Celebratory Chocolate, Caramel and Mango Layer Cake

When I think of a showstopper, this is probably the cake I have in mind. With its 4 sponge layers, each with a varying intensity of caramel and chocolate, chocolate ganache coating, choux buns filled with cream and mango custard and meringues on top, you could hardly envisage such a cake for a non-celebratory occasion. The truth is, however, that as difficult, complicated and lengthy as it may look, this cake is in fact pretty easy to make. Ok, maybe not easy, but straightforward is the word here. Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients. As it says on the tin, there are a lot of stages required here. Just make sure you read the whole recipe first and only then start making it. Believe me, you will love it.

The recipe for the cake appeared a while ago on a BBC Good Food magazine. I have saved it and keep on using time and time again, with minor tweaks here and there, as it’s such an easy and delicious one. The sponges are very moist thanks to the addition of natural yoghurt and the dramatic effect is ensured when you cut through the whole cake to reveal sponges of different colours. This time, seeing as I was making this cake for a birthday, I decided to push the boat out and top it with choux buns and meringues. Mango, caramel and chocolate go surprisingly well together, and the subtle acidity of the custard cuts through the richness of the cake beautifully.

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Ingredients (for the vanilla and chocolate sponges)

  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 5 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

Ingredients (for the caramel and chocolate & caramel sponges)

  • 225g unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 175g light brown sugar
  • 50g dark muscovado sugar
  • 170g plain flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 150ml natural yoghurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted

Ingredients (for the chocolate ganache)

  • 140g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids), finely chopped
  • 140g milk chocolate, finely chopped
  • 300ml double cream

Ingredients (for the choux pastry)

  • 100g plain flour
  • 75g unsalted butter, cubed
  • 175ml water
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • pinch of salt

Ingredients (for the mango custard)

  • 500ml whole milk
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 40g cornflour
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 1 whole mango
  • 1/2 lime, juice only
  • 2 gelatine leaves

Ingredients (for the meringues)

  • 4 large egg whites
  • 240g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • orange food colouring (optional)

Ingredients (to assemble the cake)

  • 1 x 397g can of caramel (Carnation is a good brand)
  • 300ml double cream, whipped to soft peaks
  • 60g dark and milk chocolate, melted over a bain marie
  • Chocolate sprinkles, optional

Method

  1. First of all, start with the mango custard as it will need some time to set in the fridge. Peel and stone the mango, then transfer the flesh to a food processor with the lime juice and purée until smooth. In the meantime, heat the milk and the vanilla in a saucepan over a medium heat. Mix the caster sugar with the cornflour to disperse the latter evenly, then transfer to a heatproof bowl, add the egg yolks and whisk until fully combined and slightly paler in colour.
  2. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft. In the meantime, transfer the mango purée to a small saucepan on gentle heat and bring to the boil, then reduce by approximately half. Set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Once the milk has come to the boil, remove from the heat and, whisking continuously, slowly pour onto the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Make sure to scrape the sides, then gently pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over a medium heat. Make sure the heat under the saucepan is not too high or the eggs will scramble and, most importantly, stir the custard constantly until nicely thickened. You will be able to tell because the custard will cover the back of a spoon and small ridges will form when you stir it.
  4. Transfer the reduced mango purée to the saucepan with the custard and mix to combine. Squeeze the gelatine leaves to remove excess water, then add to the hot mixture and stir to dissolve. Transfer the mango custard to a heatproof bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to cool before putting in the fridge for a good 5 hours.
  5. Now, moving on to the sponges. Start with the vanilla and chocolate one, so as to get the hang of it. Grease the bottom and sides and line the bottom of 2 x 20cm round cake tins with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan).
  6. In the bowl of a freestanding food mixer equipped with the paddle attachment or in a bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until slightly paler in colour and fully combined. Slowly add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla bean paste too. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, ground almonds and baking powder, then add to the bowl while mixing on low speed. Finally, add the yoghurt and mix well to combine. The mixture should be very creamy and full of volume.
  7. Divide the mixture into two, pouring half into one of the prepared tins (this will be the vanilla sponge). Pour the other half into a bowl, then sprinkle in the cocoa powder and mix well to combine with a rubber spatula, ensuring not to knock all of the air out of the sponge. Transfer the chocolate mixture to the other prepared tin. Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes, but do check them after 20 minutes to ensure they don’t overbake. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.
  8. To make the caramel and chocolate & caramel sponges, prepare 2 more tins as outlined above. Cream the butter and sugars together, then add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine the dry ingredients, then add them, together with the vanilla bean paste, to the remaining mixture. Pour in the natural yoghurt, then mix well to combine. Pour half of the mixture into one of the prepared tins, then add the cocoa powder to the remaining mixture, gently fold it in and transfer to the other cake tin. Bake as above, then set on a wire rack to cool completely.
  9. To make the choux pastry, combine the butter, water and salt into a saucepan set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat and tumble in the flour. Use a wooden spoon to combine the pastry – don’t worry, it will look lumpy, but persist and you will be fine. Put the saucepan back on the heat to dry the pastry out. You are ready to go when the lump of pastry easily comes together and stays together, stops sticking to the sides and leaves a coating on the bottom of the saucepan. Transfer the warm lump of pastry to a heatproof bowl, flatten it out slightly with the back of the wooden spoon and leave to cool. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan). Line 3 baking sheets with baking parchment (or silicone mats).
  10. To make it easier, transfer the eggs to a jug. When the pastry has cooled down (you don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs), start adding a little bit of the eggs, then mix really well with the wooden spoon after each addition. As before, do not be put off by the way the pastry look. Continue adding eggs, a little at a time, and mixing well. You are aiming for a silky yet somewhat solid consistency. There are several ways to test the pastry: when you gather some on the wooden spoon then tilt the latter, the pastry should slowly fall back into the bowl leaving a triangular-shaped trail on the spoon; also, if you trace a line in the bowl, the pastry should divide evenly and keep the trail, not fall back on itself, etc.
  11. Transfer the pastry to a piping bag fitted with a plain round nozzle, then pipe even round mounds on the baking trays. I opted for two different sizes (one slightly bigger than the other) to add a dramatic effect to the cake. Bake for 30 minutes without ever opening the door to check on them, by which time they will be golden and puffed up. Quickly remove from the oven, make a small hole in the base or on the sides to let the steam escape, then put back in the oven to crisp up for another 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
  12. Cool the oven down to 130°C (110°C fan) to bake the meringues. To make them, in the bowl of a freestanding mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites until frothy. In a separate bowl, combine the caster sugar and cream of tartar, then increase the speed to high and slowly add the sugar mixture, one tablespoon at a time, until you get a very glossy and stiff mixture.
  13. Prepare the piping bag by adding a star nozzle at the end and using some orange food colouring to drag some lines on the inside of the bag (I used a toothpick, but a small brush is also fine). When ready, transfer the meringue mixture to the piping bag, then pipe small meringues (again, I went for two different sizes) on previously lined baking trays. Bake for 2 hours or until crisp. When done, turn the oven off and leave the meringues to cool inside the oven with the door ajar.
  14. To assemble the cake, start by making the chocolate ganache. Transfer the chopped chocolate to a heatproof bowl, then pour the cream into a saucepan and bring to the boil over a medium heat. Transfer the hot cream to the chocolate, then mix to combine until smooth. Place in the fridge to set, mixing occasionally, while you assemble the sponge layers.
  15. Place a small dollop of caramel on the cake board/base/platter you will use to build the cake on. Gently peel the parchment off the back of the vanilla sponge, then place it upside down on the cake board. Use 1/3 of the caramel to cover the cake and spread it around using an offset spatula. Top with the vanilla & caramel sponge, cover with half of the remaining caramel, then top with the caramel & chocolate sponge, the remaining caramel and, finally, the chocolate sponge.
  16. Once the ganache has more or less set (but is still of a spreadable consistency), use it to cover the top and the sides of the cake and give it a smooth or a rough finish according to preference. Place in the fridge to harden while you get on with the decorations.
  17. In a bowl, combine the whipped cream with some of the mango custard, then fill a piping bag fitted with a small round nozzle and use it to fill the choux buns. For reasons of practicality, I decided to fill the small ones with the mango custard alone, thus leaving me with leftover whipped cream.
  18. When you are ready to proceed, take the cake out of the fridge. Spread some of the melted chocolate on the bottom of each choux bun, then gently pile them up on top of the cake and down the sides. Repeat with the meringues, ensuring there is a good proportion of them all around the cake. I shall leave it the final design up to you.
  19. Use the remaining melted chocolate to drizzle on top of the cake, then decorate, if you so wish, with some of the mango custard (also drizzled over) and chocolate sprinkles. Enjoy!

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Sunflower Bread (Pain Tournesol/Pan Girasol)

I originally found the recipe for this stunning bread on a French food blog called Paprikas, but, as it turns out, in order to trace the original recipe I had to go through 3 French, 2 Spanish and 3 Romanian baking blogs only to end up in a cul-de-sac. Despite my Indiana Jones-like Internet adventure, it’s amazing how recipes travel throughout the world and are shared by people who love baking. It’s also interesting to see that the recipe I followed (by Sylvie here) is different from the one published on Paprikas as it contains eggs. The result is a more brioche-like texture, richer in taste and which lends itself to brunch and breakfast alike.

Contrary to what you might think, this bread is quite easy to make. As it was my first attempt, I did not take pictures to make a step by step guide, but you can find plenty of instructions on the two blogs I posted a link for, not to mention on all of the other ones the recipe was taken from! I will attempt to describe the procedure in words, but please do refer to the photo guides as they are immensely helpful. Last thing: as I said, I chose the version with eggs. If you don’t want to use them in your bread, feel free to swap them for an equal amount of lukewarm milk and water – or water for a plainer dough.

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Ingredients

  • 760g strong bread flour
  • 250ml whole milk, at room temperature
  • 2 medium eggs, slightly beaten
  • 125ml olive or rapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp caster sugar
  • 3 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 x 7g sachet of instant yeast
  • 50g butter, melted, to assemble the layers
  • poppy, pumpkin and sesame seeds, to decorate
  • about 15ml whole milk, to brush on top

Method

  1. Start by making the dough. Please be aware you will be working with a lot of flour and the complete dough will weigh approximately 1.2 kg. I used the big glass bowl of my KitchenAid to mix the ingredients together and then kneaded the dough by hand. If you are planning to do this by hand, then have plenty of room available.
  2. In the bowl of a freestanding fitted with the hook attachment add the flour, sugar, salt and yeast (remember to put the salt and the yeast in two opposite corners). In a jug, combine the oil and milk. Start the mixer and slowly begin to add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, starting with the eggs. Depending on the type of flour you are using, you might find you won’t need all of the milk & oil mixture or, conversely, you might find the dough is too dry and needs more moisture (that was my case). Should that be the case, please feel free to either add some lukewarm water or not to use the whole milk & oil mixture.
  3. Once the ingredients are thoroughly combined, turn out the mixture on a working surface (don’t flour it!) and knead until the dough is silky smooth, elastic and pliable. Transfer to a big bowl (no need to oil it as it contains oil already), cover with clingfilm and let it prove for about 1.5 hours or until doubled in size.
  4. In the meantime, line a big square/round tin (I used a pizza one) and melt your butter.
  5. First phase of the assembling: Once the dough has proved, weigh it and divide it in two equal parts. Set aside one and shape the other one in a long sausage (this will make it easier to portion it). Divide the dough into five equal pieces, then roll out 4 of them to rounds approximately 20cm wide and keep the 5th one aside. Start creating the big flower by placing one of the 20cm rounds in the middle of the tin. Brush it with butter, then top with the second one. Repeat until you have used all 4 of them, then brush the last one with butter.
  6. Now take the 5th piece of dough and roll that out to a slightly bigger round, approximately 22cm wide. You want this to cover the other ones once placed on top. When ready, place it on top of the small pile but don’t brush it with butter.
  7. Now take a sharp knife and cut a star-shaped cross on top of the dough all the way through the pile of rounds. Be careful not to reach out to the edges as you want to keep about half a cm all around. Now take the triangular pieces of dough and turn them inside out, pushing them slightly away from the center. There you go, this is the outer layer of your sunflower.
  8. Second phase of the assembling: Remember the big piece of dough we set aside at the beginning? Take that and divide it into 6 equal parts. Set two aside and work with 4. Repeat as before, this time rolling the pieces out to 16cm rounds. Again, stack them one on top of the other inside the outer ring and glue them together with the melted butter. Roll out the fifth piece of dough to a slightly bigger round and place it on top of the smaller pile. Don’t brush it with butter.
  9. Using the knife, cut the same star shaped pattern on top of the smaller pile and turn the triangular ‘petals’ inside out.
  10. Now take the 6th piece of dough and shape it into a ball, then place it in the middle of the flower composition to complete it. Cover the whole flower in clingfilm and leave to prove for at least 1 hour or until there are no more gaps between the layers and it has increased in size by about 1/3.
  11. Brush the proved flower with milk, which will give it a nice shine and deep brown colour. Sprinkle the middle with pumpkin seeds and the outer layer with poppy seeds – but you can also opt for a more personal decoration!
  12. Pre-heat your oven to 200C, then bake the flower for about 10 minutes before turning the temperature down to 180C and baking for a further 30 minutes. If you notice your flower is browning too much or too fast, cover it with some foil.
  13. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a wire rack before serving it.

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Jewel Box Cake

I bet you are thinking this cake must be impossible to make and that you’ll never make it to achieve a similar result. Wrong! Despite looking amazing (hence me trying it out), this cake is dead easy to make. All it is is a chocolate sponge cake decorated with raspberries. The only part which requires a bit of time (and technique) is the white chocolate ribbon. This cake was one of the showstoppers in The Great British Bake Off, a series I love. Also, as it is covered with fresh fruit, you might want to make it disappear it very soon!

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Ingredients (for the cake)

  • 150g white chocolate, chopped
  • 250g unsalted butter, softened
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 250g self-raising flour
  • pinch of salt
  • raspberry jam
  • 500-600g fresh raspberries

Method (for the cake)

  1. Melt the chocolate for the sponge and leave to cool until needed.
  2. Put the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until creamy. Gradually beat in the sugar, then add the vanilla and beat until the mixture is very light in colour and fluffy in texture, scraping down the bowl from time to time.
  3. Gradually add the eggs, beating well after each addition and adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last portion of egg. Sift the rest of the flour and the salt into the bowl and fold in using a large metal spoon.
  4. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.
  5. Add the cooled white chocolate and fold in until all the ingredients are completely amalgamated.
  6. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and spread evenly. Make a small hollow in the centre so the cake will rise evenly.
  7. Bake for about one hour until golden and just firm to the touch, and a stick inserted into the centre comes out clean.
  8. Leave to cool for about 15 minutes, then carefully remove from the tin and cool completely on a wire rack.
  9. When ready, make the chocolate ribbons and bow.

Ingredients (for the ribbon and bow)

  • 150g white chocolate, broken up
  • 3 tbsps liquid glucose

Method (for the ribbon and bow)

  1. Melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Remove the bowl from the pan and gently stir in the liquid glucose. Leave to thicken at room temperature.
  2. Once the mixture is firm and almost set, mould it into a ball with your hands. Some brands of chocolate need to be chilled to firm up.
  3. Work and knead the mixture in your hands so it softens and becomes pliable and glossy, like modelling clay or Play-Doh. As soon as it feels smooth, shape it into a sausage.
  4. Set the sausage between two long pieces of baking paper and roll out into a long, flat sheet, then peel off the top piece of paper.
  5. To make the crossed ribbons, cut out two strips about 30 x 2.5cm using a long, sharp knife to get a straight, sharp edge. If the ribbons feel very soft, firm up in the fridge for a few minutes.
  6. Gently warm the raspberry jam until melted. Brush over the top and sides of the cake, then gently press the ribbons on to the cake — across the top and down the sides — to resemble a parcel.
  7. Then, starting with the top of the cake, press the raspberries (pointed-end up) on to the sponge in the squares between the ribbons, so the cake is covered, top and sides.
  8. From the white chocolate dough, cut out one strip about 10 x 2.5cm, two strips 11 x 2.5cm and two strips about 14 x 2.5cm.
  9. Snip triangles out of one end of the 11cm strips using scissors, then rest the strips over a small paintbrush or similar implement to create a curve; these will be the bow ends.
  10. Bend each 14cm strip into a bow loop and press the ends together. Then position the ends of the loops so they are slightly overlapping; press gently together.
  11. Peel the paper from the 10cm strip, then wrap it around the centre of the loops in a ring to hide the join; press the ends of the bow ring to seal. Put all the shaped pieces in the fridge so they can firm up a bit.
  12. Position the bow on top of the crossed ribbons on the cake, fixing in place with a dab of melted chocolate or jam. Reshape the loops and bow carefully until you are happy with them.

Tips

  • Use plenty of jam to cover the cake as it will need to hold the raspberries in shape or they’ll start to fall out.
  • I used a 23cm square tin to bake the cake in. Grease and line the tin leaving some of the baking paper on the sides so as to make it easier to get the cake out of the tin. Alternatively, you can use any of the foil tins you find in supermarkets.
  • If you want, you can substitute the raspberries with blackberries, blueberries or, even, small raspberries. Obviously, make sure to amend the jam accordingly.
  • p.s. have a look at my partner decorating the cake. If he can do it, so can you 🙂

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