Neapolitan Pound Cake
Everyone needed cake this week, so even though we still have some (pretty dry) Christmas pudding and lots of chocolate in the house, I had a go at the Neapolitan pound cake from Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh’s Sweet.
The recipe is available online as part of an extract from the book which was published in the Guardian. Needless to say, my cake didn’t look quite like the one in the picture in the paper, although it wasn’t too far off. Here’s a slice of mine.
There were two challenges to this cake. First, the colouring. I’d tried making a pink cake before, when I made a Battenberg. I don’t think I’ve ever made a cake that went so disastrously wrong. I couldn’t get it to turn pink. Secondly, I was baking the cake in my ring pan, and I’ve had problems getting things out of there in one piece.
As I said, I used a ring pan to make the cake, the recipe uses a bundt tin and, although I do have one, it wasn’t big enough. To give my cake the best chance of coming out of the tin, I greased it liberally with butter and gave the inside a good coating of flour.
First, I whisked milk, eggs and vanilla together. There’s a lot of vanilla in the cake, a tablespoon in the cake itself and some more in the icing. There’s no such thing as too much vanilla, so that can only be good.
Next, I sieved self-raising flour, plain flour (the recipe uses half as much plain as self-raising) and salt into the bowl of the KitchenAid. I added caster sugar and put the KitchenAid into gear. It hasn’t been used for a while. I could tell. Next, I added some diced butter which, the recipe says, should be “soft but not oily”. I didn’t fancy trying to dice soft but not oily butter, so I did it while it was cold then gave the dice a very quick blast in the microwave.
I added the butter and half of the egg/milk/vanilla mixture and mixed slowly. Then I cranked up the KitchenAid. It was very lively. I had to hold it down. Perhaps it was just happy to be used again. After stopping to catch my breath and scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl, I added the rest of the milk and beat again. I was supposed to do this in two batches, but I didn’t read the recipe properly and put it all in at once. It looked like it might have curdled a bit, but it soon smoothed itself out and, from the spatula scrapings, it tasted pretty good.
To get the Neapolitan effect, I had to colour a third of the mixture brown, a third pink and the final third would be left as it was.
I started with the brown, which comes from cocoa powder. Now, the recipe says that you should use Dutch processed cocoa powder. Dutch-processed? I had no idea what that was. I looked it up. So, Dutch-processed cocoa powder is treated with an alkaline to reduce its acidity. This gives it a milder flavour and a darker colour. Other than taste, if you use Dutch processed cocoa in a bake that only uses bicarbonate of soda as the raising agent, you might need something extra (like a bit of cream of tartar) to help the cake rise. It’s all about the acidity/alkalinity of the mixture. Thank you very much Nigella.
So, armed with all of this new information about Dutch processed cocoa powder, I’d taken myself off to Tesco to find some Green & Blacks (which is Dutch processed). Tesco didn’t have any, neither did Marks. I did have some Tesco’s own in the cupboard which, I have to say, has been the best cocoa I’ve cooked with. How would it do though, in a recipe that called for Dutched cocoa?
I put a couple of tablespoons of cocoa powder into some milk that I’d warmed in the microwave. The recipe uses 20mls (about as much as in the average cup of tea). You have to make a thick, smooth paste. This is what I got.
I added a bit more milk and mixed and, eventually, I arrived at this.
I mixed it into a third of my cake batter.
For the pink batter I used a paste food colouring. When I made the Battenberg I used gel and, when I ran out of that, liquid. Neither of them had worked particularly well. I did use paste to make my son’s birthday cake (dinosaur landscape with volcano) and I did end up with passable lava. My paste was red though, “poppy” to be exact, so I was going to have to be careful. I didn’t need very much for my cake mixture to turn pink.
To fill the cake tin, I put a layer of plain batter, a layer of pink and a layer of brown. The recipe tells you to put in two blocks of each colour. I didn’t have enough batter so all of my layers got a bit muddled into each other. It shouldn’t matter too much, I didn’t think, given than the cake was supposed to have a marbled effect. I used a skewer to make a zig-zag pattern around the tin.
The cake went into the oven at 180° fan. The recipe baking time is between 40 and 45 minutes. I checked the cake after 40 and gave it another couple of minutes to be on the safe side. I let it cool in the tin for ten minutes and held my breath as I turned it out. All in one piece, Hooray.
To make the icing, I mixed icing sugar and milk, then I whisked in softened butter and vanilla extract. This was a great way to make icing. There was no icing sugar cloud to deal with, just a nice and smooth milk and sugar paste. Brilliant. I can’t think why I haven’t done this before.
Here’s my finished pound cake,
and here’s another picture of it sliced, so you can see how the marbling worked.
Was it worth it?
Well, my icing was a bit on the thick side, and my pink cake didn’t come out very pink (you might be able to see the tiniest bit of pink in the picture), but my little boy declared that it’s the “best cake he’s ever eaten.” It’s definitely a family cake, although I have a feeling that it’s a bit more popular with the children than the adults. I will make it again because it’s been ordered as a birthday cake (although with red swirls, absolutely not pink). That’s fine with me. Anything that gets me out of making people or animals out of sugarpaste has to be a winner.