The Grand Chequerboard Cake

I am one of those people with an incredibly sweet tooth. No, scrap that, I think my entire dental structure is dedicated to the sweet cause, so the first recipe for this blog undoubtedly had to be cake. But not just any cake, this was the result of a busy Sunday morning in the kitchen, preparing for a sixtieth birthday party. The pressure was on, I had to impress.

Definitely a crowd pleaser
Definitely a crowd pleaser

The concept of a surprise cake has always appealed to me. I’m still waiting for someone, anyone, to treat me to this book. Amanda Rettke has changed my whole baking perspective (combined with the wonders of GBBO, of course). So the basic criteria for this cake were:

  • It had to be big. Nobody wants a pithy cake on the table.
  • It had to be tasty. I find big celebration cakes are let down too often by their bland tastes – I would not fall victim to this.
  • It had to wow. I wanted colour, I wanted surprise, I wanted finish.

This was the result. I highly recommend this to anyone wanting to impress friends and family with their creative culinary expertise. But I must warn you. It takes a long time and though at times it may crumble – warm apricot jam and a marzipan finish can save the day.

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I wish you luck on your chequerboard adventures. Do share images of your efforts and tips you learn on the way!

– Franny

Equipment

  • 2 x 18cm round sandwich tins
  • baking parchment
  • wire racks
  • 1 x 6cm paper circle template (I drew around a glass onto paper)
  • 1 x 12cm paper circle template (same as above, but with a plate)
  • 1 x sharp knife
  • 1 x small saucepan
  • 1 x pastry brush
  • 1 x scales
  • 1 x large mixing bowl
  • String

Ingredients

Vanilla sponge

  • 225g salted butter – softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp milk

Rose sponge

  • 225g salted butter – softened
  • 225g caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 85g ground almonds
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp almond extract or rose water
  • 1tbsp milk
  • pink food colouring – I used gel instead of liquid so to not make a watery mix

Assemble and Finish

  • 400g apricot jam
  • 1 tsp almond extract or rose water
  • 750g white marzipan
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Recipe

1. Heat oven to 160C/140C fan/gas 3. Grease and line 2 x 18cm round sandwich tins with baking parchment. I cannot stress how important this is – just butter and flour the whole tin then cut out a circle that fits the base. You will not regret it.

2. Put all the vanilla sponge ingredients in a bowl and beat with an electric whisk until the mix comes together smoothly. Split the mixture in half (I used scales to make it accurate which proves important at assembly stage) spread into each tin. Bake for 30 mins or until a knife comes out clean when inserted. Cool in the tins for 15 mins, then turn out onto the wire racks. Leave to cool as you move onto the rose sponge.

3. Clean the tins and bowl and repeat the process with the rose sponge. Once you’ve mixed it all together, add the pink food colouring. I had to add a whole tube of pink gel to get the colour shown in the picture and would have happily added another half tube if I’d had it – the colour of your mix will be brighter than the final baked colour, so don’t shy away! This is also why I suggest gel instead of liquid – you could get a runny mix which you really don’t want! Again, split the mix between the two tins, bake for 30 mins and cool.

4. You’ll have to leave them to cool for quite a while (30mins-1hr), then cover and chill them in the fridge for another 30mins. You want them to be as cold and firm as possible so don’t cheat this stage.

5. Once chilled, place the sponges on a flat surface and make sure the tops haven’t domed – trim if necessary. Using your templates, cut a 12cm circle and 6cm circle from each sponge. The tricky part is removing them. I suggest cutting a 12cm circle, lifting the sponge and pushing up or down to remove – you have to use your judgment here – then do the same with the 6cm circle. You’ll be left with 4 x 18cm rings, 4 x 12cm rings and 4 x 6cm circles (see below).

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A fiddly business

6. Don’t worry if a ring cracks – it is salvageable – though it does make life difficult as I can attest so try your best to keep them whole!

7. Next you have to swap the inner rings of each sponge with the opposite sponge. Rebuild each sponge to end with 4 target board-style cakes (see below).

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8. Heat your apricot jam in a pan until it melts. Mix in the almond extract/rose water.

9. Place one sponge on the serving plate and brush a good coating of the apricot jam on top. Place the second sponge (with the alternate colour on the outside) on top and repeat.

10. Repeat with each sponge until all four sponges are sat on top of each other, secured by the apricot jam. This is the stage where any domed or cracked sponge will prove to be a problem. If, like me, one outer ring simply cannot be saved, leave that sponge to the last and create the smaller tier as demonstrated in my finished photo. This is a really tricky stage so have faith, rant and rave if needs be, but keep going.

IMG_2392

11. Use a piece of string to gauge how much marzipan you will need to cover the cake. Dust a flat surface with icing sugar and, using a rolling pin, roll out your marzipan to the required size.

12. Cover your cake with the apricot jam and then use your rolling pan to lift the marzipan and press onto the cake. I found this part particularly tricky and I do not pride myself on icing skills. However, if you do get cracks, or the marzipan simply does not sit smoothly, make some additional marzipan decoration to distract people from it. I went for a bow to cover major finish flaws and decorated with candles, silver balls and a sparkler. Believe me, people are completely distracted by the size, weight and sparkler. And once they’re eating, they’ll forget all about those tiny mistakes.

There you have it! It took me 5 hours but it was completely worth it. If you have a free weekend, why not give it a go? You can always find something to celebrate with cake.

– Franny

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