I’d been waiting for an excuse to make coffee cloud cake. The batter is made by alternately folding stringently sifted flour, espresso and walnuts into a light, fluffy meringue-like base. After baking, the whole is smothered in lush coffee icing.
Now, you might think: WHO NEEDS AN EXCUSE? If you’re not preoccupied thinking NOM NOM NOM.
Indeed, it’s a valid question. But it seemed clear to me that justifying decadence on this epic scale required an Occasion.
Finally Her Goatiness asked me to bake a cake.
Actually, she asked me to stop off at the supermarket and pick up one of the generic sponge cakes that taste like reconstituted carpet and look like an Easter Bunny threw up on it.
However, she asked early enough that I could tell she really wanted me to make one. Also, it was a special occasion: the day after Old Tom’s birthday.
Generally speaking, the anniversary of Old Tom’s debut appearance would constitute The Occasion, except that The Outlaws forgot. When Old Tom called around to have Happy Birthday sung tunelessly to him, Agent of Death was down the milking shed and Her Goatiness wouldn’t let Old Tom watch Worst Teenage Bodies on telly because she wanted to see Downton Abbey.
In the scheme of things, the Guilt Cake is more important than the Birthday Cake. As well as the message, ‘We’re pleased you’re still alive’, it must also convey an apology with some degree of sincerity. As far as I was concerned, the only way to salvage Old Tom’s relationship with The Outlaws was via home baking.
(Also I’m not about to eat supermarket cake.)
Until recently, I’ve been a fan of the one-bowl school of baking. In fact, I’ve never understood why you can’t just fling the ingredients directly into the tin and bung it straight in the oven. But lately, I’ve been foraying into frosting: cinnamon tea cakes with toasted coconut topping, sponge cakes with jam and cream, miracles with chocolate icing and a cherry on top.
I evicted the spiders from the cake pans and preheated the oven and beat eggs and sifted and folded. I think you can estimate how the final product will taste from how much you want to lick the batter. In the case of the coffee cloud cake, I nearly got my head stuck in the mixing bowl and was picking batter out of my hair for the next two days.
The cakes smelled glorious. They looked even better. After they cooled, I leveled the tops, stacked them and slathered the whole with icing.
I pressed toasted walnuts into the side and cherishingly transferred the cake to a plate. It was only then that I spotted the leftover cake on the cooker hob, and realized . . . I’d forgotten the third layer. It was supposed to be a three-layer cake.
It was just as well, because not only had I run out of icing, but . . . well . . . from certain angles . . . the cake . . . it featured something of an aggressive LEAN. No matter how much I prodded and swore at it, the top layer slumped drunkenly off to one side.
However, valuable lessons were learned from the experience.
And without the coffee cloud cake, there might never have been the udder cake.
Last week I was tasked with making a birthday cake for Her Goatiness. The spec was a cake descriptive of a goat’s udder.
Nobody said it had to be three-dimensional, but Her Goatiness is notoriously hard to please. There was high likelihood of her spurning a two-dimensional cake and refusing to blow out the candles.
Andrew obsessively tracked the progress of the cake assembly with a kind of morbid fascination. Given my mother-in-law’s partiality for pus, I was keen to garnish the teats with yellow icing but Andrew said, “Niamhie, you can’t make a cake with MASTITIS.”
It took me most of the morning to make a plain 20cm square butter cake and two 20cm round chocolate sponge cakes. I took a break for lunch.
“How’s it going?” asked Andrew. “Have you looked at pictures of goat’s udders?”
“Pictures!” I snorted. “I don’t need PICTURES. Don’t you think I’ve seen enough fucking goat’s udders to know what they look like?”
“Hmm,” said Husband reflectively. “Ok. How many teats do they have?”
“FOUR OF COURSE!” I shouted. “What sort of fucking question is- I’m not some nuffnuff, you know!”
Although obviously an awkward and disagreeable conversation, I was ultimately pleased it occurred. A little disagreement adds spice to a relationship. It fostered greater understanding between us. Also, Her Goatiness’ udder cake would otherwise have sported four teats instead of.
As per the standard configuration.
Thereafter, I consulted pictures on Google images and drew an elevation of the udder before starting the sponge-carving.
I stuck the cakes together with jam to discourage independent roaming. Then, with input from Andrew’s gag-reflex, I made up a vat of revolting pink butter icing. From my experience with coffee cloud cake, I knew butter icing was tricky, collecting crumbs and preferring to stick to the spatula rather than the cake. Thankfully, I’d read an article which suggested dipping the spatula periodically in a jug of boiling water and thereby encouraging the icing to slide off.
It’s probably fair to say Her Goatiness had never seen a cake quite like it. Nor anybody else, for that matter.