from my wife’s blog Cocoa + Cotton
“Spring came fast during the lengthening Lenten days. The first swallows returned to their old nests, mauve wind-flowers bloomed in the copses, tender gold catkins hung from the hazel trees which gave Cowdray its name. The air grew soft and fragrant. A few new-dropped lambs frisked beside the Rother. From the lords of the manor down to the lowliest scullion, the smell of spring released the ancient joy.” Green Darkness, Anya Seton
This one fulfils everything I look for in a festive cake. It’s elegant, whimsical, made from light-as-a-feather chiffon sponge and, topped with its chocolate egg-filled bird’s nest, an enchanting salute to spring which puts a smile on the face of every child clustered round the table come Easter.
Sponge recipe and Swiss meringue buttercream from Peggy Porschen
WHAT YOU’LL NEED
- 2 x 6 inch cake tins (like these)
- paper circle cake tin liners
- sugar thermometer
- small saucepan
- stand mixer
- cake decorating turn table (not essential but very helpful)
Equipment for the Eastertide bird’s nest chiffon cake:
- 1 x 6 inch and 1 x 5 inch Pyrex bowls (try to use these, although exact size isn’t crucial)
Eastertide bird’s nest chiffon cake: serves 12
For the chiffon sponge:
- 80 grams egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 225 grams caster sugar
- 75 ml melted butter
- a pinch cream of tartar
- a pinch of salt
- 225 grams plain flour
- 15 grams baking powder
- 120 ml milk
For the vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream:
- 270g caster sugar
- 67 ml water
- 135 grams egg whites
- 330 grams butter
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- a small amount blue food colour gel (ours here)
For the vanilla syrup:
- 150 ml water
- 150 grams caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
For the speckle decoration:
- 25 grams vermicelli noodles
- 100 grams dark chocolate
For the bird’s nest:
- 1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons liquid vanilla extract
Making the sponge:
- Pre-heat the oven to 175 C (350 F)/ gas mark 4. Grease and line 2 x 15 cm (6 inch) cake pans with baking paper (you can buy pre-made circular ones to fit).
- Place the egg yolks, vanilla extract and a tablespoon of the sugar in your electric mixer and, using the whisk attachment, beat until pale and fluffy. Add the melted butter slowly and continue to beat until thick and pale. Set aside.
- Take a fresh mixing bowl for your stand mixer and beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt with the whisk attachment at high speed until the mixture forms soft peaks.
- With the mixer still running, slowly pour in the remaining sugar until the mixture is glossy and holds stiff peaks.
- Sift the flour and baking powder into a medium sized bowl and add to the egg yolk mixture a little at a time, gently folding after each addition to incorporate. Add the milk and fold in the stiff egg whites.
- Transfer the batter to the lined tins and gently spread towards the edges with a palette knife. The mixture should be higher round the edges of each tin, dipped slightly in the centre for an even, level bake.
- Bake for 35 minutes or until a skewer to test comes out clean. While baking make the sugar syrup, as below. This will then be ready to glaze them with once they have been removed from the oven and rested for ten minutes.
Making the syrup soak:
- Place the water and sugar into a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Stir well and bring to the boil.
- When lukewarm add the vanilla.
- Store in the fridge if not using immediately – it will keep for up to a month
Soaking the sponges:
- Once the sponges have been removed from the oven and rested for ten minutes, whilst still in their tins, brush the tops of the sponges with the vanilla syrup (reserving a little for the assembly stage – it can be stored in the fridge in the meantime overnight)
- When almost cool, remove the sponges from their tins running a knife round the edges to release them, and place onto cooling racks. Leave until completely cool.
- Once cool, wrap the sponges in cling film and leave to rest overnight at room temperature. This will ensure all moisture is sealed and that the sponges have a good firm texture for trimming and layering.
Making the vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream:
- Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heart and bring to a rapid boil
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer at low speed using the whisk attachment until frothy.
- When the sugar syrup reaches 121 c with the mixer still running pour it directly over the meringue in a thin steady stream. Take care not to pour any of the syrup onto the sides of the bowl as it will solidify as soon as it cools and touches the bowl.
- Whip the meringue until the bowl is cool to the touch. This could take several minutes. With the mixer running add the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time. Keep beating until the buttercream is completely smooth and spreadable. The mixture can be liable to splitting – if this happens, it’s generally easy to bring it back to homogenised buttercream by simply whipping for a few minutes at high speed. Finally, fold in your vanilla extract and your food colouring for a soft duck egg blue. Meringue buttercream can keep own the fridge for up to 1 week.
- Trim the tops from the two sponge cakes, and divide each cake in two so you have four layers. Soak each layer with more of the vanilla syrup.
- Place the first cake layer, cut side facing up, onto your cake stand or serving platter and, if you have a turntable, place it onto the turntable. Use an offset palette knife to spread 3-4 tablespoons of the buttercream over the top, spreading it right to the edges. Top with the second cake layer, and again, generously spread over about 3-4 tablespoons of the buttercream over the second cake layer. Lightly press it down to seal. Do the same with the third and finish with the remaining fourth cake layer, spreading a thin layer of the buttercream over the top and sides of the cake to crumb coat it. This by no means looks perfect, it is a thin layer to lock in the crumbs. Set the cake in the refrigerator for 30 minutes or freezer for 10 minutes to fix the first buttercream coating.
- Once set, remove your cake from the fridge/freezer and place back on your turntable. If possible, find a thin cake board the same size as your cake to place on top so you can rest your hand on top and apply pressure while you turn the cake to create your smooth buttercream coating. Spread a generous amount of the buttercream onto the sides to cover the cake and scrape round. I used a large offset palette knife to smoothly frost the entire cake but you can thickly frost it, thinly frost it (for a naked cake effect), decorate the cake with buttercream swirls, piping, depending on the look you’re going for. Your frosting won’t look perfectly smooth after the first scrape and for this cake I chose not to ‘perfect’ it as I like the more natural and uneven rougher finish for the particular theme. If you do want to achieve the more perfect finish, keep adding buttercream to the barer spots and scrape round several times until you get a smooth covering. You can now frost the top or if you’ve been using a cake board on top, you could place the cake with just its sides frosted back in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes to solidify your frosting before frosting the top. For this method, you can then remove your cake and, using a sharp paring knife, gently slide it under the edge of the cake board to lift it off. Apply a dollop of frosting to the centre and spread out evenly to create a smooth, flat top.
Applying the speckle:
- Mix the cocoa powder and vanilla extract in a small bowl.
- Take a pastry brush, dip into the chocolate mix and flick at the frosted cake until you have an even effect all over.
Making the chocolate nest:
- Melt the chocolate in a saucepan. If you have an induction hob, use the L1 setting, otherwise use the bain marie method to avoid seizing as it is almost impossible to coax it back to liquid state once this happens.
- Whilst it is melting, take your larger 6 inch Pyrex bowl and cover the inside with a layer of clingfilm. Take your 5 inch Pyrex bowl and cover the outside with a layer of clingfilm.
- Loosely break the dry noodles into another bowl
- Pour the slightly cooled melted chocolate over the noodles. With your hands, mix the chocolate through the noodles making sure the chocolate fully coats ands covers them
- Take your chocolate covered noodles and push into the bottom of the 6 inch Pyrex bowl, pressing slightly up the sides. You can afford to be rather rough about the finish to create a natural bird’s nest shape.
- Take your second smaller 5 inch bowl, and press it down into the 6 inch bowl on top the the chocolate noodles.
- Place in the freezer to set for two hours
Remove the chocolate nest from the freezer, place it centrally on top of your cake and fill with chocolate eggs. When the Easter bunny comes, our children love finding a pair of special magic golden eggs in the nest that he’s left for them – they get to rub them and make a wish. After all, it’s all about about the magic.2