The March meeting of the Stamford Clandestine Cake Club had the theme 'Surprise!', inspired by the venue's Garden of Surprises - we met at the spectacular Burghley House.
I was really lost with this theme (even though I came up with it) and in the end my cake was completely made up. I wanted two flavours that you might not put together and that had different colours, so in a conservative mood I plucked for pistachio and strawberry. Not marmite and celery or anything so adventurous. I decided that the main 'surprise' element of the cake would be the overall design, with a jack-in-the-box type presentation.
The first layer was strawberry sponge. I researched a lot of strawberry sponge recipes but couldn't find the right sort. I really wanted a light sponge that was pink in colour. Most pink recipes used powdered jelly, and that just doesn't exist in Deeping I'm afraid. A lot warned against using just strawberries as the flesh can make the cake unstable. In the end I made a jammy syrup and added that to a normal sponge mix. It looked pink in the bowl, so I didn't add any food colouring - but it wasn't very pink when baked, so colouring would help.
6oz caster sugar
3 eggs beaten
6oz self-raising flour
About 3tbsp strawberry syrup (I heated hulled strawbs with a tbsp of sugar, then sieved)
Beat the sugar and butter until really pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs and beat.
Sieve in flour, then add the syrup.
Bake at 180 (160fan) for about 30 mins.
For the pistachio layer, I added green food colouring, but to be honest I think it was green enough with just the nuts.
250g golden caster sugar
Zest of one lemon
1/2tsp vanilla paste
120g pistachios, ground
100g almonds, ground
40g plain flour
Cream together the butter and sugar.
Add the eggs and beat.
Add the zest and vanilla.
Stir in the flour and nuts.
Bake at 160 (150fan) for about 45 mins (to be honest I lost track of time and it may have had a little longer!)
I sandwiched the layers together with strawberry buttercream, made using some more of the strawb syrup.
I then glazed it all over with melted apricot jam, then covered with ready-to-roll royal icing - my first attempt at a square cake. It didn't go too well and there was quite a lot of patching up!
I designed it as a jack-in-the-box with layers of icing peeling back, painted red and green to hint at the strawb and pistachio underneath. Topped with a home-made teddy holding a 'surprise!' sign.
The strawb layer didn't taste as much of strawb as I'd have liked, but it was nice and fluffy. The pistachio layer worked well and was surprisingly moist. I think I'd do the pistachio again, perhaps with a fluffy buttercream with cream cheese. The strawb might be nice as cupcakes, with more strawberries - perhaps topped with fresh cut ones.