OK, I know that Princess Charlotte is a couple of weeks old, but it took me a week to read the recipe for the Prinsesstårta from the Great British Bake Off Big Book of Baking, and another week to decide to make it. I remembered this cake very well as one of the technical challenges on the last series of the Bake Off.
It’s enormous. It involves making custard, jam, green marzipan, and a fondant icing rose (as well as a cake), and it’s the first three spoon rated recipe I’ve tackled for Let’s Bake the Books. So how did I get on? Given the problems I’ve had in the past with (a) sugar thermometers, (b) marzipan, (c) food colouring, and (d) making dainty decorations did I even end up with a cake?
Granted, it was a bit bumpier than the one in the picture in the Big Book of Baking, but it was green, it did have a piped chocolate spiral on the top, and the fondant rose was all my own work. In fact, the only thing missing was a band of piped whipped cream around the bottom, and this was because my cake plate was too small. All in all, I was pretty pleased with this cake, although it did take three days to make, and there were periods where I would gladly have retired to a darkened room for a lie down.
Under the green marzipan and fondant rose is a three-layer sponge cake which is sandwiched together with jam, custard and whipped cream.
I started with the custard. This wasn’t too difficult. I heated some milk along with a vanilla pod and its seeds. When it started to simmer I took it from the heat, took the vanilla pod out and added the milk to whisked egg yolks mixed with sugar and cornflour. This mixture went back onto the heat where I whisked it until the custard started to thicken. The recipe says that this will take between four and five minutes. It took me seven and, although the mixture was fairly thick, I don’t think it was quite thick enough (this, I found out once I started to assemble the cake). Anyway, once off the heat, I put the custard in a bowl, beat in some butter and covered it with clingfilm to stop a skin forming on the top.
The next thing in the recipe is making raspberry jam. I’ve never made jam before and was feeling nervous. Rightly so. According to the recipe, I had to put 200g raspberries into a medium-sized pan with 175g jam sugar and two tablespoons of water. Now here was my first problem. How big is a medium-sized pan? Our small pans are 18cm across, our medium pans are 22cm and our large pans are 24cm, but I don’t know whether our medium pans are the same size everyone else’s medium pans. There are smaller ones out there. I’ve seen them. I decided to go with the medium pans. They were bought as a set of small, medium and large pans from John Lewis, and John Lewis is never wrong.
In went the ingredients for the jam and, once the sugar had melted, the mixture only just covered the bottom of the pan. The sugar thermometer has a bar across the bottom, and the bit that read the temperature wasn’t really covered. The recipe says that, once the sugar has melted, the mixture should be boiled vigorously for about four minutes, or until the thermometer gets to 104°C. My thermometer never got anywhere near 104°, and the jam was so thick it came out in one immovable slab.
I had another go, this time using the small pan. The thermometer still didn’t get to 104, but I took the pan off the heat when I thought the jam was just starting to thicken and, this time, at least I ended up with something that would spread.
With the custard and jam done, the next thing was the cake itself. This wasn’t too hard. Eggs and caster sugar whisked until the mixture was pale and thick – this took about 5 minutes with the KitchenAid at mark 4. I folded in plain flour, cornflour and baking powder and, finally, melted butter. The mixture went into a 23cm tin and baked at 160° fan for 25 minutes. It came out like this.
While the cake was cooling I made my rose. I was dreading it. It looked like a fiddly and delicate operation. Not my cup of tea at all. At least the recipe hadn’t suggested making the fondant icing from scratch. Anyway, I divided my icing into cherry stone-sized balls, flattened them to make petals and made them into a rose. I was so pleased with it that I made another one.
The next thing to do was to assemble the cake. This was tricky. I cut the cake into three layers. On the bottom layer I spread a thin layer of custard and then piped a custard border around the edge. This, according to the recipe, is to contain the jam. Well, my custard was on the thin side, and the border started to drip down the side. Luckily, my jam was on the thick side so didn’t need much containment.
I added whipped cream to the custard, spread a layer over the jam and put the second layer of the cake on the top. I tried to ignore the stuff that was oozing out, but it did make everything very slippery. My cake was alive and trying its best to escape another layer of cream and custard. I managed to get the top layer on and to put some whipped cream on the top. I didn’t make a small dome of cream as I was supposed to. It was impossible when I had to use one hand to stop the middle layer shooting out of the cake. I managed to wrestle the cake into the fridge and went for a lie down.
Actually, I didn’t go for a lie down. Far too much to do, like make green marzipan. I’ve had a complete disaster with marzipan in the past, and not too much luck with food colouring either. This time, the marzipan and the colouring worked. I mixed ground almonds with icing and caster sugar, added eggs and a good teaspoon of almond extract. Then I kneaded the mixture in the bowl until I had a stiff dough. I added the food colouring as I kneaded the dough again on the work surface. I had to add a lot, and my marzipan is a bit paler than the one in the picture in the book. This is simply because I’d been making the cake for so long, I just wanted to stop.
I rolled the green marzipan into a circle and lifted it over the cake (which had firmed up a bit after an hour or so in the fridge). There wasn’t enough room on the plate to pipe whipped cream around the base, so I left out that step. I did decorate the cake with piped melted chocolate, although I did leave this until day three. How the contestants made this cake on the Great British Bake Off in one go I have no idea.
Was it worth it?
It may have taken days, but I did end up with a really good cake. I would make another one, but only for someone I loved very much, and only if I could spend a couple of days in bed afterwards to recover.