Note: I apologize for the lack of photos on this post. I accidentally deleted quite a lot of photos from the blog during an update, but was luckily able to replace most of them. I couldn't find the original photos that went with this post, though. You'll just have to visualize! 🙂
As I was planning for my daughter's 5th birthday party, I was eagerly awaiting the release of Donna Hay magazine's annual kids' issue. Judging by the cover of the magazine, I would surely find something beautiful inside to make for my daughter's birthday. On the morning of the magazine's release, I bought my copy and started flipping through the pages. There were so many neat things, including the cover recipe for chocolate cups. But I found what I wanted on page 115. It was called a rainbow layer cake, but it looked more like neapolitan cake, with chocolate, pink and white layers, rather than a rainbow. There was what looked to be a fluffy, white frosting in between the layers and all over the cake. Dotting the frosting in 3 rings around the cake were pink and white mini marshmallows that had been cut in half. It looked really beautiful and it looked exactly like something my daughter would love. There's a picture of the cake in the magazine at the bottom of this post.
I was a little skeptical about the cake to begin with. One reason is because I have never had a good result from any recipe I've tried from Donna Hay. I think the reason for this is that Donna Hay is a food stylist, not a chef! Another reason I was skeptical about this cake is because the entire thing contains 750 grams, or 1.7 pounds, of butter. That is a lot of butter. Unfortunately, I still wanted to make it and my reasoning was that it was just a birthday cake, we don't eat that much butter all the time!
I was also skeptical because the way this cake is made involves a method I have never used before. Donna Hay calls it "melt and mix". 250 grams of butter is melted, then the entire list of ingredients is dumped together into the mixing bowl at once and then mixed. This is not the normal way to make cake. This method is used in most of the birthday cake/cupcake recipes in Donna Hay's kids' magazine. I want to say right now that I will never make a cake this way again! There are definitely other things I want to try in the magazine, but I will be using my own favorite cake recipes instead of Donna Hay's.
The rest of the butter, 500 grams, is then used to make the frosting. This method of making the frosting is pretty average, except that it involves an extremely long beating time. First, the butter is beat for 6-8 minutes, or until pale and creamy. The icing/confectioners' sugar is then added, along with some vanilla and milk, and then the frosting is beat for 10-15 minutes, or until light and fluffy. My frosting started out fine, and tasted fine.
But..... I'm going to mostly blame the problem of the frosting on how cold it is in Sydney. Since a lot of houses do not have central air conditioning/heating in Sydney, it is often quite cold in the house. Most mornings in our house start out at about 14C, or 57F. As you could imagine, it is difficult to get softened butter when making cake, cookies or frosting! Anyhow, because at this temperature butter likes to stay quite solid, my finished frosting refused to stay light and fluffy. The frosting started to turn yellowish (perhaps because there was 500 grams of butter in it!) and became quite difficult to spread as it hardened up due to the cold ambient temperature. The frosting was also very, very greasy (again, because of the butter) and left a thick layer of greasiness on whatever touched it, including our fingers.
The photo below shows the yellowness of the frosting, yet it should have been bright white.
What I first noticed about the cake itself is that the layers didn't rise very much in the oven. So my cake wasn't very high and I couldn't get 3 rings of marshmallows around the cake (although I could have, but by the time I had gotten around to putting the marshmallows on the frosting I was too disappointed to continue!). As I cut into the cake, I noticed how dense it was and how it didn't even produce crumbs. The cocoa powder and pink food coloring I had stirred into portions of the batter had obviously not gotten thoroughly mixed because there were still small lumps of white batter baked into the pink and chocolate parts of the cake (as seen in the photo below). The taste was not bad, although I would still consider it below mediocre. The kids didn't eat even half of their slice of cake.
Luckily the cake didn't ruin the party - I also had a cupcake decorating station, ham and butter heart-shaped sandwiches, carrot matchsticks and cucumber wedges. The girls played with My Little Pony, watched a My Little Pony movie and played outside. My daughter got some neat presents that she was so happy with, she even took some to sleep with her in bed that night!
I love the look of the cake in the Donna Hay magazine, and while I won't ever be using any "melt and mix" cake recipe or vanilla frosting from that magazine, I would love to try to replicate the cake with my own recipes. I'd like to try a much lighter cake recipe firstly, but the biggest change would be the frosting. I'd prefer to use an egg white-based frosting with no butter to get a lovely, soft marshmallowy flavor and texture. I think my changes could produce a much better result.
You could just say that this whole cake problem was my fault - I must have done something wrong. But I truly don't think so. I'm no stranger to making cakes, as you can see just by looking through my recipes, and most of my cakes and cupcakes always turn out just fine. What I'd like to know though is if anyone else tries this particular recipe (posted below), or any of the "melt and mix" cake recipes in Donna Hay's kids' magazine, please let me know how it works for you.
Neapolitan Layer Cake
- For the cake:
- 2 ½ cups 375g plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder sifted
- 1 ¾ cups 275g caster (superfine) sugar
- 250 g unsalted butter melted
- 4 eggs
- 1 ½ cups 375ml milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- ¼ teaspoon pink food coloring
- 2 tablespoons cocoa sifted
- mini marshmallows halved, to decorate
- For the buttercream:
- 500 g unsalted butter softened
- 4 cups 640g icing (confectioner’s) sugar
- 4 tablespoons milk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla essence
- For the cake: Preheat oven to 160C (325F). Place flour, baking powder, sugar, butter, eggs, milk and vanilla in a large bowl and mix until well combined. Divide the mixture into 3 equal portions. Set aside 1 portion. Place the second portion in a bowl with the pink food coloring and stir to combine. In another bowl, mix to combine the third portion with the cocoa. Pour into 3 lightly greased and lined 20cm round cake tins and bake for 40-50 minutes or until cooked when tested with a skewer. Cool in tins for 5 minutes before turning onto a wire rack to cool completely.
- For the buttercream: Place the butter in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat for 6-8 minutes or until pale and creamy. Add the icing sugar, vanilla and milk and beat for a further 10-15 minutes or until light and fluffy.
- Assembly: Starting with the chocolate layer, spread a quarter of the vanilla icing over the cake using a palette knife. Top with the pink layer of cake, ice with another quarter of the icing and finish with the vanilla layer, using the remaining icing to ice the whole cake.