I have always loved baking. When I was in primary school my Mom made every Thursday afternoon our time to bake. Then when I got a bit older I baked alone. I remember I loved making basic sponge cakes just to decorate them – to me this part was the most fun.
It was like painting or drawing for me except you could also eat it afterwards. I had free reign so my cake design never embraced the principle of less is more. My style of cake decorating has always been more is more.
I don’t remember all the cakes I ever made but one that sticks in my mind is a double vanilla sponge covered in crème-soda green butter icing with raisins, cherries, colourful sprinkles, nuts, coconut, pretty much everything I could find in the kitchen cupboard. Let’s just say it tasted a lot better than it looked.
I still love baking cakes but these days only have the time to do it on special occasions – like family birthdays. Before my husband John and I got married in December 2015 I had the crazy idea to try and make our wedding cakes.
I was inspired by bakers on Instagram and came across an account for the Meringue Girls, two young women in England who started their own bakery and specialised in Meringues. I’ve always loved meringues but had been limited to making pavlovas at Christmas time.
The photos on their Instagram feed were of beautiful masterpieces in bright colours and using dessert icing options like ganache, cream cheese icing and Italian meringue. I really admire the people who make sculptures of Olav the snowman and Hello Kitty for cakes, this really does take hours and I don’t have the patience for fondant icing.
Anyway, inspired by the success and creativity and innovative spirit of the Meringue Girls I bought their recipe book, Everything Sweet, and decided to see if I could make wedding cakes for 100 plus guests. If you’re going to make big cakes I would suggest investing in some decent tools like a strong cake lifter, a cake saw and an icing stand that turns. If you’re based in South Africa, you can buy all of these tools online from Yuppiechef.com and delivery is free anywhere in the country.
A great recipe from the Everything Sweet recipe book is what they’ve called, The Mother of All Cakes. It’s a recipe that takes a bit of time because you need to cook and puree the carrots before adding them to the mixture. I love this recipe because it’s straightforward but has some extra ingredients to make it special – like coconut, pineapple, walnuts and orange zest.
I first made it for our engagement party in Durban. My Mom bought me a special kitchen thermometer and kitchen gas torch so I was able to make the Italian meringue perfectly. An important tip here – don’t stir the sugar and water mixture or the sugar will crystallize.
For our wedding I baked six in total to make a double-tiered cake. Many friends said I was crazy and doomed to fail. What would I do if it was a flop? I decided to go for it and planned carefully and made sure this was my only responsibility leading up to the wedding.
I made the cakes during the week leading up to the wedding and assembled them the day before. Instead of the Italian meringue I decided on white chocolate ganache icing with lime zest instead because it was the middle of summer and I didn’t want the icing to melt. The white chocolate ganache was perfect and set the cake in place.
I also made a chocolate cake with strawberries and dark chocolate ganache. In total I think I had to make about 12 cakes.
Anyway this carrot cake recipe is still one of my favourites and I made it for my Mom’s birthday weekend in Durban recently. Here is a little video I made of the baking process.
I decided to go with white chocolate ganache again because I had to make the cake in advance. I made meringues for the top and even tried to colour some of the meringues. The method for this is also in the Everything Sweet book. I bought some butterflies, which my Mom loves from a local baking supply shop. The finished look was a bit over the top. I guess my style of more is more has stayed with me ever since I started baking and you know what, I’m okay with that.