A very special lady recently entered her 4th decade – my sis-in-law Soph. To celebrate this momentous occasion, the Harts & Warricks gathered in her local, the White Horse (aka the “Sloaney Pony”) in Parsons Green to eat, drink & be merry.
And what a lovely afternoon it was too.
The food here is great & it’s well worth a visit for the scotch eggs & celebrity sightings alone. So far we’ve clapped eyes on Kelly Jones (of the Stereophonics), Matt Dawson, Lions captain Sam Warburton & Phil Vickery. But enough of the name dropping.
Soph too is a keen cook & asked if I would make her birthday cake. “With pleasure!” I replied. At the end of a particularly hectic work week & nail biting trying to sort out an exciting new project at home I took some much needed refuge in my kitchen to chill out & bake.
My go-to Peggy Porschen came up trumps again with this Lemon Limoncello layer cake. It is a light, moist cake which is full of flavour. Lemon is one of my favorite flavorings in baking.
Rather than emblazon the number 30 or the birthday girl’s name across the top, I wanted to keep it elegant & summery so stuck with the original design of sugar daisies, added some white taper birthday candles & set the cake on one of my cake stands.
This cake is special because it has the boozy addition of Limoncello – an Italian liqueur made from lemons in Southern Italy (specifically, lemons grown in Sorrento). I’m a big fan of liquer, & after an amazing holiday on the Amalfi Coast, Limoncello became favorite, followed closely by Disaronno & Cointreau. In fact, I might try to mix a Limocello Cosmo this weekend with some of the leftovers.
Limoncello is hard to find but our local Italian deli in Bexley Melucci’s led me to Gennaro’s in Lewisham. This gem is considered by Time Out to be one of the best Italian Delis in London. It is family-owned & stocks many treats for Italian food lovers – fresh buffalo mozzarella, exquisite prosciutto and even their own-brand olive oil (made in Sicily by an artisan producer). If you find yourself in the area it’s well worth a trip to stock up on some Italian kitchen delights.
The cake itself is made of 3 layers of sponge flavoured with lemon zest & soaked in a lemon/limoncello sugar syrup.
The layers are filled & iced with a traditional buttercream with lemon curd stirred in which gives it a summery yellow color to compliment the sugar daisy decorations.
I like to try new skills & this time I would make the sugar daisies myself. Eek! The daisies & leaves should be made at least one day ahead of assembling & serving & decorate the cake on the day of serving.
I kneaded one batch of white sugar florist paste with a small amount of white vegetable fat to make it smooth & pliable & a second batch with some green food coloring (both from Squires).
I rolled out the paste to around 2mm thick & using a daisy plunge cutter, leaf cutter & veiner, I made 12 sugar daisies & leaves.
The veining tool is a clever little thing which allows you to shape sugar petals. In this case, to run a “vein” along the middle of each daisy petal.
Now I was meant to place each daisy in a daisy well so that they had a curve to them, rather than laying flat, but that was just one kitchen gadget too many so instead I shaped them with my fingers & placed them on a foam pad to dry out.
I made the leaves a similar way by cutting them out with a leaf cutter (in the sale at Lakeland) shaping them with my fingers. No veiner required here because the plunge cutter embossed them for me.
The daisies were finished off by piping a yellow dot of royal icing on the middle of each flower.
Now I was pretty pleased with my attempt but next time they need to be way thinner. I wasn’t brave enough to roll out the icing paper thin & so they didn’t turn out as dainty as I would have liked. But at least I made the effort I guess & it was fun as they were surprisingly easy to do.
Word to the wise: sugar decorations attract moisture & tend to collapse when exposed to humid conditions so don’t chill the cake once decorated.
One new piece of kitchen gadgetry I did invest in this time round was an icing turntable. It was well worth the £10 as it made smoothing the icing a much sleeker affair compared to when using my makeshift cake board on top of an up-turned bowl.
It was rather a challenge getting this cake to the pub in one piece due to a particularly hectic drive through South & Central London, but the beauty of buttercream is that a quick smooth over & touch up with a pallet knife & it looks as good as new.
I was a little concerned we might not get the required portions out of the 6″ layers to give everyone a slice, but by employing a little trick I learnt from the events planner at Mabel’s christening, we managed to feed all 15 revelers with a little left over for the birthday girl. Each guest could probably only fit in a dolly portion by that stage in the proceedings anyway having filled up on a delicious meal. Essentially, you imagine a grid placed over the cake & cut it into squares, rather than cutting traditionally from the centre.
Happy birthday Soph & welcome to the thirties – may they bring you wealth, health & happiness