I’m sure you’ve all had times where you’ve been thinking of the perfect cake to make for a party, but have you ever made a gorgeous cake and then decided to throw a party for it? I have, and it’s a cake worth throwing a party for.
When fellow Malaysian Billy Law threw down the Ombre Cake as his first ever baking club challenge, I must admit I was a tad unenthusiastic. Not because it didn’t look awesome, but because I’m not really one to use that much colouring in my cooking. Even red velvet cake is a stretch for me. But the more I looked at the pretty pictures, the more I wanted to give it a go.
An ombre cake is one that uses gradient in the cake layers, and can also carry through to the icing on top. It’s normally a vanilla-flavoured butter cake, and the icing tends to be some sort of buttercream.
The hardest part, if I’m being completely honest was committing to a colour. Blue – there are no naturally occurring blue foods (technically the blueberry is purple) which is why restaurant kitchen band aids are blue – so you can see if you’ve accidentally put it in food. But I’m getting distracted from my point, I’m easily distracted aren’t it? Yellow just looked too much like sponge cake, and the colour I wanted to do, purple has a tendency to fade to greyish tones. I was worried green would look too healthy (kind of like alfalfa). I bet you’re starting to think I’m on the neurotic side, and you may even be right, but I like to consider all these things before committing to a colour. Pink would have to do then – it’s never been one of my favourite colours and was a bit girly, but hey – I’d invite some girlfriends over and make a night of it. Yes, I threw a party for my cake.
Now I hate to be a downer, but I know there is nothing worse than getting excited over a recipe and then have it not be great. So, I’ll just tell you the truth now – the cake didn’t taste particularly good. I was pretty disappointed. Here we were, a bunch of girls sitting around, ready to watch Magic Mike – and there was no good cake! It was on the dry side, a bit bland and really just tasted like butter, sugar and vanilla. I realise to many people this may not be a problem. I should probably state now my radical belief that I there is such a thing as too much icing. And this was it. If I made it again, I’d do it in chocolate layers, with chocolate or coffee meringue buttercream. See my tips (below) for other thoughts.
Here is Billy’s recipe – I wanted a more obvious gradient so I added an extra layer (making it 5 layers of cake) for effect so the quantities are scaled up a bit.
cake adapted from Billy Law’s Baking Club
makes 5 layers of a 20″ cake
icing from Cake Journal‘s excellent tutorial
makes just enough icing to cover this cake as per the photo (you might want to scale the recipe up a bit if you’re worried)
For the cake
240g self raising flour
180g all-purpose plain flour
a pinch of salt
360g caster sugar
240g unsalted butter, softened
5 medium eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
food colouring (colour of your choice)
for the icing
320g white sugar
220g egg whites
500g butter, cut into cubes and cool, but not cold
1 tbsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
food colouring (colour of your choice)
- Best to bake the cake a day prior icing. Preheat oven at 180C (350F). Grease and line 4 x 20cm cake tins with baking paper. Don’t worry if you just have one cake tin, you just have to bake each layer separately. Sift both flour and salt into a mixing bowl.
- Beat butter and sugar in a food mixer on high speed until pale and light. Turn the speed down to low and add eggs one at a time, beaten well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix well. Alternately add flour and milk into the mixture. Beat until smooth and lump free.
- Divide mixture into 5 equal portions – the best way is to use a digital weighing scale. Add a tiny small dab of food colouring to each bowl and fold it into the mixture. Then gradually add more colouring to each bowl until you get an even gradient of colour among the four mixtures.
- Pour batter into cake tins, cover loosely with foil and bake each layer for 25-30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre and comes out clean. If you are baking two cakes at the same time, swap the baking trays half way through baking. Once done, let cakes cool in tins for 5 minutes, then tip out and onto wire racks to cool completely before icing.for the icing
- To make the italian meringue buttercream icing, first set the timer on 7 mins and pour the egg whites into a stand mixer with whisk attachment.
- Place sugar and water in a saucepan and bring it to the boil, and immediately start the timer. Boil it on medium/low temperature. If the syrup starts to darken quickly turn down the temperature a little.
- When the sugar syrup has been boiling for 5 mins, start the mixer on full speed and whisk the egg whites for the last 2 mins or until the temp of the sugar reaches 242C (you want 245 but the syrup will continue to cook.) With the mixer still going on high speed slowly pour the hot syrup down the side of the mixing bowl. Discard any leftover syrup in the casserole. Be very careful not to get burned on the hot syrup.
- When all sugar syrup has been added the meringue should look thick and fluffy. Stop the mixer and change to the paddle attachment. To avoid meringue splatter all over your kitchen place a clean kitchen towel over the mixer. Set the timer on 10 mins and beat on high speed or until the mixing bowl is cool to the touch. If the mixture is too warm, when you add the butter you’ll end up with a sloppy mess (if this happens just chill in the fridge and whip back to goodness).
- Now its time to add the butter. Start the mixer on high speed and with a knife cut pieces of the butter and add it to the meringue. When all butter is added it will not take long for mixture to turn into nice thick smooth buttercream. When that happens slow down the mixer and add the vanilla extract. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl and start again. I do this two times. You should now have a bowl full of lovely Italian meringue buttercream.
- To prepare cake for icing, trim the tops and sides to make sure all layers are same size, level and flat. Start from the cake layer with the darkest colour, put a big dollop of icing on top then spread it with a palette knife evenly to make sure the whole top is covered and level. Place the second darkest colour on top, and repeat with more icing, cake, icing and finally the lightest colour cake on top. Now ice the whole cake and make sure the sides and top are smooth with icing.
- Divide the remainder of the icing into 3 or 4 equal portions (totally up to you), add different amount of food colouring to each portion, to create an even gradient of colour among the four icings. Pipe onto your cake as desired – I used a Wilton 1M piping tip to create roses – just pipe in a circle from the inside out. Using a palette knife, use the remainder of the icing to create a flat gradient top.
Tips for making ombre cake:
- Bake the layers with a loose covering of foil as it stops the layers from colouring too much on the top.
- Brush each layer with an apricot glaze (100g of apricot jam heated with 100g of water) – because the layers are so thin, and the cake is usually assembled over two days it has a tendency to dry out.