- Serves: 32-40
- Cook Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
- Prep Time: 40 minutes
- Effort: hard
- 800 g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
- 800 g caster sugar
- 800 g plain flour
- 8 tsp baking powder
- 16 eggs, beaten
For the icing
- 1 kg caster sugar
- 20 egg yolks
- 1 kg butter, softened
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- Fresh flowers, such as rosebuds, lilies or lavender; edible flowers, such as primroses, violets, lavender, borage flowers, mint leaves, lemon verbena leaves or sweet cicely; crystallised flowers or petals
Tips and Suggestions
Unless your oven is very large (or you have a double oven) and your mixing bowl is more than about 35cm in diameter, you will need to make the sponge for the cake in two batches. The instructions given here are based on making the cake in this way.
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4. Butter the sides and line the base of each cake tin with baking parchment - youll need four round cake tins; one 30cm in diameter, one 25cm diameter, one 18cm diameter and one 12cm diameter.
2. Cream half the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add half the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.
3. Sift together half the flour with 4 teaspoons of the baking powder. Crack eight of the eggs into a separate bowl and whisk together just until mixed, then gradually add them to the creamed butter mixture, beating all the time.
4. Add the sifted flour and baking powder, folding in to combine. Tip the batter into the 30cm cake tin and bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.
5. As the large cake bakes, repeat the last two steps above for the remaining ingredients and divide between the prepared tins, filling each to a depth of 2-3cm. Wait until the large cake has finished cooking and youve removed it from the oven before you mix the flour and baking powder into the wet ingredients to complete the second batch of batter.
6. Bake the smaller cakes for 25-35 minutes, or until well risen and golden and a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean. They will all probably be ready at different times, so youll need to keep a close eye on them.
7. When each cake is ready, remove it from the oven and allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes, then loosen around the edges using a small, sharp knife and carefully remove from the tin before transferring to a wire rack to cool down completely.
8. For the icing: Place the sugar in a saucepan with 400ml of water and set over a medium heat, stirring very regularly to dissolve the sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, turn up the heat and bring to the boil. Continue to boil for 8-12 minutes, or until a sugar thermometer reads 110C-115C, then remove from the heat. If you dont have a thermometer, this is the thread stage. The mixture will be thick and syrupy and the last couple of drops that fall from a spoon will form a thread.
9. While the syrup is boiling, whisk together the egg yolks for 2-3 minutes in a clean bowl until pale and fluffy, then turn the speed to slow and add the hot syrup in a steady stream.
10. Once the syrup has been incorporated, turn the speed back to high and continue to whisk until the mixture has cooled down. This will take about 15 minutes - if you're using an electric food mixer, you may want to cover the food mixer with a tea towel to avoid too much mess, as the contents of the bowl may splash during mixing.
11. Continue whisking until the mixture is stiff and mousse-like. To test if its thick enough, pull the whisk out of the mixture and draw a figure of 8 into the bowl with the mixture thats left on the whisk; the 8 should remain visible for a couple of seconds.
12. In a separate bowl, beat the butter until very soft. Then add the vanilla extract and the mousse mixture, adding a large spoonful of this at a time, and keep mixing until fully combined.
13. To assemble the cake, first slice each cake horizontally in half with a bread knife. Place one half of the 30cm cake on the cake plate or board, securing it to the plate or board with a few blobs of icing.
14. Spread the top with a layer of icing about 3mm thick, then sandwich with the second half. Spread the top with more icing, then add one half of the 25cm cake. Continue with the rest of the layers, from the largest to the smallest, until you have a tiered cake, then carefully spread the rest of the icing all over the cake using a palette knife.
15. To ensure that each layer of the cake looks well defined, its best have a jug or bowl of boiling hot water to hand in which to dip your palette knife before using it to smooth over the surface of the icing. Decorate the finished cake with fresh or crystallised flowers or petals.
Text © Rachel Allen 2012. Photography © Philip Webb 2012.
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