Roar into 2017 with this volcano centrepiece accompanied with these fun and scrummy biscuits to complete the prehistoric theme. I like to light the firework candle at the centre of this spectacular cake and wait for the applause to erupt!
Erupting Firework Cake!
For the marble cake
- 450g unsalted butter, really soft, diced, plus more for the tins
- 3 tbsp cocoa powder
- 450g self-raising flour
- 2tsp baking powder
- 8 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2tsp vanilla extract
- 450g golden caster sugar
- 50g dark chocolate
For the honeycomb lava
- 200g golden syrup
- 350g caster sugar
- 2tbsp distilled white vinegar
- 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the buttercream
- 150g 55% cocoa solids chocolate, or 2 tbsp cocoa powder sifted
- 225g unsalted butter, really soft
- 300g icing sugar, sifted
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
To decorate and assemble
- 200g granulated sugar
- Mint green food colour paste
- 3tbsp royal icing
- 30cm round cake drum
- 200g milk chocolate, chopped
- Red or orange boiled sweets
- 4 packets popping candy
- 400g digestive biscuits, crushed
- 1 firework candle (or indoor sparkler fireworks)
NOTE – Please make the honeycomb Lava with an adult as boiling sugar can be dangerous!
Preheat oven to 170°C/fan 160°C/300°F/gas mark 2. You will need three 20cm round sandwich tins. Butter the tins and line the bases with baking parchment. If you only have two tins, make the cake batter and divide it into three batches, baking the third last.
Mix the cocoa powder with 2-2 ½ tbsp very hot water and stir to make a paste. Set aside to cool. Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the butter, eggs, vanilla and sugar. Beat until well blended; do not over-mix. Spoon half the batter into the tins (substitute a bowl for the third tin if you only have two). Fold the cocoa paste into the remaining batter with chocolate chips, and spoon into the tins. Swirl the two cake mixes together with a fork until rippled, level the tops, then bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer emerges clean. Remove from the oven, leave for a few minutes, then run a knife around the rims. Turn on to wire racks, remove papers. Let cool and give the cakes a spell in the fridge to make them easier to shape later.
TIP – these cakes will freeze well, so you can bake in advance.
For the lava, line 23cm baking tray with baking parchment. Have a glass of cold water to hand. In a large heavy-based pan, place the syrup, sugar, vinegar and 125ml water. On a gentle heat, stir until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat, bring to a boil and do not stir anymore. If you have a sugar thermometer, boil it to 155°C. If not, drop a small ball of syrup into the glass of water. If it crackles and becomes a hard ball, it is ready. If not, boil until it is. Remove from the heat and add the bicarbonate of soda; it will erupt! Let it calm down, stir and pour into the prepared tray. Leave it to set, then break into chunks. You won’t need it all for the cake. It keeps for a few days in a dry, airtight tin. Crush 100g of it in a polythene bag with a rolling pin.
To prepare the buttercream, melt the chocolate, if using, in a bowl over simmering water; the bowl should not touch the water. Set aside to cool. Beat the butter until really pale and fluffy, then add the icing sugar and vanilla. Beat for five minutes until light and creamy. Add the chocolate or cocoa powder and beat again. Set aside for later.
For the grass, place the granulated sugar into a bowl. Mix a little green food colour with 2 tsp water in a bowl and pour into the sugar. Mix with your fingers and spread on a tray to dry. Mix every couple of hours. In a dry place, this keeps for weeks.
Once ready to assemble, remove the cakes from the fridge and trim all three so tops are level. Cut each in half horizontally to give six cakes. Sandwich together with buttercream. Stick a skewer into the right through to the work surface to use as guide to avoid a lopsided volcano. Shape the cake from the top. Volcanoes do vary in shape; mine has a flat plateau on top and gently sloping edges. When you are happy, dig out a crater in which to place the candle.
To assemble the cake, spread a tin layer of royal icing over the drum and press on the sugar “grass”. Remember you won’t see the middle, so concentrate on the edges. Place the cake on to the drum.
Melt the milk chocolate in a small bowl over simmering water, making sure the bowl does not touch the water. Cool slightly. Pour over the cake. Press on the crushed honeycomb and a few crushed boiled sweets for the embers, with the popping candy. Let the honeycomb tumble over the board. Surround the tableau with biscuit crumbs and set off the firework candle for a spectacular centre piece.
Chocolate Dinosaur Shortbread
I made countless visits to the Natural History Museum with my son to view the dinosaur skeletons, his earliest fascination. These are in memory of those times, Hari.
- 250g plain flour, plus more to dust
- ½ tsp salt
- 50g cocoa powder
- 100g icing sugar
- 250g unsalted butter, softened and diced
- 500g white sugarpaste
- green food colour paste (not liquid)
- blue food colour paste (not liquid)
- Icing sugar, to dust
- 60g bag white royal icing
- No. 1 nozzle
- Edible glue (optional)
- Edible clear glitter (optional)
- 1 set dinosaur cutters (mine are 12-15cm)
- Paint brush (optional)
Tip – to colour sugarpaste place a piece of sugarpaste on a work surface. Dip a cocktail stick into a pot of food colour and knead in. It is always best to add the colour little by little to achieve the right colour. If the sugarpaste gets to sticky add a little icing sugar.
Sift flour, salt, cocoa and icing sugar into a bowl. Rub in the butter with your fingers until well combined. Knead just until smooth but do not over-mix, or you will toughen the dough. Wrap in cling film and chill for about 30 minutes.
Line two or three baking trays with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 160°C/340°F/gas mark 3 ½ . Lightly dust a board and rolling pin with flour and roll out the dough to about 4mm thick. Cut out a selection of dinosaurs, re-roll the excess and cut out more until all the dough is used. Lay on the baking trays, chill for 30 minutes, then bake for 12-15 minutes. Leave on the trays until cool.
To decorate, colour half the sugarpaste green and the other half blue. Dust a board with icing sugar and roll out the green sugarpaste to 2mm thick. Cut out using the dinosaur cutters, cutting exactly the same shapes as the biscuits. Sprinkle a little icing sugar over the biscuits and flick over a tiny amount of water (you don’t want soggy biscuits to create a “glue”. (Or use royal icing, or brush with edible glue.) Stick the sugarpaste dinosaurs on the biscuits. To decorate, pipe on dots and lines with royal icing. If you want, brush a small area on each biscuit with edible glue and sprinkle over the glitter. With a dry brush, remove excess.
Colour 200g white sugar paste grey with a small amount of black food colour paste. On a work top dusted with icing sugar, roll out the sugarpaste to 5mm thick. Using a 5.5cm round cutter, cut out discs. Press a toy plastic beetle or fly into each one. Leave to dry.
Peanut-choc Caramel Cookies
- 100g unsalted butter, softened
- 100g light muscovado sugar
- 1tbsp golden syrup
- 150g self raising flour, sifted, plus more to dust
- 100g milk chocolate drops (or dark if you prefer)
- 80g roasted, salted peanuts, quite finely chopped
- 50g soft toffee, fudge or butterscotch, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 170°C/fan 160°C/340°F/gas mark 3½ . Line two baking trays with baking parchment. Beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the syrup and beat. Add the flour, chocolate drops, peanuts and toffee and mix gently with your hands, or a large spoon.
Lightly flour your hands and divide into 20 balls. Space out well on the trays. Squash the centre down with your finger and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cooked at the sides but gooey in the middle. After a few minutes, remove to a wire rack. These will keep a few days in an airtight tin (if well hidden!)
The Birthday Cake Book by Fiona Cairns (Quadrille) Photograph: Laura Edwards