I realized today that it has been two months since my last bake. (I sound like I’m in confession. Forgive me readers. It’s been two months since my last bake.)
I’m not sure why I haven’t been baking. I could blame the heat wave, but that was just one week. Also I live in a pretty cool basement suite so the heat doesn’t really hamper baking efforts that much.
What does stop me from baking, however, is when I try to limit my sugar intake. Especially since I’m still working from home and even if I was back in the office, communal food won’t be a thing for quite some time.
However today I was looking after my niece (who loves to bake) and nephews (who like drive-by baking where they get to stir something at one point but quickly get bored). All of them also love to eat freshly baked goods, so that’s always helpful. More for them, less for me.
This recipe has been putting me off for quite some time. As a person of Dutch descent, liquorice (also sometimes spelled licorice) as a snack is delicious. But with blackcurrant? And in a cake? I was unconvinced.
Of all the people to test it out on, though, I figured these kids would be the most open to it. Also what kid turns down cake, no matter the flavour?
The first step, my niece reminded me, was turning on the oven. Then I got started on the “decorative sponge paste” by creaming the butter and icing sugar together.
Then I gradually added the egg whites.
I was told to beat constantly but I was using the paddle attachment and it started to look curdled, so I swapped out the attachment for the whisk one and kept going.
After that it was time to sift the flour. My niece helped me sift and I showed her what folding was (not bothering to quote Schitt’s Creek since she wouldn’t appreciate the reference), then she tried her hand at folding.
After that all the kids watched as I put in star anise extract and black food colouring.
Here’s the thing about the star anise extract: I made an educated guess. The recipe calls for “liquorice essence” which sounds incredibly fancy and mysterious and does not exist in Canadian grocery stores. I know anise and licorice are pretty similar, so I figured anise extract (which was a lot easier to find) was just as good as liquorice essence. However, I wasn’t sure about the measurements so I did half the amount (instead of one teaspoon, I did half a teaspoon).
And these kids must have watched their mom use food colouring before because as soon as that step came, my niece yelled “EVERYONE BACK UP!” I used the back of a spoon and ever-so-carefully scooped it out of the little jar. (My mother also instilled in me a healthy fear of food colouring as a child.)
At first I didn’t add enough and it looked a little purple. I think it’s safe to say I fixed that.
The kids kept asking to try some and I kept saying no because I didn’t want their parents to come home to children with slate black teeth, tongues and lips.
I showed them how to pipe using a Ziploc bag and accidentally did five diagonal lines instead of six.
They were very confused, but I asked them to trust me.
I cleaned the bowl out and got started on the white sponge, starting with the eggs and sugar.
The instruction was to whisk “until the mixture is light and frothy and it will make a ribbon trail” which gave me an opportunity to explain ribbon trails to my niece (even though I only learned this myself a couple years ago when I started this blog). It’s a lot easier to show her than explain it, though, so we had to wait a while.
With the mixture ribbon trailing, we sifted in the flour.
Cue more folding.
I told my niece and nephew to be on the lookout for flour pockets as I folded, and they were quick to tell me when I missed a spot. Once that was all done, I slowly poured the mixture overtop of the black stripes and tipped it back and forth to even it out.
This kind of sponge doesn’t always work for me so to be honest I was a little nervous. But after eight minutes in the oven it was already puffing up, and after about 11 I took it out because it had started to pull back from the edges and bounced back when I poked it.
Then the tricky moment began.
“Lay 2 sheets of baking paper (cut a little larger than the size of the tin) on the worktop and sprinkle one with caster sugar. As soon as the sponge is ready, turn it out on to the sheet of sugared paper and carefully peel off the lining paper. Lay the other sheet of paper over the striped top and flip the sponge over so that the black lines are underneath.”
If your response is “huh?” then you’re not alone.
I put sugar on the one baking paper (out of sight of the children lest they stick their fingers in it) and, with oven mitts on, carefully turned the cake upside down on the sugared paper.
Then I took off the oven mitts and peeled back the lining paper as gently as I could. The last time I did it, I remember taking chunks of cake with the paper so I tried to take it off like a sticker.
Then I didn’t know what to do. Flipping it seemed rife with problems as I imagined a scenario in which it broke apart. I covered it with paper and a tea towel, then, by pulling the bottom sugared paper, moved the entire situation onto a larger baking sheet. Then I got another clean baking sheet, put it overtop and flipped the entire sandwich of baking sheet / sugared parchment paper / sponge / parchment paper / tea towel / baking sheet.
Then, remembering a trick I had heard somewhere, I used the tea towel to Swiss roll it while still warm to try to help it keep its shape better when it came time to roll it for real.
I unrolled it and let it cool on the counter.
I then made them play outside while I got started on the buttercream icing because it was way too tempting for them to take a bite out of the cake cooling at their eye level. I put the butter, icing sugar, tablespoon of milk and half amount of star anise extract into a bowl and started it up.
My one nephew came by at one point and asked why it didn’t look like frosting. I explained to him that I’ve learned the hard way to give buttercream a chance and mix it up longer than you’d think. He looked at me and told me to add water and I, again, asked him to trust me.
After a while he came back and lo and behold, there was frosting! At which point he immediately asked to taste some.
I put a teeny tiny bit on spoons for him and his siblings (and me) and it actually tasted pretty good. Licorice frosting—who knew?
Then I assembled the cake, starting with the frosting.
Followed by the blackcurrant jam.
At this point the kids and I each took a taste and two-thirds of us liked it. One wasn’t a fan, but I told her it was too late. The jam was on/in the cake.
I rolled it up and it only slightly cracked.
I sliced it up with a serrated knife and was pretty proud of the quality of the sponge. It might be the best sponge I’ve ever made.
I cut one piece for each of us and was pretty excited. (So was my nephew. Those are his fingers in the corner of the above picture just waiting to grab a slice.)
It was so good.
Why does licorice and blackcurrant work? And how does it work? And why does that even matter because all you need to know is it does!
Also the sponge was so fluffy as was the buttercream and it actually looked decent. But honestly! The flavours!
My nephew told me “YOU NEED TO MAKE THIS AGAIN” immediately after he finished his piece and I heartily agreed.
But first I have 14 more recipes to finish.