Towards the end of 2010 I made a promise to make something by my own hand for a couple of friends of mine. It came about through a viral Facebook post; one of those meme type things that implores you to pass the message on to your own friends. I’m not usually down with these sorts of things as they’re often some schmaltzy feel-good nonsense, or worse, carry some veiled threat of bad fortune if you don’t spread the word. But this meme was far more benign, with it’s message of making something for your friends, it was right up my street. Two of my friends replied; Charlotte from Brighton and Stacy from Seattle. I already knew that I was going to bake them some cakes and as Stacy was flying to the UK in the summer to join Charlotte and her man Paul for their tenth anniversary party, this would be my only opportunity to deliver on that promise.
As the day of the party neared I was still pondering what to bake – a carrot cake I was told would be appreciated, likewise a chocolate cake. Then, while out on a photoshoot with the missus on a rainy Sunday on Columbia Road inspiration came in the form of Lily Vanilli, a bakery and patisserie that had opened that very day. While sheltering from the rain, the very lovely Lily kindly gave us all some of her delicious fruit topped cupcakes. These light buttery confections, topped with delicious butter cream, fresh passion fruit and coconut shavings gave us all a splash of the sadly absent summer. As I wolfed down the cake, I knew there and then, that I was going to do my own version of these wonderful cakes for my friends.
The cakes themselves are cupcake version of my favourite carrot cake recipe from Leith’s Baking Bible. The icing is a standard butter cream, flavoured with orange blossom water and orange juice. Next, the fruit toppings; I got a selection of fresh summer fruits, some toasted almonds, and pecans. The pecans I glazed by heating some maple syrup and brown sugar in a pan, then tossing the pecan halves until they had a nice sticky glaze. I then decorated each cake with two different fruits, and either one of the maple pecans or a scattering of the toasted almonds – each one had a little drizzle of passion fruit – giving all the cakes a fragrant tropical aroma. I pondered a little icing sugar dusting – but decided against it as I preferred the bold colours of the fresh fruit.
All-in-all I was more than a little pleased with the end results. As I finished the cakes I was satisfied that what was in my head at the start, had for once translated into reality. Getting critical, the piping was a bit ropey in places – more practise needed! I think the icing was too soft and I probably should have let it firm up in the fridge before piping and although I wouldn’t want to blame my tools – I do need to buy a roll of disposable piping bags as the cheap reusable one I’ve got from Robert Dyas leaches out fats and oils as my hands warm it up – did I say I don’t even remotely have the traditional cold hands of a good baker?
In the end I was only able to fulfil my promise to Stacy as I simply ran out of time to create another batch of cakes. Stacy was very generous, and kindly let us all have some of her cakes and I think they went down pretty well with the Brighton crew. Later in the year I will be creating something different for Charlotte, so watch this space.