Friday, 20 November 2015

Happee Birthdaee, Daddee: Coffee and Vanilla Gâteau (Wheat Free, with a Dairy Free Option)

The 16th was my father's birthday, but his celebrations were a little late this year because he and Mum went away to Kerry for a little birthday holiday. We all gathered yesterday instead to enjoy a Sunday lunch, and celebratory cake: coffee and vanilla cake.

I will admit, when you've been the primary birthday cake baker for over 10 years (which is over 50 cakes) you start to run out of ideas. For a few years I experimented with novelty cakes, making them funny shapes or giving them themed decorations, but after a while I realised I prefered good old traditional gateau style cakes.

The members of my family always want the same kind of cake, too: my mother an orange or lemon cake; my oldest brother a coffee cake; my older brother a chocolatey chocolate cake with chocolate on top; my father also coffee cake (or sometimes the very vague request of 'brown cake'); and my sister cheesecake. This year having a (now ex-)boyfriend to make a cake for was very refreshing, especially seeing as his favourite cake was Battenberg, which was a challenge I relished.

These very predictable requests make things quite, well, boring after a while. Usually now though I try and shake things up my adding in an extra flavour. For example, my oldest brother's usual coffee cake became an orange mocha cake, and my mother's usual lemon drizzle cake became a zingy lemon layer cake with lemon infused white chocolate icing. Needless to say, I have become very good at making layer cakes.

The unfortunate thing about this time of year in this country, is that is gets impractically cold in the kitchen: things curdle, split, and set too quickly if you haven't had the central heating on for the weeks (or months) before making the cake. That is what sadly made this cake so hard to make.

I went with the usual coffee cake as requested, and made a coffee infused white chocolate icing, but because the kitchen was so cold it kept separating. Two batches ended up being re-purposed as a mutant coffee fudge, and I soon realised a melted chocolate icing was not going to work.

Enter the saviour: traditional, staple buttercream icing. I don't tend to work with buttercream often because, even though it's an old favourite, it can be very tempramental if the atmospheric factors aren't all perfect. This time, though, it really worked and everything was saved. However, I will impress the importance of all the ingredients needed to make the buttercream being at least room temperature. Put your butter somewhere warm, or heat it on defrost in the microwave, and don't use hot coffee.

☑ Soya (check for soya lecithin)
☑ Yeast
☑ Wheat

☒ Dairy (use substitute in italics for dairy free)
☒ Gluten
☒ Eggs
☒ Refined sugar products


For the sponge cake:
  • 4 ounces (115 grammes) white spelt flour
  • 2 ounces (30 grammes) cornflour
  • 2 teaspoons (10 millilitres) baking powder
  • 3 medium egg
  • 6 ounces (170 grammes) caster sugar
  • 3 ounces (85 grammes) melted butter or margarine
  • 3 fluid ounces (90 millilitres) strong black coffee
  • 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) vanilla essence
  • Optional: 1 tablespoon of ground coffee, for extra flavour and visual impact

For the buttercream filling and icing:
  • 6 ounces (170 grammes) very soft butter, or margarine
  • 12 ounces (340 grammes) icing sugar, sieved
  • 2 tablespoons (30 millilitres) very strong black coffee at room temperature, or 2 teaspoons of espresso powder dissolved in 2 tablespoons (30 millilitres) of hot water, allowed to cool
  • 1 teaspoon (5 millilitres) vanilla essence
  • Chocolate or coloured sprinkles, to decorate


To make the cake,
  • Preheat the oven to 170ºC (325ºF/Gas Mk. 3) and grease and flour an 8 inch (20 centimetre) round tin.
  • Make the cake batter following this recipe, substituting the oil for melted butter and the milk for coffee (as in the ingredients listed above). If using ground coffee, sieve in with the flours.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown and springy to the touch.
  • Remove from the oven, run a knife around the edge to loosen from the tin, then allow to cool completely in the tin.

To decorate the cake,
  • Put the butter in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric hand mixer until very soft and light.
  • Add in the icing sugar in three additions, alternating with the 2 tablespoons of coffee and finishing with icing sugar. Make sure to beat well between additions. If the buttercream starts to split, it means it's too cold. This, however, can be easily fixed with a hair dryer.
  • Cut the cake into two layers, using the top of the cake as the bottom layer. Fix the bottom layer to a plate or cake board with a little smear of icing, then fill the cake with a third of the buttercream. Put the top layer on, upside down, meaning that the flat bottom of the cake is now on top.
  • Use the remaining buttercream to ice the cake (putting a crumb coat on first), and if you like you can use some to pipe decorations around the top and bottom edge.
  • If you like, you can add some colour with sprinkles: I put a little splash in the centre.
  • Allow to set for at least an hour before serving.

This was actually a very tasty confection, and a lot lighter and more delicate because it was only lightly flavoured with coffee, as opposed to being super coffee-tastic. This keeps well for up to a week in an airtight container.

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