Wednesday 3 January 2018

Gingerbread and lemon layer cake with speculoos frosting

Gingerbread and lemon layer cake with speculoos frosting

I know this is going to seem somewhat philosophical, and thus incongruous both for me and for discussing on a baking blog, but do you ever wonder about why we are born into the lives we are born into? Why a specific corner of the world, a certain way of life and a specific culture were ascribed to us? I don’t often have thoughts like these – my brain is usually too addled by thoughts of food to allow for profound existential considerations – but occasionally I surprise myself with such cerebral exertions.

Gingerbread and lemon layer cake with speculoos frosting

My philosophical ruminations usually occur, perhaps unsurprisingly, when I’m somewhere that’s in stark contrast to everything I know. Most recently I contemplated why I have the life I do during a trip to Morocco, where we travelled through some fairly remote areas, so very different to anything I know - areas with villages of just handfuls of people and little by way of facilities and amenities. I couldn’t help but wonder, during such travels, at the fact that these people had a life so immensely disparate to my own.

Gingerbread and lemon layer cake with speculoos frosting

It’s difficult to elaborate here without sounding patronising, but I will give it a go: My point is, ultimately, how was it determined that I should be born in a busy Western city, with all the mod cons, a car and a social life that consists of brunches, lunches, workouts, jaunts to the countryside and trips abroad; whilst someone else should be born into a quiet, remote part of the world with a donkey for transportation, a handful of basic possessions and clothes, and, seemingly, little by way of entertainment beyond a pack of playing cards?

Moreover, how was it decided that I should have the means to get a glimpse into their world, but they are unlikely to ever have the means to see, know or understand mine? That I will get to witness their life of herding sheep and eating lentil stew or goat meat tagine on a dusty roadside, but they probably won’t ever see my world of going to meetings, deciding on the next boxset to watch, and eating a wodge of gingerbread cake?

Gingerbread and lemon layer cake with speculoos frosting

I’ve probably failed dismally in my attempt at not being patronising but I hope the gist of what I’m trying to say is coming across: I just wonder how our lots are drawn. In any case, these moments of contemplation make me appreciate what I have and feel grateful for the life I’ve been given: a life that allows me to visit a distant part of the world and indulge in syrupy-sweet Moroccan pastries, full of almonds and dates; then also return to my pretty little home and indulge in something like this gingerbread and lemon cake, slathered in a caramelly Biscoff frosting. No, I cannot complain.

Gingerbread and lemon layer cake with speculoos frosting

Twinny has declared this cake “the best cake I’ve ever eaten”. High praise indeed from one of my bluntest critics. Of course, she subsequently bemoaned the number of ingredients required to make it, but it’s honestly not hard to make and it’s truly delicious: the gingerbread and lemon complement one another so well; the sponge is a fluffy, moist delight; and the not-too-sweet biscuit frosting is ludicrously good. I beseech you to make this.

Adapted from BBC Good Food's Gingerbread cake with caramel icing

For the cake:
  • 150ml semi-skimmed milk
  • 3 tbsp black treacle
  • 375g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 375g light brown soft sugar
  • 3 tsps ground ginger
  • 1½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1½ tsp  mixed spice
  • ½ tsp table salt
  • 225ml sunflower oil, plus a little for greasing
  • 300ml buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tbsps milk
  • 1½ tsp vanilla extract
  • Zest of 2 unwaxed lemons and juice of 1
  • Lemon curd (homemade or a jar of good quality shop-bought curd)
For the caramel biscuit icing:
  • 125g unsalted butter, very soft
  • 200g icing sugar, plus a little extra for dusting
  • 185g full-fat cream cheese
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 150g crunchy caramelised biscuit spread (I used Lotus Biscoff biscuit spread)
  • 25g desiccated coconut, to decorate
  • Lebkuchen or gingerbread biscuits (optional)
To make the cake, first place the milk and treacle in a small saucepan (if you grease the measuring spoon with a little oil first, the treacle will easily slide off). Put the pan on a very low heat, allowing the treacle to melt gradually into the milk (I have a little metal sheet with a handle that I set between the pan and the heat, so that the heat isn't as direct). As the treacle starts to melt, stir to combine it with the milk, then set aside to cool.

Grease three 8"/20cm loose-bottomed cake tins with oil and line the bases with baking paper If your tins are shallower than 4cm, line the sides with a deep collar too.

Heat your oven to 160C fan.

Tip the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, sugar, spices and salt into a large bowl and whisk them all together with a balloon whisk. If your sugar is lumpy, use your fingers to crush the lumps until you have an even, sand-like mixture.

In another bowl, whisk the oil, buttermilk, eggs and vanilla together, then add the milk and treacle mixture, and whisk again.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, and slowly whisk them together to combine. Once they start to come together, you can whisk more vigorously until you have a smooth batter.

Lastly, add the lemon zest and juice and beat one final time.

Pour the batter as evenly as you can between the three tins and bake for 25-30 mins until a skewer or sharp knife plunged into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. You may have to swap the cakes over to cook evenly, but don’t do this until they’ve had at least 20 mins cooking, otherwise they will sink!

Cool the cakes in their tins for 10 mins, then transfer to a wire rack, peel off the parchment and leave to cool completely.

For the icing, put the butter and half the icing sugar in a large bowl and gently squish them together with a wooden spoon to bring them together. As they start to combine (and you're confident the icing sugar isn't going to go flying everywhere!) beat with an hand-held electric whisk until smooth, although you could probably make do with just the wooden spoon if the butter is soft enough. Add the remaining icing sugar and repeat the process.

Now add the cream cheese, vanilla bean extract and biscuit spread. Mix again until smooth and evenly mixed.

Now for the best bit - building the cake! Place one of your sponge layers upside down on the plate you wish to serve the cake on. With a palette knife or offset spatula, spread a good dollop of lemon curd evenly over the top (which is really the bottom) of the sponge. Using a clean palette knife or spatula, now spread about a quarter of your frosting over the top of the sponge.

Place the second layer of cake over the first - the right way up this time - and repeat the process of spreading with lemon curd and frosting.

Place the third and final sponge on top of the first two, upside down again. Now cover the sides of all three sponges with a thin layer of frosting, scraping gently as you go so that some of the sponge shows through the frosting. Use the last bit of frosting to cover the top of the cake, either smoothing it with the knife, or using the knife to make peaks in the frosting.

Lastly, sprinkle the desiccated coconut over the top of the cake and dust it with some icing sugar. If you're using Lebkuchen or gingerbread, place them around the top and sides of the cake for decoration.