16 May 2018 | Schwartz
There’s nothing better than surprising someone with a treat that just screams “them”. Here, we teach you how to bake a personalised cake for any occasion, whether it’s a birthday cake using the flavours of your colleague’s favourite cinnamon swirls, or a wedding cake tailored to the taste of both the bride and the groom. With our simple flavour pairing guide, there’s no end to the original mixes you could whip up!
The key to great tasting cake is to find the perfect balance between the five tastes: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami. Yes, even in sweet baking. This doesn’t mean that you simply add everything in equal measure though – bitter dark chocolate, for instance, may be added in greater quantities than sour cherries.
So how do you know how much to add? You’ll like this answer: taste! Before embarking on a larger cake, try whipping up a cupcake or two to test out the flavour ratio – that way, you can make sure it tastes great without using up all of your time and ingredients.
You can break down the flavours in your cake into the five basic tastes like this:
One of the most straightforward of the tastes, you can easily identify the sweet flavours in a cake. This includes ingredients such as sugar, honey, seasonal fruits, white or milk chocolate, caramel, vanilla and coconut.
You won’t find many naturally salty ingredients in cake bakes, but a pop of sea salt can really enhance the brightness of your other flavours. Traditional examples include adding a pinch or two into cake batter, chocolate or caramel.
If you’re feeling adventurous, ingredients such as bacon can be added to sweet dishes with a healthy serving of sweetness – such as a generous drizzle of maple syrup with breakfast pancakes.
Sharp or acidic flavours are a great balancer for sweet desserts. Bitter ingredients include coffee, dark chocolate and citrus peel.
For a bright punch that cuts through heavier bakes, add a little sour to your cake mix. This might be adding citrus juice, yoghurt or sour cream to your batter, or tart apples or balsamic vinegar to the topping.
This is one of the hardest flavours to define, especially in terms of sweet baking. In general, umami ingredients add a depth of flavour through a warming, savoury taste. Toasted nuts, green tea or earl grey, browned butter and herbs and spices are all good sources of the distinctive, mellow aroma.
The great thing about understanding the five flavours is that this will allow you to come up with whole new combinations that can be easily personalised. But rather than whipping all of these flavours into a single buttercream, it’s a great idea to distinguish the tastes by separating them into different components.
For instance, you could try a sweet vanilla sponge cake with a sour cherry filling, topped with a lightly salted bitter chocolate ganache and topped with toasted nuts and a light coconut cream. Bliss!
While you’re whipping up your personalised recipe, don’t forget the other factor to great bakes: texture. Think crumbly shortbread biscuit base, crunchy freeze-dried berries, light whipped cream, coarse ground pepper bringing out the flavour of seasonal fruits, toasted caraway seeds or coconut, surprising pop rocks, cinnamon-infused caramel shards… the possibilities for adding your own personal touch are truly endless.
The ratios for a basic layered butter cake are as simple as 1,2,3… 4! One cup of butter, two cups of sugar, three cups of flour and four eggs. As long as the ratio of wet to dry ingredients is maintained, the experimenting is up to you.
You could substitute the plain flour for spelt or ground nuts (to up the earthy umami flavours), the sugar could be brown or white, the butter could be browned or coconut butter. If you’re not using self-raising flour, remember to add a teaspoon of baking powder per cup.
Eggs can also be substituted for activated flax or chia seeds to make a vegan cake – simply mix one tablespoon of ground seeds with three tablespoons of water per egg and leave in the fridge for 15 minutes.
A mixture of two or more of the basic tastes is a great way to make a dynamic cake filling. Try pairing a tart fruit filling with sweeter additions such as vanilla or cream, or a rich dark chocolate with lightly salted peanut butter.
It’s a good idea to also keep the cake’s overall texture in mind when you’re creating your filling – heavy buttercream should generally be balanced by a lighter sponge or topping, or a heavier bake should be matched with a sweet, thin filling such as cinnamon paste.
This is where you can really go wild! The topping is the visual showstopper for any cake, so highlighting the key ingredients contained within is a great idea. Just remember – the best cake toppings really add to the flavour dimensions of the cake, so try to remember your tastes and textures as you plan it out.
For kids, try popping candy, their favourite biscuits, sweets or mini pretzels – or decorate flavoured buttercream flowers with fondant butterflies. If you are going for sweeter toppings, try to balance them out by pairing them with a lighter, plainer bake.
For fancier events, try green tea-infused cream cheese and white chocolate decorations, a simple salted caramel drizzle, tart fruit coulis, or sugar decorations infused in spices. The topping is one of the most fun parts of any cake so don’t hold back – it’s time to let your creativity shine!