into the lined and greased tin. Try to get it as random as possible and try to ensure that you cover the base evenly, leaving no large gaps. Once the base is covered, continue to dollop over the top until all the cake mix is used up, trying to ensure it's fairly level.

Bang the tin on a work surface a few times to dispel any large bubbles, then get yourself one of those wooden skewers you use for kebabs and barbeques (A cocktail stick will also do but it's easier with a skewer). Drag the skewer through the cake mix in the tin. You can make whatever shapes you fancy and it's best to do this quite a few times but not so much that the mixtures are fully blended together, otherwise it will just be a sludge cake, not a marble cake. The cake will look a bit like this.

4. Bake the cake in the oven on the middle shelf until the cleaned skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. This was about an hour for the 5 egg mixture, but around 35 mins for 3 egg mixture. Take out of the oven and cool in the tin for 5 minutes then release from the tin and leave to cool on a rack until it is completely cool. Peel the paper off the bottom of the cake.

5. Time for the icing! Sift 50g icing sugar into each of 3 clean bowls. Sift the cocoa powder into one of the bowls. You need to add 1-2 tsp water to each bowl to get the right consistency of icing, but add it a teaspoon at a time as a little goes a long way. Mix them together to achieve a smooth icing that's not too thick but not too runny either. You'll probably need to add a little more water to the bowl of chocolate icing. If you add too much water and the icing is too runny, just sift a little more icing sugar and mix well to stiffen. Add a further drop or two of strawberry flavouring, and a drop or two of food colouring to one of the bowls of white icing until you reach a bright pink colour. The colour lightens as the icing sets so again, make it a bit brighter to allow for this.

6. Now take 3 teaspoons and drop the icing randomly over the top of the cake. Drag it slightly as you drop the spoonfuls on. Aim to cover as much of the top as possible with the icing and don't worry if the icing dribbles down the sides a little. Once covered, get your marbling tool ready - a clean finger! Drag your forefinger gently through the icing to create a marbled effect, mixing the 3 icings together as before. Using your finger has the added bonus of smoothing the icing out and ensuring that the icing is uniformly covering the whole cake. The icing stays quite wet and glossy for a while so you have a bit of time to fill in any gaps. Leave to set and then serve. This cake keeps well in a tin or wrapped in foil for 2-3 days. Enjoy.

Written for Helen at Casa Costello, who runs Cake of the Week on her blog and who was meant to come to Clandestine Cake Club but had to pull out at the last minute, which was a shame as she makes some beautiful cakes. The evening was lovely and there were some fabulous looking cakes there - and they all tasted fabulous too. It is, however, really easy to get very full very quickly, even if you pace yourself and have small slices, you soon can't eat any more and that is it for the evening! Thank goodness you can take cake home - something the children were very VERY happy about as a place to go and eat nothing but cake is their idea of heaven.

Thanks to Sue and Jane for organising the event. I look forward to the next one!
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