I won't lie. This cake was meant to have four layers, rather than two. I had a slight (read: large scale) disaster. The first time I made this cake was for my Dad's 60th birthday, which visually I was very pleased with. There was no large scale disaster on the first attempt! However, taste-wise I was a little disappointed. I felt the cake was a bit dry and not 'sticky toffee pudding' enough for my liking. I made a vanilla Swiss Meringue Buttercream to fill and cover the cake with, but I felt that it didn't fully compliment the cake and it was missing something flavour-wise. For the toffee sauce poured over the top of the cake, I used soft dark brown sugar which made it too thick and look a bit separated once set.
So, I set about adapting my recipe on attempt number two. The second time I added honey whiskey and crystallised ginger to the cake. I also had the idea to soak the cake layers in warm toffee sauce to create that sticky toffee goodness before cooling and filling / covering with vanilla Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream. This was where disaster struck.
The soaked cake layers tasted GREAT but sadly the slightly thinner cake layers did not hold together when I started assembling the cake and I ended up with a sliding, crumbling mess. But waste not, want not! I salvaged the two cake layers that had survived and created what you can see in this blog post! I also chucked the crumbled cake layers and what remained of the toffee sauce and buttercream that I couldn't salvage into a bowl and created what I like to call Sticky Toffee Trifle.
For now, I have taken photos of what I managed to salvage of my poor cake and adapted the recipe so that cake collapse does NOT happen. This is because I've had a slight hiccup in commencing attempt number three - I appear to have broken my electric handheld whisk from so much whisking! This is the second time I have broken an electric handheld whisk this year, so I think it may be time to add a stand mixer to my Christmas wish list...
Utensils: Two 5.5 inch non-stick loose-bottomed cake tins (or you could use larger cake tins and reduce the cooking time slightly or double the recipe to make a full size cake), baking paper, oil/butter/cooking spray for greasing, small and medium saucepans, handheld whisk, large mixing bowl, electric hand or stand mixer, sieve, cooling rack, large serrated knife, cake board or presentation plate, cake turntable (not required but useful!), large / small palette knife, cake scraper (optional).
Top Tip #1: I used a 5.5 inch cake tin for this cake as I wanted to create more of an individual-sized birthday cake for my Dad rather than a massive cake that probably wouldn't be finished. I love the size of this cake - it's much easier to assemble, store and transport. Plus, if you're testing out recipes and things do not go as planned (as in this case!), you've only used half the ingredients of a normal size cake so can whip it up all over again without feeling like you're wasting much.
Top Tip #2: Creating Swiss Meringue Buttercream can be a little daunting if you're new to the baking world but trust me, it is worth it. It just requires a little patience (and problem-solving) if the buttercream doesn't come together straight away. Swiss Meringue Buttercream is a lighter, more stable and less sweet option to normal buttercream. It has a lovely silky texture and doesn't taste grainy like normal buttercream can sometimes. Making it involves heating egg whites and sugar in a bowl over simmering water to cook the egg whites before they are whisked to create meringue. For this cake, I've also added cream cheese to the buttercream to give it a little flavour kick.
Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake
150g sayer or medjool dates, stoned and roughly chopped
100ml honey whiskey (I used Jack Daniels)
1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
60g unsalted butter, softened
125g soft dark brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons black treacle
1/2 teaspoon mixed spice
1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
160g gluten-free self-raising flour (or use normal self-raising flour and don't add the baking powder if you don't need the cake to be gluten-free)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
50g crystallised ginger or stem ginger in syrup, roughly chopped
Sticky Toffee Sauce
130ml crème fraiche
120g unsalted butter
100g golden caster sugar
2 heaped teaspoons black treacle
2 heaped teaspoons golden syrup
1/2 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
Vanilla Cream Cheese Swiss Meringue Buttercream
2 large egg whites
90g soft light brown sugar
150g unsalted butter, cubed and at room temperature
60g cream cheese, cold
1 teaspoon good quality vanilla extract
Selection of fresh fruit or other decorations of your choice (I used figs, raspberries and blueberries)
Makes: One four-layer 5.5 inch cake, serving 7-9 people. If you want to make a full-sized cake, double the recipe and use 7 or 8 inch cake tins instead.
1. Make the cake batter: Preheat the oven to 160°C fan. Thoroughly grease and line the bottom and sides of two 5.5 inch cake tins. Place the chopped dates, honey whiskey and water into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over a medium heat and then simmer for 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the bicarbonate of soda. Set to one side while making the cake batter.
2. In a large mixing bowl, cream together the softened butter and sugar using an electric hand or stand mixer on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed and add the egg, whisking until fully incorporated. Add the black treacle, mixed spice and vanilla extract and beat until combined.
3. Sift in the self-raising flour and baking powder in 2 batches, whisking after each addition to ensure the flour is fully incorporated and there are no lumps. Mash the cooled dates using a fork and then add to the cake batter along with the chopped crystallised ginger. Mix until combined.
4. Split the cake batter between the two prepared cake tins and bake until the cakes spring back when touched and a knife inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean aside from some sticky crumbs, around 35-45 minutes dependant on your oven. Cool on a cooling rack in the tins until cold enough to turn out, then leave on your cooling rack until fully cooled.
5. Make the toffee sauce: While the cakes are cooking, combine all the toffee sauce ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil while whisking occasionally. Simmer for 3 minutes before splitting evenly between two bowls to cool. Once cool enough, cover the bowls with cling film and place in the fridge until assembly time.
6. Make the cream cheese Swiss meringue buttercream: Cut the butter into small pieces and leave to soften at room temperature. Thoroughly wash and dry a stainless steel mixing bowl (a glass heatproof bowl could be used but it will not cool as fast after being taken off the heat) to ensure no fat comes into contact with the egg whites (as this will stop from them from whipping into meringue).
7. In a medium pan, add about 1 inch of water and bring to a simmer. Add the egg whites and sugar to the stainless steel bowl and place the bowl over the pan of simmering water. Whisk constantly using a hand whisk until the sugar is fully dissolved (this will take about 3-5 minutes). The mixture is ready when you cannot feel any sugar granules when rubbing the mixture between your fingers and mixture is hot to the touch. If you have a thermometer the mixture should reach 70˚C.
8. Once the sugar has fully dissolved remove the bowl from the heat and using a hand or stand mixer with whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium-high speed until the meringue is thick and glossy and stiff peaks have formed, and the bottom of the bowl feels completely at room temperature to the touch (this should take around 5-10 minutes with a stand mixer and 7-10 minutes with a hand mixer).
9. Once stiff peaks have formed and the bowl has cooled to room temperature, reduce the speed of the whisk to medium and add the butter one cube at a time until fully incorporated. Once all the butter had been added, whisk in the vanilla extract and keep whisking until the buttercream has reached a silky smooth texture. NB: If your mixture starts to look lumpy or curdled, don't panic but just keep whisking and it will eventually come back to smooth. Add the cream cheese (it may curdle at this point too) and continue to whisk until silky smooth.
10. Assembly: Trim the tops of each cake so that they are flat and so that the top crust of the cakes are removed (place the trimmings in the fridge for late night snackies). Slice each cake in two so that you have four even layers. Place the first layer on your cake board or presentation plate, securing with a little buttercream. Then spread 1/4 of the buttercream over the bottom layer.
11. Take one bowl of toffee sauce out of the fridge and spread 1/3 of the bowl over the top of the buttercream. Place your second cake layer on top and repeat spreading another 1/4 of the buttercream and 1/3 of toffee sauce. Repeat until you have used all of the cake layers.
12. Using the remaining buttercream, spread a thin layer over the top and sides of the cake. Using an icing scraper or palette knife, scrape and smooth the frosting on the sides of the cake so that some of the cake starts to show through. Smooth the top with a palette knife. Place the cake in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to chill.
13. Warm up the remaining bowl of toffee sauce so that it is pourable but not too thin and not warm. If the sauce looks separated, the best thing to do is heat up the toffee sauce fully until hot and then leave to cool, stirring frequently so that a skin doesn't form over the sauce. When your sauce is the right consistency and temperature, pour carefully over the top of the cake, allowing the sauce to drip down the sides of the cake.
14. Place the cake in the fridge for at least another 30 minutes before decorating with fruit or other decorations of your choice.
Storage: Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. When ready to eat, take out of the fridge 15-20 minutes before serving to allow the cake to come to room temperature before eating.