Mary’s Prinsesstårta

It’s Easter and I’m making fancy cake.

Okay, that’s a half truth. It’s a week after Easter, but that’s when my family is getting together for dinner, so I decided to attempt a cake that’s been scaring me for a while.

Mary’s Prinsesstårta: A three-layer sponge with vanilla custard, whipped cream and jam filling, covered in homemade marzipan dyed green, swirled with chocolate and topped with a fondant rose. (And as the name suggests, a very not-British Swedish delicacy.)

Big shoes to fill and lots of potential for mistakes.

There are technically six parts to this bake, but I’m only doing four. I’m not doing the fondant rose because I’ve attempted cake decorations in the past and failed miserably. Also I’m not going to buy a whole thing of fondant to make one small rose. Instead, I plan on topping the cake with Mini Eggs.

I’m also not making my own jam. Smuckers makes it easier.

I looked up other versions of this recipe online and, as I suspected, all of the elements can be made a day or two ahead of assembly. It’s Saturday today and tomorrow is the postponed Easter dinner, so I’m hoping to get three of the major elements done today (cake, custard and marzipan).

Saturday, 11 a.m.

First, the custard.

Mary says to pour milk into a heavy-based saucepan and then scrape the seeds from a vanilla pod into the pan with the pod. I could not find a vanilla pod in my grocery store crawl yesterday, so instead I googled what the conversion was from pod to extract, and three teaspoons of vanilla extract equal one pod. I put that in with the milk and set it on a medium low heat to “heat gently until just simmering.”

Technically I was supposed to wait to remove it from the heat before going onto the next step but I was impatient.

I combined the egg yolks (six!), sugar and cornflour into a bowl.

A word about cornflour: It is not readily available here. I went to three grocery stores yesterday for various reasons, but one of them was in search of cornflour. I know I’ve bought it before but it expired before I could use all of it so I composted it years ago. But try as I might, I could not find it again. Actually, that’s a lie. I did find it in Superstore, but it was only available as a 4 kg bag. I needed a total of 125 grams for this recipe. Googling “substitutes” while standing in the grocery store provided mixed results: all-purpose flour, rice flour or cornstarch. I made a choice to trust that the cornstarch I had in my cupboard was also not expired.

Spoiler: It was not.

The other version of this recipe I found online (clearly written by a North American) said I could use cornstarch for the custard, so that’s what I did here. Later in the recipe, it calls for half regular flour, half cornflour in the sponge, and I made a choice. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I whipped everything together by hand until it started to thicken and leave a trail.

Then the milk was simmering, so I removed it from the heat (and scooped off the gross skin a couple times).

Then I emptied my dishwasher that had been filled with clean dishes for a day or two as I waited for the milk to cool a little.

Then I took this staged photo.

Then I put down the milk, put down my phone, lifted up the milk, and whisked while slowly pouring it in.

Mary says that right after you pour it over the egg mixture, you’re to return it to the pan on a low heat, whisking constantly.

So I did as I was told.

Mary says it takes about 4-5 minutes for the custard to set, so to avoid going insane feeling like it takes hours, I set a timer.

Custard is an awful lot like lemon curd in that it takes forever. Or seemingly so. According to the timer, it took about five minutes. But when it sets, it sets fast!

Once thickened, I took it off the heat, popped in the butter, whisked it a little bit and poured it into a heatproof bowl.

Mary says to “cover the surface with clingfilm to prevent a skin from forming” before she says “leave to cool, then chill,” which made me think you’re supposed to put the clingfilm on the warm custard. It struck me as odd, possibly unwise, to put plastic on a hot substance, but I am a rule-follower, so I did.

After waiting for it to cool completely, I put it in the back of the fridge to use tomorrow.

Saturday, 4 p.m.

The next element is the cake. The sponge. My nemesis.

Okay, not my nemesis, but my sponges never rise the same as the recipe seems to say it will. So I was worried.

I prepped my round springclip tin with butter and parchment paper, measured out my ingredients and got started.

First, a follow-up word on cornflour.

As I mentioned, it’s difficult to find, and it seemed normal to put cornstarch in a custard but I couldn’t see how it would be normal to do equal parts cornstarch and all-purpose flour, as the recipe would suggest. So I went with 3/4 all-purpose flour and 1/4 cornstarch.

I hope I haven’t made a huge mistake.

Then I put four large eggs and the sugar into a bowl.

So far for this recipe, I’ve used 10 eggs.

TEN EGGS!

That’s so many eggs.

Also how do vegans make custard and sponges??

As you may recall if you’re a regular reader, I recently had an incident with my whisk attachments on my electric beater. I have yet to do a search for replacement attachments, but did have a single one, so that’s what I used.

One solo whisk attachment to mix together the sugar and eggs.

It doesn’t quite work the same, I’ll admit. One yolk remained unbroken and just danced around the bowl until I stopped the mixer to stab it. But eventually, it did what it was supposed to: became very pale and thick.

With that whipped to perfection, I sifted in the flour, cornstarch and baking powder (which is not expired so this cake should rise properly).

Then I folded.

Carefully, carefully folded so as not to scare the batter.

Temperamental batter.

Then I poured in the melted butter, carefully folded again, and poured into the prepared tin.

Mary says to bake it “until the sponge is golden and has just started to shrink away from the side of the tin” or for about 25-30 minutes.

After my timer of 25 minutes went off, I checked and it was very golden.

Also, I’ve already failed.

There is no way this is going to make three layers.

Damn you, sponges.

Maybe it’s for the best, though. A three-layer Prinsesstårta serves 12 to 16 people. I am only serving 5-6 people tomorrow, three of which are children. I’ll have to adjust the recipe when I assemble it. And something tells me I’ll have way too much custard.

Any ideas for how to use up custard? Or how long custard lasts?

Saturday, 6:30 p.m.

Tick tock, it’s marzipan o’clock.

I’ve never made marzipan before. The other times I’ve needed it for recipes, I’ve bought it from Ikea. But I have been told, by multiple people, that it’s very easy to make.

Let’s see if they were telling the truth.

I mixed together the almond flour (ground almonds), granulated (caster) sugar and icing (powdered) sugar. (I like that all the ingredients in this step have alter egos.)

I then added the beaten eggs and double the amount of almond extract. I was chatting with my sister, who has made marzipan before, and she said she usually adds more so I did too. Who doesn’t love almond flavour?

And then I let the mixer do the kneading.

And then I added some food colouring and tried to let the KitchenAid turn it green.

It did not work.

So I risked kneading in the food colouring by hand, quite concerned that the green would come off on my skin and my counter.

Good news! It didn’t. Although it took quite a bit of kneading. It also had the texture of playdough. If I had this playdough as a child, I would’ve eaten a LOT more of it. As it is, my mom’s playdough recipe was very salty.

Not that I ate any.

(I definitely ate some.)

I hope this is green enough.

I put it into a plastic bag, ready to be rolled out tomorrow.

Oh and if you’re keeping track, I’ve now used a dozen eggs.

Sunday, 10 a.m.

Time for assembly!

Not school assembly when you’d have to sit cross-legged on a carpeted gym floor. Cake assembly, where you somehow make three layers out of a teeny tiny sponge because last night you googled photos of sliced Princess cake and the layers are quite thin.

Years ago, I bought some sort of cake decorating kit, and it came with a contraption that looks like an old timey surgical device. I decided to try and use it to get even layers because successfully slicing cake layers is even more problematic than successfully slicing a bagel.

I’m not sure how you’re supposed to use it. The cake moved with the surgical saw so I braced the cake with my wrists while slowly moving the surgical saw back and forth. I got halfway when I ran out of cake to brace. So then I turned the whole thing around and did the other side, meeting in the middle.

Then I moved the surgical saw down another notch, added the little rubber feet for height, and tried again to make the third layer.

Success!

They are pretty thin. The middle layer especially. But the photos I googled showed a cake heavy on the filling, so I may as well try.

With the layers carefully transferred to multiple plates (thank goodness for a dishwasher), I started to whip the 600 ml of whipping cream.

Which feels like a lot.

Also I really, really need to get a pair of whisk attachments.

With the cream whipped, the custard set and the jam bought, I took a deep breath and prepared myself.

A note on the jam: The recipe calls for homemade raspberry jam, but my mom has an aversion to raspberries so I went with strawberry. It may make the cake a little too sweet, but strawberry is kind of the default jam flavour, so I think it’ll be fine.

First, Mary says to cover the bottom sponge in a thin layer of vanilla custard.

She then says to spoon a quarter of the remaining custard into a piping bag to pipe a border around the edge.

I do have a proper piping bag (it came in the kit with the surgical saw), but I didn’t feel like cleaning it and I have an excess of oversized Ikea plastic baggies (sorry, environment), so I went with that instead.

The border acts as a wall to contain the jam filling.

If I would have made my own jam, it probably would have been easier to spread. Since I used Smuckers, it was more of a jelly, so I first put it into a bowl and whipped it up a bit to make it more spreadable. I ended up using almost the entire jar.

And yes, my border is a little shaky. I set the bottom layer on an upturned baking sheet, hoping it will be easy to slide off and into my cake carrier when I take this to my mom’s later today. If I was a proper baker, I’d have a Lazy Susan for cake decorating. But I’m very much an amateur and don’t mind if bakes look ugly.

Mary then said to fold half of the whipped cream into the remaining vanilla custard.

Honestly, folding has got to be one of the most relaxing parts of baking, especially when you’re doing this kind of folding. Folding flour into the sponge was a little tedious because you think you’re done and then POP!, a pocket of flour reveals itself. But folding cream into custard, or folding chocolate into cream, it’s delightful.

I was going to take a video, but the bowl kept moving when I tried it with one hand, so you’ll have to just imagine it. Or better yet, do it yourself.

I carefully, oh so carefully, spooned a third of the creamy vanilla custard over the jam and used a palette knife to make the creamy vanilla custard meet the un-creamy vanilla custard.

Then I carefully, oh so carefully, slid the middle layer from the plate onto the very wobbly filling.

Then Mary told me to “spread the remaining creamy vanilla custard over it.”

The remaining, Mary? That seems… excessive.

Years ago, in my even more amateur baking days of my early 20s, I made a salted caramel chocolate cake and the salted caramel filling in between the layers turned my cake into a Leaning Tower of Pisa. If I added all that filling, I feared a similar fate for this Prinsesstårta, so I made a judgment call and decided to save some creamy vanilla custard for some other purpose. Like maybe with fresh berries tomorrow. Good idea? Good idea.

I then slid the top layer carefully, oh so carefully, onto the fairly wobbly creamy vanilla custard.

Then Mary said, “Spoon the remaining whipped cream over the sponge and spread to cover the top and slides, smoothing the cream into a small dome shape on the top.”

Again, this would have been a good time to use a Lazy Susan. (Note to self: Do a deep dive later to find out who Susan was and why she was deemed Lazy instead of Clever.)

Instead I did my best to create a kind of crumb coat, allowing the vanilla custard oozing out the sides to become part of the whipped cream, and eyeballing an even-ish dome shape on top.

Then I carefully, oh so carefully, slid the upturned baking sheet off the counter and onto a shelf in my fridge. Mary says to chill it for an hour, but I’m going to leave it in there for several hours, just in case.

Sunday, 3 p.m.

A few hours after the whipped cream crumb coat went into the fridge, I grabbed my green marzipan and put it on the counter with a dusting of icing sugar.

I then started rolling it out. And I rolled, and rolled, and rolled, and went this way, and went that way, and ended up with something that was sort of the shape and size I needed it to be.

And then I had a mild panic, nay, hesitation of how to get the marzipan on top of a wobbly three-layer, custardy, whipped cream situation. I tried rolling it onto the pin, but it started breaking apart. I grabbed a spatula and scraped it off the counter but that started to break apart a bit too. So then eventually I just put my hands under it like pizza dough, lifted it up, placed it on top and tried to fix the patches.

But fixing patches on top of a whipped cream crumb coat that did not harden in the fridge is easier said than done. I did my best, trimmed the edges and shrugged.

Thankfully, my family knows I don’t make beautiful things, so their expectations were suitably low.

I then put the lid on my cake carrier, put it back in the fridge, got my baking assistant (a.k.a. dog) ready, and carefully, oh so carefully, walked to the car with his leash in one hand and the cake carrier in the other hand.

I should also add that it was a surprisingly hot April afternoon and I was very worried the whole thing would melt and ooze in the car.

Thankfully my mom does not live far away, so when I got there, I opened the car door, he ran to her front door, and I carried the cake inside and found a spot for it in her fridge.

Saturday, 5:30 p.m.

After a very filling dinner of turkey, stuffing, roasted taters, cheesy cauliflower, gravy and cranberry sauce, we let our stomachs do some significant digestion work before I finished assembling the cake.

I whipped up the whipping cream into medium peaks, as instructed, had my more reliable baking assistant (a.k.a., my niece) hold the piping bag while I scooped in the whipped cream. Then I put a bowl on a pot of simmering water and melted the chocolate. I piped rosettes around the cake as my nephew, quite rightly, asked what I was doing.

“I’m piping around the edge.”

“Why?”

“The recipe says to.”

“But we’re going to eat it right now anyways.”

This is why I like baking for my family. They don’t expect fancy.

I then put the melted chocolate into a small plastic baggie, snipped the corner, and attempted to pipe like the picture. Either the hole was too big or my hand was too shaky, but the perfect spiral was less than perfect.

I then added more chocolate on top, grabbed two Mini Eggs and one Mini Whopper that I had salvaged from the diminishing candy bowl, placed them on top and voila.

My cake has a photogenic side and a not-so-photogenic side.

Photogenic side:

Not-so-photogenic:

Actually, both sides are equally ugly.

I sliced it up and the rave reviews poured in.

Everyone agreed it was delicious (myself included). Everyone agreed it was an impressive cake (albeit a little homely looking). And I am quite proud of the layers, the flavours, the custard (amazing recipe that I will make again), and the marzipan (so easy and so tasty).

It’s a winner. For sure.

I think if I make it again, I’ll opt for (a) a smaller version and (b) I’ll attempt the homemade raspberry jam because I think a bit of a tart jam would do better with the sweet custard.

My less-than-reliable baking assistant wanted to try some, but sadly I couldn’t allow it.

I can’t believe it. I’m in the single digits. Nine recipes left!

  1. Biscuits and traybakes (2 left)
  2. Breads (1 left)
  3. Cakes (1 left)
  4. Sweet pastry and patisserie (2 left)
  5. Savoury bakes (1 left)
  6. Puddings and desserts (2 left)

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